In Episode Nine of Season One, entitled “Shoot”, we see a tense exchange between Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) as she returns Joan’s (Christina Hendricks) dress that she previously borrowed from her. It seems this confrontation has been building up all season as Peggy and Joan have often disagreed on many things. Peggy and Joan represent two very different types of women, with different goals, and very different ideas about what constitutes success. These differences eventually lead to jealousy and cruelty—an unfortunate side effect of success for women in the workplace.

Throughout the season, Joan attempts to offer Peggy advice on how to attract a potential male suitor, and while her intentions are good, this advice does not particularly work out well for Peggy (case and point: her extremely awkward attempts at flirting with Don in “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”). Despite Joan’s attempts, Peggy is more interested in advancing her career at Sterling Cooper than landing a husband, something Joan finds difficult to understand. Joan’s power comes from her sexuality and her power over men, and she believes, like many women did at the time, that finding a husband was the most important thing in a young woman’s life.

As a result of this, she tells Peggy that her recent weight gain will prevent her from “doing well” and finding herself a husband. Peggy retorts with a prideful look on her face, “I’m the first girl to do any writing in this office, since the war.” To which Joan replies somewhat confused “Writing? Is that what this is about? I thought you were only doing that to get close to Paul.” This quote is another example of historical references in Mad Men as Peggy mentions that she is the first female copywriter since the war, referring to the mass employment of women during World War II.

With many of the men overseas, women had to fulfill traditionally male roles in the work place, including the advertising world. Despite the massive gains for women during the war (financial independence, learning new skills, putting their education to work), it was largely seen as a “special situation” that would only last until the war was over and the need for labor diminished. At the end of the war, many women were forced to give up their jobs to make room for returning veterans, and return to their domestic roles. The 1950’s were a large step back for the progress of women—though we begin to see that change in the 1960s, and Peggy Olson is a prime example.

However, from this point Peggy and Joan’s conversation grows increasingly cruel, as they each point out the others shortcomings. Joan essentially tells Peggy that the reason she was able to work on accounts is because the wife of a client was not worried about Peggy’s involvement (insinuating she is not a threat because she is not attractive). Peggy becomes defensive and retorts, “You know, you’re not a stick…I know what men think of you—that you’re looking for a husband, and you’re fun. And not in that order.” Peggy’s expression then softens, and she tells Joan, “I just realized something…you think you’re being helpful” to which Joan replies, “Well I’m trying dear.”

This short exchange between Joan and Peggy may seem only indicative of their relationship with each other, but it represents the pressures and dynamics between women at the time (though things haven’t exactly changed much). Joan’s way of thinking is more traditional in the sense that she feels a woman’s ultimate goal should be to get married and quit her job. Peggy, on the other hand, is more progressive in her views. Peggy truly enjoys working and wants to advance her career at Sterling Cooper and chooses not to focus on finding a husband. The two women continue to put each other down, not being able to understand their differing mindsets. This trend of pressuring and putting each other down is something women have been doing a long time—often at the cost of the mutual advancement. One of the reasons feminist movements did not happen earlier is because women were often isolated, and would oppress and criticize each other (usually out of jealousy). One could interpret Joan’s ‘concern’ as thinly veiled jealousy, as she has been working at Sterling Cooper for a long time but has yet to receive a promotion, or a husband. Despite her jealousy, Joan does try to help Peggy, albeit in a condescending way, and as Peggy realizes this she feels less hurt by Joan’s criticism. Their relationship is a complex one and a result of the restrictive and contradictory environment for women in the early 1960s.


Don Draper: Sociopath? Or Just a Man?

Every episode, the writers of Mad Men make the audience love a villain. They cheer on as protagonist Don Draper cheats on his wife, mistreats his family and is rude to his subordinates, superiors and friends. He seems to coast through life with no empathy or strong emotions, a sociopath in his own right. However, Askmen.com editor James Bassil argues that Don is the epitome of traditional masculine traits. Don was voted ‘most inspirational man’ in a poll conducted by askmen.com, what does this say about men today? Are they really looking up to a sociopath or is Don really the ‘prefect’ man?

In the first season’s finale, Don is about to pitch his carousel idea to Kodak. Using pictures of his wife and children, he tugs at Kodak and the audience’s heartstrings. He talks of nostalgia, wanting to go back to a happier time, implying that his family once fulfilled him and made him happy. Between the deafening clicks of the slides changing and the candid pictures of Don, Betty and the kids, we flash to Don’s face as he speaks. Underneath his haughty default demeanor is, undeniably, emotion threatening to spill out.

It’s not hard to see how Don can be interpreted as a sociopath; he seems to lack empathy for everybody and only does things to help himself. But is he the epitome of masculinity? Given the obvious emotion Don displays in the Carousel pitch and the scene following it, we cannot call him a sociopath; he obviously feels something for his wife and his children. Sociopath’s lack emotion and fit in by mimicking others. So is Don just a poster boy for masculinity then? An anonymous commenter on the article argues that “Men, at their core, are ambitious, bold, out for their own well being, paternal, and providers.” It’s possible that all of Don’s sociopathic tendencies can be filed under "manliness." Don does not love his wife; rather she fulfills his need to be a provider. Betty needs Don to take care of her and be a father to her children, and Don wants someone to take care of. Yet it can be argued that Betty is not the type of woman that Don would fall in love with. His track record of serious affairs seems to be women who are independent and strong (i.e. Midge and Rachel). These women do not need Don, yet it seems that he is closer to loving them than he is to loving his wife.

“Bold, ambitious and out for his own well-being.” Definitely words that could be used to describe a man who hides his identity and steals a dead man's. A man who sleeps with an employee’s wife in order to control him better. A man who ruins his daughter's birthday party in order to get a few more hours away from the humdrum of suburbia. Don Draper is not a nice man, but he is not a sociopath. Don Draper is just a man. A man who has not been forced to tone down his masculinity in order to fit in to a more sensitive world, a man whose manliness has not been bogged down by society. “A man whose time has come," according to James Bassil, AskMen’s editor-in-chief. Alarmingly, the majority of men look to Don Draper for inspiration; should we assume that all men would be pseudo-sociopathic if it were not for external factors? Let’s hope not.

Links: "Don Draper:Sociopath?" and "Men Choose Television Sociopath as Their Biggest Influence in 2009."


Mad Men and Horror Movies?

It is arguable that most of Mad Men’s success as a television show can be credited to its attention to detail. The show pays great homage to its roots in the 60s. Many of these roots are obvious, from Betty’s life relating back to the feminist mystique or historical events affecting characters in the show. But, there are also an immense amount of more subtle roots in the show. One huge example is 1960’s horror movies, specifically Alfred Hitchcock movies. In fact, there is a Hitchcock reference in every single episode. Where could this be? Its part of the first thing the viewer sees, the opening sequence.

Asking somebody about the opening credits often creates a very long and interesting discussion. In this interview, Mad Men creator Matt Weiner discusses his original ideas for the opening sequence.

As well as that video, here is a link to the opening sequence to refresh your memory.

Later in the interview Weiner explains how they auditioned people to do the titles. He mentions the name Saul Bass multiple times. Well, the references aren’t exactly references to Alfred Hitchcock himself. They are actually references to Saul Bass, who during his life he was one of Hollywood’s most prominent graphic designer. One of his most famous works was the opening credits for the Alfred Hitchcock movie North by Northwest, in which the opening credits all appear on a skyscraper.

In these titles a building is formed and the titles become part of the building. This is very similar to the Mad Men opening sequence where the office falls apart and we see titles on skyscrapers for the remainder of the sequence. This isn’t the only reference to a Hitchcock film in the opening sequence. Saul Bass also designed the poster for perhaps one of the most famous horror movies of all time, Vertigo. This poster depicts a silhouette falling down in to what seems to be an endless spiral.

In the opening sequence of Mad Men we see the silhouette falling in to an endless abyss of advertisements. It is certainly interesting to see where the opening credits came from. Not many people would think that 60s horror movies would play such a great influence on this show. What else could this show be inspired by? Hopefully, more people will be more conscious of trying to find the shows hidden roots and references.

Link referenced: Imdb.com.
Image from http://posterwire.com/wp-content/images/vertigo.jpg.


Just a Dance?

Mad Men presents many themes; perhaps the most notable of the episode entitled, “The Hobo
Code,” is the clash of individuals, particularly with regard to the relationship between the men and women of the office. However, as the scene at the bar shows, the dynamics between men and women extend far beyond mere office relations and demonstrate the conflict between Pete and Peggy’s attitudes.

The scene opens with an anonymous hand inserting a quarter into a jukebox. As the record is set, the music begins to play and the camera shifts to girls from the office as they jump and scream. The song, “The Twist” (or “C’mon, Baby, Let’s Do the Twist”), seems to inspire the women to begin dancing, though the men soon join the excitement. As the camera angle widens, the viewer sees Peggy at the focal point, giddy with excitement. In the same shot, conversely, is Pete’s silhouette, gloomy and shadowed. The opening sequence serves as a preview of the light-heartedness of the couples and the harsh reality Pete creates for his relationship with Peggy.

The shot then widens so the viewer’s focus is not on an object of the room but on parts of the
room. The increased focus on individuals (gives) the viewer a more in-depth look at each character’s personality. As the shot of the room is broken down, we see each separate couple, all of whom act slightly differently. The camera first catches Hildy with Harry Crane, with Hildy acquiescing to dance with Harry. Contrasting their innocent flirtations are Joan and Paul Kinsey, who through their facial expressions and sensual body movement seem to be attempting to seduce each other. Their dance is especially fascinating because Joan tends to play the leading woman (in the office and sexually) while Kinsey portrays the alpha- male, even if he is often undermined by other minor characters, like Cosgrove. The camera shifts back to Hildy and Harry who, while appearing to have fun, seem to have a sexual chemistry. Meanwhile Ken
Cosgrove dances promiscuously with a girl in a golden yellow dress. The sequence of couples emphasizes the relationship between men and women in the 1960’s as the battle for dominance in and out of the office begins. It is also a glimpse of the emerging sexual culture as the couples are all somewhat flirtatious, and even Hildy and Harry’s plays at being platonic are later shown to be more than simple flirtations when they wreck his marriage. Interestingly, the light-hearted, dancing couples are juxtaposed with the grim relationship between Peggy and Pete.

The camera then shifts back to Peggy, who though she appears to be having fun, is dancing alone
(or possibly with a couple of the other girls from the office). Doing “the twist," the camera once again distinguishes Peggy from the crowd as she turns to look at Pete (or so the camera shows). Pete, still sitting alone, stares morosely into the dancing crowd. He is completely detached from the merriment around him. Cutting back to a shot of Peggy’s face, she is filled with an air of confidence as she moves closer to Pete. This confidence may have been inspired by the alcohol she had consumed, or possibly, by the success of the Belle Jolie ad, which, if the latter, ironically, is also the downfall of her relationship with Pete. The shot becomes a full-length shot of her body, tempting and inviting. Pete still has not moved, but the camera moves closer as Peggy does, serving to distinguish them from the others. Peggy seems to notice his lack of movement but continues to be assured that he will dance with her as she whispers an invitation to him. Even as Pete answers, he remains stoic, signaling with only a shake of the head and shifting eyes. The lack of movement is made more dramatic by the music, the dancing behind Peggy, and Peggy’s attempt at seduction when she dances over to him. The camera bounces between the two as understanding dawns on Peggy. As she heads back into the crowd, the bodies that she was once isolated from now engulf her. In the same way, Pete’s departure is in the background of the gyrating bodies. To Pete, Peggy appears to be as anonymous as those dancing around her as he makes his departure, though the camera captures her shocked sadness. On the verge of tears, her body continues to move to the dance as she tries to blend back in with those around her.

The scene, although characterized by a seemingly trivial situation, displays deeper emotions and
the emerging culture of the 1960s. The dancing couples are flirtatious and lively, although the scene seems to hint at a subtle power struggle especially within the context of dance. The women may have begun the dance, but the men, traditionally, would be leading the dance, which gives rise to the question of who is actually in control. Pete and Peggy’s relationship, however, is characterized by a pervasive seriousness, which is mainly seen in Pete’s attitude. Unlike many of his male cohorts, Pete seems to be primarily dominated by an internal struggle for power, whether it comes as a result of being a husband, an elite upperclass, or a male, junior executive at a Madison Avenue, advertising agency. Peggy, on the other hand, as shown in her attempt at seduction is completely unaware of his struggle and her role in it. She fails to recognize and take part in the struggle for dominance that even many of the women, like Joan, notice. When Peggy blends back into the crowd, she seems to finally accept the struggle, though a bit late. The
next day, she goes back to her normal business, and she and Pete ignore each other for another day.


The first season of Mad Men is frequently lauded for its pitch perfect recreation of the early 1960s. Yet many fans of the show find that some of their favorite moments and scenes are actually set in the early 1930s. If the question we are all asking is how to tackle the living mystery that is Don Draper, the answer may lie in studying Dick Whitman. The writers and producers of Mad Men carefully crafted the scenes involving the Whitman parents and young Dick/Don to show how several aspects of Don’s life and character can be traced back to his unfortunate upbringing.

The first flashback scene in this episode shows a wondering hobo approaching the Whitman home, looking for a little work in exchange for a hot meal. As the Whitman "family" stands outside, the hobo says he is reminded of his younger self looking at young Dick. Abigail responds that she isn’t surprised. It becomes clear that Dick was raised in an environment where little was expected of him in terms of a successful future. The woman who raises him barks at him to "stop digging holes," and she means this in more than a literal sense. He is perceived as someone who will do nothing more in life than pointless, cheap labor and although Abigail Whitman tells him to stop, there is no real expectation that his existence will ever be worth more than the air he breathes.

At dinner that night, the hobo mentions he comes from back east, New York. Archie Whitman immediately tells us this is a sign of weakness and laziness, that it’s no wonder this man wound up a bum. Dick was raised in a home where the type of work they did in New York was seen as intellectual pointlessness, nothing compared to steady, independent farm living. His family saw the detractions but failed to see the possible benefits of a life with more possibilities and glamour. We can see why Dick had no choice but to run from this atmosphere if he was to ever embrace a dream of anything more, a dream that came true as Don Draper in New York City, for better or for worse.

The next scene featuring the hobo, played wonderfully by Paul Schulze (Jack’s boss Ryan Chappelle for those who remember the third season of 24), finds young Dick preparing a makeshift bed for the visitor by the light of an oil lamp. The hobo tells about his life before he became a "gentleman of the rails," claiming to have had a normal job and family. He hated the confines of being tied down, and one day just left his obligations for the open road. In this very episode, Don asks Midge to leave for Paris with him on a whim. Life at home and in the office is trying for him at this point, and he once again starts to consider escape a desirable option. The seeds of these thoughts can be traced back to the hobo who gave him hope of escape when he told young Dick that it was clear he is "one of us," one that cannot be tied down.

Immediately before the final Depression-era scene of the episode, we are treated to an emotional scene in which Don begs his young son to ask him anything, saying he will always be honest with his children. There is no way this doesn’t directly relate to the next flashback, in which Archie Whitman denies the hobo the coin he was promised the previous night for the work he did that day. The hobo draws a knife on the Whitman family fence post, to signify to other wanderers that a dishonest man lives there. As the hobo walks away, Dick fleetingly runs after him, before shooting a disturbed look back at his father.

Don’s glamorous lifestyle in the advertising industry suggests to the casual viewer that he is a million miles away from his grim, Depression-era upbringing. The flashback scenes in episode seven of the first season, “The Hobo Code," argue the contrary. We learn about what was expected of the young Dick Whitman, factors that prompt his drive to escape, the difference in how he was perceived by his mother figure and an extremely prescient hobo, and conflicts he has about honesty and integrity. As much as shots in the close of this episode (Don sleeping soundly like a rock, which the hobo said he would never due while holding a job, mortgage and family, and the closing image of the nametag on the office door to remind us who this man has become) suggest that Don is completely removed from his childhood, it is clear that elements of his life as the child Dick Whitman still impact the man Don is today.


Scandal in the Office

What book could be so scandalous that Joan is discreet about it? In “Marriage of Figaro”, Joan (Christina Hendricks) discretely returns Lady Chatterley’s Lover to another secretary, Marge (Stephanie Courtney). When Marge gives it to Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), Joan advises her that it would attract the wrong type of person if she read it on the train. Written by Englishman D.H. Lawrence in the early 1920s, Lady Chatterley’s Lover was one of the most commonly banned books of the early 20th Century. It is the story of an aristocratic woman in post-WWI England whose husband became injured after their marriage, driving her to elicit affairs with a playwright and the gamekeeper on her estate. The novel’s explicit descriptions of sex and its use of words that were unprintable at the time led to its being banned in the United States.

Book banning was a major issue across America in the early 20th Century. In 1930, US Senator Smoot petitioned the recent repeal of banning foreign published books. The Senator declared “I'd rather have a child of mine use opium than read these books” and “I've not taken ten minutes on Lady Chatterley's Lover, outside of looking at its opening pages. It is most damnable! It is written by a man with a diseased mind and a soul so black that he would obscure even the darkness of hell!” His fire and brimstone speech convinced the Senate to return to the old system of banning foreign published books. In 1959, however, a court case repealed the ban and salacious foreign novels could then be legally enjoyed by Joan, Peggy and Marge. Even though the book was legal, its themes were still extreme taboos in polite society. Fortunately, we can all now enjoy Lady Chatterley’s Lover by simply visiting our local bookstore; just don’t take it on the Metro, as it still attracts the wrong kind of people.

Links Referenced: Bibliomania and "National Affairs: Decency Squabble" from Time.


The Real Peter Campbell

As we enter into the very first episode of Mad Men, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," it becomes clear that the initial moments that the audience spends with each of the characters are some of the most defining. For example, the first time the audience is introduced to Peter Campbell, we are able to better understand his character through his actions during and after a conversation with his fiancée, Trudy, on the phone. While seemingly menial, the exchange reveals that Campbell has somewhat of a disregard for the truth and that he and his future wife are not the picture of marital bliss that we later see in other couples on the show. These traits are exposed in this scene through a combination of his physical distance from Trudy, their discussion, and the entrance of his coworkers. The product is an accurate portrayal of the young Peter Campbell who continues to be a prominent character in the series.

At times some of the more important characters in a scene are those who we don’t see. In this scene, Trudy is part of the off-screen space, making her only presence her voice which is barely heard over the phone. Her lack of physical presence in the scene is significant in that it separates Campbell’s work life from his home life in the most obvious way, which in future episodes allows him to lead a sort of double life. This theme of keeping one’s wife and home outside of the city permeates the entire male population of the Sterling Cooper offices and thus allows the audience to infer that perhaps Peter Campbell is simply following in the footsteps of those who have come before him. Nonetheless, it is clear that Campbell’s relationship with Trudy will not be one of full-disclosure, as is highlighted in this scene.

In the scenes before Campbell’s entrance it is introduced that he is having a bachelor party that evening. As is hardly a surprise, the conversation between Campbell and Trudy touches upon Trudy’s wariness that this party will be lewd and wild. Campbell chooses to deal with his fiancée’s insecurities by lying to her, telling her that he and his friends will most likely end up watching My Fair Lady, knowing full well that their intention is to go to a strip joint. His lie to Trudy further accents the detachment that he feels physically from Trudy and now emotionally. The comments that he continues to make about his mother-in-law – “Your mother can check under my fingernails” – play up his flippant attitude about an evening that would be sure to offend Trudy. This allows the viewers to see a side of Campbell that continues to appear all through the series, making this scene a proper introduction.

One of the most interesting dynamics witnessed in this episode, and this scene specifically, is that between the Junior Executives at Sterling Cooper. In the scene preceding Campbell’s introduction, we witness the young men cajoling one another and Peggy in the elevator, joking about the night’s party and how to treat women. Upon entering Campbell’s office, the men continue the same “frat house” behavior, throwing a flyer for a strip club at Campbell. Additionally, one of the Junior Executives, Dick, comments after Campbell compliments Trudy, that “her old man's loaded," which Campbell doesn’t refute. Dick’s joke about Trudy’s father being wealthy not only adds to the office’s asinine atmosphere, but also adds to Campbell’s character. It would appear that the audience is meant to question whether Campbell really thinks of Trudy as a “great gal," or a sizable dowry.

While the entire transcript of this scene takes up no more than three inches on a page, the foundation that it gives the viewer on one of the more integral characters in the series is invaluable. His relationships with his fiancée and his closest coworkers are established, as well as his penchant for shirking responsibility and weakness before money. Knowing the basic elements of Peter Campbell’s character allows for a greater understanding of his motivation and portrayal throughout this first season and the subsequent seasons.


The New Girl on the Block

In almost every episode of Mad Men, artistic elements are used in order to support and enhance each scene: elements such as lighting, music, and nuances in the text. Many of these elements are present in two short, continuous scenes in the episode, “New Amsterdam”, directed by Alan Taylor and written by Matthew Weiner. Taylor, along with the rest of the Mad Men creative team, used artistic elements in order to further characterize the new woman on the block: Helen Bishop.
In this episode, there is a scene in which Betty witnesses an uncomfortable interaction between Helen Bishop and her ex-husband, Dan. The first shot reveals Betty walking the dog, after putting the kids to sleep. As she approaches Helen’s house, we see Dan pounding on the door, wanting to be let in. He sees Betty and asks to use her phone, but she refuses him.

This whole sequence is interesting because of how Taylor decided to shift the mood from pleasant to gloomy. When Betty is simply walking her dog, nothing seems to be wrong. But the moment we hear pounding on Helen’s door, dark and sinister music begins to play. The lighting becomes a bit darker, and we realize it’s about to be nighttime. The director had a reason for wanting a darker mood to surface the moment Betty reaches Helen’s home.

The next shot shows Betty’s feet (in slippers) walking down the stairs to answer the door, clearly on the same night. When she opens the door, we hear, “Can I come in?” but we cannot see a face. Again, there is a feeling of mystery and suspicion because we hear a noise but do not see who is speaking until Betty opens the door…and Helen walks into the house.

The following conversation is emblematic of the show’s theme of people covering up their true feelings in order to seem polite or even just to seem happy. Whereas the earlier shots in front of Helen’s house are rich in artistic elements (music, lighting, etc.), this scene in Betty’s house is rich in text. Helen starts off by apologizing for Dan’s rude behavior and reveals how embarrassed she is about the whole thing. Helen’s admittance of her embarrassment startles Betty, forcing Betty to instantly reply, “I don’t know what you’re talking about," even though she is clearly aware of the situation.

As the scene continues, Helen shares a bit too much information for Betty to handle, stating the reason she left Dan; he was cheating on her with women in Manhattan. Weiner is clearly poking fun at the viewer in this conversation, because we all know that Don Draper is doing the exact same thing. It is no coincidence that “Dan” and “Don” would be the same name if not for one letter. Helen states the truth about something that Betty cannot bare to discuss or even think about, for obvious reasons.

Through the mysterious tone of the first scene, and the awkward interaction in the second scene, Taylor and Weiner create a foil by strongly differentiating the characters of Betty and Helen; one is polite and refined, while the other is blunt and able to express her true feelings. The mysterious lighting and music of the previous scene foreshadowed the dark topic of the ladies’ conversation about affairs and divorces. This just goes to show how every detail in Mad Men is planned and constructed for a reason- every detail goes towards telling a more clear and dynamic story.

The above image is posted at http://woodscolt.wordpress.com/2009/09.


Feeling Trapped

A very memorable scene from the earlier part of the series was the birthday party scene from the third episode entitled "The Marriage of Figaro." In this scene we really got to see the dynamics of suburban life. Rather than experiencing a sense of community, like one would expect from a birthday party scene, the viewer feels trapped like the characters in the scene. Most of this is can be attested to the crowded, claustrophobic sense created by the way the scene was filmed. In contrast the characters that are the most trapped are the ones we see by themselves. We can see, from the way the scene is framed, that Betty, Don, and Helen feel trapped by suburban life.

The viewer only sees Betty Draper alone for about thirty seconds in the beginning of the scene. We see her making a punch for the adults. Instead of pouring a moderate amount of alcohol in to the cocktail, she dumps an extreme amount in to the pitcher. She then sighs and picks up the drink. We next see her in a sea of neighbors and friends with a happy smiling face serving drinks to the guests. It then becomes obvious throughout the remainder of the scene that her main concern is being a proper housewife and making sure everything is perfect.

After a few minutes, Helen Bishop enters the scene with her son Glen. Up to this point we know that Helen had recently hit a rough patch and gone through a divorce. The scene becomes interesting when the women are talking about their honeymoons and marriages in the kitchen. Helen displays herself as a strong woman as tensions rise within the conversation. The camera begins to switch between three extremely tight shots at lightning speed. Unlike the other characters, Helen Bishop has found her escape. She is asked about walking an she explains that she does it just to clear her mind. She shows strength through her ability to cope with stress and difficult situations. The other women don’t accept this and they put it off as her being divorced and deranged.

Finally, there is Don. We see Don taking home movies. There are three shots that we see from the first person perspective. We first see the kids running around. Then, we are taken to a shot of Helen and one of the men having a very intense and semi argumentative conversation. We end by seeing a couple sharing a kiss. These three shots represent three different aspect of Don’s life. There are the kids, who is will always make him happy no matter what. Then the other two shots represent the two options he has with his wife. He can either be bicker-some and put on the facade of being happy, or he can be loving and caring towards her. Pressured by this Don attempts to escape to the backyard where the children are playing house and bickering like their parents, a subtle reminder of the life he doesn’t want to lead.

Helen then joins Don outside, and they mention how the crowd of adults inside the house is the same as the crowd of children outside the house. Inside the kitchen the women are still discussing how they don’t approve of Helen’s lifestyle. It is brought to Betty’s attention that Don is outside conversing with Helen. Immediately, Betty goes and removes Don by telling him to go get the cake. Don does so and the scene ends with Don finally finding his escape by driving off, disappearing. Where he goes we don’t exactly know.

By the end of the scene that two of the characters have found a way of dealing with their sense of entrapment. Don has his escape of getting away and leaving the house for extended periods of time. Helen has her walking. Betty doesn’t have something like this. As the series progresses it is almost a sure thing that she will try to find an escape. This will likely be one of her greatest struggles. When she succeeds, it will be one of her greatest accomplishments. For now, we leave that in the hands of the writers.


A Different Angle on the "Carousel"

The “carousel scene" from Episode 13 of Mad Men’s first season has been recently celebrated as one of the best moments in television. Critics, fans, and even casual observers have noted the scene for its dialogue, creativity and intellectual underpinning. These elements, however, are not what makes the scene so powerful; rather, it is the camera shots and the different angles from which the viewers see the characters. Indeed, the entire scene is filmed to prove the audience with an intimate setting to experience the power of nostalgia.

Naturally, any scene in film is composed of many different elements, and, the relationship between these elements determines the success or failure of scene. Excellent dialogue can be undercut by poor editing, while the best costumes and sets cannot fix wooden acting. Since film is a visual medium, the camera work takes a special place in all of this, because it physically captures what we see. The shots and their angles provide the window through which the audience peers, by highlighting what we should see and excluding what we should not. It is our only window into whatever it is we are watching.

The “carousel scene” derives it power because it understands and utilizes these relationships exquisitely. The window the camera creates turns Don’s pitch from something the audience watches into something they experience. By creating a series of continually smaller and tighter shots, finishing on either Don’s face or a side in the projector, the audience literally comes face to face with the power of nostalgia

After a few shot/reverse shots of the characters talking at the conference table, the lights dim, and the world of Sterling Cooper falls away. Everyone fades into the darkness, and all the audience sees is Don and the pictures of his family. Through the haze of memory and cigarette smoke, fragments of Dons life before the diegesis of the show emerge. These snapshots of love, celebration, rest and relaxation fill the shot—they becoming the entirety of the image. For a second, they are the entire world. We escape that office and that boardroom and, for an instant, travel into Dons past—perhaps a reflection of our own. His slides could be scenes from anyone's life, and by showing them to us as the entirety of the shot, we confront our own existence. It’s no longer a television program we see before us but the intimate moments of a human life. The shots take us out of the show and place us into the memories of a family, which may be remarkably similar to our own. By filling the screen, the slides become a portal into the pains of Don’s life, while echoing the nostalgia we feel for our own departed experiences.

Even Don himself is captivated by the images he sees from the projector. As he discusses the power of nostalgia, emotions build. He looses the cool conversational tone, and his voice begins to crack with feeling. The more Don talks, the more he feels the power of nostalgia, and the closer the camera moves towards him. The scene builds until Don’s face occupies the shot, and his voice cracks with heartache and sorrow. The audience experiences Don’s pain by seeing it in its totality. By filming Don and only Don, the emotions become much more powerful. The place “where we know we are loved” does not exist for him, and we wonder, does it exist for us?

Taken together, these camera angles and shots produce an extraordinarily powerful scene. The camera becomes a tool to convey feeling and reflection. It creates a complicated yet subtle emotional event for the viewer. Not only do we hear about the power of nostalgia, but we observe it in the primary character and sense it in our own hearts. The shots manifest the esoteric nature of Don’s ideas, making them real and palpable. It allows us to watch and feel the power of memory and heartache. It is this effect which makes the "carousel scene" so good—it shows us, through Don, a slice of our own lives.


Meddling With Masculinity

The scene starts in The Oak Room Bar, crowded with people, alcohol and thick smoke permeating the air. Roger and Don are enjoying their 5 o’clock while conversing about light matters-- young females. Roger takes an interest in two attractive women down the bar when he comments about women losing their glow of youth after thirty, speaking to his discontent with his own marriage. Roger instantly turns glum after the women’s eyes follow Don as he exits to call Betty. This initial interaction promotes the uncomfortable situation at dinner later that night. The episode renders a theme of proving one’s masculinity in which both Don and Roger face challenges against the ideals they envision and take actions to reassert their own manhood.

Masculinity answers the “question of how particular groups of men inhabit positions of power and wealth, and how they legitimate and reproduce the social relationships that generate their dominance," according to Carrigan, Connell and Lee (92). This question is clearly articulated in the natural rivalry present between Roger and Don, of which comes to a head during dinner. Roger has passed his prime and envies not only Don’s emerging success but also his dashing looks and seemingly perfect home life. He comes on to Betty in the kitchen, saying that he knows he gives her "the hot pants." This attempt at bolstering his ego falls short when Don walks in and is fully aware of the flirting that Roger has instigated. Don afterwards approaches Betty, grabbing her arm to assert himself as the man in the house, something no one can take from him, not even his boss. This moment is particularly strong because Don enforces his power in the household and his power in the office, by scolding Betty and blaming her for the flirtatious encounter with his boss.

Don deals with the merging conflicts between home and work by exerting his masculinity over Roger the next day at the office. Don utilizes his youth and stamina to execute a simple plan in order to outshoot Roger. A contest in drinking and eating, both manly tasks, determines one aspect of greater masculinity. Don not only embarrasses Roger in front of his colleagues, but he also out-drinks and eats more than him, reinvigorating his sense of pride. This leaves emasculated Roger on the steps of the office, sitting in the odor of his own bodily fluids and his ego out the door with the knowledge to not mess with Don, or his wife, again. Williams states that masculinity “has to be continually renewed, recreated, defended and modified” (112). "Red in the Face" captures all of these aspects as the men in the show face challenges to their own masculinity as well impose tests on the others.

Each episode begins with a business suit-clad man falling. He falls out of an office building through the setting he is defined within and passes images that are ideal yet artificial. He is not in control. The theme rendered in this episode of masculinity is articulated clearly in the introduction to each episode. No man wants to feel that he is not in control. Even worse, no man wants to feel that another has more control over aspects of his own life than himself. Roger feels this challenge first at the bar and tries to assure himself that he is attractive and wanted by coming on to Betty, only to cause Don to feel tested in his own house. This causes Don to make his move at the office, publicly making known that his masculinity is something no one plays around with.

Sources cited: T. Carrigan, R. Connell, and J. Lee's "Toward a New Sociology of Masculinity" (From In The Making of Masculinities:The New Men’s Studies, Ed. H. Brod. Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1987) and R. Williams's Marxism and Literature (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1977).