Posted by on September 1, 2010 at 5:22 am  Characters, Season 1, Season 4
Sep 012010

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
~Robert Frost

I hate the phrase “has-been.” I find it ignorant and self-delusional. A mean-spirited form of whistling past a graveyard. Unless your intention is to live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpse, we all become — in the least charitable terms — has beens.

I’ve often said that this show is represented by The Wheel of Fortune in the Tarot deck. One of the most iconic designs for the card is shown above and is from the Visconti-Sforza deck.

There are banners assigned to the figures:

Regnabo (I shall reign)

Regno (I reign)

Regnavi (I reigned)

And, the peasant, Sum Sine Regno (I am without reign)

The wheel is always turning. Nothing gold can stay. Fortunes are being made and lost. The wheel rests on the bowed backs of the unfortunate. Eve takes Margo’s job and, someday, an ingenue takes Eve’s job. Joans give way to Janes, and someday Jane will show pictures to her grandchildren showing that she used to be a hottie — really.  A young man calling himself Don Draper uses an older man’s excesses with alcohol to get a leg up, and someday might find himself in a similar situation. Or might luck into it. It is the Wheel of Fortune, after all.

Don is, of course, hastening his own downward journey, but he’s only speeding up the inevitable. He will never be the guy from Smoke Gets In Your Eyes or stand as tall as he did in, well, The Wheel. Of course, the latter episode was also the start of his losing his grip at the very top. We all hope he pulls it together and has more glory days, but he’ll never return to full luster.

As the saying goes, you can’t snuggle up to your job. No matter how much he manages to claw his way up the career wheel again, he is going to die a lonely old, irrelevant man and be a “has been” in the eyes of the world unless he learns — a woman with a pack of Tarot Cards told him that.  As the series goes on, more and more people are telling him or others that Don is pathetic, old(er), a drunk. He’s a divorced man who is either going to do right by his kids or end up crossing over to maudlin while listening to “Cats in The Cradle” on the radio.

Peggy keeps ascending that wheel. She is an attractive twenty-five year old who is decidedly not ashamed of her body and will not be made to feel ashamed about it either. She sees through Rizzo. He tried to make her feel inadequate — because he feels inadequate.

He is also playing the game a lot of creative types play. It’s a mixture of procrastination and blaming your lack of achievement on externals or needing perfect conditions. The chair is wrong, the time is wrong, the mood is wrong, the lighting is wrong, my partner is full of negative energy, I’m wearing too many clothes, she’s wearing too many clothes, now she’s wearing too few clothes, I need more caffeine, I’ve drank too much caffeine.  The person making the excuses is doing it for their own benefit as much as anyone who might happen to wander through. Rizzo maintained that if freed his naughty bits that the rest would follow, because it was a condition unlikely to be met. Oops.

We’ve seen before that Peggy can create while stoned — add naked to the list. This really is Peggy’s time, at least on the work front. Don had better reevaluate his treatment of her because we’ve seen she is capable of leaving if she feels under-appreciated. However, I don’t think Duck is a viable option these days for career advancement.

I’d also like to think there was a message here, since we’d gone meta with awards and spoilers, to every moron on the internet who calls actresses ugly and picks them apart for minor or imaginary flaws. Can you imagine the reaction of 98% of these “gentlemen” if even thought they had a chance with any of these women? You could dip it in ink and write with it. I’m including Mrs. Blankenship here.


Speaking of meta, Danny Siegel is played by Danny Strong. Any Buffy fan would have recognized him in moments. He was also Emmy nominated in 2008 for writing a movie called Recount about the 2000 presidential elections. It was a theme night!  One of his most notable episodes of Buffy was called Superstar in which his character, a decidedly minor role, was suddenly and without explanation for most of the episode the Sunnydale equivalent of the man you wish your man smelled like. The characters acted as if he’d always been their super-suave leader. Even the show’s credits were changed accordingly.

I’m not telling Matthew Weiner how to do his job, but Danny as the hotshot ad genius for an episode with Don wishing he could be him … gold. (See what I did there?)


  11 Responses to “Gold”

  1. Great post.
    Nitpick: Shouldn't it be "I've drunk…"?
    FWIW…did anyone else notice Miss Blankenship adjusting her wig? Hilarious.

  2. Fantastic Post!! Wow, I think you've covered all the bases here. Yup, Peggy is ascending as Don is descending, but as you may have noticed, Don is always falling in the opening credits, but always lands on that couch!

  3. "I don't wanna be no has-been! I wanna be a is-be!"

    –Foxxy Love, Drawn Together

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by mark grip, Pete Drake. Pete Drake said: Gold. | Basket of Kisses: Nothing gold can stay. Fortunes are being made and lost. The wheel rests on the bowed ba… […]

  5. Your post makes a nice counterpart with Anne's "Hungry" post. I just posted there about how in some cases, getting older seems to equal getting more jaded and less enthusiastic about things.

  6. This is all true, but won't Peggy be someday, maybe in 10-20 years someone will be calling her a has-been too.

    Have any of you ever seen William Shatner do his song/spoken word performance of "Has Been" ? IIRC he was referencing the pointlessness of calling him that, or alternatively conceding that he was one (though to all of the haters out there, he has made a c omeback, though very different from his earlier incarnations). He ends by saying, he never was.

  7. Oh and HA to whoever said Mrs. Blankenship was unattractive in another post, very nice looking in her youth and take away those buy eyed glasses and that horrible wig and I bet she'd look a lot different.

  8. Wonderful post, GD, when I read the Frost poem I wondered how you were going to connect Mad Men to S. E. Hinton's book, The Outsiders. Then the Gone With The Wind sky scene from the Francis Ford Coppola movie burned brightly in my mind, but I digress.

    Interesting how Don just laughs when a living example of a man, Duck, on the downward side of the wheel makes a fool of himself by drunkenly confronting the awards emcee. Then Don blithely ignores the emcee warning to pace himself. I saw that as a warning about Don's life in general at this point and not just limited to his drinking. We see what not pacing himself gets him in the Life Cereal meeting. If he had taken Pete's advice and waited until Monday before offering new slogan suggestions, he would not be stuck with Jane's cousin- the man with five examples of the same bad idea. Don's wheel is going to turn even faster if he does nothing to slow it down soon.

    • They can't see themselves in Duck. Hell, Don is heading to Freddy territory. Don is becoming his own punchline and he doesn't know it. Thinking the rules don't apply to him got him where he is, or was, and he doesn't see yet that there's a price to be paid.

      I can't give you Hinton, but Don in the flashbacks was like Tess McGill in Working Girl –" You can bend the rules plenty once you get to the top, but not while you're trying to get there. And if you're someone like me, you can't get there without bending the rules."

  9. For all the Miss Blankenship fans … Randee Heller, the actress who portrays her, is hiding her light under a bushel with that twitchy wig Miss B. sports!

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