Monday, July 28, 2008

Mad Men: "For Those That Think Young" - Let's Twist Again

Let's twist again, like we did last summer...

And so begins season two of Mad Men, with Chubby Checker's second go around with the dance craze, "Let's Twist Again." It's a genius choice both for the reason we were left twisting in the wind with last season's finale and because it ties to last season's use of "The Twist" -- which was really the only rock and roll song that appeared at all in the debut season. That the season starts with a rock and roll song is a signal that the subject of youth will be more apparent this season, and so it's fitting that the episode is titled "For Those that Think Young," the still popular 1961 slogan for Pepsi. The baby boom is in full force now, with the first wave already of driving age ("even the President has a baby,") and it's already having an effect on the advertising world -- and some like Don are resistant to coming tide.

Duck, on the other hand, is rightfully trying to stay ahead of the game. He's seemingly being set up already as Don's nemesis, and it's easy to see him aligning with Pete, who even 15 months later still appears to be smarting from his failed extortion attempt --"no one tells Draper what to do," we hear him say at one point, with pain and just a hint of admiration. Don may be both resistant and mostly wrong about youth here, but don't count out his adaptability. As someone who's already completely reinvented himself, Don's capable of changing his stripes more than most.

For example, in this episode, Don is presented with four scenes that suggest he's over the hill, and before the credits, he's already adapting. First is the doctor's visit, putting his age front and center. Shortly after that, there's his encounter in the bar with someone reading poet Frank O'Hara's Meditations in an Emergency. "You wouldn't like it," he replies to Don's inquiry about the book, not being subtle about his assumption that Don is an out-of-it 'suit'. Then Duck drives the final nail in by lecturing him with "you know there are other ways to think of things than the way you think of them." Jon Hamm wonderfully nails Draper's reaction telling us that it stung more than you'd think it would. That's the moment that tells you that Don's going to be reading some O'Hara later, ie, checking out "other ways to think of things."

The passage that ends up being read in voice-over is from the poem "Mayakovsky," which is named for the Russian poet, who was a great influence on O'Hara. Here is the first part that Don recites:
Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.
O'Hara is an interesting choice for many reasons. For one, he's the same age as Draper (36, he died at age 40 from injuries resulted after being struck by a vehicle while walking on a beach) and he's also dealing with identity issues, as evident in the above passage. O'Hara, unlike Don, was truly open about his problems, with nearly every poem being bluntly confessional. He was openly gay and dealt with any conflicts about it in his art, which is a perfect jumble of popular culture and surrealist expression. When Don writes "made me think of you" on the page, and then mailed it, I'm sure I wasn't the only one thinking that an appropriate recipient would be Salvatore, but more likely it's Midge. Don's looking to get young again, and what better way than through a trip to Midge's Greenwich Village (which, unlike Sterling Cooper, is already looking quite different from last season).

Other quick hits (code for "I don't know how to stop!"):
  • I don't know about you, but I was faked out by seeing Betty the equestrian and Don taking his shirt off for a woman -- thinking for a second, 'separated?' But no, the family unit stays strong, even if it meant that Don has apparently used some of his extra income via promotion to get Betty both a full-time housekeeper, fur coat and riding lessons.
  • The Drapers aren't the only ones working around infidelity, as Harry's wife is expecting and Francine (Cuthroat Bitch) buried the hatchet with Carlton.
  • The other song featured ("Song of India") is from Rimsky-Karasakov's opera Sadko, which follows a man who leaves his wife, becomes wealthy, weds the daughter of the ocean only to wake up next to his wife. There are some obvious parallels here, no?
  • We don't know where Peggy's child is (home with her parents?) but Karma's got Pete by the balls, with his wife apparently barren. The only scene with an alone Peggy and Pete was naturally full of pregnant tension. They're left alone after Cosgrove breaks in to say 'Come on Daddy (to Harry,) how often do you get to celebrate getting some girl pregnant... Campbell, your buying," which was almost too much, but it still deserved a hearty chuckle.
  • Interesting to see two new beards this season, one on Kinsey's face, and another on Salvatore's arm.
Songs: Mad Men - Episode 2.01
1. "Let's Twist Again" - Chubby Checker - Intro montage of characters assessing themselves in the mirror
2. "Song of India (Countless diamonds are hidden in the rock's caves)" (from Sadko - Rimsky-Korsakov

Previously: Setting the Second Season


The Writeous said...

I looked up this blog after reading your great article on about Mad Men. I loved the first episode and thanks to your article am looking forward to trying to find Bob Dylan parallels during the rest of the season.

I really like the theme of your work here too. A little proofreading though; the second paragraph is a repeat of the end of the first.

drake leLane said...

hey, thanks for the comment (and the proofreading... everything looks fuzzy after 3AM!)

Ray Keck said...


I've been a lurker here since Mad Men's first season and just wanted to express my admiration for your work and to thank you for your help in piecing together the ongoing soundtrack. I'm a recent convert to "Weeds" as well, and visit here often to hear your take on my favorite shows and the music used in them.



drake leLane said...

Thank you Ray. Good to know there are lurkers ;)

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post.

One thing... Carla, the Draper's 'help', was around last season. She was referred to a few times before we ever met her (in Ladies Room, and there was another time when he Don told Betty to 'leave the dishes for the girl'). She came in with the groceries and the kids in the Wheel.w

Anonymous said...

Love your blog! Terrific post. I love reading your insights about the music showcased in the episodes of Mad Men.

drake leLane said...

Roberta - thanks... I remember that now. I changed it to read 'full-time housekeeper,' because even if Carly was around last season, it was surely a lot less. Weiner makes a point of showing that Betty is more hands off than she was last year (which was already pretty hands off). I also added the fur coat to the equation. Is it just a subtle allusion to prostitution that Betty takes all these 'gifts' to forgive the affair(s)?

Tracy - thank you as well for your kind comment. I have to admit that for a brief second I thought you were my wife making the rare appearance to stroke my delicate ego ;)

Anonymous said...

LOL Drake! I'm guessing your wife's name is Tracy...good name ;) You are welcome.

Harvey said...

Don't know if you touch on this in your review of "Flight 1," but apparently Sal's beard is actually his wife.

The Chicago Tribune's TV writer is a Mad Men maniac and confirmed it via the credits and AMC's web site.