At the end of The Phantom Don is approached by a striking brunette on behalf of her friend. Did they just flirt? Was there a full blown threesome? We never find out. Either way, no-one in the audience expected to see the women again. They were obviously bit part characters, who existed for no other reason than to illustrate Don’s state of mind as season five receded from view. And even though many didn’t, I felt exactly the same way about Lee Cabot at the start of season 7. Once Don banished her with the words “I’ve got to get back to work” I knew Lee was out of his life for good, the casting of Neve Campbell a clever device to make the audience feel the same sense of significance Don attached to her before drawing away, the significance Don always attaches to a certain kind of woman. So I have to admit it came as something of a surprise when Tricia, the air hostess who had a tiny roll in Field Trip, came waltzing through Don’s doorway this time around. Only I shouldn’t have been surprised at all, because Tricia illustrates something too.

What Don taking this insignificant blip in his never ending flirtation with all womankind on the floor of his apartment makes abundantly clear, is that right now the guy’s leaving no stone unturned. Just as he’s skyrocketed to the dizzy heights of professional success after being as good as fired by SC&P, so has he made the jump from near total sexual abstinence to full bore satyriasis. Last season I talked about how, for Don, Sylvia represented the last affair, all of his relationship hangups projected onto one woman, but I missed something – the ravenous sexual appetite that has fuelled his story since Mad Men began. Shorn of its romantic trappings, this is what we are looking at right now. He can’t prettify it anymore. Romance, marriage, family, business, none of these things have worked, all that’s left as a last ditch resort is to plug the hole with pure, unadorned sex. It’s desperate, and he’s flailing.

What I find fascinating is how after the deep focus that Sylvia represented everything now seems so diffuse, a parade of sexual partners, like the “cattle call” of girls that Wilkinson Sword can’t decide upon, streaming in and out of Don’s metaphorical bedroom. Four in one forty five minute episode, one blurring into another. Women who dissolve in the sunlight. Ghosts.

It is a haunted episode of course, Severance. It’s haunted by the, until last Sunday, fan favourite for a potential Don Draper related rekindled romance, Rachel Katz, the woman who kicked Don out of her life in season one and who many of us hoped would return after he sorted his shit out, me included. The writing room wasn’t having any of that though; so they killed her. They killed her because life isn’t a rehearsal, they killed her because it’s all romantic bullshit and she isn’t The One anyway. Rachel is, as dream Ted blandly introduces her, just another girl. In the cold light of day their “relationship” was only a symptom of Don’s disease, something even Rachel herself realised, much to her horror, minutes before telling him to fuck off for good, and he has no right whatsoever to be at her funeral. She won’t let him rest though…. none of them will.

It makes sense then that in Severance Don’s most significant sexual encounter is with Diana, a strange composite woman who Don’s sure he’s met but can’t quite place. Yes, she looks like Midge, but only glancingly, and in the end we realise she could be a stand in for any number of brunettes Don’s bedded on and off screen over the last ten years. The point is that she’s meant to be indeterminate, possessed of all this man’s ephemeral sexual liaisons, a haunted Vertigo-esque look to her otherwise sad, forgotten eyes.

Speaking of all things Hitchcockian, Diana puts me in mind of another fictitious woman, who may or may not be a waitress.

Mulholland Drive’s Diane Selwyn not only shares a name and possible profession in common with Severance’s Diana, she also serves a similar function within her respective text. She too is a composite person, containing, in the dream logic of Lynch’s cinema, (at least) two of the film’s other characters – the sprightly ingenue Betty Elms and her glamourous but amnesiac counterpart Camilla Rhodes. By now everyone is familiar with this almost rote analysis of David Lynch’s masterpiece, where all three women’s separability is called into question, and the various, sometimes diverging conclusions that have been reached regarding what this might mean. What many critics agree upon however, is that Diane represents a kind of baseline reality for these collided, mangled personalities. According to this reading, Betty and Camilla are idealised projections, their doomed love affair a hollywoodised mirror image of a far more banal earthbound relationship, which possibly ended in a murder, and in all likelihood suicide.

So this flesh and blood person Don has sex with in an alley somehow, in his mind, flickers between a multimillionaire heiress, a street junkie and who knows who else. She is home to multitudes. But in the end isn’t it telling that all the models and all the glamour reduces down to this one sad fuck, this pathetic attempt at connection (“My name is Don…”) with a woman who’s only doing it because that’s what she’s learned men want when they give you $100? Diana was created for one reason only, so that we might finally understand how abject this all is, Rachel included. She’s Don’s baseline reality, just as Doris, another waitress, was in Waldorf Stories. Don’s perfect woman in the end equates to his least beloved, all functions of the same sex addiction – just moving parts. Casualties of an indiscriminate and morbid lust.

Kenny and Don’s unscheduled meeting in SC&P’S lobby fills him with the idea that his dream of Rachel, like Ken’s talk with his wife and subsequent firing, must hold some deeper meaning. Only it doesn’t. In the end without true human connection, not cheap talk of running away and residing in the sunset forever, it all amounts to a big nothing.

What a gloriously unsentimental storyline this was, the past it referenced fleeting, irrevocable and ultimately desolate. Severance, a lesson in why audiences should never get what they want.

* Ted Chaough, Severance

4 Responses to “Mad Thoughts Season 7.2 – Severance: This is another girl*”

  1. Cass Says:

    I saw Mulholland for the first time about three weeks ago and since I was in an anticipatory fervor over the Mad Men finale, I couldn’t help but also draw the lines between the two (well, after I managed to clear the image of rictus-grinned octogenarians from my every waking thought).

    Weiner definitely seems to have a lot of the same ideas as Lynch about dreams and dream imagery and how we use these to process emotion. It’s funny because even though I had just seen Mulholland, I didn’t make the obvious Diane/Diana connection (nice catch, btw), although I was struck by how similar the wall-behind-the-diner scene was to that episode in Season 5, where dream Don kills an old fling and stows her body beneath his bed. Since the dream aspect is not totally clear at first, there’s a dread of looking under the bed for the rest of the episode which is like the dread of what’s behind the wall in Mulholland. And these things are pretty mundane – a bed, an alley in broad daylight – not very scary at all, but we get to this frame of mind where they become a focal point for our fears and anxieties about the world and ourselves.

    It’s interesting to me that Mad Men, a period drama, should be influenced by Lynch. Lynch always seems to want to set his films in some pre-Beatles, doo-wop, idealized past, but then ultimately rejects the idea as dishonest. Instead it becomes a crux of the work to contrast an idyllic world of fattening breakfast foods and old pop standards to harsher realities of the present.

    Mad Men too seems concerned with refuting the idea of “simpler times” – Don Draper’s 60s are anything but simple – while still acknowledging how this idea is central for coping with the present. To me, the bang-on-the-gong Lynch moment of the series is when Bert Cooper sings The Best Things in Life Are Free, a 20s song, at the end of last season. Don has lost a second wife, lost a job, regained a job, become a millionaire overnight, and watched a man set foot on the moon. His mind has nowhere else to turn but backwards into the fake past.

    (There’s something to the idea that Don emotionally can’t handle the idea of a NEW woman in his life, perhaps of starting over, so he has to turn Diana into a composite woman that he already knows and already has a relationship with, but yeah I’ll just leave it there).

  2. Cass Says:

    Ugggghhh, just wrote a super long comment only to have it trapped by the spam filter. Let me out, fucker.

  3. Gary Lactus Says:

    I have now unleashed your comments. No idea why wordpress takes excepion to you. Hope it doesn’t happen again.

  4. amypoodle Says:

    Cass, do you read Tom and Lorenzo’s MM commentary?

    SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FORECAST AND NEW BUSINESS

    While I disagree with them on a few things, they often totally nail others. I’d been struggling to figure out how the final scene of Severance tied up with the last two episodes where Don’s stripped of his possessions and then his home, but they got it bang on. Basically they pointed out that in Severance he’s stripped of his past, which is eally what I was trying to say with the above piece.

    Also, yeah, I think the lynchian connection runs really deep. Weiner sometimes poo poos the symbolic dimension to his show, but if you dig through his interviews it becomes clear that this is an overstatement based on his having read a lot of poor criticism. Mad Men loves symbolism. Dreams and a dreamlike atmosphere where everything is kind of charged with the episode’s theme that week are the show’s bread and butter.

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