Friday, June 14, 2013

Brilliant Beginnings ~ Part Two

A dapper Don Draper sits alone jotting on a napkin in a stylish, crowded bar. He asks the Black waiter if he has a light for his cigarette. The waiter strikes a match, to which Don comments, “Old Gold man, huh? Lucky Strike here,” indicating his own brand of smoke. A Caucasian boss intercedes, assuming that the Black waiter, “Sam” (not Thomas, Paul or Peter, but SAMbo) is being a bother, calling him "chatty" in an accusatory way. As an audience, we sympathize with Sam, as does Don, because deferential Sam has yet to utter a word. The head honcho leaves to fetch Don another “old fashioned.”

Don resumes his line of questioning, which is, in fact, research into brand loyalty. Sam is committed to his brand of Old Gold, but, pressed, admits that if there were no Old Gold on the planet, he’d probably be able to find something else. He explains, “I love smoking. My wife hates it. Reader’s Digest says, ‘It will kill you.’” They both snicker. Sam adds, “Ladies love their magazines.” They’re just two regular guys sharing a harmless observation of the opposite sex, right?

The music in the b.g. gets louder, lyrics kick in, “Just want that little band of gold to prove that you are mine.” The camera (Don’s POV) pans the room of elegant cocktailers, nigh every one with a cigarette in hand. As the season progresses, Don’s client, Lucky Strike will play an important role and, ultimately, be the cause of his professional demise.

Meanwhile, in these opening three minutes of AMC's Mad Men, we learn that: Don is a loner, an observer of humanity, possibly an outsider, definitely a man at the top; racism is alive and well; and women are not to be taken seriously. The choice of music serves fabulous double-duty: is it referencing the addiction to cigarettes or, the requisite for female status in the world, a wedding ring?

Is it no wonder that Mad Men enjoyed instant “runaway critical acclaim?” The opening alone is packed with layer upon layer of nuance and that's without discussing the production values. Do mere mortals write this stuff? I’m encouraged because, as the San Francisco Chronicle’s Tom Goodman notes, “Almost none of the coverage for "Mad Men" explains that this is a show about interiors.” Phew! It’s within our realm; mere gods couldn’t possibly understand the interior turmoil of humans.


San Francisco Chronicle:

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