Monday, September 8, 2008

Mad Men “Gold Violin” Plays Out

This episode was called the “Gold Violin” after the short story written by Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton). Ken was inspired by seeing a gold violin that is “perfect in every way but won’t make music.” A fitting title for the episode, which showed that even when everything looks perfect on the surface for the Sterling Cooper employees and their families, their lives are far from it.

Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is having second thoughts about buying a new Cadillac Coupe De Ville. He flashes back to his days as a car salesman, when a woman calls him out for not being the real Don Draper.

Jane (Peyton List) gets fired by Joan (Christina Hendricks) for “breaking into” Mr. Cooper’s (Robert Morse) office to show the guys Cooper’s new painting. But her coyness with Mr. Sterling (John Slattery) pays off when she uses his desire for her to help get her get her job back. Clearly, Joan’s power is being challenged, but I don’t see Joan lying down and taking it, so to speak.

Ken shows his short story to Sal (Bryan Batt), and Sal invites Ken to his home for dinner to give his opinions of Ken’s work. Something clearly is bothering Sal’s wife, Kitty (Sarah Drew) . She doesn’t like the attention that Sal is lathering over Ken, in fact, Sal looked more longingly at Ken than he did his own wife. It seemed obvious that Sal wants more of a relationship with Ken. Ken, on the other hand, sees Sal and Kitty’s marriage as an example of what he wants in life.

The Smiths come up with a youthful approach to the Martinson Coffee ad campaign, which helps them land it. It also gets Don a place on the board of the Museum of Early American Folk Art, and Don is told that "Philanthropy is the gateway to power." He is also told how important connections are in the business and in the world, and with this “curtain” opening for Don and him being told to “take his seat”, he decides to buy the Cadillac. But, while Don’s wife Betty (January Jones) is thrilled at the car, she’s not so thrilled when, at a party at the Stork Club with comedian Jimmy Barrett (Patrick Fischler) to celebrate his new show with ABC, Jimmy drops a bomb on her about his suspicions of Don’s relationship with Jimmy’s wife, Bobbie (Melinda McGraw). Likewise, Jimmy drops the same bomb to Don that he knows what’s going on with Don and Bobbie. In fact, Barrett says he “goes home at night and laughs” at Draper, and that “You’re garbage, and you know it.” As Jimmy says good night to both Don and Betty, they both look stunned. Driving home, Betty throws up in the car, probably partly from her drinking, partly from her realization of what’s been going on with Don and Bobbie, and…could she be pregnant too?

Also interesting is that in this perfect world, the family is seen openly littering in the park, Don throwing away his can, and Betty just leaving all the trash from their picnic. In fact, that may have been the perfect representation of the episode, because is shows that no one seems to be thinking of the long term effects of their actions, and as a result, their lives are slowly being scattered like trash thoughtlessness left for someone else to clean up.

What made this episode so interesting is that all the positioning that has been taking place over the last several episodes are now threatening major repercussions, especially for Don Draper. While Don sees his position of power growing and his life becoming richer because of it, there is also the fear that his real identity will somehow be revealed, and destroy it all. Just as bad is that his philandering has been exposed to this wife, who I am sure will never look at him the same way. And will Don deny any future advances of Bobbie Barrett? Jimmy made it clear that he thinks lowly of Don, and probably wouldn’t hesitate to destroy his job, since he may have already helped destroy his marriage. Betty’s throwing up in the car could have meant several things, but it seemed clear that Betty and Don know that trouble is ahead for their marriage.

In addition, we could be seeing a glimpse of what the effects Sal’s “man-crush” on Ken will have in his marriage and in the workplace. His perfect looking life may also get tarnished quickly.

But a knock down surely will be coming with Joan and Jane. Somehow, I see that Joan will find a way to pay back Jane for going over her head with Roger Sterling.

So like a gold violin, their lives of the people at Sterling Cooper certainly look pretty, but their lives aren’t playing out very well. And like the litter left in the park, their lives are becoming trash, left behind without having to worry about the mess. But, unlike trash, they will be left to pick up their own mess, one way or another.

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