Mad Men: “The Gold Violin”

Well, folks… let me begin by saying that I just don’t have it in me this week to do an exhaustive recap of this episode. Which is a bit of a shame, given that this was a damn fine episode, maybe my favorite of season 2 so far. Let me summarize the episode as best I can, then get into my thoughts on it:

The episode begins with Don at a Cadillac dealership. He wrecked his car a few episodes ago, remember? So now he needs a new ride. The thing is that while he’s talking to the car salesman, he has a flashback of his own days in the car business. Whilst trying to sell a car to a kid, a woman comes in asking for Don Draper. When Don introduces himself, the lady says that “you’re not Don Draper”:

Later that day, Don meets with the “Young Turks”, who share their vision of what “advertising” is for “young people of today”. Don, surprisingly, seems to like their ideas.

At the end of the day, Jane convinces Ken, Hal and Sal to sneak into Cooper’s office to look at his newest painting, something Harry and Paul decline for fear of getting caught. Paul even tells the group to “call me from jail.” Harry actually initiated all this by mentioning that Cooper wants to have a meeting with him. Harry is nervous because he thinks that the meeting will only be about about the new painting, and he doesn’t know if Cooper bought the abstract artwork because he actually likes it, or because he thinks it’s a joke and will enjoy seeing his employees try to kiss his ass with compliments for something that Cooper thinks is trash.

After looking at the picture, Sal, Ken and Jane share an elevator on the way out. Ken tries to flirt with Jane by mentioning that he’s a published author; amusingly, Sal picks up on this and talks about how much he liked Ken’s story. Later on in the episode, Ken asks Sal to read a story he has been working on, and Sal invites him over for Sunday dinner.

In an amusing scene, Cooper and Harry have their meeting. Harry still thinks that it’s to admire Cooper’s new painting. Come to find out, the meeting really is about the finances of Harry’s TV department, but Cooper and Harry have a fun discussion about the painting where Harry tries to be all “arty”, only to find out that Cooper has bought the painting solely as an investment.

There’s another scene with Cooper a few minutes later where he calls Don into his office to essentially orders him to take a seat on the board of a folk art museum. Cooper is not only giving Don money and power in the office, he now wants Don to have social status as well.

While Don is meeting with Cooper, Jimmy Barrett calls Betty to invite her and Don to a party at The Stork Club to celebrate ABC picking up Grin and Barrett for a full 39 episodes.

The next morning, Joan finds out about Jane’s little jaunt into Cooper’s office. When Joan confronts her about it, Jane acts as if “those mean little boys” made her do it. Joan’s not buying it. As the conversation escalates, Joan tells Jane that she’s fired. But Jane outsmarts Joan – in this round anyway – by stopping by Roger’s office and sticking her bottom lip out and tearing up. Roger tells Jane to forget the firing and come back on Monday.

Sunday arrives, and Ken shows up at Sal’s for dinner. Sal raves about the story and actively ignores his wife while Ken is there. He ignores her so much, in fact, that she breaks down into tears after Ken leaves. He offers to make it up to her by bringing her a slice of pie… but before he can do that, he finds a cigarette lighter that Ken has left behind.

That same day, the Drapers have a picnic in a park. More on that later.

Come Monday morning, Joan finds Jane at her desk and realizes that she went to Roger to get her job back. It’s on now, baby!

Things come to a head that night at The Stork Club, when Jimmy makes Betty finally see that Don and Bobbie are sleeping together. Before this, Don’s always kept his affairs a secret and Betty has had no idea who Don was sleeping with. But now it’s there, it’s right in her face. Betty feigns illness so that she and Don can leave the party. As Don thanks Jimmy for the invite, Jimmy thanks Don for all he has done for him, but then says “[a]nd what did you get? Bobbie. Lots of people had that. You don’t screw another man’s wife. You’re garbage. And you know it.”

On the way home, Don and Betty are silent… until Betty throws up in Don’s new car, after we’ve seen him yell at the kids about not making a mess in it.


– Was I the only one that thought that the calypso song that formed the basis of Martinson Coffee’s new advertising campaign was crap? Perhaps I’m missing out on calypso being “cool” or “edgy” back in 1962. I know that advertising was more… informative than emotional back then, but still… I didn’t care for that song one bit.

– I’ll be honest: I was admiring Jane’s ass in a scene early in the episode. But then I noticed her panty lines, which indicated that she was wearing some serious “granny panties”. Was that intentional? I know that Joan’s bras were modeled on an early 60s era bra which was carefully taken apart and used as a pattern… but Jane’s underwear were huge! I don’t even know where you can buy panties that big any more! Does the costume department of Mad Men have it down pat so well that they even pay attention to panty lines? If so… wow!

– Ken’s new story – “The Gold Violin” – is based on a golden violin he saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He says that it was “perfect in every way except it couldn’t make music”, which is, of course, the goal of a musical instrument. I wonder if that’s some kind of metaphor for the characters in Mad Men: they’re perfect in every way, except for the very way in which they are intended.

– Was Kitty crying because Sal was being a jerk to her, or was she crying because she suspects that her husband is gay?

– Speaking of, for some reason Sal keeping Ken’s lighter squicked me out. I don’t know why. I certainly remember keeping similar “mementos” from girls I had crushes on when I was a teenager. Is it because I outgrew such a thing when I was 17? Or is it just because it’s Sal?

– I liked the brief shot of Sal in the foreground, lovingly looking at Ken’s lighter whilst lighting a cigarette, while in the background Kitty does needlepoint and her mom watches TV. This show can say so much without even a word of dialogue.

– Peggy isn’t “dressing like a little girl” so much any more, but she sure isn’t much of a Siren!

– When the Drapers left the park, Don chugged the last of his beer, then chucked the can as far as he could. Betty gracefully picked up the blanket but left the trash on the ground, like the old “yank the tablecloth out from under the dinner service” parlor trick. It’s hard to believe, but people apparently did just leave their wrappers and containers and such on the ground when they left a picnic. Anti-litter campaigns didn’t even start until the 1950s, and only really gained traction due to the efforts of Lady Bird Johnson in the late 60s. I even remember my dad shrugging his shoulders when I begged him to “not be a litterbug!” in the 70s.

– “Trash” seemed to be the theme of this episode. Not only did Jimmy call Don “garbage”, there was that scene in the park where the camera remained focused on the Draper’s litter for what seemed like 30 seconds.

– What does Cooper see in Don? And why does he take Don under his wing so much? I mean, it’s not that Don’s incompetent… far from it, in fact. But in the scene with Don and Cooper, we get the feeling that Cooper has brought Don up from the gutter or something. And he didn’t seem especially surprised in season 1 when Pete came to him with the news that Don is really Dick Wittman. Does Don have some dirt on Cooper? Did Cooper “take Don in” on some kind of Trading Places style bet? What’s up with those two?

– And lastly… there was the flashback. The flashback occurred early in the episode, and was never returned to. It was tantalizing. I wanna know what that was all about. Does Don have even darker secrets in his past? It’s never been mentioned how Don was able to “disappear” upon his return to the US without any of the real Don Draper’s family, friends or schoolmates tracking him down. Was this girl a friend or family member of the real Don Draper? How did Don deal with her? He obviously didn’t yet have the money to buy her off… so (sotto voce) did he kill her? (/sotto voce) And how did Don go from (apparently) owning a used car lot to become the head of creative at a powerful New York law firm? If I remember correctly, he have no idea when Don left Korea, but the conflict ended on July 27, 1953. Even if Don left in the early days of the war, he had to have done something amazing to go from used car salesman to partner in an advertising agency in less than 10 years. Dammit! This is driving me insane! This teasing, this hinting at all the things that have happened in Don’s past. I WANNA KNOW WHAT HAPPENED! And why can’t this show go on forever?

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