The Bait-and-Switch of 5G

 Posted by on February 20, 2008 at 6:49 am  Characters, Season 1
Feb 202008
 

This is pure spoiler, just in case you were wondering. So, a courteous little “continued” link…

As I re-watched 5G the other night, I recalled the first time I saw the episode. The big question, of course, was, what was in Don’s case? We all know how it turned out—5G was in Don’s case. But the question in everyone’s mind was, Is it a gun?

At some level, that’s kind of a cheesy bit of misdirection. There’s a lot of it going on; the careful way Don has the money locked away, the way he agonizes over it, and especially the way Don opens the case, and then quick cut to Adam saying ‘What have you got there?’ Very murder of the week on Law & Order, that.

Part of me wondered, that first time, if the show could get away with murder. Don undoubtedly could. A nobody with no family (and Don’s careful inquiry about that was more misdirection); Peggy had seen him, but Peggy was sure Don’s missing time was all with Midge. No one would miss this guy or connect him to Don Draper. No, the real question to me was, could the show keep us caring about Don Draper after he’d done such a heinous thing. And there was a meta-level of consideration; you know, watching it, that this is written by Mr. Sopranos, so you know that he can make you care about murderers. Although one lone, secret, secretive murderer amongst people much nicer is perhaps, stretching it.

What is true when you’ve only seen five episodes, is that you don’t know who Don is at all, or what he’s capable of. You don’t know if he gives a shit about Adam. Adam says “Did you miss me at all?” and Don’s pause is loooong, his face is pure deer in the headlights; Is he lying when he says “Of course I did”? After 13 episodes, I think we all know he wasn’t lying, and his anguish was fueled by how deeply he cared. But then, the mystery of Don’s briefcase contents was fueled by the mystery of Don himself. He was a fascinating character, and yet he was still a character who might, maybe, be capable of shooting his long-lost kid brother.

And here’s the other thing. None of the “misdirection” touches were really misdirection. Don really was anguished. Really was conflicted. Really wanted to find a way to make the problem go away. And if we think of the contents of the case as the contents of Don/Dick, yes, it’s locked away tightly with a key his wife doesn’t know about, and yes, it’s terrible, terrible to decide to bring it out, to have to act, and the pain in there is murderous.

And finally, it’s not misdirection because, well, it does kill Adam in the end. What was in that case was rejection, and rejection killed Adam.

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  10 Responses to “The Bait-and-Switch of 5G”

  1. Ohhh, nicely done.

    I remember watching it the first time and PRAYING he wasn't going to pull out a gun simply because of the Soprano's pedigree of the show. And personally I think Mr. Weiner was letting us go there briefly only so he could distinguish himself by saying in effect "Yes, these issues are life and death, but we won't be using guns here."

    And it's worth mentioning the use of firearms in the series is handled wonderfully … Pete's gun fetish to prove his manhood, Betty in 'Shoot', and a few others I'm sure I'm missing …

    BTW – 5G starts, for me, the best 4-episode stretch in the season, including Babylon, Red in the Face and Hobo Code … each instant all-time television classics.

  2. Uhh… I kinda like Marriage of Figaro.

    But enough about that.

    Deb–YES. I asked the same question; can the show handle this? And then is that a show I want to be watching? And I agree with Dan, it was Weiner's way of establishing the show as not the Sopranos.

    Your remarks about Don having a secret under lock and key… funny, because I was just remembering how in Nixon Vs. Kennedy, Trudy calls out Pete on his box, and talks about how her father had a box she wishes she'd never seen. (porn, or some such, I figured.)

    In the Wheel, Don very clearly threatens Pete, by telling him (not in exact terms) that if someone has a secret that they would go to extremes to maintain, the level of those extremes could extend to violence. Don may not be someone who would commit murder, but that showed me that he recognizes how an 'everyman' can turn into a murderer. Again, how Hitchcockian.

  3. I think that Red in the Face is my least favorite episode. And Mad Men isn’t Star Trek—it doesn’t have “love to hate ‘em” episodes. Red in the Face is good; in spots, very good. But throwing up exactly as you hit the top of the stairs is very “television;” much less real and day-to-day than most of what we see.

    I have, I think, four favorite episodes: 5G, Babylon, Shoot, and Indian Summer.

  4. All we need to know about Don's fragility is the look on his face when Rachel tells him that she knows what it's like to be on the outside and that she thinks he knows what it's like too (in Smoke).

    He's petrified in that moment, and it's all over his face.

    I think Janet Maslin said right before the screening that everything that would come throughout the season is initially revealed in the first episode. So right, especially as regards big Don's make-up.

  5. The setting for the possible murder of Adam also contributes to the Dangerous Don image.

    You’ll notice that most film noir techniques are used with Pete Campbell–suggested or overt film noir lighting, camera angles that create a feeling of entrapment.

    The scene in Adam’s flophouse hotel is in keeping with realism–since he would be living in an older rooms with rundown 50′s furniture he can afford. However, the look of his room is reminiscent of “The Killers” with Burt Lancaster and the lighting creates a shadowy bizarro world for Don’s bad side to come out. Adam’s lines, “You look more like you, now,” and “Uncle Mac thought you were soft, but you aren’t soft, are you Dick?” do not reassure us that Don will not do something rash; nor does Don’s five-o’clock shadow and unkempt hair.

    So is Dick Whitman just Dick Whitman, or is he Don’s dark side? Does Dick Whitman fulfill all those horrible things that Abigail thought he would always be and is Don running from more than the past? By the end of “The Wheel”, I can think it’s just the past Don is afraid of, since he tries to reconcile that a little by calling for the now dead Adam at the flophouse. But as of this episode, these questions carry more weight.

  6. Shit. You know what? I meant 40′s furniture. Oops.

  7. It really is interesting to look back now. I loved the show by this point, but I am now so much more satisfied with who these people are; by what has been revealed. Don is still not an easy hero (though the green eyes help), but he is more fragile than we knew at this stage.

    Dick as Don’s dark side is great. It doesn’t maintain as a theme for the season, but I can buy it as a them for this episode.

  8. Max, I haven’t seen The Killers in a while, but it seems to me that Lancaster’s bare, meager room only served to contrast the animal size of him; the big, feral man in a too-small cage. Whereas Adam’s room is Adam-sized, and tells me of the small, mean life that naturally finds itself in a small, mean room.

  9. It's been a while since I've seen "The Killers", too, so it behooves me to look again. The seediness and deprivation of Adam's room reminded me most about it. And Adam's quarters still seem small enough. That two-burner thingy he cooks on certainly doesn't help.

  10. I need to watch the episode again, because I'm not convinced the room is quite Adam-sized. He's kinda big, and even if the room is spacious, there was that two-burner thingy. I gotta check it out.

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