“Porpoise Song”, the Monkees
The Quality Of Mercy, Season 6 Episode 12
Not much overtly happens in this episode, and this song isn’t that lively either. But as a tone setter, both are top notch. The drowsy, ethereal production pairs with Don’s insular guilt, loathing and self-medication as he shuts himself off from everyone. Coming from an unfairly derided “kiddie” band who were quite good once they decided to mature, “Porpoise Song” seems to be (beyond its druggy trappings) a farewell to innocence, and that’s certainly what Sally Draper is going through. They’re slow motion disasters – something has to give, and soon.
“By the Waters Of Babylon”, Babylon
Another ruminative, hard to pin down track. It’s performed diegetically (the show’s composer is actually in the band!) in a club where Don hangs out with some hipster friends. The episode Babylon has a penchant for Hebrew culture and iconography, given that Don is familiarizing himself with second-generation Jewish immigrant Rachel Menken. Her people’s struggles with exile and longing resonate with Don, who reinvented himself after a tragedy but is always a little uncomfortable.
He also happens to be doing research for an Israeli tourism client at the time. While chatting about the subject, Rachel explains that Babylon is the promised land, a Shangri-La of sorts. Their relationship seems like that, too good to be true, ships passing in the night and so forth. She makes a point of telling him ‘utopia’ literally means ‘the place that cannot be’. Their exchange gives the folk standard at the end additional significance.
This episode introduces the complicated romantic history between Roger and Joan, as well. She feels out of place and trapped, despite his good intentions. Meanwhile, Peggy tries to find her own utopia by introducing a creative idea while participating in a female focus group. It’s the first step for her in a long, hard battle against the male-centric workforce. While everyone in this episode is wanting to go to a place that may not exist, the band mournfully sings “By the Waters Of Babylon”, getting the show’s plot on track through the unlikely catalyst of the Middle East.