Mad Men Certainly Has a Thing for Carousels

Soon you’ll leave and then I’ll lose you
Still we’re going round
On a carousel, on a carousel

I, for one, am stunned that Mad Men of all shows would use overt symbolism to prove a point. That has obviously never happened before in all 83 episodes prior to last night’s. Nope. Matt Weiner using parallels between music and character actions is such a shocking development someone should check on the writing staff and make sure they aren’t poorly executing a Weekend at Bernie’s scenario under all of our noses.

Of course, this isn’t the case at all. This week’s Mad Men episode “The Monolith” finally dropped one of the most obvious song choices on us out of the entire run. Using “On a Carousel” by The Hollies to close out an episode is something I’ve been keeping an eye out for since carousel symbolism first became a thing back in Season 1. The use of it here gave me a similar feeling to when Breaking Bad finally deployed “Crystal Blue Persuasion” close to the end of its run. Yes, either of these shows could have used either of these perfectly suited songs any time they pleased but they both waited until almost the very end to finally let them drop, right at the moment when they would be most powerful and effective. In both cases the central men were at a point in their lives they were longing to reach for an extended period of time, only to realize all is not perfect in the world they built in their minds.

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Here, we see Don finally back as a part of the day-to-day goings on of SC&P. After months sitting at home drinking and ignoring Meghan, then agreeing to the arbitrary yet completely necessary guidelines the partners set forward in order to return to work, Don decides that’s not really what he may have wanted after all. One thing that the show has hinted at for a long time is that Don Draper may very well be a freer spirit than a creative director at an ad agency should be. His jaunts to California to hang with hippies and visit Anna always gave us an insight to what Don felt deep down was his rightful state of mind. After being shunned by Meghan during his last visit to her new city, is it any surprise that Don took it as less than a shunning from his wife and more a banishment from the California lifestyle itself? No wonder the minute he got back behind a desk he was pissing Peggy off and subsisting on a purely liquid diet.

Regardless of where this mess heads in the back half of this mini-season, something tells me Don isn’t heading towards a major breakthrough like he did during last season’s Hershey pitch. He’s right back where he started: pretending to be competent at work (note the disbelieving yet satisfied glance Peggy throws him when he says he’ll have the work in by EOD) while continuing to drink and cheat (or think about cheating) on his wife. Everything is coming full circle from where we found Don in the beginning of this story, albeit with different people telling him to get his shit together or sitting at home expecting him to do so. He has, to bring it all back around, come full circle on the carousel he’s been on for years. If he successfully pitches a client sometime in the next three episodes the metaphor will have completed itself with ease, if he divorces Meghan and grows closer to Sally because of it things will have officially become uncanny.

I’m interested to see whether Matt Weiner used “On the Carousel” to complete Don’s recent story or to foreshadow things to come as these characters prepare for the 70’s to hit. Currently I think the latter is more realistic,  but with a show runner like Wiener things that can seem like a perfect set up can actually be a throwaway inclusion. He could very well have used this particular song to mock us all. Just watch, maybe in two episodes Wiener will throw a wrench in the methodically plotted and planned storyline or Don will actually change his ways or everyone out in California will actually die in a forest fire like the internet is currently speculating they will. Probably not, but carousels have been known to malfunction before haven’t they?

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