carousel

Pete Campbell carouselHow detailed is Mad Men‘s art direction? This detailed.

Take a closer look at the wrapping paper on the Barbie doll Pete brought “all the way from California” in “The Strategy” (S7, episode 6) — the Barbie chosen by the separated but still married man’s girlfriend, Bonnie*.

The pattern on that paper is a carousel, a reference to the first season finale in which Don Draper mourned the slow dissolution of his marriage, and turned that grief into a trademark pitch to Kodak.

This isn’t an isolated reference to Don’s carousel pitch. In “Field Trip” (S7 episode 3), during Don’s long, humiliating wait in the bull pen upon his return to SC&P, Ken Cosgrove detours from his meeting long enough to welcome him back, and to proudly show off snapshots of little Eddie Cosgrove on the Central Park carousel, a family outing that “always makes me think of you.”

The very next episode,”Monolith” (S7 episode 4), ends with a frustrated Don trying to clean up, buckle down, and — in the words of Freddie Rumsen — “do the work.” As he sits down and starts to type notes for Peggy’s Burger Chef campaign (on the typewriter he very nearly smashed through the window and down into the street in front of the Time-Life building), the strains of The Hollies’ “On A Carousel” begin to play: “Riding on a carousel, trying to catch up to you.”

Malibu Bonnie Malibu Barbie
*The outfit Bonnie’s chosen for their visit to the New York office is pure Malibu Barbie: pale blue chiffon, pale rounded sunglasses pushed up in her long blonde hair. The doll didn’t debut until the early ’70s, but if you didn’t know better, wouldn’t you bet a shiny nickel the doll inside that carousel wrapping paper is a Malibu Barbie?

the mother of all fears

Bunny Lake dolls

“Movies about mothers – mothers’ relationship with their children, children’s relationship with their mothers – can trade in easy sentiment or melodrama. But motherhood isn’t all swaddling and coddling and comfortable archetypes. In the rough terrain where a woman becomes a mother, she can feel she’s been corralled, her personality, her persona, her entire independent self suddenly defined largely by her actual or idealized connection to a child. These three thrillers tap into the poignancy and pressures that many mothers face, digging into the complicated web of social expectations in a world that both mythologizes and devalues motherhood, while translating the everyday tensions of caregiving into the language of the fantastic and the grotesque.”

Today at The Toast, my essay about motherhood as depicted in Bunny Lake Is Missing, The Others, and El Orfanato.

And there’s always music in the air

David Lynch & Mark Frost’s groundbreaking weird-crime series “Twin Peaks” first aired 24 years ago this week. In commemoration, here are a few of the pieces I’ve written about the sleepy town and dreamy landscape of Twin Peaks over the years.

How “Twin Peaks” helped free television dramas from the yoke of pure plot:

In most shows, every moment must move the plot forward. In “Twin Peaks” (the show and the town), things move at a slower pace and odd digressions are not only allowed but encouraged. “Twin Peaks” embraces homey mundanity, which makes the deep horror more jarring and effective. And there are terrible horrors in that town, and deeply tangled personal tragedies, compulsions, and secrets. It is, in effect, a soap opera without the sudsy, fluffy, forgettable qualities.

Ronette PulaskiMy meditation on the moral gaps of “Twin Peaks” – the contrasts between golden girl Laura Palmer and Ronette Pulaski and how the show creates a moral loophole for the monstrous killer – contains huge, enormous, show-ruining spoilers preceded by a BIG BOLDED SPOILER ALERT, so click at your own discretion:

… but what about Ronette? Ronette Pulaski, a surviving victim of the same killer whom we first see staggering out of the wilderness across a railroad trestle, stunned and all but catatonic. In this image, she is presented to us as a girl literally from the wrong side of the tracks.

And it shows: in the lack of concern that the characters and writers (and presumably the viewers) show over Ronette’s reasons for the same behavior. Tacitly, the cops (and writers) of Twin Peaks are telling us that a child of privilege must be gravely damaged to sully herself so, but that a townie consorting with the same skeevy drug dealers, posing for smutty photos, and whoring needs no explanation.

How Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me redresses that imbalance and rebukes the television audience who witnessed the dark tale of a tormented young woman driven to death by her demons while we tittered about cherry pie and doughnuts and damn fine coffee:

The film relies upon the viewer’s familiarity with the cozy-quirky world of the TV series, but even as it employs the mythology and grammar of the show’s world, the movie viciously rejects the comforts we found in the drowsy little town of Twin Peaks.

I rethink the supposed virtues of Twin Peaks’ Sheriff Harry S. Truman:

Visiting investigator Special Agent Dale Cooper of the FBI (Kyle MacLachlan) takes to him right away, and it’s easy to see why: Harry’s welcoming and professional, quietly competent and well-respected, but completely without the posturing and rivalry Cooper faces from some local DPs when he steps into the lead on a hot case.

Harry’s appeal lies his down-home folksiness, his easy pace and unflappable manner. Even our putative hero, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, sums him up with “Harry, you’re alllll right!” But is he? Is Sheriff Truman all right? Is he a good guy? Is he the boy scout he’s presented as, upright and true?

“Twin Peaks” and a memory 20 years old, in which I reminisce on the weekly ritual of walking home my friend S, who would come over to watch the show, then get too spooked to walk through the dark streets home alone… which meant I ended up walking home alone every week:

And every week, I would leave S at her brightly lit doorstep, take a deep breath as if I could breathe in that bright light and carry it with me into the night… and then I would step into the dark to start walking home.