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


  • Thanks to David Allison I stumbled across this article on Mullholland Drive, a veritable critical smorgasboard that opens up the prevailing critical approaches to the film and brings some fresh ideas to the discussion. Not only that! Some of it is really annoying! Is it just me or do readings of MH that position it strictly as a critique of Hollywood drive anyone else up the wall? The idea that David Lynch is cynical also pisses me off – the guy’s work suggests to me that he’s incapable of straightforward cynicism. It’s probably worth noting that the chap who puts forward the latter of these opinions (and who I find myself agreeing with very strongly later in the discussion) also suggests that Lynch “cultivates” an irrationalist persona in interviews, which kinda leaves me baffled. Am I supposed to buy the idea that his talk of “the eye of the duck”, his vocal support for Transcendental Meditation, and his constant emphasis on the feel of things is in some way a contrivance? I’m not sure I’m prepared to pigeon-hole Lynch as an irrationalist, but I certainly don’t see his irrational tendencies, in particular the fact that he often produces texts that cannot be entirely reduced (hey, that’s my assertion!), as anything approaching false. My next bugbear comes in the form of the idea that Lynch is a tricky trickster, a kind of narrative huckster who’s goal is to lure us into thinking we’ve found the correct reading only to undermine our noodlings at the last minute. To be fair, that position never comes roaring into view, but I spotted it lurking in the background more than once. I appreciate that this sort of reading has certain charm, but it strikes me as very simplistic and more than a little specious. But enough with griping, I can really get behind this:“Now, I’m always surprised at how people view Mulholland Drive primarily as an intellectual mystery to be solved, rather than as one of the saddest, most emotionally devastating movies ever made.”Oh yeah, and Abhay and David Fiore feature. You like them, don’t you?(As an added bonus, here’s some of what Amy had to say about the movie yarns ago on Barbelith:

    “I do think the film is ostensibly *about* a woman who arrives in Hollywood, falls in love and kills her lover, and I do think the 1st part is best described as “fantasy”. But all this “she is wanking/dreaming and then she wakes up” business…..

    The whole thing seems…haunted, somehow – all the heavily emotionally charged objects/spaces/beings/etc: the black bedroom, the box, Mulholland Drive…. The film…it seems as though someone’s trying to work through something, a mind reworking an old trauma, devouring itself. It’s all very “hungry ghost”.

    There is the sense of an absence; as though something is forced to play itself out, some violent, habitual process – a psychic scar that won’t heal – but we know where it leads: Death. The absence looms over everything, and occasionally makes itself visible, as the cracks begin to appear in the cute, comfortable love story the deluded spirit clothes itself in.”

    The rejection of the word “dream” for “haunting” equals a big yes in my book. It should be noted that Amy *isn’t* saying that anything straightforwardly supernatural is going on, his view is more abstract than that, and far less literal. Personally I think there’s something in the idea of a haunting that could potentially reconcile David Fiore and Charles Reece’s views, in that, to my mind, it lets you have your subject and eat it) (z)

  • Whatever. Let’s have some real class.  Picture this – you’re a kid growing up in a small, relatively rural village in the South East of England. You’re bored, up late, and watching shitty TV. Then these opening credits appear  and you see a vision of ultimate shiny corporate splendour that seems a billion miles from the trees, grass and middle England cosiness of your immediate surroundings. Look at that hair! Those smiles! That Corbin Bernsen! That embarrassment of stereotypical cuddlytardness that is Larry Drake! Now I had something to aspire to. That vision of shimmering skyscrapers and power dressing has haunted me ever since. One day my life will have those opening credits. I just know it. (tbmd)
  • While we’re at it, remember this? Has there ever been a more grown up man then Jack Killian? I wanted to be part of his little radio crew so bad.  Heck that crew rolled with the awesome little kung fu master from Big Trouble in Little China, sporting a totally boss uber-mullet. Saxophones, skyscrapers and silky tones. We be all about the smooth, sensual and serious 80’s here at Mindless HQ. (tbmd)

  • Nearly five years ago now, K-Punk broadcast a kind of sound-collage thing on Resonance called londonunderlondon (parts 1, 2, 3, 4 – takes a bit of downloading if your kit’s anything like mine). It’s a deep topography thinkpiece, Stewart Home eets Eno if you like, on The Tube and the conceptual framework underneath London that it represents. I’m not sure it works entirely – the mixing is a bit frustrating in so far as you can’t hear the words over the music (deliberate probably, annoying definitely), and the thrilling radiophonic flourishes don’t sem to merge with the whole as well as they could. Ultimately, it sounds like music as made by a philospher, which is never going to be ideal. However, this bit of prose, something of a companion piece to the audio, focusing on Wells’ and Kneale’s interpretations of the problem of life and London is electrifying.
  • Sorry if you’re outside the UK, you probably won’t be able to hear this, but Will Self on JG Ballard. Swearing on Radio 4! (b)