The Carousel: Revisiting Mad Men: S2E7 and S2E9

Revisiting Mad Men: S2E7, “The Gold Violin”, and S2E9, “Six Month Leave”
Welcome back, everybody! We had our little poll again and tied for third place were “The Gold Violin” and “Six Month Leave”. I’m quite pleased with this, as “The Gold Violin” is the Season 2 episode I most enjoy watching, and “Six Month Leave” was also quite eventful.

…So, you may notice that I said my favorite Season 1 episode was S1E7, “Red in the Face”, and now I’m identifying my S2E7 episode, “The Gold Violin” as my favorite here. It’s probably not a coincidence that both episodes end with projectile vomiting.

I really, really love when “Mad Men”, a show so far removed from violence or dirtiness or anything gross – a show about manners and appearances from a more manners-obsessed age – goes physical. It undermines the characters’ pretensions so well. There’s just something about a “Mad Men” character puking, man. Or getting sprayed in blood, or trying to cut down a body…

The episode starts with Don being uncomfortable to buy a Cadillac, a visible reminder that he’s playing at being a rich boy he’ll never be. He has a flashback to being a used car salesman and confronted by a woman named Anna, whose importance will become clear later. He refuses to take it for a test drive.

Meanwhile, Jane allures various boys to break into Cooper’s office after hours and check out his Rothko painting. Funnily enough, the real connection made doesn’t involve Jane – Ken and Sal have the longest conversation about the way the paint makes them feel. Sal invites Ken to dinner with his wife, and offers to read Ken’s new short story. We see an inkling of hope from Sal, maybe not entirely conscious, that he’s found a fellow “”creative type”” (read: gay) in Ken.

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Jane, the ’60s-Twiggy-thin new model who’s here to replace Joan, does not respond well when Joan tries to fire her for breaking in. She calls Joan motherly, and then goes into Roger’s office to chat up the boss she barely knows, and gets herself un-fired. When Joan finds out, a global ice age ensues. It’s the angriest we’ve seen her (yet).

Meanwhile, Sal ignores his wife at dinner to tell Ken he’s a genius and longingly light his cigarette. Poor Kitty doesn’t get it, but she does know she’s being ignored. Maybe she’d get it if she had seen Sal pocketing Ken’s lighter…

We find out what Ken’s story was. It’s realistically on-the-nose symbolically, showing Ken is a young guy who’s not as smart as he thinks he is, but it’s also clearly meant to reflect on the episode. More on that later.

Don did buy that Cadillac, and after uncomfortably dodging some questions from Sally (“Are we rich?”) and littering, he and Betty go to a TV party for Jimmy Barrett. There, Jimmy breaks the news about Don and Bobbie to Betty. Shocked, all Betty can think to do is make a vaguely anti-Semitic comment to hurt him right back, get very drunk………… and silently, violently puke all over Don’s new Cadillac.

So, back to the gold violin. There was one at the Met that was perfect in every way, but it couldn’t play music. Like I said, it’s a realistically obvious metaphor for a young Atlantic writer to come up with. And it works. Don is the perfect model, except he’s a poor boy deep down. Betty is the perfect model, except she’s broken. Joan is the perfect model, but she’s been replaced (by Jane, by changing body image standards, by the fact that she’s 31 and never been married…). The Cadillac is the perfect model, but it’s covered in barf.

A gold violin that can’t play also connects to the theme of art vs. commerce, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the end of that little Rothko storyline – Harry failing to impress Cooper with his nonexistent artistic knowledge. Because it’s hilarious.

“Mr. Crane, you’re here because of numbers. Stick to that. Don’t concern yourself with aesthetics. You’ll get a headache. Between you and me and the lamppost, that thing should double in value by next Christmas.”

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And as for “Six Month Leave”… well, it’s a pretty big episode plot-wise, by “middle of a Mad Men season” standards. Freddie gets fingered fired. At least for now, it looks like we’ll never have reason to see him again. We also have our first intrusion of divorce into the main characters’ lives. Divorce became exponentially more common and easy throughout the ’60s and ’70s, but of COURSE Roger is the first major character to give it a test drive.

So. Freddie gets so drunk he pisses himself and passes out right before a big Samsonite meeting. It’s a great scene, with Peggy’s impulse to protect the man who first thought she could be a writer battling against Pete and Sal’s genuine disgust. Pete spills the beans about what happened, infuriating Peggy. Pete is happy to point out that removing an old male copywriter who gets less results than Peggy can only be good for her career.

But she won’t decide to take advantage of it until the end of this season, when she’s the first to gather the balls to ask for Freddie’s empty office.

ANYWAY, back to this episode. Don and Roger take Freddie out for one last alcoholic hurrah, because “enabling” is a word that hadn’t been invented yet. They tell Freddie to do six months of rehab, citing a guy they know who “only drinks beer now!”. Freddie knows he’ll never be able to work in NYC again, and Don and Roger don’t try to pretend otherwise. They part on depressing, friendly, boozy terms.

…Then, emotional from firing Freddie, Don admits that Betty’s kicked him out of the house, and he doesn’t mind like he should. Unbeknownst to Don, Roger’s having a different conversation in his mind – should he leave Mona for whichever younger model has most recently caught his attention?

Don’s acceptance of living alone seems to push him over the edge, because the next day, Mona comes in yelling that Roger is leaving her for Jane (Don’s secretary), AND he claims Don talked him into it. Watching this episode the first time, I never would’ve guessed what a long, long grudge that would cause Don to hold against Roger.

Outside the Freddie shenanigans, Marilyn Monroe is dead and Joan is very upset. Again we see Joan’s fear of being replaced – Marilyn Monroe was the old ideal, a ’50s ideal, and she’s died young, promiscuous, mockable, and troubled by men. A wave of super-skinny supermodels are going to replace her, though Joan doesn’t quite know that. Joan can’t help but identify with Marilyn to an alarming extent, though in doing so she’s really underestimating herself and her own strength.

Oh, and Betty, too chicken to sleep with Arthur herself like she’d like to, sets things up so that her Horse-Riding BFF Sarah Beth has sex with him instead. (Failing to show up to a three-person lunch date was never so devious, Betty.) She’s projecting herself onto Sarah Beth, like Joan projects herself onto Marilyn, like Roger sees himself in Don’s content single life, and like Don sees his grim future as a drinker in Freddie.

Anyway, RIP Freddie (for now). I really wouldn’t have predicted we’d see any more of him.

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