Episode 7: The Gold Violin. Or: Isn't It Rich? Are They A Pair?

This was a knockout of an episode, all about conspicuous consumption, throwaway culture, and a younger generation not wanting to be told what to do.

There were many revelations, starting with the tantalizing nugget that a mere ten years earlier, Don Draper was indeed toiling on the bottom run of marketing, as a lowly used car salesman!

Mad Men Season 2/Episode7 Open on a low-down shot of that ultimate mid-century symbol of upward mobility, a light blue, 1962 Cadillac Coup de Ville (punch of the town?) with tailfins. Standing in a new modern showroom, Don is eyeing the car with ''intent to purchase,'' as the marketing people like to say.

The slightly oily English salesman, a sartorial festival of checks and plaids, asks him what he's ''in" now. ''A Dodge,'' Don responds, (an inspired choice for the ultimate dodger.) This gives the salesman the perfect cue to lay the sales patter on: he tells the leading-man-handsome Don that he's already a walking Cadillac, adding, ''You'll be as comfortable in one of these as you would be in your own skin!"

Given that this is Don, a snake in his own skin, and is on to every bit of manipulative sales patter, that line obviously blows the deal. We get a flashback of his time selling cars in what would seem to be a small town; in this incident, a mystery woman comes to the showroom in search of Don Draper. (You're a hard man to find," she says, suggesting that he's a good man.) After a minute or two, she's in on the switch. 'You're not Don Draper!" she says.

Is this what propelled Don to come to the big city and reinvent himself (yet again?) That leaves us with one of several dangling ends in an episode in which the uncomfortable tug of the truth, and the new, was the theme throughout.

At the office, Don calls in his young-people-team, named Mr. Smith and Mr. Smith, (I had missed that bit of comedy)and the American Mr.Smith did not go to Washington, but to a peer at the University of Michigan, ("who is still in school, man, dig it!") to get a reading on the future. In a letter, the friend actually mentions SDS: Students for Democratic Society, a radical protest group then in its infancy was headed by Tom Hayden. (who went on to marry "Hanoi" Jane Fonda.)

The political turmoil of the late '60s was still far off, but Don and his group know enough to use this awareness of the growing mobilization of a new generation, with its complete distrust of established rules and authority, and its growing desire instead to "feel''-- to sell Martinson's coffee.

The young team challenges the status quo by offering the client only a "song," a "Girl from Ipanema"-ish pop mixture of a Brazilian or French guy singing about a "coffee-colored exotic girl'' and an "exotic brew."

"Is this a jingle?'' the client, whose business is newly in play, asks. Don responds "It's a song and it's a mood. It's definitely more than jingle.''

Again, I love the scenario for the purposes of this drama, but the idea seems about 20 years ahead of the industry. Although DDB New York was slowly changing the culture of ads, at that time, viewers were still literally getting hit over the head with hammers (for aspirin) and most commercials offered unending explanations, complete with diagrams, of the how the product worked.

Meanwhile, the action-packed head-butting of an angry Joan (doesn't it seem tMadMen Season2/Episode7hat she's getting bigger and bigger physically? Like she has to stand a foot away from the desk to allow herself proper breastroom) and an arrogant, manipulative young Jane (the new girl who's full of secrets) is "a genuine thrill,'' which is how Ken Cosgrove describes Ms. Siegel. It all started with Jane's brazenly leading a rag-tag team of employees into Bert Cooper's empty office ( a sanctum sanctorum) to see his new painting, for which he reportedly paid $10,000. ( A year's salary for most guys if they were lucky.)

It turns out that Cooper, for all of his faux-Zen serenity and take-your-shoes-off Japan-ophilia, cares mostly about, um, money. "People buy things to realize their aspirations,'' he tells Harry Crane during a meeting in his office. A more sophisticated aspiration than a Cadillac, the Rothko is abstract and powerful, something you have to feel, rather than be told how to enjoy. Turns out that's not exactly why Cooper bought it. "That thing should double in value by next Christmas," he says.

He's a bit off on that, because in two to three years the pop artists like Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Lichtenstein will take over, making the Abstract Expressionists seem uptight, formal, and dated (sound familiar?) It killed a maverick artist (in the true sense) like Rothko that he was not considered cutting-edge any more.

It's also interesting that the writers fastened on Mark Rothko in particular, because while he was an art god, it turned out that the huge prices he was getting for his paintings all through the '60s were illegally manipulated by his gallery, Marlborough, and the swindle exploded in the courts and in media by about 1970. So was Cooper in on it?

This was such a drama-packed episode that I'll just quickly get to the closeted Sal Romano alliance with the very hetero Ken Cosgrove. In looking at the Rothko together, they realize that they are artistic soulmates. Sal seems to understand the creative, vulnerable, writerly side of Ken, and when Ken asks him to review one of his new stories, Sal invites Ken to dinner at the beautifully appointed apartment Sal shares with his wife, Kitty. (When did this happen? Was the marriage the result of his embarrassing brush with the male cosmetics client? )

Throughout the dinner, Sal fastens on Ken's every word, as if they are as delicious as his own cooking. (Needless to say, he's oblivious to his wife's needs.) He's especially thrilled that Ken lights his cigarette (some obvious symbolism there.) And when Ken leaves his lighter on the table, Sal lovingly puts it in his pocket.

Ken's story, ''The Gold Violin'' is what gives the episode its name. It's a bit of heavy-handed symbolism: beautiful in every way, except that it can't play music.

But the real sparks fly between the Barretts and the Drapers. Once Don buys the Caddy, (perhaps in the hope that it's a protective bubble?) he's obsessed with keeping it clean. During a revealing picnic scene, he insists that Betty check the kids' hands to make sure they won't sully the interior.

MadMen Season2/Episode7 Meanwhile, as they're collecting themselves to leave the idyllic natural picnic spot to get back in the car, Don idly throws a beer can into the woods and Betty just leaves all their litter (literally the family dirt) all over the ground. (It's shocking to a modern eye, but Lady Bird Johnson's ''Keep America Beautiful,'' campaign was yet to come, in a few years; the famous Iron Eyes Cody spot, showing the Indian in the canoe with a tear running down his cheek, didn't break until 1971.)

The careless littering is also "crude and ugly,'' which is what Betty calls Jimmy Barrett after he makes it clear to her, during a party at the Stork Club, that her husband is having an affair with his wife. She proceeds it with ''you people,'' and Jimmy Barrett, who changed his name from Brownstein, seems to take offense at that part, although he makes a joke to cover for the anti-Semitism: "What do you mean,'you people,''' he shouts back at her. "Comedians?''

So Don has achieved his golden Cadillac, but it doesn't run correctly. After the party at the Stork Club, his marriage, and carefully constructed life, is in ruins. The final scene is a parallel to an earlier one, when he and Betty went to dinner with the Barretts for the first time, and Betty started crying on the ride home, seemingly out of happiness.

Now, however, they ride in painful silence, until Betty breaks the stillness by vomiting all over the fancy dashboard. No explanations -- just gut feelings that explode violently. And no one has clean hands anymore. Or as F. Scott Fitzgerald put it in "The Great Gatsby," "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy -- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made..."

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