Saturday, May 24, 2014

What's In a TV Title? For Mad Men, It's Finally Facing a Waterloo of Some Sort

 My, my, at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender
Oh yeah, and I have met my destiny in quite a similar way
The history book on the shelf
Is always repeating itself

From a creative perspective, episode titles are baffling elements. TV professionals refer to each script by its production code. Yet most series have actual titles for episodes, even though those titles are more often than not, not a part of the opening credits and therefore not a part of the viewer's experience, and—in the old days before the Internet—not a part of our knowledge.

Who knew that there were Brady Bunch episodes 001 and 075 called "Dear Libby" and "The Tiki Caves," and Bewitched's "Serena Steals the Show" and "A Vision of Sugarplums," since no one saw them. So creatively, why bother.

The first titles I remember seeing were for Remington Steele—all plays on his name "License to Steele" and "Thou Shalt Not Steele"and Moonlighting "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice" and "Big Man on Mulberry Street." Those titles felt like a small literary flourish, subtly giving the episode a short story feel within the larger collected work. ER ran episode titles, though by the nature of the medical drama they did not have a literary feel to them. The classic Valentine's Day "Be Still My Heart" does not prepare you for one of the most devastating final shots in television history, of Carter and Lucy, while "Chaos Theory" almost seems like an apology for the insane combination of events that lead to the loss of Dr. Romano's arm.

Then TV entered its deeper "literature of our times" era, with The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire, etc., leading to the cottage industry of scrutinizing every frame, every music cue, every camera angle.  And still: the titles of those episodes are not part of the experience of the viewer.  The Sopranos episode where Christopher is in a car crash is called "Kennedy & Heidi" after the 2 girls in the car who hit him. Does that title add to the ideas in the plot? Probably not. The next episode is "The Second Coming," the Yeats poem that A.J. is studying in college. Pulling it out to be the title emphasizes its importance. If you know that it is the title.

And that leads us to Mad Men midseason finale.  Script 707, aka "Waterloo."

We know the title in advance because of AMC and IMDB websites. Which means it's a part of every article being written about it. But it still won't be a part of our viewing experience, only our reading experience. AMC has kindly listed all the episode titles to date here.

But the question remains:  how much importance is there to a creative element that is not a part of the show? And what is behind that decision not to make it part of the viewing experience? Some day someone will explain this to me.

For now, it's the biggest "clue" we have to the midseason finale.


Of course there is the Battle thereof. Appropriate on Memorial Day Weekend, given Wikipedia tells us about 40,000 soldiers died fighting it. Napoleon had escaped from his first exile on Elba, raised an army, and was defeated by the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo. It ended his reign as Emperor of France. He was then exiled to Saint Helena, a horribly remote island in the South Atlantic Ocean, where he died six years later.

In the Mad Men universe, Don has come back from his first exile. If Pete and Peggy constitute him raising an army, then "Waterloo" could signal that it's not going to go well. He may be going to a defeat, from which he will have to surrender, be exiled and then die.

Or Weiner could be thinking about the great ABBA Waterloo. The story is 5 years from them winning the 1974 Eurovision with the song, but we know that he uses music before its time all the time.

The history book on the shelf, is always repeating itself.

Is that Don's Waterloo, that he can't change?

My, my, I tried to hold you back but you were stronger
Oh yeah, and now it seems my only chance is giving up the fight
And how could I ever refuse
I feel like I win when I lose

Waterloo - I was defeated, you won the war
Waterloo - Promise to love you for ever more
Waterloo - Couldn't escape if I wanted to
Waterloo - Knowing my fate is to be with you
Waterloo - Finally facing my Waterlo

"Knowing my fate is to be with you."  Hmm. Who could that be? And Don receives a troubling letter. Hmm.

Sing us out Anni-Frid, Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha


Tim Footman said...

Five years before Abba but two years after this.

Maybe all the action takes place in a shabby railway terminus in south London.

Ellen O'Neill said...

Oh yes. I thought about the film Waterloo Bridge, and the terminus itself. It was "mine," coming up from Southampton University as often as I could, so I have an emotional connection it to. But I missed The Kinks.