Thursday, September 3, 2009

Mad Men: My Old Kentucky Home

"Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone...

Bob Dylan, 1963

Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner must have an inspiration board where the lyrics of Bob Dylan are posted. As season three moves in a methodical pace within the soon to be tragic 1963, those words provide an thematic outline. Don Draper and his contemporaries continue the day to day, some in happy complacency, others in quiet desperation, as the cultural winds propelled by the young start to shift. Call it the quiet before the JFK assassination storm.

Weiner called this "the party episode", where different elements of social class convened within their own circles, showing stark contrasts at work. Roger Sterling's old timesy Derby Day party on Long Island was one example. He sang in black face to be-hatted mint julip swilling women and their sear sucker suited ivy league husbands. Roger was pleased in himself, crooning like an antiquated fool to please the old world upper crust, who were cocooned in a crisp comfortable life unaware to the as civil unrest at their doorstep. Only Don was disjointed by the display. He hates Roger for letting others do his dirty work, for being the priviledged idiot without a clue to life's struggles, for being unaccountable for his actions. "I don't know what I did to get under your skin." Said Roger to Don. How about just being a old timesy dick, Rog.

Meanwhile in the offices of Sterling Cooper, another party was going on. An ad campaign brainstorm session turned into a something more. "I'm Peggy Olsen. And I want to smoke marijuana." Doug Benson? Are you there? It turns out that pot opened a new door for Pegs - not just in the creativity department, but in the feel good about her success department. She even felt compassion for her secretary Olive, who hovered around her like a worried mother, telling her to drop the concern - ol' Peggy will be just fine. And she will be. Because these are the 60's and a hard rains about to fall. We even have Paul and his drug pushing Princeton buddy, once acapella club rivals, now friends after singing an old sing-song. Peace and love, everybody.

And then there is the beautiful Joan and her party. The kick ass secretary with the weight of the world in those DDD cups. The joan who was raped by her own fiancee, now married to the doctor idiot who apparently lost a patient and stands to possibly lose his reputation. What of her? She's a dutiful wife who is showing wear and tear at the seams. "If things don't work out, I'm relieved he has you as a wife." Said the chief surgeon's wife. Poor Joan. Stuck as a wife of a doctor with no security to show for it. Desperate to please, Dr. Rapist asks her to play her sexy french song on the accordion like a nice performing monkey. Seething, she does. Beautifully, yet so sadly. Betty Friedan take note.

Pretty Betty Draper and her pretty pregnant belly. Men just gravitate to her. Someone online put it perfectly: Betty is like everyone's doll. Mesmerizing, prettier than life, propped up in a smart hair do and a fashionable dress. But Betty wants more than what Don can give her.

Back home in Ossining, there wasn't a party going on, but it was a meeting of the old versus the young. As Gene's mind starts to fail, it's pretty hard to convince people that he really had the five dollars that went missing. Sally was the little thief, but older heads prevailed. Gene knew she did it, and remained stern but patient. And patience was what 60's youth were asking from their elders. Sweet, that.

And then there's Don. Is this what he imagined when he took on the Draper persona? Being the dirt poor gutter snipe who peaked over the fence decades ago at the fancy party and wanted to be those people? And there he is now - Roger in black face, chuckling at an insulting form of comedy. His Grace Kelly look-a-like wife laughing with the rest of them as he turns away. If anyone can sense the undertow of change and the psyche of society, it's Don. Even the romantic final scene between he and Betty, kissing within the trees felt like a longing for something else.

Much like Peggy's new discovery about herself, Don senses the shift. The oppressed will not be held down, and the privileged will have to summon compassion or die out. As Dylan said, "The first one now will later be last...for the times they are a-changing".

And that's why I love this show.

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