“Orange, Red, Yellow”
By Colin Hart
9.0 / 10
When you see a picnic area littered with trash, you can make a pretty good assumption of the people who were there before you — careless, selfish, garbage. They have little regard for their mess because they know someone else will clean it up. And someone always does.
The same adjectives can apply to rich businessmen who obsess with keeping their brand-new Cadillacs clean and spotless, maintaining a status symbol of wealth and power, advertising executives who have “arrived.”
Our favorite antihero, Donald Draper, sits comfortably in the cross-section of picnic litterers and luxury car connoisseurs. It’s clear what type of person he is.
The aforementioned bad habits are on full display throughout “The Gold Violin,” but that’s just Mad Men being symbolic — notice how long Andrew Bernstein’s camera lingers on the trash after the Draper’s leave the picnic.
Don also fits into a third, more tangible subset: the kind of guy who cheats on his wife with another married woman, heedless of the destroyed families he leaves in his wake.
Jimmy Barrett, the husband of Don’s mistress, calls him out in one of the episode’s most memorable scenes: “You want to step out? Fine. Go to a whore. You don’t screw another man’s wife. You’re garbage, and you know it.” Thank God someone finally said it.
It also serves Don right that a very-drunk Betty unexpectedly vomits all over the new car right before the end credits, making for a memorable moment of stomach-churning poetic justice.
Like its predecessor, “The Gold Violin” makes sure to expose Don’s undesirable character traits. Nevertheless, it remains a very fun episode overall. That’s because the majority of the hour is devoted to the inner workings of Sterling Cooper, which continues to be the heart and soul of the series.
Life at the agency is fun, fast-paced and vigorous. There’s always something interesting going on, even if it doesn’t concern Don directly. For example, the budding friendship between account executive Ken Cosgrove and closeted art director Sal Romano is one of season two’s most pleasantly surprising storylines.
Ken appreciates abstract modern art, while Sal appreciates Ken’s passion for writing. The sub-plot is thoughtful and heartening, but it’s also painful when you consider Sal’s carefully-guarded secret. And it’s even more tragic when you consider Sal’s clueless wife, Kitty.
Also of note is the burgeoning rivalry between Joan Holloway and Jane Siegel, Don’s new secretary. The two sexiest women in the office prove to be worthy adversaries. When Jane breaks into Bert Cooper’s office after-hours with some junior executives (they want to see the new Mark Rothko painting Cooper purchased), Joan fires her the next day.
What Joan doesn’t expect — or, rather, what she should’ve expected all along — is that Jane runs to a sympathetic (and horny) Roger Sterling in order to save her job. She’s back at her desk come Monday.
“The Gold Violin” does a great job setting up potential new storylines — Betty’s knowledge of Don’s infidelity, Jane’s possible romance with Roger, etc. — but does an even better job living in the moment. It’s an episode that relishes in the day-to-day lives of its characters, focusing on the internal struggles and interpersonal dynamics that make them what they are.
Perhaps Ken describes it best: “I don’t think it’s supposed to be explained … Maybe you’re just supposed to experience it, because when you look at it, you feel something … It’s like looking into something very deep. You fall in.”
He’s talking about Cooper’s new painting, but he also could be referring to Mad Men itself. The emotions are hard to pin down, a work of modern art like no other. In order to best enjoy it, all you have to do is sit back, and watch.
Mergers & Acquisitions
- The car Don purchases is a silver-blue 1962 Cadillac Coup DeVille — sold to him by a suave Englishman named Wayne, the greatest luxury car salesman of all time. He’s basically the Don Draper of his profession.
- While Don is browsing the dealership, he has a flashback to when he worked as a car salesman (before he got into advertising). A mysterious blonde-haired woman comes into his office claiming that she knows his secret — “You’re not Don Draper.” For fans of the Dick Whitman storyline, this is the most intriguing scene of the episode.
- The final scene cleverly mirrors the ending of “The Benefactor,” in which Betty cried as Don drove her home. This time, Betty’s puke breaks the silence.
- The latest short story that Ken has written is called “The Gold Violin.” He asks Sal to read it, and Sal subsequently invites Ken over for dinner. We come away from the storyline with a much greater appreciation for both characters.
- Harry Crane, head of Sterling Cooper’s television apartment, was one of the more likable side characters last season, but he’s now developed into a major prick. He’s absolutely full of himself.
- Bert Cooper will show an affinity for art throughout the series. His latest purchase — a transfixing, abstract expressionist painting by color field icon, Mark Rothko — was bought for $10,000 (roughly $85,000 in today’s money). He claims that its value will double in price by the next year.
- The Rothko painting used in the episode is a fictional imitation. If you wanted the real Orange, Red, Yellow, you’d have to be willing to pay upwards of $86.8 million. Nevertheless, the replacement works just fine. It looms at the center of the episode like the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
- “The Gold Violin” was written by Jane Anderson, Andre & Maria Jacquemetton and series creator Matthew Weiner, and directed by Andrew Bernstein.
- “Those are wonderful if you want to get somewhere. This is for when you’ve already arrived.”
- “Don’t concern yourselves with aesthetics. You’ll get a headache.”
- “Philanthropy is the gateway to power.”
- “All I know is, I know her, and you know him, and there they are, and they don’t care where we are.”