“Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”, Bob Dylan
The Wheel, Season 1 Episode 13
The Wheel’s climactic Bob Dylan track is one of the scant few songs in the show that is presented anachronistically, this one because it was at the end of a first season with no future in sight, and so the creator wanted to potentially wrap it up on his own terms. There are only a handful of Dylan tunes I outright enjoy in and of themselves, and judging from its use here, this is one of them. The mood of regret and emptiness is palpable as Don sits on the stairs in solitude and ponders his life of running away.
First we’re shown a family reunion, where all is forgiven and the illusion of happiness is sustained. But the jarring cut to a lonely stairway dispels that fiction. In some ways, this is the first crack in Don’s armor, subverting the charm of his good looks, glamorous job and placid family life. His regret manifests itself in a soul-wrenching ad pitch for a rotating slide projector, of all things, justifiably regarded as one of the show’s high points. In it, he explores the value of nostalgia and pain using photos of his own life. Knowing his dark past as we now do, his deep sadness becomes clear while Dylan’s ballad undercuts it with telling bluster and pretense.
“Bleecker Street”, The Suitcase
“Early In the Morning”, A Night To Remember
The Wheel’s conclusion recalls two more plaintive acoustic songs in the show’s run. The first, “Bleecker Street” is a humble, cryptic ballad that closes out the most critically acclaimed episode of the show. With the delicate poetry of The Suitcase’s one-on-one drama, Simon and Garfunkel’s tune may well symbolize the entire politicized New York folk scene that followed Beatlemania, of which the duo were a critical part.
As the soundtrack plays a quietly picked guitar and breathy novelistic lyrics, we see the closed-off Donald Draper make an attempt at openness and honesty that’s unprecedented and monumental for him, leaving his office door ajar in the rejuvenating light of morning. Between his two favored underlings, Peggy and Pete, he has shared every painful secret of his past, and found valuable companionship with them (particularly the former). After a night of work and fraternizing, he and Peggy bond over their mutual respect and passion for creative endeavors. Meanwhile, Cassius Clay changes the face of celebrity and youth culture overnight with a blindsiding knockout. And on the other side of the country, Anna Draper finally succumbs to cancer, inevitable news that Don was avoiding the whole episode, and a burden he bravely shares with his protégé.
Earlier in the series, Colin Hanks performs a longing rendition of a traditional folk number in the episode A Night To Remember. He seems to sublimate his urges toward congregation member Peggy with this (somewhat secular) hymnlike song. His reticence for the future and resolute hopefulness are both reflected by “Early In the Morning”, a paean for a spiritually lost age.