Monday, October 13, 2008

Mad Men: "The Jet Set" - See 'the Bob Dylan'

As we head into the final two episodes, Mad Men continues to lay the groundwork for some serious fireworks. This episode, "The Jet Set," was tied together by a theme of identifying one's self, featuring a myriad of examples including Duck going off the wagon, and as a result, upping his game. The theme culminates in that final scene of Don dropping a "Dick Whitman" on us when we least expect it, calling this season's mystery person (who he sent the book from the first episode to?) Come to think of it, even with a flash back earlier in the season, the "Dick Whitman" name hasn't been spoken aloud this season until now.

It hardly seems an accident, then, that we get our first mention of Bob Dylan as well, given the similarities in reworked identity between Dick Whitman and Bob Zimmerman. Right before identifying himself as homosexual to his coworkers ("I don't think that word means what you think it means,") Curt spoke of his plans to see "the Bob Dylan" with Peggy, after having already been witness to a performance at Carnegie Hall. That performance would've been the Pete Seeger-led Hootenanny at the Hall on September 22, 1962, Dylan's first appearance there. What gets mentioned most often about that concert was Dylan's playing of the song "A Hard Rain's a Gonna Fall," the first widely attended and recorded instance (was actaully performed prior at The Gaslight). The reason I bring up the song is the lyrics concern nuclear war, which is a growing, festering underlying historical plot, on display with the slideshow that Don witnesses at the rocket convention, and ready to boil over with the coming Cuban Missile Crisis right around the corner. So while we may not hear the song in the episode (it wont be available for public consumption until 1963,) it still feels part of the underlying historical events.

Don's storyline in California took quite a turn, with Don seeming to go "down the rabbit hole" by following Joy off to Palm Springs. It was like a bizarro version of last season's "Hobo Code" episode, with these nomads instead wealthy, and mostly without code, with Don stepping into a Fellini movie. Anytime we see Joy, we also hear Martin Denny's tiki version of the Armenian folk song "Misirlou," a song which refers to a forbidden relationship (in the song, one that's cross-faith and cross-race). Most people nowadays associate the song with Dick Dale, and his surf guitar version that was used in Pulp Fiction.

Besides the minor Alice In Wonderland reference, William Faulkner' The Sound and the Fury makes an appearance, and Don uses the last page from Joy's copy to write an address. Faulkner had rewritten the ending for that edition of the book, and coupled with the fact that 1962 was the year he died, it feels symbolic that the page was ripped out. Faulkner's infamous time in Hollywood seems like a relevant reference to Don's fish out of water experience as well.

Finally, the closing credits featured "What'll I Do?" from singing legend Johnny Mathis, which is an interesting choice in that Mathis was like Sal during this time, in that he had to hide his real self as a closeted homosexual. He finally outted himself in an interview with US Magazine in 1982, saying "Homosexuality is a way of life that I've grown accustomed to." If Mathis' situation is any indication, it might be some time before Sal can come out of the closet. But even 1982 wasn't an easy time to come out for a celebrity like Mathis, as death threats had him swearing off interviews and publicity for his concerts, and staying mum on the subject for more than 20 years following that interview. As Mad Men often shows, we've come a long way, and yet still have a ways to go as a society.

Previously: Surviving Your Parents (Episode 2.10)


annette said...

I'm just now catching up on Mad Men (watched the 2 seasons in 2 weekends) and i have mixed feelings about it. Still, the first scene where this tiki version of Misirlou gets played with Don looking over the pool looked really neat. Googled it and now your Mad Men recaps make me want to watch it again. So, thanks!

drake lelane said...

thank you very kindly... sometimes even watching multiple times isn't enough -- sometimes I feel the need to live in the series ;)

annette said...

I somehow feel pretty comfortable as a woman watching it on my screen ;)
i really like the "soundtrack angle" you take. I also loved the decemberists track in another episode. I've noticed the soundtrack here and there, but your comprehensive background check is a treat!
on another topic: i can't wait for the release of "Art brut vs Satan". Is it good?

drake lelane said...

re: Art Brut vs Satan - it is great fun, and it leaps off the speakers, thanks to production by Pixies' Black Francis. "Slap Dash for No Cash" is my current fave, thanks in part to the following lyrics:
"Why is it everyone's trying to sound like U2? It's not a very cool thing to do. Why would you want to sound like U2? Just press record and play it straight through. They call it lo-fi, if you say so. Cool your warm jets, Brian Eno!"

annette said...

haha excellent.
Free U2 bashing included, i love it!