Friday, October 19, 2007

Dylan and Denial

I guess the music lesson for 2007 is, if you've got something poignant to say in your season finale, make sure to use Bob Dylan. Three of the four most talked about finales this year featured Bob Dylan songs prominently -- Battlestar Galalactica, The Sopranos and John From Cincinnati. Last night's finale for Mad Men made it four out of five, ending with Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," which is used to show Don getting a taste of his own medicine. But I'll get to that later.

But first, let's talk about Don the salesman, and with the Kodak pitch, he shows that Cooper's made him a partner for more then just being his right Rand man. Kodak wants to sell the wheel as new tech, but Don, like he did with Right Guard, shies away from the future, and instead sells them on nostalgia, with the idea of a carousel. "It's not a spaceship, it's a time machine," he says in his pitch, which says as much about the series as it does the product. It's a moving scene, made more so by how he got there.

First, Don learns Rachel has taken off on a three-month cruise, and that Cooper is wise to his dalliance with the client. Then, while exploring his own "pain from an old wound," Don finds out his brother hanged himself (creator Weiner shines here in his directoral debut, carefully zooming in on Don's anguish). Now drunk and grasping for straws, he pulls the disgraced Harry in on the brainstorm (note how he doesn't even want to an answer to why Harry's living in his office -- Don more then understands). Harry brings up the the cave paintings of Lascaux, which are again, a perfect metaphor for both the series and advertising. The drawings show man's early use of visual interpretations to draw parallels to life, a visual metaphor to tell a story. The hand prints are the time machine to the present -- Don's take-away from Harry's late night show and tell..

If Don's a master at work, he's all thumbs trying to sell to his wife. When Betty (pointedly) asks him about a neighbor's affair, Don makes the wrong pitch with "who knows why people do what they do?" Betty is now confronted with what she's denied for so long -- even her neighbor Francine hinted at it. Her discovery about Don's calls to the therapist are a worse betrayal, though, a final kick that unhinges Betty (hence, the talk with creepy 12-year old Glenn). But Betty turns the tables at her session, and in talking openly about Don and his infidelity, has a breakthrough, recognizing that she's been in denial for some time about his affairs: "The way he makes love, sometimes it's what I want, but sometimes it's obviously what someone else wants."
Denial ain't just a river in Egypt
- Mark Twain
That brings us to the difficult plot point of Peggy's pregnancy. I'm of the opinion that some part of her has known for some time that she was pregnant, but circumstances have caused her to mentally cut off this development from her day-to-day consciousness. It explains why she was still trying to make things work with Pete, even when all signs pointed to him being an evil weasel. I think she would've confronted the reality if her second affair (on the sofa) hadn't ended so badly. But Pete's cruelty, coupled with her career's sudden upward trajectory, made having this baby an impossibility. She had the pill on her side for deniability... it was a new product with plenty of side affects to help her explain away many of her body's signs. In parallel this season, both Betty and Peggy have lived with this growing feeling, kicking inside them, yet refused to recognize the beast for what it was until that final painful kick (the call to the therapist, the hospital).

Speaking of the hospital, Peggy's refusal to hold her baby is striking as it immediately follows Pete's own baby problem. Clearasil is both figuratively and literally Pete's baby. Pete agrees to give his father-in-law a grandson in return for the account, and it's also his client in a new work environment under Don and Duck. When Don makes it known that it's also going to be Peggy's baby as well, Pete is horrified and can't even look his father-in-law in the face as he goes to lie down. Weiner's cut to the hospital with Peggy's baby is genius, with the parallel of Peggy's horror at it being Pete's baby. I'm of the biased opinion that this child will be given up for adoption, and Peggy will in fact return to work shortly after holiday weekend.

For the ending, Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" plays as the perfect ironic twist of fate for Don, as in it Dylan leaves his lover without a care in the world, something Don would do (and tried to do last week.) Another lyric in the song seems written for Don and Betty:
I once loved a woman, a child I'm told
I give her my heart but she wanted my soul
The irony here, obviously, is that it's Betty who's left Don. Sure, her trip is pre-arranged, but if I were Don, I'd check to see just how much of the kids' clothes she packed. At the very least, her not waiting or leaving a note is a strong signal, but we'll have to wait until June of 2008 to know for sure. It's set to take place in 1962, which is both good and bad. I really want to see what happens to both Betty and Peggy immediately following these events, but there may be something to piecing it together like the story of Don's past this season. Either way, Mad Men has taken the mantle of the next great series, and I'm thankful for that.

Song: "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" - Bob Dylan - closes out the episode/season

More debris:
  • Dylan adapted this song in 1962 from a song folksinger Paul Clayton taught him in 1962 (Dylan released it on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan 1963) so it kind of serves as a nice bridge to next season, which starts two years down the road. Paul Clayton's "Who's Goin' to Buy You Ribbons When I'm Gone?" -- the song it was adapted from -- was released in the Mad Men setting of 1960, however.

  • If there was still any doubt that Don hadn't read Ayn Rand, he dispelled it when he tells Pete he should give his copy of The Fountainhead back to Cooper, following his refusal to work with "a girl."
Previously: Who is Don Draper? ... and Just Who is Yma Sumac? (Ep 1.12)

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Beth said...

Excellent summation. I dread waiting until June to pick up the story.

drake leLane said...

It's definitely going to be hard to wait... especially knowing they're planning to be start in 1962... 18 months (or so) after this episode takes place.

I've always sort of dreaded the idea of fan-fiction, but this (nearly) makes me to want to try my hand a writing what happens until 1962.

Paul Levinson said...

Excellent post - and blog, too.

Here's a 20-minute interview with Rich Sommer (Harry Crane)...

drake leLane said...

Thanks Paul... and thanks for the link. I enjoyed reading your Infinite Regress posts on Mad Men as well. It could be the show that launched a thousand posts ;)