Music on Mad Men: What Does One Do?

Life often deals us tragedy, but sometimes something good can come of it. Take the death of actor Christopher Allport, who last season played the part of Andrew Campbell, Pete's disapproving father on Mad Men. In dealing with the hole left in potential storylines for Pete's character this season, Matthew Weiner and company chose to use it as an opportunity to explore how one deals with tragedy, while also incorporating another real life tragedy into the mix -- the crash of American Airlines Flight 1 on March 1, 1962, a flight bound for Los Angeles that nosedived into nearby Jamaica Bay, killing all 95 aboard. Having Pete's father aboard that flight ends up providing a lens from which to see how all are dealing with events since last season.

The action starts at Paul's pad out in Montclair, NJ, where his interracial invitation list puts at least a few on edge. Here we get to hear some great -- and obscure -- gritty R&B tracks from the era, of which I could only identify Baby Washington's "Congratulations, Honey," which provides the perfect backdrop to Joan's inappropriate comments directed at Paul's black girlfriend Sheila. "Congratulations, honey, I heard you found somebody new," the song goes, demonstrating the right amount of sarcastic jealousy to parallel Joan's somewhat jealous intentions. She's right that Paul's a bit of a phony, but innocent Sheila certainly didn't deserve Joan's way of dealing with the slight Paul gave her in the past. Baby Washington at this point in history was a bit like Sheila -- doing well in Black America and threatening to crossover. Dusty Springfield once cited her as her biggest influence, but that was as close to the brass ring as she would get.

But it quickly becomes clear that this episode is about Pete when we discover his father was on the downed plane. Pete is ill-equipped to deal with what he is (or isn't) feeling and finds himself in Don's office trying to figure out what he should do. "What does one do?" he asks -- and Don is the perfect person to ask, having trained himself over the years to act as one "should" act in these situations. "Will I cry?" His advice is to go home to be with his family, saying "There's life, and then there's work," and we only halfway believe that Don would actually do the same. Pete's dilemma is interesting in that he's obviously searching for the type of advice he never got from his cold father. Duck sees an opportunity and steps in to give some subtle advice -- selling out his father's death as a hook to snag the American Airlines account, which may or may not be leaving DDB in the wake of the plane crash. Pete, still hearing Don's advice, initially rejects Duck, but after Don's insensitive rebuff of a second round of impromptu grief therapy, Pete decides to fall for Duck's praise and ends up stooping to do what his father criticized the advertising field for last season -- he pimps out the tragedy.

What does one do? That gets asked repeatedly through the episode in one form or another, most notably by Don wanting to avoid an argument over Francine and Carlton's state of happiness. "I'll just say whatever you want me to say, Bets ... let's just not argue about it." It, of course, is really more about them and how they're dealing with Don's past infidelity. Their card game was reminiscent of many Sopranos scenes of the past, saying a lot without saying anything. For example, Betty says "I don't need a book to know what little boys do." Even Don defending Bobby's supposed tracing controversy was symbolic, considering the life Don created for himself was in fact an example of tracing taken on a grand scale.

Later, Don's reaction to having to kick a client to the curb was how it "should" be, but that bit was oddly genuine. Sitting there in the restaurant, he's still reeling from being called a phony when a waitress makes a subtle pass at him to the song "Ue O Muite Aruko" by Kyu Sakamoto. The chorus translates to "I look up when I walk / So the tears won't fall," a nice reference to how one "should" grieve. The song wasn't technically released in the US until 1963, when it was renamed "Sukiyaki" and eventually became a number one hit, so for it to appear in this universe it would've had to have been imported, which is not unheard of, but still unlikely.

The episode ends with Peggy holding her son during communion at church, simultaneously demonstrating that she knows what one "should" do (not take communion as an unwed mother) and doesn't know what one "should" do (display at least some affection for the 15-month-old on your lap crying in church). It will be interesting to see what comes out of the revelation that Peggy was committed, with the State handing her child over to her family, as the situation might be ripe for a Sylvia Plath parallel. (Plath committed suicide in 1963.) Peggy and Don have an interesting cut shot where Peggy looks in on her son, but gets out quick, whereas Don looks in long enough to notice that Bobby's jumped into his sister's bed and has his arm around her. It's a cold moment that's quickly followed by a needed moment of touching warmth, something that Mad Men does so well.

I'm lying home sick in bed as I write this, so I'll leave the rest as various debris:

  • "It's incredible what passes for heroism these days ... I'd like tickertape for pulling out of my driveway and driving around the block three times. Not like people were shooting at him." - Roger, demonstrating how one "should not" react to John Glenn's day. It's telling that Don finds his "square jaw and false modesty" appealing.
  • "Oh take off your dress, you get a chance at American Airlines, you take it. End of discussion." Roger, again, taking the "don't be such a pussy" route with Don.
  • Montclair's George Iness was a late 19th century landscape painter, and there's really no reason for Pete to agree to know this, other than his need for Paul's acceptance.
  • The pink elephant in the room with Pete's mom Dot was an interesting metaphor for Trudy and Pete's unsaid lesser standing in the family. Dot first points at Trudy, saying "what is that?" -- meaning, of course, the pink elephant statue behind her. Having her hold it the rest of the scene kept "the elephant in the room" fully visible.

Songs: Mad Men Episode 2.02

1. Unknown - Pete and Trudy arrive at Paul's party

2. "Congratulations, Honey" - Baby Washington & the Hearts - Joan talks to Paul's girlfriend Shiela

3. Unknown - Ken confronts Paul about the stolen typewriter

4. "Sukiyaki" (known as "Ue O Muite Aruko" prior to 1963) - Kyu Sakamoto - in restaurant as waitress makes pass at Don

5. "Temptation is so Hard to Fight" - George McGregor & The Bronzettes - end credits

Previously: Let's Twist Again (Episode 2.01)

drake lelane
live and let blog at the music/soundtrack blog thus spake drake