A Little Kiss: The White Carpet

 Posted by on December 5, 2012 at 9:07 am  Mad Men, Matthew Weiner, Season 5
Dec 052012
 

Mad Men A Little Kiss: Sexy Megan in her panties on the floorSo I was listening to Matt Weiner’s audio commentary on A Little Kiss, and he talks about the white carpet in the Draper apartment as a metaphor. Once he said it, I started thinking through all the ways that works, and came up with much more than he actually stated.

Start with Matt’s idea, and what is explicitly said in the episode: Don and Megan’s life is beautiful, bringing work people into their home sullies it. So, her beautiful white carpet is ruined after the party.

But it’s so much more than that. The fantasy of married life is pristine and beautiful, but the reality of walking around in it is dirtier. Megan thinks they both want the carpet, which she emphatically states is beautiful. Don just said yes to make her happy, which says so much about how he communicates.

Don knows that beauty is an artifice. If you really listen to him explaining how hard it is to photograph a white carpet, you’re hearing the guy who said “What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons.” Don sees the construction of advertising, and seeing that, cannot truly fall in love with something that is packaged that way.

Megan, young, sees beauty and is passionate about it. Don, cynical, wants to please Megan in order to partake in that passion, but he cynically knows the carpet will get dirty, the beauty won’t last. The carpet is their work relationship, it’s their marriage (which I think will last, but not in the fantasy form, which is what a pristine white carpet is), it’s the fantasy of happily ever after. The carpet is also Don’s ability to buy something and thereby keep Megan happy; it’s her gilded cage which, by the end of the season, she is leaving for her own happiness (again, I don’t think she’s leaving Don, I mean having a separate career and a separate identity).

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  28 Responses to “A Little Kiss: The White Carpet”

  1. 10 possible symbols of the “white carpet”:

    1) As a white flag, a place of ceasefire or renegotiation or a reminder of the need to keep communication lines open

    2) A temporary sanctuary

    3) A place where pure creativity can be summoned up or displayed in isolation from the rest of the world

    4) It is the knowledge of their marriage that the “white carpet” will get dirty, stained and abused (goes with the territory) and that it must be occasionally cleaned (period of adjustment) or replaced (major overhaul in the marriage). It will never remain in its original state of being pure white.

    5) A protective cover from the cold, harsh wood floor below, the white carpet as a buffer to cushion one from the brutal reality of life and the consequences of that brutal reality

    6) The white carpet as an extension of the bride wearing white on her wedding day can be interpreted as symbolic of a new beginning. Both Megan and Don see their marriage as a new beginning and realize as the white carpet is becoming sullied the new beginning is not as much of a break from the past as they wished for or expected.

    7) The white carpet as the fantasy of what Don and Megan want their marriage to be or represent and the replacing of the white carpet (Don’s words) is their desire to maintain that fantasy.

    8) The white carpet symbolizes the positive virtues and outlook of its inhabitants Don and Megan.

    9) Don and Megan used the white carpet to “baptize their marriage” to make sure it got off to a good start.

    10) And the white carpet could be setting the stage for the last episode “The Phantom” as white is the symbol of ghosts and phantoms. Pale as a ghost is a common expression. In other words the white carpet may be an instrument of foreboding and the more one walks on it the more impact it has one’s future or destiny.

  2. Love this post, Deb.

    I also see Megan and Don’s differences of expectation and experience in her surprise party for his birthday: she holds in her mind, then plans and throws, this ideal celebration of who she thinks her husband is, and what she wants to be to him.

    And he hates it — which sullies her idea of what she’s making for him, and hurts her feelings.

    As much as Don and Megan love each other, they want different things. They’re both willful enough to fight for those things. I think they’ll continue to be a challenge to each other, but I have no idea how long they’ll want to stay engaged in the struggle.

  3. I think Prof. Calvet’s inkpen staining the carpet, and Megan cooking barefoot is foreshadowing something tragic is going to happen on that pristine white carpet.

  4. Hi All,

    This is such a great post! All of your thoughts are spot on: love all of the imagery of the white rug from bob, Anne B – so right on about Megan having to deal with her own pre-conceived notions being blown up by Don’s ungrateful reaction to that birthday party. Probably one her first ugly encounters with Don.

    And Bobby spilling the ink on the carpet in Codfish Ball was an intense omen. I remember that being almost like a horror movie moment to me. That blue ink is so violent and permanent – it’s the same as trying to get blood out of a carpet.

    Matthew Weiner reiterated in Entertainment Weekly that Don and Megan are soulmates – they are one person…and that person is Don. So if Don is like Narcissus, in a way, in love with his own reflection and unable to see people as entities on their own…where does this leave Don and Megan? We’re watching everything in their relationship be sullied. Is their relationship in a state of decay, or is it plateauing and now rising from their realizations about who the other truly is?

    It’s weird, if Don doesn’t end up with Megan, and has to go through another divorce, I’ll feel somewhat disappointed as in, “we went through all of that for nothing?” But, if they end up together, I’ll also feel like it was too easy. As in, he just randomly picked some secretary who he knew nothing about, and she happened to be the love of his life. Okay. It’s a nice idea, but for a show about the complexities of the human psyche, kind of a simple solution. Is Season 6 here yet??????

    • Well, Bobby spilling the ink foreshadows the “dirty” city that Sally sees, and it also foreshadows that Megan, under her father’s influence, will further sully the white carpet of fantasy marriage. She’ll be pursuing her own career.

      I don’t think that Don will divorce Megan, and I don’t think he picked her at random. His character is profoundly flawed; the soulmate remark is about Don not being able to see Megan as separate from him. It’s also a sign of the times–Don did see Megan, but then expected her to be subsumed into “wife.” That expectation is more dirtiness for the carpet, and will also make marriage less satisfying for him.

      I think, in realizing that Megan is not Don’s cure for Don, he will distance himself from her, but I don’t think he’ll divorce her. He didn’t even want the divorce from Betty!

      • Thanks for this wonderful post….this makes me think of the chase in Far Away Places that ends with Don tackling Megan and they fall on the carpet, but this time the carpet is a place, though previously sullied, is now where Don realizes, with Megan’s help, that each fight “diminishes them just a bit.” And, that white carpet is where Don is on his knees, clutching Megan for dear life and admitting to her that he almost lost her.

        A huge issue for Don is losing people and his fear of being alone — he lost his birth mother, Adam, Rachel, Midge, Anna, Lane, Peggy (to Ted C), and his recognition that Megan, his soul mate, loves him but wants to be independent of him.

        Although Matt Weiner swears that people don’t fundamentally change, Don will need to reconcile Megan’s independence with his love for her. The scene in the last episode of Season 5 where Don watching Megan’s screen test is I think a pivotal point for Don both recognizing his love for Megan and her potential as an actress, with the role he can play to help her pursue her dreams of being an actress — all in the context of his fear of being alone. While in the dentist chair, under the gas when he hallucinates that Adam is there, Don tells Adam not to leave him. Don is driven by his guilt in pushing people away at the same time that he recognizes the importance of their loss for him.

        I agree that Don won’t divorce Megan, and maybe this coming season will be about Don’s torturous struggle to keep the “carpet white” while he fights his fear of being alone with the temptation to cheat as he tries to support Megan’s aspirations as she becomes increasingly independent. Maybe something like that saying …“If you love something let it go free. If it doesn’t come back, you never had it. If it comes back, love it forever.”

        • Wonder if Megan would divorce Don?

          • Yeah, I was wondering about that and also if it would be Megan who would cheat on Don. Not sure, especially given how aware Megan is of how much her father, Emile, cheats on her mother, Marie.

            Do we know if Megan knows that her mother also cheats on her father? I don’t think Megan knows about Marie and Roger….

    • “Diminishes us”. Don got “Megan” on the ‘rebound’ from his perfect angel Anna. His young bride in his mind is a Mini-me who completes him. He thinks. Nary a regard of how he might amplify his partner, or not. As the regrettable ‘The Phantom’ illustrated, DD is nowhere near being a complete graft of whatever fantastical form of his self he thinks he is now, ‘happy’? and in love.

      “He’ll tell you about the time he thought he was an angel”. His inner demons in the form of Mystery Date, and Adam still tug strongly at him. He seems too steadfast however, to ever let his center break, and crack up.

      “Megan is a hail mary pass at Don’s attempt for pure happiness. Betty was just a Daisy to. his Jay Gatsby. He was going to pull Snow White off of that hilltop, if it killed him. Had to prove he cpuld get her. The second bride came without that hurdle to clear, no ego, no encumberance, pure.
      Don’s business explanation of the carpet is a slight metaphor to how he sees the bargain he struck for a shot at bliss. You see something beautiful, knowing it won’t stay as it was, “You only like the beginning of things”, and you say to yourself that in the end it HAS to be worth it, irregardless of the diminishing returns.
      “Megan” is a compromise. He still barely knows her. But, she might yet be the pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow. Might.
      Don is dimished in my eyes for choosing the quick, and easy path of a girl who was easily starstruck, and pliant. At the beginning of things.
      DD loves the beginnings, cause he hates the goodbyes. Sentimental fool.
      That’s why he will probably never say goodbye to his phantom. “Megan”.

      • Tilden. Beautiful. So right.

      • Agree Tilden – Betts told Sally about the first kiss being the most important as each subsequent kiss is a shadow (phantom?) of the last…The law of ever diminishing returns

        Don/Megan realtionship was built upon a set of circumstances — Don never actively pursued Megan and now at the end of S5, we see renewed vigour in his work (I want Firestone not Dunlop, I want American not Mohawk) even Roger ‘missed that guy’ — its old Don and this may become a marriage of convenience?

        Hey babe we tried to keep the carpet ‘clean’ – but, I cant hide and I just cant fake it (apologies Carole King)

      • My two favorite lines of this post:

        Megan is not Don’s cure for being Don.

        Megan is a hail mary pass at Don’s attempt for pure happiness.

        It really sums up everything.

  5. I don’t know if this is kind of obvious or was already discussed, but I viewed the white carpet and its getting dirtier and dirtier over time also as a metaphor for the old disappearing worldview of the 50s, that everything had to be perfect and clean and neat, but in reality it of course isn’t, and life is just dirty and ugly and definitely not perfect.
    but people still try to achieve this kind of perfection and beauty that is just not going to happen in the long haul.
    well anyway, just my 2 cents. ;)

    • This reminds me of when people of a certain age gripe that American society should “go back to the fifties. Like when I was little. Like ‘Leave it to Beaver.’” Like, fictional.

  6. Megan in black lingerie; teasingly she is attempting to ‘clean’ the carpet, but to no avail as Don in primal mode grabs her by the scruff of the neck. She yelps like a helpless animal and their sexuality is further defined as a complete anathema to 50′s middle America. Its visceral – Don is the Beast to Megan’s Beauty…

    That’s one damn ‘dirty’ carpet people… and as Deb notes; if that’s the marriage and they continue together, ipso facto – Don is cheating in S6

    • When I saw Megan in her black underwear on the white carpet, I kept thinking of Paul Kinsey’s Maidenform ad. I wonder if Don’s response was subconcious to the imagery.

  7. This isn’t about the white carpet, but it’s just as telling about the state of things with the Drapers.

    Recently, while re-watching Seasons 1-3, it suddenly dawned on me that in the new Draper apartment, there doesn’t seem to be a room with a desk that has a lockable drawer.

    Maybe such a room is part of the floor plan of the place and viewers just haven’t yet seen it onscreen. More likely – Don hasn’t any secrets from Megan (at least regarding the Don/Dick situation) so there’s no need for a lockable desk or a room for it to live in.

    It just goes to show you, no matter how many times you watch these MM episodes, there’s always some new thing to see or to realize, that you hadn’t before.

  8. If bringing work people into their home is what “ruins” Don and Megan’s marriage, then why does he want her to work with him? If she doesn’t work with him, that is a very different party, with very different repercussions; in fact, there might not ever have been that kind of party at all, and the carpet, as it were, would have remained unsullied. He wants it both ways; he wants her to be there for him for a quickie whenever he’s in the mood, but then he wants the rest of the office to go away and leave them alone.

    And what does she want? For everyone to have so much fun and be so turned on that they go home and have sex. Megan would hate to live with Don alone in a little tiny bubble with no one else around. She is a super-extrovert and a born performer who thrives on an audience. She might be right that Don likes attention more than he wants to admit, but Don really only likes that kind of attention for a few minutes at a time when he’s giving a pitch, while Megan feels like something’s wrong when she’s not the center of attention. This is classic opposites-attract.

    Don, however, has already been divorced (twice if you count Anna, which I don’t, but he might), and would probably rather yank out his own front teeth than do it again. And since Megan is a lot more plugged in to what’s going on with him than Betty was, and a lot more likely to call him on it, it’s going to be harder for him to get away with the kind of bed-hopping he used to do. There’s only one thing that would make him initiate a divorce with Megan: her cheating on him. And no, it wouldn’t surprise me if she cheated first; if her career is going well, men are going to fall in love with her, and all it would take is one of those guys to turn her head.

    • Exactly, Meowser.

      • I’d like to echo that “exactly.”

        • Another thing: Megan wants everyone to be so turned on they will want to go home and have sex, but then she is all offended when she learns her performance had the deisred effect on Harry.

          Instead of laughing it off, she marches around the office for days being cool to him because she got the result she was looking for.

          • Heh. She probably had more in mind that he would go home and have sex with Jennifer. But if she’s going to be a performer, she must know that people talking about you (and thinking about you) long after the performance is going to go with the territory. (Note to Megan: Watch A Hard Day’s Night. No, I mean really watch it.)

            Which is going to be, shall we say, interesting as far as the dynamic with Don; she gets upset about running into his groupies all over the place, but if her career takes off, it’s not going to be long before the shoe is on the other foot. Even if she never actually goes to bed with any of those guys, there are bound to be more of them lusting after her than Don has ever had, and they’ll be everywhere.

  9. Really good insights Deb and all. As you so often do you have pinpointed why the seemingly modest white carpet symbol is actually so much more. In a way, Season 5 begins and ends with “snow white” whether the literal carpet or the final shot of Megan in her very Snow White-looking costume. No mistake that we also associate the word carpet with “magic” and fantasy. Here again Don “purchases” some fantasy happiness for Megan knowing that it is no more permanent than the whiteness of the carpet. In that same early conversation with Rachel Menken about love, Don says very clearly that “he never forgets:”

    -White carpets aren’t white for long,
    -Happiness can be purchased – at least temporally,
    -The eventual messiness of love, family and ultimately belonging does not comport with someone whose character and fate is to keep moving and reinventing,

    As tilden points out, Don is willing to fantasize. He’ll suspend this cynical part of himself because he likes the beginning of things and is willing to try that hail mary pass. I see the final scene of Season 5 as Don revisiting his cynical (if realistic) self who never forgets that expecting love to last is like expecting a white carpet to stay white. The twist is what you all point out – if Don and Megan are the same person how will Don try to reconcile this conflict not just with Megan but with himself?

  10. Amazing insights! Your line “The carpet is also Don’s ability to buy something and thereby keep Megan happy” really got me thinking. I tried to recall when Don bought something for Betty to make her happy. And then I remembered. The white fur coat. The one Don bought to get Betty’s attention when she was a model. White and fluffy, just like the carpet.

    http://media-cache-lt0.pinterest.com/upload/138907969726225765_VDguOtBB_c.jpg

    Interestingly, in the last episode of their relationship (when Betty wants a divorce in “The Grownups”) Betty is wearing a coat w/a white fur collar.

    http://blogs.amctv.com/mad-men/betty-312-wedding.jpg

    Perhaps w/Megan Don is repeating the cycle (marrying someone he barely knows and hoping it will turn out for the best). And just like the carpet and his marriage with Betty got “dirty,” so could the same happen w/Megan.

    There may be a theme with fur in S5. It seems to coincide with disappointment and ill tidings.

    With Pete and Beth, Pete first sees Beth locked out of her car while wearing a brown fur collared coat. After they hook up, Pete wants to meet her at a hotel and she stands him up. And then there’s the infamous turning up at work in a black fur coat and black underwear (like Megan’s) fantasy, based on Beth seeing the NYT article on SCDP. But then there’s the disappointment of the article not even including SCDP. And finally, after it is all over and Beth has her EST, Pete sees her on the train in the same brown fur collared coat.

    And then there’s the horror of Joan’s fur. Given to her by Roger at the beginning of her relationship. And worn during his ultimate act of selling her out.

    Then there’s Jane covering herself up w/a fur coat after she regrets sleeping w/Roger in “Dark Shadows.” Interestingly, the way she talks about Roger ruining the new apartment is similar to show Don describes letting “work people” into their apartment.

    Also, Lane wears a black fur hat when the audience realizes that he’s lying about SCDP’s finances. And Mrs. Pryce is wearing a black fur hat and lined jacket when she shows him the new Jaguar, a purchase which is symbolic of Lane’s financial mess, the one which leads to his suicide. Interestingly, a jaguar is an animal whose fur is used for coats.

    Back to white carpets, in “The Phantom,” the last episode of the season, another white carpet is destroyed. It’s by Joan when she spray paints the X in red where the staircase should be. But this destruction of a white carpet is not bad. It is the destruction of the old and the creation of the new and better. It’s marking the path of ascension to the higher, rather than going in circles in the layout of a one story SCDP.

  11. I’m glad this was brought up- and I thought that I could maybe add a little bit to this really rich discussion.

    The white carpet brings two things to my mind. The first is that of an easel before a painter begins his work. This season begins with a brand new canvass – a new marriage, a new Don – and the carpet establishes that. It’s the ground that their new marriage takes place. However, the choice of white means that anything can really happen here. It could be kept clean, it could be dirtied (like it eventually is), or completely new elements can be brought in that change its look and feel altogether (I think of those wide shots where we see new characters or hear different music throughout the season). Which brings me to my other thought of the carpet, which is the appearance of a void. Throughout the season the carpet is used in wide shots that convey a huge space, and that has echoes of other abysses in the season (the empty elevator shaft, the missing tooth, Lane’s empty chair). Also, the lyric in Tomorrow Never Knows – “Surrender to the void.” I feel like it’s a great communicator of how these characters (in particular Don and Sterling) feel such unease about the future and what it holds for them. Does this make sense? I’d be really interested to hear people’s opinions on this.

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