Amazing Grace

 Posted by on September 17, 2010 at 8:00 am  Season 3, Season 4
Sep 172010

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
“Amazing Grace,” John Newton

A very pointed use of metaphor in “The Summer Man,” has Miss Blankenship wearing dark glasses after eye surgery. Quoting from “Amazing Grace,” John Newton’s famous hymn partly inspired by the biblical story of a blind beggar (New Testament hobo) who regains his vision, Blankenship tells Don that she once was blind, but now can see.

The central storyline of “The Summer Man” involves Don’s efforts to get his life back on track after seeing what he has become.

Don’s swimming regime (baptism?) is established early on as part of this renewal program. He emerges from his club into the bright light of day. Squinting at the sun, Don puts on a pair of dark glasses.  As if awoken from a sleep, he becomes aware of a new world around him to the tune of a Rolling Stones number he has just heard on a transistor radio.

The sun motif is echoed later during Don’s date with Dr. Miller. She tells the Aesop fable about the sun and the wind staging a contest to see who can get a traveler (another hobo perhaps?) to take off his coat first. Since Don must surely have heard this story before, its symbolic use here would seem apparent. By getting Don to give up his jacket for her, a clear connection is made linking Dr. Miller to the sun. A similar such connection was previously made for Suzanne Farrell. In Season 3’s “Wee Small Hours,” Farrell prominently wears a Bowdoin t-shirt. Bowdoin’s official college seal features a sun. Incidentally, the sun (and the chaos which ensues while losing sight of it during an eclipse) was an important device in another pivotal Season 3 episode, “Seven Twenty Three.”

Farrell and Miller both recognize Don’s self-delusional nature and try in their own respective ways to get him to “see the light.” As has been pointed out in a previous post, Dr. Miller wears green on her date with Don. The color most associated with Suzanne Farrell was green as well. Of course, Don’s relationship with the teacher ended poorly (as she more or less predicted). It remains to be seen how Don’s association with the doctor will pan out.  However, Dr. Miller seems to be having a positive effect in his life.  Don awakens on the morning after their dinner and while facing the sun shining outside his bedroom window decides to go to his son’s birthday party.

Other notable moments of “blindness” from “The Summer Man.”

  • Ken mentions an uncle who went blind after contracting syphilis.
  • During Joan’s dressing down of the men in the creative department, Stan, oblivious to his chauvinistic ways, is shown wearing glasses similar looking to the ones worn by Miss Blankenship’s glasses.
  • Peggy is blindsided by Joan’s angry reaction to her firing of Joey.
  • Henry Francis does not notice Betty’s expression while gazing at Don holding Gene.

  44 Responses to “Amazing Grace”

  1. Excellent post, Matt!!

    Is it accurate to say that Joey was also blindsided by Peggy firing him, and by his perception of her?

  2. I read on another site that there is evidence that the dark glasses Stan is wearing are actually Ms.B’s. He stole them from her in an apparent prank. She is seen without them after the mountain dew meeting and later she is using a magnifying glass to read.

    That nasty Stan! Not only does he make fun of girls but also old ladies. He’s the worst. But he does kinda look cool in them.

  3. With the early signal of diagetic Stones moving to non-diagetic and the voice-over narration, I started looking for the “unreliable narrator” and unreliable narration. I am finding so many examples of unreliable narration in this episode (the frame capture at the top refers to one, Blankenship) that I am wondering if anything in this episode is real, true, or at least amenable to the surface interpretation. Ok, “anything” goes too far.

    Does Don smell corn on the sidewalk? Is it even summer yet?

    Last week’s vision of Anna was one of the first times that MW might not have “played fair” with us. Ghost, vision, dream, hallucination? Television viewers usually get very upset if the “rules” are broken, but if MM follows artistic time as a means of showing historical time, then MW could start using late 60s avant-garde film techniques. MW could become an unreliable narrator.

    An extreme example of this:Don really didn’t go to the birthday party, but was a fantasy of Betty. And we will never know. I don’t think Weiner wants to go this far, but Weiner is very ambitious, and wants to make tv history.

    Anyway, Don tells Faye she got the fable wrong. Don’t trust anything in “The Summer Man.”

  4. Bob McManus, I looked up diagetic on and it came back “no results found for diagetic”. What does it mean?

  5. I assumed Stan stole Miss Blankenship’s glasses…am I alone in that?

  6. Another item for the bullet list:

    Betty takes her blinders off after Francine’s frank remark about who has the most to lose.

  7. Ah, I see Josie agrees with me! Helps to refresh before commenting, eh?

  8. #1 Lianne.. I would add Joey to the list.

    #2 Josie… I didn’t see Stan actually take Blankeship’s glasses, but the thought occurred to me since they looked so similiar. But I can’t say for certain that that’s the case.

    BTW, diegetic music (I checked the spelling) is music a character can actually can hear as part of the story (such as the Rock Candy song at Gene’s party). Non-diegetic music is background music that’s there for the audience but not the characters. Don heard “Satisfaction” in the locker room (diegetic). Only the audience (us) heard it outside (non-diegetic).

  9. #3- So much for the posts getting weaker after Tuesday. This is above 95% of the viewing audience’s knowledge so why would Weiner think he is making history? If what you are saying is the case, Weiner is wasting his talents and MM is an esoteric farce to all those who thought they had “got it”. I sincerely hope this is not true. In another post, I said I remembered fondly Twin Peaks, but we all knew what we were getting into. OMG if this turns out to be just a fantasy weaved together by the dysfuntional. Just what our country needs to hear- now you can’t even trust fictional people on your TV! P.S. – still damn good I have to admit.

  10. #6 BornIn50.. Good point regarding Betty. I’d even add that Betty realizes how sad a figure Don actually is (not living the “life”)

  11. So funny ..Stan stole the glasses..Does he remind anyone else of Jethro Bodine?

  12. June 21 1965 was a Monday

    Weiner, at least in this episode, is playing games with us

  13. Maybe I should explain 12?

    Gene Draper was born 4:48 AM June 21. The party on Sunday was not on Gene’s birthday.

    None of the episode takes place in summer.

  14. Interesting theory. I love the idea of a story taking place inside a character’s head (i.e. “Point Blank”). FWIW, I thought that much of the action with Joy in Season 2’s “The Jet Set” was a dream on Don’s part. And John Slattery referred to Season 4 as “gutsy” (or something like that).

    But I’m not sold.

    For instance, it’s not uncommon to hold a child’s birthday party on the nearest available weekend day and refer to THAT day (albeit incorrectly) as their kid’s “birthday” (my wife and I do it all the time).

  15. 14:Reality died in 1965. It’s gonna get far out, man. Trippy.

    All I’m really saying so far is that I think we may have reached a point in Weiner’s method that we can no longer trust what his characters say, or even what we see on screen. It, like the 60s, becomes more and more a matter of interpretation. Usually, according to the “rules,” clues are provided.

    But part of what happened in the 60s was that a shared reality got lost.

    Another example would be Roger’s false memory of hiring DD in “Waldorf Stories.” And there was discussion of how realistic the flashback was, or real, or whose memory it was, especially with Don’s expression in the elevator.

  16. June 21 1965 was the summer solstice, so yes, it technically WAS summer. As for the scent of corn on the air, aside from popcorn, it could have been a street vendor selling steamed or roasted corn on the cob but more likely it was a sense memory. Something on the air triggered the memory of the smell of fresh corn.

    I had a similar thing happen to me when I was a graduate student, standing in a cafeteria line. But it wasn’t corn, or even food, that triggered it. Someone close by was wearing a jacket which immediately transported me to the Amtrak platform at Croton Harmon on a crisp October evening. I assure you there was was no train in sight in the cafeteria but there it was, clear as anything. Not unpleasant but a bit disconcerting.

  17. Just a reminder kids — don’t take the brown acid.

    Stay away from the brown acid.

  18. I agree that characters are not reliable. They only remember things as they remember them. Nevertheless, I hope what we the audience see remains reliable. 😛

    If there is a mix up regarding birthdays and summer, I’d rather chalk it up to a mistake than a hidden message regarding reliability.

  19. If I thought MM was becoming just someone’s dream or trip, I would stop watching immediately.

    Luckily, I don’t believe that for a second.

    But you guys were just kidding, right?

  20. Betty is still in love with Don.

  21. It might be a good idea to hit a rummage or used book sale and find a few magazines from this time–you’d be surprised what people are wearing, or what you’ve forgotten about what people wore.

    The local community college has a full run of “Life” bound and on the shelf–endlessly fascinating, though “Look” was the cooler mag.

    Fashion mags are best, but a glance at Playboy will let you know what Stan’s wearing is in style for then, including his glasses–and if he stole them from Ida, he must have stolen her head size too.

    Faye got the fable right, but used twice as many words to tell it, dwelling on the sensory details of force and warmth.

  22. Went away purposely to see if more comments added about #3. Loved the discussion afterwards. While I am not opposed to “unreliable characters” per se, I draw the line at Wiener allowing us to lose total trust in his script and therefore only rely on our own interpretation. That could result in a complete mishmash of ideas all wrong and all pointless. My use of the word dysfunctional was a bit harsh – I’ll change it to self serving and that fits more with what my impression of how the 60’s sadly ended up being (example Janis Joplin driving a psychedelic PORSCHE???). I would like Wiener to not make this even more confusing but to give us enough to go on reliably that we end up understanding the journey the characters made and where they ended up. Preferably in reality and not in an alternate universe, thank you.

  23. Seasons may have start and end dates, but I think we can all agree they’re also a state of mind. It may be technically still summer but the cool temps and the hint of changing leaves has me firmly entrenched in Autumn already.

    Sense memory is our strongest. There was a Victoria’s Secret fragrance called Riviera Sun that I used to wear in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. It has since been discontinued. One day a few years ago a girl whipped out some Riviera Sun lotion that she had bought on eBay and I was instantaneously transported to a road trip that my friends and I took in the spring of 2000. For a few seconds, emotionally I was 20 years old. Physically tired but exhilarated. It was amazing.

  24. Blankenship:”It’s very complicated It’s Bobby’s birthday party Sunday.”
    Draper:”It’s Gene’s birthday.”

    Unless I misunderstand the solstice, no it’s not, Don.

    Look I am not taking a strong stand about the last scene. But it is Betty’s PoV, BRCM is the background music, and it all feels so perfect for Betty that I would not be shocked if in a phone call next week Don says:”You wouldn’t even let me come to my son’s birthday party.” And then we’ll know we are in the 60s.

    But I’m probably wrong about this one. I think I will be watching even more closely from now on.

  25. I would say that it wouldn’t be good writing to introduce a convention like this so late in the game. However, we did have that scene in The Carousel where Don imagined a happy homecoming and getting to spend Thanksgiving with the family. In that case, though, it was revealed very quickly that it was all in Don’s head.

  26. #21 when I was little our library still had 1960s issues of Life on the shelf and I was utterly fascinated by them. It’s the reason I kept so many issues of Seventeen, Sassy and Rolling Stone from the 90s. I think my daughter’s just the right age to get those out.

  27. Can we all agree that Mad Men has not, is not, and (probably) never will show story events that aren’t “real”?

    This isn’t Rashomon. If it’s onscreen and we can see/hear it, it happened. Flashbacks, memories, etc. are all real. There are no “unreliable narrator” moments. The characters verbally lie to each other constantly, but the Mad Men camera never lies.

    It’s a complex and subtle enough narrative as it is, without introducing sub-textual “uncertainty principle” concepts!

  28. #27 You have my solemn word. However that brought me back to college (I was a Broadcasting/Communications major in the seventies)and we had these kind of discussions all the time about television and film. It can be fun, but I do think that your final sentence says it all. Thanks for the memories #3.

  29. Interesting thoughts. I think MW likes to mess with us a little bit (and it’s his creative right to do so) but won’t go so far as to break trust with the audience. MM has had several “fantasy” or alternate reality sequences (S1 Thanksgiving episode noted @25) but MW has always let us off the hook.

    On the sun, summer, green thing I always go back to “Kentucky Home” when many of the allusions were to Midsummer Night’s Dream but it was set in early May. Thematically everything still worked. I think MW will bend those rules but not break them. As pointed out above, if we can’t trust anything then things break down and become a pointless exercise.

    Having said that, it’s not a good idea to take any character’s POV as 100% reliable. I believe Don’s memory sequences are the way he remembers them and not an objective omniscient POV. I enjoyed the S1 scenes where Betty began to mess with the nasty psychiatrist. We viewers are often in his seat and have to take much of what the characters say and do with a grain of salt.

  30. Blankenship:”It’s very complicated. It’s Bobby’s birthday party Sunday.”
    Draper:”It’s Gene’s birthday.”

    Since the stress in the second sentence was on “Gene” and not “birthday,” I assumed that Don was correcting what he thought was the more important error in her statement, leaving the question of Sunday vs. Monday aside.

    I felt so bad for Miss B. I had cataracts at a young age, and thank goodness lens implants had been invented. After Stan stole the cataract glasses, she would have been totally helpless. And it really was like she described – I called it my “Saint Paul Moment.”

  31. #15:

    Is MM the type of show that could throw an entire episode built around one character having an inaccurate, subjective take on reality? Sure, as #14 mentioned “Jet Set” was very dream-like and Don was in an altered state for part of it. “The Fog” was similar, but with Betty in the altered state.

    Do I think “The Summer Man” was one of those episodes? Frankly, no. The whole theme of the episode was Don waking up to reality and slowly noticing the illusions (or blind spots) other people have. He hears the change in music and sees the change in the culture. He sees how much everyone is drinking at work. He sees what pigs Joey and Stan are. He sees Miss Blankenship as an attempt by Joan to take care of him. He sees how much he had been clinging to his old life in Ossining. He sees how he has been neglecting his kids. He notices how much Bethany is TRYING to make a connection. He notices Dr. Faye being in the midst of a break-up and decides it is a bad idea to sleep with her.

    For maybe the first time this season, Don Draper has an accurate read on most of the events of the episode. He has opened up and sees the world beyond himself. The episode would be pointless if that was all, in effect, a dream.

    That is not to say Don’s new clarity of vision was flawless, or that MW did not subvert things just a bit. Obviously, Don misread how the Joey incident effected Joan, since he did not interact with Joan about it. More importantly, Don totally missed what was going on with Betty and Henry.

  32. I’ll pile on and say that nitpicking what day summer technically started, and whether it’s unreasonable to assume that parents will throw children’s birthday parties on the nearest weekend date are bordering on absurd. But just to nitpick a nitpick, I believe what Don says is “summer’s coming,” so, even Don knew summer wasn’t technically here yet. This was no dream. What would be the point of that?

    As for the smell of corn, I think Don’s brain really did conjure up a whiff of corn, as a deeply embedded callback to his youth when a bright summer day meant you *would* smell corn. It’s interesting how often Don notes how things (or women) smell. Our sense of smell is deeply tied to our emotional centers of feeling and learning and memory.

    More importantly, Don totally missed what was going on with Betty and Henry.

    Did he miss it, or does he just not care much?

    Matt, I like your analysis of betty completely regressing to childhood in those scenes. I was struck by how much she looked and sounded like Sally when she said “I’m really sorry.” Remember when Sally woke up baby Gene when the Zombie Barbie showed up in her room? Betty sounded JUST like that to me. Oh henry! You thought you already finished raising a daughter!

  33. Ha. I read two posts in a row and combined them into one in my mind. I was referring to Deborah’s post about Betty being a child. Matt, I still liked your post too!

  34. @ 32 gypsy howell Did he miss it, or does he just not care much?

    Based on how he acted, mashing Don’s stuff with his front bumper, ignoring Don when he does come to pick up his stuff, and then getting all bent out of shape the next day when Don shows up at his son’s birthday party, I think Henry still cares a lot.

  35. Matt– oh yeah, HENRY cares! A lot. He knows his little girl wife is still emotionally bound to Don. Don, on the other hand, seems to be in the process of letting it all go. I loved his comment at dinner “and some poor slob who’s about to have the worst dinner of his life” or whatever he said. Sure, it seems to indicate that Don is still seething a bit about Betty dumping him, but on the other hand, we didn’t see him ruining his dinner date by pouting and glowering across the room at Betty and Henry the whole evening. He’s moving on.

  36. “Based on how he acted, mashing Don’s stuff with his front bumper, ignoring Don when he does come to pick up his stuff, and then getting all bent out of shape the next day when Don shows up at his son’s birthday party, I think Henry still cares a lot.”

    And yet Betty’s the only one being branded childish.

  37. It’s June! Mid-June! It’s summer, but it’s too early in the summer for corn. A midwest farm boy knows this.

    Speaking of sun/moon metaphors and the fable of kindness and persuasion vs force… I also thought of the difference in how Peggy fired Joey vs how Joan said she would have handled it.

    Peggy was definitely the wind. Not that Joan’s method would have been the sun… and certainly the sun (kindness, compassion, persuasion) wasn’t going to take care of sexism in the office or the marketplace.

  38. # 17 – “Just a reminder kids — don’t take the brown acid. Stay away from the brown acid.”

    And don’t mix LSD with IBM, or you’ll take a business trip.

  39. “Christ on a cracker”, Matt, well done. Amazing to pick up that theme – gosh darn, I missed it.

    BTW Matt, #34 Thanks for bringing up Henry’s smushing Don’s cardboard boxes, that was very..ahem..”Adult” of him!

  40. Great “insight” Matt

    I think it is rather clever that Don who was “blind but is now seeing” records his thoughts and we the audience are along for the ride.

    Like your take #31 and gypsy howell your comments as well

  41. Since this post started out talking about Miss Blankenship’s blindness–I’m going back to that. Is it possible that she is supposed to be an oracle here? In greek mythology, they have been referred to as blind speakers of the flat out truth that no one wanted to necessarily hear. She seems to force Don to face truths about himself–note the comments about the booze. And her rough exterior may actually be more reflective of his real self than the polished alter-ego that he has been showing. Perhaps that is why he keeps her around–to keep himself honest, since that seems to be a theme for this season. He is finally letting the light into his life. And the oracle may be part of that.

  42. #41, reminds me of the oracle in “Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?”, the blind guy singing and prophesizing on the railroad track. Does this make Don Ulysses on his journey?

  43. To #42 GoodSally: Very possibly. Think about the siren’s songs that Ulysses was tempted by. At any rate, he is definitely on a journey, isn’t he?

  44. Miss Blankenship’s glasses remind me of the mail order X-Ray glasses advertised in comic books from the 60’s & 70’s. Maybe Roger wasn’t exaggerating . . .

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