Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mad Men - Setting the Second Season

The 1960 election, Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain, The Apartment, The Twilight Zone... all these cultural touch points and more were covered in the first season of Mad Men, through the setting of 1960. As most fans of the show now by now, the second season of Mad Men (starts this Sunday, July 27,) begins on Valentine's Day 1962 -- roughly 14 months after season one's ended. Creator Matthew Weiner has said he's not interested in picking up immediately where the story leaves off, as he recently told NY Times Magazine, "There’s more storytelling in moving ahead and taking a season to find out what happened." You could also say it helps give a bit of distance to a year already mined for cultural and historical events, giving each season room to breath in that regard.

So what do we see in store for season two, you ask? Making predictions of a series that I love and respect is a bit of a thorny rose to pluck. Part of me wants to theorize about what has happened and where it's all leading to this season, but for the most part, I'm afraid I'll be partially right in my prediction and ruin it for myself. So instead let's just take a glance at some possibilities for the series to explore based on the setting of 1962.

Looking at that year a few things jump out that parallel characters or possible events on the show. One interesting event is Marilyn Monroe's accidental death/murder/suicide. The actress' tragic fall touched a lot of people, but probably no one more than our favorite redhead Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks). Both women relied on their looks and at one time were mistresses for powerful married men. Marilyn had the Kennedys, Joan had her boss Roger Sterling, and one imagines Marilyn's death would give Joan at least a moment's pause -- perhaps even an epiphany (even if delayed).

The more interesting historical parallel I see, however, is between Bob Dylan and Don Draper. Or should I say Robert Allen Zimmerman and Dick Whitman? The obvious connection here is that both men created new identities for themselves, cutting off a past which didn't groove with their current occupation. This season, as Dylan transforms the Village from a beatnik jazz haven to a full blown folk music community, one has to believe that at least one Dylan song will make their way into an episode somewhere. His debut (Bob Dylan) doesn't hit the shelves until March of that year, but his presence in New York is already building. As Scorsese, or even Weiner's old boss David Chase, can tell you, there's lots of subtext to be mined from having a Dylan song playing in the background of a scene -- a lot without being obvious.

Other bits from 1962 that might make it's way into the series:

Film: Stanley Kubrick's Lolita is released in New York on June 13, 1962, with quite a bit of controversy, due to it's pedophilia-related content. Other intriguing films that make the time period include The Manchurian Candidate, To Kill a Mocking Bird, Splendor in the Grass and Breakfast at Tiffanys (which gets a veiled reference in the premiere episode this Sunday).

History: The Cuban Missile Crisis - Doesn't reach it's fever pitch until November, coinciding with either the final or the penultimate episode. Since it gripped the nation, it seems it would get at least a passing reference.

Comic books: Stan Lee's Fantastic Four (Nov. 1961, with Jack Kirby) and Spider-Man (Aug. 1962, with Steve Ditko) are introduced, beginning what some call the Marvel Age of comics. Just like The Twilight Zone, Comics were a medium to talk about society's ills without really talking about them, so a similar reference would be appropos. I'd think Cosgrove, of all people, has a comic hiding in his drawer, somewhere. Doesn't have to be this season, but someone's going to (metaphorically?) find that comic and comment on it. (Comic-Con stars tomorrow, so how do I not include this?)

Sports: Wilt Chamberlain scores 100 points in a game against the New York Knicks - One of the greatest sports feats of all time also helped usher in an era of African American acceptance in the NBA. Even a passing reference in the series could illustrate that despite the still rampant racism, 1962 was a year that saw African Americans making upward moves that involved more than pushing buttons on an elevator.

How about you? You see anything that the world of 1962 had that might make it's way into the world of Sterling Cooper?

Also: Sunday at 11PM ET (8PM PT,) creator Matthew Weiner will be answering your questions on You can log in now and leave your questions (about 1962, perhaps?)

Previously: Mad Men, Season 1: A Zippo-shaped Time Machine


Anonymous said...

One possibility: Bert Cooper name drops Ayn Rand in about three separate episodes in S1. After the success of her novel Atlas Shrugged - which Cooper actually lends to Draper at one point, I believe - Rand had a small circle of sycophants that met regularly in her NYC apartment.

It would be a delightful bit of awkward, Office-style comedy if Cooper dragged Draper along to one of these meetings. We'd get to see Rand making pronouncements on the virtues of cigarettes in her thick Russian accent. We'd meet a young Alan Greenspan. Etc.

Stephanie said...

I do agree about Bob Dylan, but we shouldn't forget that a Dylan song has already made an appearance. In the final moments of the first season, we heard "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" as Don sat on his stairs alone in his home. I hope we hear more.

drake leLane said...

RE: Ayn Rand/Atlas Shrugged - Yes, Bert Cooper is in Rand's objectivism circle, but I think they've milked that for what it's worth... namely to draw parallels between Don and Atlas Shrugged's John Galt (and to have the episodes coincide with the 50th anniversary of publication?). I'd be worried that by having a young Alan Greenspan, the series would be getting dangerously close to becoming like Young Indiana Jones, or even Back to the Future.

drake leLane said...

RE: Dylan
Weiner has said that use of the song from last year's finale, was (besides the aligning of the lyrics to Don's situation) meant as a look to where the series was going, so I think we can happily plan for some at least some reference to Dylan in the coming weeks.

If season 3 starts in 1964, as planned, then that year is obviously going to be infested with Beatles ;)

Anonymous said...

what about?
-CBS rules in the ratings with TV specials: Carol Burnett and Julie Andrews at Carnegie Hall; Judy Garland teams up with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin (both win Emmys).

-Barbra Streisand's BWay debut in 'I Can Get It for You Wholesale' as Miss Marmelstein.

-the desegregating of the University of Mississippi, which led to the murder of Medgar Evers.

robert said...

In a year and a half Kennedy gets capped and everything else is secondary. It's that era's 9/11.

drake leLane said...

The start of season 3 inevitably still have ripples from the event. That, and a couple episodes in, the Beatles.