Mad Men: The Gold Violin (S02E07)

Screen shot 2014-08-14 at 1.42.45 a.m.

I’m reviewing all the episodes of Mad Men before the last seven episodes premiere in the Spring of 2015. If you want to see an overview of the episodes I’ve written about so far, click HERE.

Talk about episodes heavy on symbolism… we just talked about “Maidenform“, which relies heavily on the mirror motif, and know we get “The Gold Violin”, and episode full of metaphors and symbols ready to be unwrapped and analyzed. I would like to point out, now that we are the mid-point of the season, that season two of Mad Men may be perhaps the most consistently brilliant season of television I have ever seen. Not the best, but the most consistent. What I mean by that is: the best episodes of Mad Men are not season two episodes, but every single episode two episode is a great episode of television. This is the season that let me know I was watching the best show on television.

But I digress, we’re here to talk about “The Gold Violin” and its many symbols. The first, of course, is the title of the episode, which refers to the title of Ken’s short story. Ken says that he actually saw a gold violin once: “It was perfect in every way, except it couldn’t make music”. That is the first of two essential lines to understanding the episode. The second is spoken by Bert Cooper (who gets a lot of attention this episode for buying a Rothko). “People buy stuff to realize their aspirations” says Cooper “It’s the foundations of our business”. Having those two lines in mind, I can’t help but go back to the first scene of the episode. Don is about to buy a new Cadillac when he experiences a flashback to the days in which he worked at a used car dealership. Most specifically, to the day a mysterious woman appeared at the dealership looking for him. “You’re not Don Draper” said the woman, as she looked at Don, or rather, Dick Whitman.

In most every way, Don’s life has gotten exponentially better ever since he left his old identity behind. And it’s been getting even better lately. Just this episode, he gets an invitation to join the board of the “Museum of Early American Folk Art”, a philanthropic position that will give him more status now that he is a partner at Sterling Cooper. He also ends up buying the Cadillac, and takes his beautiful family out to a picnic. But the truth about Don’s life comes out in another piece of symbolism: the Drapers had a beautiful picnic, but when it’s time to go home, the family leaves a trail of trash all around the green field. Don’s life is apparently getting better, he is buying stuff, he is realizing his aspirations, but he is also leaving a dirty trail of trash behind him. Nobody wants to think about the trash when they’re planning a picnic, but the trash is still there.

This episode is also a big turning point for the season. The last part of the episode is spent at Jimmy Barrett’s party (which he is throwing to celebrate ‘Grin and Barrett’ being picked up by ABC). “Thanks to you , I got everything I wanted” says Jimmy to Don, moments before revealing that he knows that Don has been sleeping with his wife. Not only does Jimmy know about Don and Bobbie, but he also lets Betty know about it. It seems like Don’s trash has come to bite him in the ass. The last scene of the episode features Don and Betty driving home after a party. The last time we saw these two in a car, Betty was beaming, telling Don how happy she was the he was letting her be a part of his life. Now, there is only a dead silence, which is only interrupted by the sound of Betty throwing up.

Also in this Episode:
Don isn’t the only one who should beware of the trash coming after him. Sal invites Ken to dinner. He spends the whole night shamelessly trying to flirt with Ken, while ignoring his wife completely. This behavior earns him a fight with his wife once Ken leaves, but Sal couldn’t really care less about the woman he’s married. That’s just a front. Sal is living a lie, but he seems to be embracing his homosexuality in ways he wasn’t willing to before. At the end, though, Sal’s life, like Don’s, is another gold violin. It looks beautiful (Ken himself says he is jealous of the married couple), but it doesn’t make any music.

Random Thoughts:

  • Although we don’t get to see her, this episode features the first mention of Ms. Blankenship, who at this point, is Bert Cooper’s secretary.
  • Ken Cosgrove always turns out to be deeper and more thoughtful than you’d think. In this episode, he is the only one that gets at the heart of Cooper’s Rothko. “Maybe you’re just supposed to experience it” he says “It’s like looking at something really deep”. It’s almost as if he had seen John Logan’s Redwhich is where most of my Rothko knowledge comes from.
  • The story-line about Cooper’s painting is pretty amusing. Everybody wonders what he sees in it, when in fact, what he sees is a purely monetary investment.
  • The jingle Kurt and Smitty come up with for Masterson coffee is set to the tune of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Couleur café” in case you, like me, recognized the tune but couldn’t initially remember where you had heard it. As far as I know, the song wasn’t released until 1964, so it is kind of weird that it is being used for a commercial produced in 1962.
  • I love the uncomfortable way Jane avoids eye contact as she waits for Duck to get out of Don’s office.
  • “I don’t need a mother, I’m 20 years old”
  • I remember watching this episode with my ex-girlfriend, and I’m still amused remembering her uncontrollable indignation after seeing the Drapers leave all their garbage lying around after the picnic scene.
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3 comments

  1. davecrewe · August 16, 2014

    I still find season 2 to be the weakest Mad Men season … but even in its weakest season, it pulls out amazing episodes like this one. Good write-up.

    • Conrado Falco · August 16, 2014

      I know what you mean. To me, season three is probably the weakest, and it still has “Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency”, “The Gypsy and the Hobo”, and “Shut the Door, Have a Seat”, three of the best episodes the show’s ever done.

      • davecrewe · August 16, 2014

        Yeah, season 3 was my least favourite for a while, but I liked it a bit more the last time I watched the series through (for the 3rd – maybe 4th time)

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