Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mad Men: Where Hitchcock Meets Lawrence of Arabia, and We Say Goodbye to Don

In the beginning there was Alfred Hitchcock. He liked mystery, intrigue, issues of identity, Cary Grant, and cold, cool blonds.

Quite the blueprint for Matthew Weiner. 

Mad Men opened with the the intriguing "falling man" while it's Roger Thornhill in Hitchcock's North by Northwest who is the original falling man (with what I think is a much more closely matched "fall" than the oft-cited Vertigo poster) and an advertising man to boot who can't get people to believe who he is once he gets mistaken for a spy.  And so we know whence Don Draper sprang fully formed from the head of Matthew Weiner.

Much of the magnetism of the series came from the evocation of the 1950s (which the series rightfully depicts as continuing on well into the 1960s). North by Northwest opened on July 28, 1959; Mad Men debuted on July 19, 2007. Weiner brought us the great visual quotes of the NxNW cornfield scene in "Lost Horizon," and the "Thornhill at bus stop in the middle of nowhere" quote in "The Milk and Honey Route." Weiner has elegantly achieved the homage to the Master.

The Plot: Through the series we've learned a bunch about how Dick Whitman became Don Draper, taking on the identify of his lieutenant in Korea, after he accidentally killed him.

And why did he want to change his identify? He had a difficult childhood. For me, none of this was why I watched. I've watched because of the visual beauty and artfulness, a distinct place on the TV landscape to spend an hour a week, sporadically through the years.

Everybody Loves a Mystery
So how will it all end? Don has been stripping himself of the Don Draper identifiers: his beautiful wife Megan; their apartment (and furniture, which her mother took); his advertising career; his first family; his car.

And . . . we last saw him at a Thornhill-like bus stop in the middle of nowhere. (h/t Michael Beschloss for the Cary Grant screen grab.)


Hmm.  Happiness, at having little left to lose, made me think of one person . . .


Thomas Edward Lawrence struggled with identity his whole life.  His father, Sir Thomas Chapman, was married with four daughters. They hired a nanny, Sarah, to help, and Tom fell madly in love with her.

He left his wife and daughters, and started a new life with Sarah, under the name Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence. He never divorced his first wife, and he had five sons with Sarah, of whom T.E. was the second.

T.E. had an enormous intellect, which is what propelled him to great heights in leading much of the war in Arabia during WWI. He idenfitied with the Arabs, and believed he was fighting for their independence.  That's not what happened: Arabia was portioned off between the English & French. He felt he had been a fraud (this is all in enormous shorthand.)

When Lawrence returned to civilian life we was given a teaching gig at Oxford. Perfect, right? But he enlisted in the R.A.F. under the name John Hume Ross, to lose himself. When it was discovered who he really was, he was thrown out. Then he enlisted in the Royal Tank Corp, as T.E. Shaw. He didn't really like that and he petitioned to be let back in to the R.A.F, which happened in 1925. He served until 1935.  Two months after he left the service, at the age of 46, he was mortally hurt in a motorcycle accident, and died.

Lawrence wrote about his time in the RAF & the Tank Corp. in The Mint, which was published after he died. It is a tortured telling of wanting to be a complete non-entity.  Shedding all identity was the only way he could find peace, dare we say happiness. That's why he popped into my head when I saw Don's smile at having nearly nothing.

I don't think this has anything to do with the actual ending, but I did find Weiner made a reference to none other than David Lean's movie in a Washington Post interview on the idea of Jewish-ness & Other-ness. . . .HA!

"So when you start making a decision to represent people, and you have Ginsberg’s father, who’s a Holocaust survivor, who is from Poland, you’re gonna have him talk like Lawrence of Arabia?"

Clues That Have Been Dropped
John Slattery is on record as saying that the ending is "Of course."  I believe that Weiner has said that he's known how it will end since he started.

I love the D.B.Cooper idea.  Such a creative exercise, to take one of the great mysteries of the 1970s, and trace it back to who D.B. was before he disappeared.

Other than that, I'll just be happy with almost anything as long as it doesn't have any completely illogical occurence: like a man who clearly is dying of frostbite, in a car enclosed in ice with a dead battery, and then miraculously turns up in a kitchen in sunny Arizona . . .