Monday, September 21, 2009

Don Draper: Moving Forward?

As part of an insightful overview of season two of Mad Men, Amanda Marcotte comments

[I]f you read the poem ["Meditations In An Emergency" by Frank O'Hara], you can see how the themes in it echo throughout the season, but especially in Don’s situation. Right off the bat you get some lines that, in the hands of the writers of “Mad Men”, become the paradox of Don’s situation:
Each time my heart is broken it makes me feel more adventurous
(and how the same names keep recurring on that interminable
list!), but one of these days there'll be nothing left with
which to venture forth.
He briefly considers reinventing himself again after his separation from Betty, but he finds that tying yourself to people means that reinvention isn’t as easy as it is when you are alone. The final lines of the poem describe to a T how Don, in an emergency, is able to “spit in/the lock and the knob turns,” and get back with his family.
A related paradox worth watching in Don's situation -- perhaps irony is the better word for it -- is the character's insistence on his credo -- "move forward" -- alongside his middling ability to successfully move forward in any meaningful way. At times we sense how intensely he wants to move forward, and to see himself as doing so, but over the span of season two, and well into season three, he moves very little from where we first found him: he continues to run the creative side of the same firm in the same line of business; he continues to struggle to stay within the box of marital fidelity; there is no discernible change to his circle of friends, associates, or interests. For all his gifts, all his ready answers, and all his outsized desires, he in fact goes nowhere.

Worse than that, he struggles more and more to resist the past. What he has left behind returns unbidden to him, as in the very first moments of the current season, when we find him alone in his kitchen, haunted by a scene from one of his abandoned selves -- the Moses-like circumstances of his own birth, or what may be more to the point, his vision of his beginnings that he evidently cannot flee, whatever his desire to move forward.

(via Lunar Obverse)

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