Mad Men, Season 5
Oh, the accordion!
Photograph by Michael Yarish/AMC.
I admired those slingbacks, too, Julia. But the word is footwear. Don’t make that mistake again.
What a compelling indictment, Swansburg. I’m hardly going to step up and defend the episode in its every detail. The Peggy and Dawn sequence did feel facile, and having witnessed Lane’s awkward encounter with the cabby a few weeks back, it was a bit deflating to have the show reduce the fraught race relations of the era to a trust-and-money dynamic once again.
You also make a terrific point about the prevalence in popular culture of supporting African American characters who function only as instrumental foils for the personal development of the white leads. This is an old problem, of course, and an ongoing challenge for black actors. After The Wire, with its rich array of complex roles, concluded, most of its actors were reduced to taking broader, less nuanced parts; some of them couldn’t find acting jobs at all, and ended up working 9-to-5. There was a measure of irony, during Oscar season, that the extraordinary Viola Davis raised these issues repeatedly, and persuasively, while campaigning for a film that, in some respects, was emblematic of the problem. Some noted a further irony when she ended up losing the Oscar.
Maybe we should adapt the Bechdel Test for race. But on Mad Men, at least, we’ll need to wait until SCDP hires a second black employee—or until the show ventures past 96th street, where even the cabs won’t go, and follows Dawn home. Either way, let’s hope we find her in an environment where her inner life can start to show; I’m pretty uninhibited myself, but even I would be a little guarded during an impromptu sleepover with a senior copywriter from my new job, and an overly empathetic, drunken one, at that.
There’s one potentially significant issue that you haven’t addressed, however: You say you knew the Andrea scene was a dream sequence, John, but when did the dream begin? We can all agree in retrospect that her second visit to Don’s apartment was a fantasy—but what about her first? Don is awake when she shows up the first time, and he quickly hurries her out. Was that a dream as well? To me, and to a number of our readers, it seemed more likely that the first encounter actually happened. And if it did, that would lend some weight to the hunch I expressed yesterday that the Lincoln Center pas de deux may have taken place more recently than the 1960 season.
A stray, favorite moment: It’s a fairly typical comic convention to have a violin player descend on the table and launch into a schmaltzy serenade just as the diners are commencing an epic fight. But to make the interloper an accordionist was an inspired twist—as it let Mrs. Holloway punctuate the awkward silence that follows by remarking, brightly, “Joanie plays the accordion.”
That’s for nothing. So look out,
Patrick Radden Keefe is is a fellow at the Century Foundation and the author of The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream.