Seth, you noted that the song playing over the end credits was “On a Carousel.” And on Mad Men carousels aren’t just metaphors for stiflingly going round and round and round, they are also reminders of Don’s genius. Last week, Ken Cosgrove flashed a picture of his family on a merry-go-round and said it always made him think of Don, because of Don’s legendary, tear-inducing, Kodak Carousel pitch, in which he compared carousels to time machines.
So which carousel, exactly, is Don on right now? This week Don did his standard compulsion-alcoholism-shave and a shower-redemption bit and, yes, Seth, I remain as exhausted by it as I have been for a season and a half. But as Jim Cutler says, Don is an exquisite copywriter. Pumping out 25 taglines about a burger chain where one is served milkshakes by pimply teenagers may be starting small, but Don does have to start somewhere. Maybe this presages the part of the carousel ride where Don comes round and round again to his remarkable creative acuity.
That may just be wishful thinking, me hoping that I never have to see another one of Don’s sweaty, drunken naps. (Tuck in your shirt, Draper! Isn’t it remarkable how unattractive and slovenly drunkenness has become on this show, so different than the early seasons’ blotto glamour?) But I find it hard to believe that Mad Men, the creation of Matt Weiner—the writer who chooses man over machine, who thinks catching up to an idea instead of leading with it is the hack’s way—is going to side with mediocrity over genius.
The appeal of mediocrity (it’s easier, most people can’t tell it apart from the good stuff anyway) has been a major theme of this season. Peggy’s whole storyline has been a bitter, futile fight against Lou’s laziness. No one at SC&P cares enough about Peggy to set her straight, but what Bert Cooper says to Don applies to her as well: SC&P, much to Don’s chagrin, has not imploded or failed without him. It doesn’t need visionary creative to succeed. (Isn’t the computer pretty visionary creative though, the best advertisement for SC&P since Don’s kiss-off to the cigarette companies? The clients walk in, and they see a machine, which they think is more impressive than the humans who used to sit on fart-ridden couches in the same room.)
It’s one of the great, knotty details of Mad Men that Don and Peggy approach advertising like its art: It’s something they share with Weiner, who approaches TV, which started as a high-concept advertisement for soap, the same way. Maybe they are being foolish; maybe the people they have sold the hardest are themselves; maybe no one needs their kind of dedication; maybe cheeseball taglines and rote procedurals are just as effective or—psych!!! That is not what Weiner and Mad Men think at all. Genius jerks are better than doofus hacks always and forever. Confronted with Lou and Don’s work—or rather Lou vs. Peggy and Don’s work—the office may not be able to tell the difference, but we will, and with Don hard at work on those Burger Chef taglines, that day of difference is coming soon (I hope).*
But when it arrives, it will only be Don who benefits. At the start of this season, I was waiting in ticklish delight for what happened this week: Peggy, the boss of Don. But, of course, when it finally arrived it was so sour. Seth, I agree that Peggy didn’t handle the situation particularly well, but what was she supposed to do? Her self-satisfaction at resolving a predicament that had actually been resolved by Freddie Rumsen reminded me of her misunderstanding with the flowers: Peggy thinks she can read a room, but she’s always missing intel. And you know who she learned that sort of hubris from? Don, who would rather report to Lou than Peggy, even though Peggy is 10,000 times the adman Lou will ever be. The whole circumstance stinks for Peggy: Either she’ll corral Don and report to Lou, or she’ll showcase Don and report to Don. She should smirk while she can.
And there’s all the Roger-Marigold stuff left, which was my favorite part of the episode! Seeing Roger in his blue suit and Mona in her fur mixing it up with the hippies in Kingston (right next to Woodstock), I realized that carousels aren’t the only time machines, and computers aren’t the only way to travel to another planet. But I will leave dissecting Roger and his daughter’s interaction to you, Julia, except to say that being a hypocrite doesn’t make you wrong—something Don and Peggy and nearly everyone in the show know about as well as Roger.
Correction, May 5, 2014: This post originally misstated the name of the restaurant that Don is writing taglines for. It is called Burger Chef, not Burger Shack. (Return.)
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