TV Club

Mad Men recap: Just a Gigolo was the perfect song.

Why Bing Crosby’s “Just a Gigolo” was just right.

Hey Seth and Hanna,

I’ve been thinking about something Hanna wrote: “Don’s power comes from his ability to see through other people’s codes.” But it also comes from his ability to act directly and forcefully upon his perceptions. That’s why he’s such an infinitely compelling character. So many of the characters in Mad Men are perceptive but can’t act on their perceptions, especially the women. Joan has always had everyone sorted and indexed, but her ability to change the behavior of the people around her is limited. Don, on the other hand, sees through you, and then gets you to do what he wants. Which is also the key to his success as an ad guy; he has a very specific vision of the American consumer—and a corresponding reputation as a visionary.

Don is the only character who is both sensitive to codes and full of action. For example, Peggy’s bad at codes but she keeps busy. Which is why we have come to know and enjoy her perplexed squint as the consequences of her actions come back to haunt her. Pete and Roger had power thrust upon them, couldn’t care less about others (unless helped along, in Roger’s case, by LSD), and squander their opportunities on self-gratification. It’s interesting how well-defined those codes are. How much fun would it be to get your hands on the “bible” for this show, which presumably would have these codes defined therein? Although I imagine Matthew Weiner has it inscribed on tablets of pure gold guarded by rhinoceroses.

I differ on “Just a Gigolo.” A little heavy-handed, sure, but the fact that it’s the Bing Crosby version pricked my ears. I mean, where do you even start with Crosby? The richest, most fabulous man of his era. Pioneer crooner. One of the progenitors, by way of his investment in the audio equipment manufacturer Ampex, of Silicon Valley. Golfer, bon vivant, and famously awful, cold, merciless father.

In 1931, when that version of the song was released, Don would have been a little tyke—5 or 6 years old. Thus that version would have permeated Don’s life, showed up on radio broadcasts, and so forth. And since they chose that version of the song over the bouncier Louis Prima version from the 1950s (far closer to the timeline of the show) or the slightly wheezing Louis Armstrong version from the ‘30s, or god forbid the David Lee Roth version, the link between Don crouched in front of his own door and that long-ago bordello felt extra piquant to me.

“Just a Gigolo” is one of those weird depressing Tin-Pan-Alley-Pennies-From-Heaven tunes that sounds sort of laissez-faire and dreamy but when you listen to the lyrics are about an impoverished ex-soldier selling himself out. Which is perfect, given that here on Mad Men we’re talking about an ex-soldier who sells things and grew up in a whorehouse. What you see in that scene is Don momentarily incapable of crossing the threshold back into his better life. He’s truly back to childhood, looking through the door at adulthood, deeply confused. “His ability to see through other people’s codes,” his skills at manipulating, at getting what he wants, have brought him everything—and yet he can’t get out of that hallway. As the archetypal glamorous man of Don’s childhood (only much later revealed as a cruel bastard) sings a song about handsome desperation, Don is hunched over between two sides of himself, once again small, homely, and unbelievably lonely.

What can we do for Ketchup?