Editorial: Mad Men’s Season 5 Music Kick

There’s a lot to Mad Men. From the acting to the writing; from the costumes to the sets, there’s always some context worthy of discussion on Matt Weiner’s hit AMC show. In this most recent season, music has suddenly become a very important and much more focal part of the show. The season premiere saw Megan Draper’s performance of the French song, “Zou Bisou Bisou,” a moment that not only helped set a new tone for the show, but said a lot about the main characters. Roger Sterling’s trip on LSD was accompanied by the Beach Boys song “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times,” in a moment that let the audience learn more about Sterling than might have without the song’s inclusion. Don’s attempted listen to The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows,” reveals as much about Don’s gradual aging as any other scene this season. And most recently, Peggy’s departure from Sterling Cooper Draper Price set to The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” illustrated a woman ready to take charge in the ever-changing world. Many of the song choices in Mad Men‘s 5th season have taken the spotlight in a way unfamiliar to past seasons of the show.

A lot of this sudden passion for music likely has a lot to do with the year the show has now reached: 1966. The 60’s that people remember, Woodstock, Hippies, Ken Kesey, LSD, etc. has emerged on this season’s Mad Men, and it’s taken an effect on the main characters. Megan Draper’s performance of “Zou Bisou Bisou” set the tone of young vs. old. Megan is a youthful, happily married woman, expressing her love for her new husband and her happiness for her new life. As Don watches his wife express herself, he seems uneasy, uncomfortable, and out of place. This three-minute moment on screen sets the tone for their new marriage: out with the old, and in with the new — Don isn’t exactly ecstatic about that notion.

Episode 6 of season 5 saw Roger Sterling’s trip on LSD that not only altered his character, but allowed him to realize his own role in a fluctuating world. The Beach Boys, “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times,” is exactly what Roger is thinking as he hallucinates while staring into the mirror. The difference between him and Don in this situation is that Roger isn’t depressed by this notion, at least not outwardly. This LSD trip set to the Beach Boys allows Roger and his young wife Jane to amicably end their unhappy marriage. Roger Sterling is not made for these times, so he’ll let the young be young, and he’ll let himself exist in this new world, while mentally remaining in a previous one. And he doesn’t seem to be too bothered by this fact.

Don, putting Revolver into his record player, something a non-hipster hasn't done since the 1960s

Don Draper is not that open-minded. In an attempt to understand the younger 60’s generation, he takes a listen to The Beatles’ classic album “Revolver,” at the end of this season’s 10th episode, “Christmas Waltz.” Specifically, he listens to the last song, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” as recommended by his hip, young, new wife Megan. Don puts the record on, sits back, and lets the new sounds wash over him. The experimental instrumentals and John Lennon’s Liverpudlian vocals feel out of place against the backdrop of Mad Men’s classically handsome Don Draper. At first, the audiences feels like Don, unsure and unsettled by the song. But as it progresses, it reveals something about the new generation, of how the times are changing, and, most worryingly, that Don does not want a part of it. He shuts the record off, and heads to his room. Don is no longer the innovator, he’s the establishment.

Just this week, Peggy Olsen, Mad Men’s brilliant secretary-turned-copywriter, had enough of being stepped over and put down after her many dedicated years for SCDP, and finally gave her notice. The final scene in the episode, “The Other Woman,” shows Peggy standing in front of an elevator, looking back to see if any of her co-workers will chase after her. They don’t. She smiles and realizes that she’s making the right decision. And then “You Really Got Me” kicks in. It sets an exciting tone, Peggy has the power now, and perhaps SCDP will finally appreciate her hard work now that she’s gone. She’s got them, and maybe her co-workers won’t know what they’re doing by letting her go.

Mad Men has brilliantly used music to inform audiences about a character without adding any dialogue or drama. All we need is an idea of Don Draper’s mindframe to see him sit down and listen to a record that he does not relate to. We see the energy of the young with Megan’s tantalizing performance, we see the old letting go of their power with Roger’s LSD trip, and we see a powerful Peggy taking charge of her life. No other show on television can capture a character this cleanly through music like Mad Men has. The hit AMC show is in a transition period now, the times are changing, and as Mad Men enters the latter half of the 60’s, we’re bound to see some serious changes.

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