We’re heading into the final innings of Mad Men. This season is the first of two parts of the finale. I’m still convinced that Matt Weiner is using Henrik Ibsen’s plays as the foundation of the series. (plus there was a dead giveaway in season one when either Joan or Peggy mentions Ibsen in passing) You can read more about that connection in one of my earlier posts on Mad Men.
Matt Weiner is a genius. There are so many levels of Mad Men. You choose your comfort zone. Are you only interested in who that sexy cad, Don Draper, is bedding now? Is your most memorable moment the one where a Guy walks into an ad agency only to lose a foot to a secretary on a riding lawn mower or the one where Miss Blankenship dies at her desk and has to be carried away carefully to avoid the attention of the attendees in a high level meeting going on in the nearby glass walled conference room? Maybe you’re following the feminist track with Peggy, Joan and Betty. But at the heart of the series are at least three well known plays by Ibsen: A Doll’s House, Hedda Gabler and, most significantly, Peer Gynt, played by Don Draper himself.
I have a few revisions to make to my previous post. It’s now clear that the role of Solveig from the play Peer Gynt will now be played by Peggy. This happened definitively several seasons ago in the episode The Suitcase when Don’s friend in California, Anna Draper, dies from cancer and appears to Don as a ghost, suitcase in hand. At that moment, he has his head in Peggy’s lap after Peggy has stayed up with him all night and has now seen the good, the bad and the ugly of Don Draper’s character. No one else in the series understands Don Draper as well as Peggy does. His name is unimportant. She knows his true identity. And to top it all off, Matt frequently shows her in the same shot with a picture that resembles a rising sun in the creative department’s lounge (ex-lounge, but we’ll get to that in a minute). The symbolism is undeniable and unsubtle. It also eliminates Betty Draper as Solveig. Betty is the rich farmer’s daughter who Peer abducts but later finds boring.
Playing the role of Eilert Lovborg, the man who squandered his brilliance on orgies and substance abuse, is Roger Sterling. He still has a chance to redeem himself. Betty Draper Francis is reprising her role as Hedda Gabler. She married a boring but nice guy and seems to be struggling with narcissistic personality disorder. But enough of that. Let’s move on to Peer.
Last night, Don met the button moulder in the form of a computer technician who’s installing an IBM computer with an extended lease in what used to be the creative department’s work area/lounge. In Peer Gynt, the character of the button moulder plays a sort of servant of Death. It’s his job to melt down the souls of those who are about to die. The button moulder doesn’t melt the notorious or the saintly. He melts the ordinary into a great mass. A person who has never done anything notable or outstanding just gets get added to the melting pot and gets subsumed, forgotten over time, becomes so indistinct as to become nonexistent. What better metaphor in the modern era for the button moulder than a computer? I mean, have you tried to get through an HR filter these days? Even the most accomplished person has a hard time. To stand out in 2014, you need to be a criminal on Wall Street or Edward Snowden.
So this is how the creative dies, not with a bang but a keystroke.