Monday, May 4, 2015

Good Housekeeping's Throwback Thursday, Mad Men Edition: "Time & Life"

"Cracklin' Rosie,"
by Neil Diamond (September 1970)

Aw, Cracklin' Rosie, get on board.
We're gonna ride
Till there ain't no more to go,
Taking it slow,
And Lord, don't you know
We'll have me a time with a poor man's lady.

Hitchin' on a twilight train,
Ain't nothing here that I care to take along,
Maybe a song,
To sing when I want.
No need to say please to no man
For a happy tune.

Oh, I love my Rosie child,
You got the way to make me happy.
You and me we go in style.
Cracklin' Rose,
You're a store-bought woman
But you make me sing like a guitar hummin'
So hang on to me, girl,
Our song keeps runnin' on.
Play it now, play it now,
Play it now, my baby.

Cracklin' Rosie, make me a smile.
Girl, if it lasts for an hour, that's all right,
We got all night
To set the world right.
Find us a dream that don't ask no questions,

Oh, I love my Rosie child,
You got the way to make me happy.
You and me we go in style.
Cracklin' Rose,
You're a store-bought woman,
But you make me sing like a guitar hummin'
So hang on to me, girl,
Our song keeps runnin' on.
Play it now, play it now,
Play it now, my baby.

Cracklin' Rosie, make me a smile.
Girl, if it lasts for an hour, that's all right,
We got all night
To set the world right.
Find us a dream that don't ask no questions.
Ba ba ba ba ba..."

And so now we've entered the age of Neil Diamond. Oh, yeah.

This song climbed the charts in late summer 1970, around the time we've likely landed on the show. It's a song Ken Cosgrove would have been fond of, as Cracklin' Rosie is actually a bottle of wine. A bottle of wine that helps you find a dream that asks no questions. It's no Chateau Margaux, but I guess it will do.

My fiancé started watching Mad Men Episode 7.11 before I did, and about halfway through, he came into the bedroom and said, "Very exciting things are happening..."

And like many other viewers, he was excited because the gang was all back together again. We've seen lots of individual story lines for these characters so far this season, but when all of them come together to work on one goal...well, that's one of the things this show does best.

Like many episodes this season, "Time & Life" had callbacks to a previous episode, "Shut the Door. Have a Seat," the third season finale. In fact, for a while there, it seemed it was repeating an identical story arc, perhaps partly because Jared Harris (the actor who played Lane Pryce) was directing: firm is about to lose its autonomy; members scramble to retain everything they've worked for, even via unconventional methods (e.g., firing themselves, moving to California); in the end, firm is independent and undefeated, though smaller and facing potentially precarious obstacles.

It's the story of reinvention, of holding onto what's yours, despite the odds. It's quintessentially American, and that's why everyone loves it so much.

"How do I talk about California without making them jealous?"

But Don, Pete, Joan and Roger, despite their behind-the-scenes scheming, weren't able to see their last-ditch effort through this time. There is a feeling of the wind being knocked out of their sails when McCann's Jim Hobart tells them to stop. And so we are left wondering at the end—is attaining the "five most coveted jobs in advertising" a good thing? As many recappers have mentioned, Ted Chaough is the only one who looks relieved. But is "advertising heaven" a good place to be?

And can they really trust Jim Hobart? This is the same man who has doggedly tried to poach Don for the entire series. He even used Betty as bait in a first season episode: He offers her a modeling job with Coca-Cola, and after Don turns him down, he fires Betty on the spot (hence why offering Don Coke as a client might be met with mixed feelings). Recappers have compared Hobart to the devil, and he does often appear like a little devil on Don's shoulder—in a recent season, when Don met with another firm, Hobart popped up behind him, yet again professing his interest. As Peggy's headhunter puts it, ending up at McCann seems inevitable. So why the struggle against it?

Because ending up at McCann means denouncing one's name. It means becoming a "cog," as Don puts it, a number in a lineup (and we saw many of those this episode, but more on that later). It means becoming what almost everyone who works at a large corporation in this country—and that's a good number of us—takes as a given: It is very difficult to stand out and get ahead, because nobody really knows who you are.

And that means a special kind of struggle for someone like Joan. She is immediately dismissive of this turn of events. Back in "Shut the Door. Have a Seat," Joan was the mascot of the new firm—she was the only one who knew where anything was, when they had to steal all of their necessary administrative materials in the dead of night. It's why Pete tells her she's supposed to be the "voice of optimism" this time. But this time, she just can't muster it.

After everyone has left the bar, Roger tells Don he'd made a deal with God that he'd give up smoking if "this worked out." Then he sticks a cigarette in his mouth and says, "Message received." So despite his previous toasts of celebration, Roger clearly believes they've failed.

He is mourning the loss of his legacy in this scene, too. "No more Sterling Cooper, and no more Sterlings. Margaret is the only daughter of an only son of an only son. All that's left is a mausoleum at Greenwood."

To which Don says, jokingly quoting Shakespeare, "What's in a name?"

What is in a name?

Well, a lot, apparently.

In season two's "The Mountain King," Don and Pete take a business trip to California, and Don essentially disappears. He runs off with some new fling without telling Pete, and then he holes up at Anna Draper's house. In this series of events, nobody knows where he is. Not his family, not his coworkers. And this goes on for three weeks.

Sitting on her front porch, he confesses to Anna that he's scratching at the edges of his life, trying to get in. He says he's really made a mess of things with his wife and family. And he appears confused by the fact that he's able to tell Anna these things, express his true feelings, in a way he can't with Betty.

As I've discussed in this blog before, Anna gives him a tarot card reading towards the end of the episode. She tells him the cards say that the only reason he's so unhappy is because he believes he is alone. She tells him that once he changes that belief, he can be at peace.

And then he walks into the ocean, pants on, stretches out his arms and lets gravity take him under. It's a baptism, in a sense.

But most importantly, the camera pulls away in a shot that makes Don seem so incredibly small. Don Draper, like all of us, is just a grain of sand on this earth. It's a very different shot than what we're used to on this show—normally, he is large and up-close. Normally, we are thick into his life and character development, like he's the most important person in the world. And normally, so is he.

He's created this persona and life for himself that requires he be in constant control. Because he believes he comes from nothing but pain and poverty, and was told for most of his childhood that he was worthless, he has to invent a life for himself that is separate from that stigma. As I've mentioned before, this was a common practice for his generation—people who wanted to achieve the American dream, to build something for themselves. Because they weren't held back by family legacies in this country, in this century. Don just takes it to an extreme by inventing a character he must become.

But being a character all the time is exhausting. For one, you have to make up all the personality traits yourself and then try to stick to them. And while you might achieve what you set out to do, you will never truly feel fulfilled, because you've failed yourself—inner fulfillment requires being who you really are. You might have an important name, but in this world, as we've seen in "Time & Life," even that can be taken from you.

I've compared Don Draper to Walt Disney in the past in this blog because they are both self-made men, each with an iconic name—and a reputation built on their glamour and creativity.

But Disney and Don are alike for one other reason.

There is a running theme in much of Disney's movies, many of them derived from Grimm's Fairy Tales. Cinderella, Snow White, Ariel, Pocahontas, Jasmine, Belle, Bambi, Pinocchio, Tarzan, Quasimodo, Nemo and Elsa and Anna...not one of them has a mother.

In a recent interview with Glamour, Disney producer Don Hahn explained why there are rarely mothers in Disney films: "The movies are 80 or 90 minutes long, and [they] are about growing up. They're about that day in your life when you have to accept responsibility. It's much quicker to have characters grow up when you bump off their parents. Bambi's mother gets killed, so he has to grow up. Belle only has a father, but he gets lost, so she has to step into that position. It's story shorthand."

Now Walt Disney killed his mother by accident—there was a problem with the furnace in the house he'd bought her. But Don's mother's death involved his very existence—like many fairy tale characters, she died giving birth to him and he then had an evil stepmother to contend with.

Back in the 1800s, in the days of Grimm, this was a fairly common situation. Before antibiotics and modern medicine, many women died in childbirth (in fact, I often think the rise of feminism had much to do with the fact that women were just plain surviving past 30, but that's a whole other discussion).

"Ain't'n ya heard? I'm a whore-child."

A year ago, journalist Sarah Boxer discussed the "dead-mother plot" in an article for The Atlantic called, "Why Are All the Cartoon Mothers Dead?": "As Marina Warner notes in her book From the Beast to the Blonde, one of the first Cinderella stories, that of Yeh-hsien, comes from ninth-century China. The dead-mother plot is a fixture of fiction, so deeply woven into our storytelling fabric that it seems impossible to unravel or explain. But some have tried. In Death and the Mother From Dickens to Freud: Victorian Fiction and the Anxiety of Origins (1998), Carolyn Dever, a professor of English, noted that character development begins 'in the space of the missing mother.' The unfolding of plot and personality, she suggests, depends on the dead mother. In The Uses of Enchantment (1976), Bruno Bettelheim, the child psychologist, saw the dead mother as a psychological boon for kids: 'The typical fairy tale splitting of the mother into a good (usually dead) mother and an evil stepmother…is not only a means of preserving an internal all-good mother when the real mother is not all-good, but it also permits anger at this bad 'stepmother' without endangering the goodwill of the true mother.'"

So when Don's brother Adam finds him in season one and tells him over lunch (which Don attends reluctantly—he doesn't even eat) that Don's stepmother died of stomach cancer, Don says, "Good." And he doesn't have to feel any guilt about saying that or feel that he must have any loyalty to her. She's not his real mom, after all—a fact she reminded him of many times.

Like many people who are raised by a stepparent who doesn't want them, Don's main crisis in life is the desire to be seen and known...and wanted. For most people, nobody really knows them like their mother does. It wasn't just poverty or poor treatment Dick was running from when he switched places with Don Draper in the Korean War. If you look carefully at that scene, the real Don tells Dick that he's just pissed his pants when the two are being shot at. Dick looks down to check, and in doing so, drops his lighter on the ground. The lighter sets gasoline on fire and that in turn triggers an explosion—Dick survives, the real Don doesn't. In his moments of confession, which have been few and far between, Dick/Don tells the story of this like it was an accident, a mishap at the hospital. But in this scene, technically, Dick Whitman is the one who accidentally kills Don, much like he accidentally killed his own mother. And then, he very deliberately removes his own dog tags and takes dog tags off the neck of a freshly burnt body, flesh still bubbling. That is a planned, calculated move. That is not something that just happens by accident.

What I'm saying is, Dick Whitman wants so badly to be known and loved that he will steal someone's identity the first chance he gets. Because being known and loved while wearing the shoes of another man is the closest he can come to finding happiness.

He's also, as Matthew Weiner has said many times, a survivor. He knew if he pretended to be Don, he'd get to leave the battlefront. It's what makes the rumors that he might commit suicide at the end of the series almost preposterous.

So, what is in a name?

When Roger bemoans the loss of his father's legacy in "Time & Life," the loss of his name, really, it is an important loss to acknowledge. Roger inherited his position. He built his company based on loyalty to his father's name. Because of this, he's never fully been his own person.

Pete encounters a similar chain of events this episode—his family's name also has a long legacy, but in "Time & Life," the headmaster of a day school tells Trudy she should be happy to get rid of it. Because with Pete's name comes a history of backstabbing, apparently, so much so that it follows Pete to this day, regardless of how he lives his own life, and prevents his daughter from getting a certain kind of education.

Kind of great to see Pete on the delivering end of a punch for once, right?
(Though sucker punches do seem to be his specialty.)

Even Peggy is limited by her family's legacy in "Time & Life," despite not having a famous name. Her limitation is her gender and religious upbringing. We watch her share a very personal story, with someone other than Don. And Peggy tells Stan, she thinks she should be allowed to make the decision she made, giving up her child, without feeling any guilt about it. She should be permitted to be the author of her life, even if that means sometimes making mistakes.

To be the author of her life. It's all Don really wants.

Because really, in the end, who you are is what you do—it's not whom you've been told to be, or the name you've given yourself. We can try to play a role, whether given to us or self-induced, as much as we want. But we'll never be at peace until we can look in the mirror and see who we truly are looking back...and remember that, as Anna said to Don in California, all of us are in this together.

From that time when Don could
barely look himself in the eye...

It's a value the characters of this show struggle to see or maintain, they are all so caught up in their own dramas and motivations for doing things. And now we have the added issue of the haves versus the have-nots—despite how much Don detests men like Jim Hobart, he's using his new money and position to buy a power suit just like Jim's. And look how quick Roger is to fire people this episode. He seems to announce it with glee.

Just as an example, here's what Don sees at the end of "Shut the Door. Have a Seat":

And here's his view at the end of "Time & Life":

By 1970, they've all been reduced to nameless faces in a lineup, the feel of which is created visually several times this episode (I'm not including the memorable Last Supper homage, because I posted it above):

Of course, this illustrative strategy emphasizes Don's loneliness all the more when this happens:

I can only guess that by season's end (in only three weeks!), there will be some sort of uprising against this. Even if that means Don moves to L.A. permanently.

There were only a few match-ups with old Good Housekeepings this week. Here's what I've got.

The reason we see multiple different hem lengths on the secretaries in Roger's office:

Good Housekeeping, August 1970
Good Housekeeping, August 1970

The results of real-life kids' casting calls:

Good Housekeeping, August 1970
Good Housekeeping, August 1970

A Meredith doppelganger:

Good Housekeeping, August 1970

And one for Stan:

Good Housekeeping, August 1970

 Until next time, "Sayonara, my friend. Enjoy the rest of your miserable life."

"Shakespeare said that art is a mirror held up to nature. And that’s what it is. The nature is your nature, and all of these wonderful poetic images of mythology are referring to something in you. When your mind is trapped by the image out there so that you never make the reference to yourself, you have misread the image.

The inner world is the world of your requirements and your energies and your structure and your possibilities that meets the outer world. And the outer world is the field of your incarnation. That’s where you are. You’ve got to keep both going. As Novalis said, 'The seat of the soul is there where the inner and outer worlds meet.'

We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget that the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it’s all about.”

Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth (1988)

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