The Future Is Much Better Than the Past

Shut the Door Have A Seat

“Shahdaroba”, Roy Orbison

Shut the Door. Have A Seat., Season 3 Episode 13

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            Shut the Door. Have A Seat. is perhaps the most significant and transformative episode of Mad Men from a plot perspective. It noticeably changed the show going forward, and gave the series a new lease on life after a brilliant, but familiar season. The stakes were set, and now the real fun could begin as the swinging Sixties came into effect. This song choice plays with that knowledge, since the viewer is aware that the cultural upheaval of 1964 and beyond is just around the corner. To parallel this, Sterling Cooper has completely reformatted and the Draper marriage is finally, brutally over.

            Seasons four and onward are very different, almost as though the first three were a prelude to the real saga. They have their own discrete stories and some new characters. The radical era they depict may as well be another world. However, the past still lingers. No matter how many times the partners shift their power structure, or how many affairs Don has, the memories still hurt – the pain from an old wound. Nobody’s ready to forget, not yet.

            In fact, in some cases they have to fix the pain they’ve previously caused. Don must go back to Peggy, hat in hand, to apologize for denigrating and underestimating her for so long. Far from being a strategic ploy, this heart-to-heart only strengthens their understanding, and convinces her to join the new venture. He also tries to win over Pete, who he both mentored and bullied, to stay on board for his cause, even though the young account man has other prospects. Roger musters the dignity and compassion to summon Joan after her love leave and retirement from Sterling Cooper, and she has to overcome embarrassment to return. And somehow, Harry Crane stumbles into these covert affairs and survives the cruel downsizing of the staff we’ve come to love.

            Immediately after the global tragedy of the Kennedy assassination, there’s a personal one in the Draper home. Now that Betty knows the dire truth about Dick Whitman, the dream has died and the love affair is over. This plotline climaxes with a heartbreaking scene where they try to muster some compassion and calm while telling their children of the split. In a lyric that Don himself could have spoken if it hadn’t been too overt, they must “Face the future and forget about the past”.

            Roy Orbison was by this point an artifact of the past – a remnant of the late Fifties and early Sixties trend of pop crooners which was sliding toward irrelevance. He was well known for his emotive, sobbing vocal style, which suits this episode’s emotional peaks quite well. From a literal perspective, “Shahdaroba” is about the weight of the future, its optimistic allure and the faint horror of uncertainty. Its vaguely Middle Eastern string arrangement and staid romanticism serve as a eulogy for the old world that was, morose and mysterious. As it plays over the closing montage, the new world is already in effect. Betty flies off to get remarried, Don retires to a lonely apartment just before Christmastime, and Sterling-Cooper is no more – long live Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce!

            In the wake of a national disaster and on the brink of their company’s destruction, these people must reconcile their personal histories in order to assure a pleasant future. The “ancient land” Orbison sings of is gone, but there’s a new era on the horizon. Surely it will be better? That’s what we always like to think. But the past has a way of repeating itself if you’re not careful.

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