You Oughta Know By Now

The Crash

“Words Of Love”, the Mamas And the Papas

The Crash, Season 6 Episode 8

-…-

            The chintzy, burlesque sound of the song “Words Of Love” (performed by a very Freudian group, to boot) complements the seedy, hopeless sexual and emotional hangups outlined in this wonderfully deranged story. It’s full of flashbacks and surrealism, functioning as a trip into Don’s damaged subconscious. The Mamas And the Papas were chosen here to allude to Don’s traumatic family life, with an abusive foster father and absent mother, as shown in his memories. The group’s social ties to the hippie scene make them a good fit for this story, but their clean-cut vocal combo sound represents something more wholesome, which the whole episode struggles in vain to find.

            For much of the hour, Don flails about in a drugged stupor, supposedly looking for the key to the ultimate ad strategy, but really the answer to… something else. He recalls it from his first sexual experience, being molested by a worldly sex worker; he longs for it during a romantic reverie with a young hippie woman; he almost finds it in some old work about an adoring mother figure; but in the end he comes up short.

            Don is growing increasingly distant from his coworkers and his family. Megan spends the episode off gallivanting without him. Meanwhile, Sally experiences an unsettling home invasion because of their mutual ineptitude. A vagrant woman looking to steal some valuables passes herself off as a just-believable-enough relative, capitalizing on the fact that Sally knows nothing about her father or his life.

            The plot the rest of the staff is stuck in is a very different beast, but bears mentioning: they’re also tricked into taking speed, and try to come up with ideas for the secret Chevy Vega account but just end up running around, injuring each other and scribbling down nonsense. There’s an argument to be had that this disastrous campaign for a car which would be a commercial failure is the agency’s own allegory for the Vietnam war, but that’s another essay for another time.

            In the last scene, Ted returns to find the office in shambles, adding to the blunt irony of the sudden musical cue. After the narrative problem of the Chevrolet strategy has been temporarily dispelled and Don has stepped up to the verge of a psychological epiphany, he storms out of the office denouncing love and invoking the miserable whorehouse he grew up in. Then a cabaret song kicks in to mock him and his problems in the saddest way. The lyrics state the obvious: by now, he really should know better.

 

-…-

“Sweeping the Clouds Away”, Dark Shadows

“Just A Gigolo”, Collaborators

“Over There”, The Arrangements and The Milk And Honey Route

            This trilogy of songs also uses dramatic counterpoint between the old-fashioned melodies and the characters’ sad reminiscences. They view traumatic events through rose-colored glasses and denial, the antiquated music evoking the time that has passed since those misfortunes.

            In Dark Shadows, everyone seems to have malicious designs for those around them. Matt Weiner underlines the sensationalism of the hour by naming it after the contemporary soap opera Megan lands a part on. This episode features Roger washing his hands of his ill-fated marriage to Jane and letting her go, but not before sullying their relationship with one more sexual advance because he can’t help himself.

            In a parallel story, Don tries to prove his worth after a creative lull with new ad work, despite the office preferring Ginsberg’s. He games the pitch to make it seem fair but really gives the patrons no choice except his own material. In a similarly bitter and heartbroken mood, Betty poisons the well of her ex-husband’s new family by hinting at the past he’s hidden from his children. Meanwhile, Megan grows distant from Don after her new career choice, which takes her away from New York.

            Many of these threads feature characters shaking off the cobwebs of their past, which the closing song cheerily encourages. Its message of staying hopeful amidst the gloom is also pointed because of the real-life meteorological event wherein downtown New York was choked with smog in November 1966.

            “Just A Gigolo”, from Collaborators, is a music hall standard most famously performed by Bing Crosby. In his hands, the narrator is rakish, but when applied to Don’s repeated sexual trysts, their shared despondency becomes clearer. After his most self-destructive, risky fling yet, Don collapses in shame and exhaustion outside his apartment.

            The episode is flush with infidelity. There are flashbacks to Dick’s childhood growing up in a whorehouse with a cruel pimp as a surrogate father. The setting gives Crosby’s tune a literal flavor. Young Dick also sees the shame of romantic unfaithfulness at this impressionable age, which no doubt contributed to his emotional problems as an adult. Pete’s storyline echoes the same sentiments, when he foolishly cheats too close to home and is brutally scolded by Trudy, who cuts ties with him and only stays in the relationship for their daughter.

            This motif arises once more when a Heinz representative beseeches the creative team to not try out for a competing product, and they secretly do so anyway. They’re caught in a lie in the next episode when they bump into Peggy and the rest of CGC stumping for the same account, and are punished for their lack of scruples with the loss of a client. (Not to mention the fact that Peggy pinches an old bon mot of Don’s, with a flair that he can’t help but admire.) The men of this show are at a low point here, and their risky and disrespectful behavior is no longer being tolerated. Even the old-school, debonair masculine ideal performing the song seems to be chastising them. Or perhaps they’re punishing themselves.

            Finally, the wartime propaganda composition “Over There” is notably used a couple times in the series, first of all in The Arrangements. In that context, the song is a testament to the Greatest Generation – specifically the life of Grandpa Gene, which heralded the story’s generational conflict and familial tragedy. But it also recalls Dick’s military past, an albatross around his neck in need of removal. In fact, the episode in which he confronts it (The Milk And Honey Route) also features a group of soldiers belting out the melody. Finally, after Gene’s abrupt death, the tune recalls the unknown frontier of the afterlife with an old-timey wistfulness.

            It should also be noted that The Arrangements gives Sally her first real narrative in the show’s world, and befitting the character, it’s not a happy one. Her grandfather was the only person who paid any great amount of attention to her, and everyone numbly carries on with their business after his passing while she stews in grief. Her doldrums are punctuated by another disillusioning image, as she sees the famous self-immolation of Thich Quang Duc on TV (itself a foreshadowing of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War). Maybe going over there is not such a good idea.

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