Unplanned Obsolescence

 Posted by on April 29, 2014 at 10:51 am  Mad Men, Season 7, Themes
Apr 292014

Mad Men episode 7.03, Field Trip starts with Don sitting in a theater watching 1969′s Model Shop. On the screen at that moment, the movie’s protagonist (played by Gary Lockwood) is behind the wheel of his car tailing his love interest and the object of his desires. Both are driving convertibles, but Lockwood’s is a much older looking vehicle. Assuming the choice of that clip was no accident, Don is being compared to the Lockwood character. Thus, establishing this episode’s theme of obsolescence (read: discardable) linked with unfulfillable yearnings to correct the past.

 Early on in Field Trip, Alan Silver calls Don to inform him that Megan’s overenthusiastic attempt to win an acting role leads to her involvement in an embarrassing incident at a lunch where Rod Serling’s presence was conspicuously referenced. The mention of Serling evokes his most iconic effort, The Twilight Zone. More than a few episodes of that landmark series dealt with the idea of time travel. Most notably, Walking Distance, which starred Gig Young as an advertising executive undergoing a mid-life crisis who, finding himself transported back in time, attempts to rectify the regrets of his life. Coupled with Bobby’s wistful statement, “I wish it was yesterday,” uttered after the disappointing titular field trip with Betty (at a quaint farm where cows are still milked by hand, not machine), it is an intriguing idea to apply these same feelings to Don.

Don calls Dawn at the office to request that she bring certain items to their regular clandestine meeting at his apartment. His list includes typewriter ribbon, stationary, and an air mail envelope. While everyday items in 1969, these objects would seem deliberately chosen to suggest in the mind of a modern audience the idea of being obsolete.

Betty meets Francine for lunch. At one point in the scene, Betty refers to herself as “old fashioned.” Francine proudly announces her new career as a travel agent. She describes how the benefit of her services are mainly in helping people plan the “perfect” trip. Again, Don’s storyline revolves around the many imperfect choices he’s made in planning the path of his life. Additionally, note that Francine is depicted as joining an industry that will ultimately be replaced by advances in computer technology. Later, Jim Cutler will suggest to the partners that SC&P use the money they currently pay Don to instead buy a computer for the company (in effect, replacing Don).

A particularly cringe-worthy sequence is the one where Don surprises everyone at SC&P by simply showing up. Realizing awkwardly that Roger has not informed anyone about his return, Don is about to open the door to Bert Cooper’s exit the office. He is abruptly stopped when members of the creative team see him and call out. The closeup of Don’s hand on the knob of the door he never opens suggests yet another path not taken.

gigWhile waiting in the lounge, Don is more than once shown reading a copy of TIME magazine. At one point, Ken Cosgrove greets Don and shows him pictures of his new child. Ken points out one picture taken by a carousel. This would seem to be a deliberate callback to episode 1.13 The Wheel, where pitching an ad campaign to Kodak, Don movingly suggests promoting their new slide projector with copy that describes the device not as a “carousel,” but a “time machine.”

The climax of the aforementioned Twilight Zone episode takes place at a carousel. In that case, the protagonist reluctantly comes to terms with the idea that he is unable to alter the past. However, the effort leaves him slightly more damaged than before his attempt.

This description can certainly be applied to Don at the end of Field Trip.

Author’s Note: I left one item out of this piece lest I run the risk of reading too much into the various story elements. But, I can’t help pointing out that Gary Lockwood, who Don is linked with in the first scene of Field Trip, also played the role of an astronaut killed by the HAL 9000 computer in 1968′s 2001: A Space Odyssey. While this is probably a stretch, the title of next week’s episode is The Monolith. Just saying.


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