Guest post by Basketcase Celina
[Note: This post was originally a comment; I have “promoted” it, slightly edited, for more visibility and discussion–Deborah]
I was thinking about this before the Mad Men Season 7.2 premiere, and after Severance it might be relevant.
With the Mad Men S7.2 poster, I noticed that Don was driving down the same street he was walking on in the S5 poster and both Dons were walking on in the S6 poster.
In the S6 poster, notice that the Don walking away from the viewer is the same Don in the S5 poster, just with a lighter suit, the briefcase in a different hand, and no hat.
This would make sense since Don would have to drive the right way on a one-way street. And that would be towards the plane in the S6 poster, away from the view of the S6 poster.
The one poster which seemed out of place was the S7.1 poster with Don viewing a painting reminiscent of an Alphonse Mucha ad. I noticed that there seemed to be a reference to Midge, in that the poster was a happier, inverted version of her “Afterimage” painting.
Don stares at Midge’s painting just as he stares at the S7.1 poster, and there’s also the fact that Mucha was an ad illustrator, just like Midge.
I didn’t think much of it until I realized that the S5, S6, and S7.2 posters could all be “inside” Midge’s painting, in that Midge’s painting shows the upper levels of a Manhattan cityscape, while the posters show the street level of the same city. In other words, Don is basically trapped within Midge’s painting. It may not be a coincidence that Matthew Weiner went into detail (including a bonus on the S5 DVD set) that the S5 poster was based on the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, a surrealist Italian painter, whose paintings bear a resemblance to Midge’s “Afterimage.”
In the movie What Dreams May Come, Chris (Robin Williams) dies and goes to heaven. There, his landscape can become his artist wife’s paintings. When his wife later commits suicide, she is trapped in an underworld that is a depressive version of her own paintings. Chris then decides to go to the underworld to save his wife.
What’s the connection to Mad Men? In Severance, Rachel Menken has died, appears in a dream, the episode has a dreamlike quality, and it ends with Don basically trapped in Edward Hopper’s “Nighhawks.”
That was a stunner since it fits into What Dreams May Come, but in Severance the roles are reversed. Rachel is Chris and Don is Annie. Rachel is dead and has gone on to a “better place,” her memory could be communicating with Don, who is technically alive but trapped in a lonely Hopperesque underworld of his own making. Rachel’s memory reminds him of a relationship with a women which had meaning. Also, the way Don is perpetually asking the Rachel-resembling waitress if he knows her is similar to how Annie does not recognize Chris in the underworld.
Another Mad Men tie to What Dreams May Come is that the movie title is a line from Hamlet.
To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.
The S7.2 promo pictures seem to reference the party in the episode My Old Kentucky Home. That’s the episode Matthew Weiner said was based on A Midsummer’s Night Dream (again, dream), so the Shakespearian element is relevant.
What Dreams May Come seems a bit too recent for a Mad Men reference, but it was originally a 1978 novel by Richard Matheson, who wrote some of the classic episodes of The Twilight Zone. (There are many references to Twilight Zone in Mad Men). Also, the dreamlike editing of Severance resembled a Twilight Zone episode.
Severance has the theme of the regret and the road not taken. In What Dreams May Come, Chris says, “Failures plagued me. Things I had omitted or ignored, neglected. What I should have given and hadn’t. I felt the biting pang of every unfulfillment.”
Also, Severance has many Greek references, starting with the opening scene, with fur coats recalling Don’s Greek boss Teddy (discussed in The Wheel) and the Greek meaning of nostalgia. Then there’s also Don extinguishing his cigarette in a Greek lettered mug. The diner in the “Olympus Café” and the waitress’ name is Diana, the Roman version of the Greek Athena, patron of Athens.
The Greek references could be an allusion to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, on which What Dreams May Come is partially based. In the myth, Orpheus journeys to the underworld to rescue Eurydice. With Severance, perhaps Don’s dream of Rachel is a version of her going to his underworld to remind him of a real life.
It was Rachel who told Don the two meanings of Utopos, one being “the good place” or paradise, the opposite of where Don is.
The theme of journeying to the underworld is also the central plot of Dante’s Inferno, which Don is reading at the beginning of S6. In the opening scene of S5, Sally walking towards Don’s room is a version of Rodin’s Gates of Hell, complete with the 3 Venetian blinds/3 shades on the side. Basically Inferno has been a part of MM since S5.
Don should be trapped in the urban isolation of a Hopper painting, created by his own actions. With the diner shot/Nighthawks, it may be a reference to Adam, since Don rejected Adam in a diner: Had Don not done that he would have had a caring brother and not have been alone.
But there could be an even darker aspect to the diner with the Greek theme, in that Don is trapped in an Oedipal nightmare. Di his birth mother (her prostitution), while Vi/Violet recall’s Archibald’s violet-flavored candy. So Violet is his father; she’s in charge and Di needs her permission to take a break. Then there’s the Oedipal horror in the alley. Don’s life has been at bit of a repetitive Oedipal nightmare, with his affairs with dark-haired women resembling both his mothers, especially the Sylvia affair.
In addition to the Hopper painting, Don is also trapped in the fur ad, which is emphasized by the never ending fur model casting calls, his diner date in a fur stole, and Don dreaming of Rachel in a fur coat. The fur ad could represent the superficial hedonistic lifestyle he adopted since joining advertising. It gives him no lasting happiness and he can never seem to get out of it. And if he’s trapped in the ad, the name of the fur store tells where he is (Heller’s). The tagline, “Why wait for a man to buy you a fur coat?”, is echoed in Joan going to the department store and basically asking “Why wait for a man to buy you Oscar de la Renta?” In the underworld there is a price. Joan had to pay for that power with Jaguar. For Don, he’s paid many prices for his glamorous ad man facade and lifestyle, foremost Adam.
Can Don free himself from the Hopper painting and the fur ad? He could, but sadly, Don usually ends up just going in circles.