Mad Men, "The Wheel": where we ache to go again [Key Series Moments]

The Kodak pitch meeting, the purpose of which is to rebrand its famous slide projector, is a Don Draper tour de force. It’s Don Draper – Master of the Universe, Creative Director for an influential Madison Avenue advertising firm at the dawn of a new era – at the very pinnacle of his powers.

the wheel

Don uses the slide projector to show family photos of Betty and the kids, which display times and events far happier than anything we’ve seen of the Draper household in the time we’ve come to know them in 1960. Don conjures a magical tale of nostalgia, that place “where we ache to go again,” and meshes the concept into the “wheel”-like nature of the slide projector to create the Carousel, a device that transcends its status as a mere mechanical device for showing slides to become a “time machine” that can reconnect us to those we love in times and places that, once captured, can be accessed once again.

“Good luck at your next meeting,” Duck Phillips says as Don concludes, knowing that Sterling Cooper has just hit a walk off grand slam.

While a one-dimensional “super hero” move where once again Don saves the day might have been somewhat played out or tepid even at this relatively early moment in the series, it’s imbued with powerful layers of pathos that elevate it into one of the most sensational scenes in the entirety of the series. The sense of triumph at acing the pitch is deeply undercut by the knowledge that for all of his many and obvious faults (particularly his betrayal and neglect of Betty), Don has recently suffered greatly to protect his identity and his status in the world.

It’s a moment where we can consider that Don Draper in 1960 – which embodies the persona and image that Dick Whitman carefully constructed out of the ruins and misery of his early years – may never be this on top of his game again. This is foreshadowed in the form of the family photos on display as part of the presentation: just as Don will never recapture the image (or illusion) of being the happy husband and father again, there’s the real possibility that he will lose or squander in drips and drabs his position as a consummate creator and salesman of advertising campaigns.

This is an ongoing story that will continue to play out through the conclusion of Mad Men’s run. Don is a man that must work harder in the future to stay on top – and often he doesn’t want to, or can’t, or both. And while we see an opportunity for clarity and serenity and new optimism appear in the latter episodes of Season Four, his decision to break up with Faye Miller in favor of proposing to (secretary) Megan makes us lean toward believing that Don is a man smart enough to learn the right lessons, yet chooses repeatedly to not complete the course.

As we wait for the arrival of Season Five, currently scheduled to premiere in early 2012, stay tuned to TV Geek Army all summer long to get your Mad Men fix. Here we take a look at a key series moment from Season One, Episode Thirteen: “The Wheel.”

By Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader"

About the author

Eric is the publisher and revered leader of TV Geek Army… at least in his own mind. TV Geek Army is a place for serious TV reviews and news for serious fans of great television. Contact: eric-[at] 

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