There’s something odd about hearing The Beatles in Mad Men. We’ve seen years pass during the show’s life, but listening to ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ blaring through Don’s living room was the first real indication we’ve had that the glossy bubble the show’s characters live in won’t last forever. The future is creeping in. Can everyone keep up with what tomorrow brings?
Don Draper, omniscient idol of advertising, is starting to age, starting to lose his Midas touch, and starting to show the ultimate weakness of an ad man: an inability to fully understand what customers want.
“When did music become so important?” he asks, unable to connect with the trends of a modern young audience. The likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones are heralds of a new, swinging tomorrow, and you have to wonder what place the man who forged his identity in the old world of starch and scotch has in this new fluid landscape.
In a hundred subtle facial expressions throughout the episode Jon Hamm starts to give us an idea that Don is feeling ever more uneasy with the route that the future is forcing him down – never more uneasy than in the excruciating Cool Whip pitch with Peggy.
Proving that his world is slowly becoming unglued around the edges, his wife/co-worker Megan left SterlingCooperDraperPrice to pursue her abandoned acting career. She’s young and she has a chance to change direction: she is the Lady Lazarus, rejuvenated with a new purpose and plenty of potential, whereas Don is trapped in a palace of his own making, doing a job that he can only get worse at.
So what was the significance of the doors opening on the empty elevator shaft? Was it the certainty of Don’s world dropping away? A symbol that his domain is no longer at his total control? The uncertainty is why we love Mad Men.
But you’d be hard-pressed to love sleazy Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) who, unhappy at home and work, once again risked his marriage with infidelity, all in a misguided attempt to prove that he has some control over his 9 to 5 existence. He lives in a world of barely-hidden frustration that Kartheiser conveys beautifully with every greasy smile and insincere platitude.
For Pete tomorrow is just another opportunity to escape his life. For Megan, tomorrow is a chance to reinvent herself. For Don, tomorrow is another day to sell. But how long those opportunities can last is a question that no song can help us answer…
Aired at 9pm on Tuesday 8th May 2012 on Sky Atlantic.
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