MAD MEN: Season 1, Episode 5 – “5G”
Viewed on my awful Ikea couch, with a friend, in the early evening.
This episode opens up with Don and Betty Draper getting back from an award ceremony – from which Don is carting home the big trophy. Arriving late and hung over to the office the next morning, everyone is full of congratulations for he and Ken, who in an exercise of publish or perish, got a short story printed in the Atlantic Monthly. Of course it turns out that Pete Campbell is a writer too, and he is absolutely perishing in the background – because Campbell can’t stand to see the spotlight on someone else. He sends his wife Trudy out to her old boyfriend (a big guy in publishing) to get one of his stories published and the old flame agrees, but only after making Trudy an inappropriate offer for some extramarital fun. She demurs and later Campbell throws a temper tantrum because the publication he’s getting published in isn’t good enough for him. Who didn’t see that one coming?
Back in the office, Draper’s murky past is coming back to haunt him again. He’s in a meeting when Peggy Olson lets him know someone is in the lobby to see him. Cue the mystery music – the guy in the lobby is his little brother who spotted the elder Draper’s picture in the paper (from his award), and he calls Don “Dick.” Fast forward a little, and Draper is offering baby brother $5,000 bones to get lost.
Since that takes care of this episode’s summary, we can move on to what I really wanted to talk about – the theme music and the opening title sequence of the show. A couple weeks ago I accidentally saw the last 15 minutes of a conference on opening title sequences. It got me thinking about how opening title sequences and music set the entire tone for a show. Every time an audience sits down to watch an episode, the opening title sequence is the first introduction they’ve got and it will likely be what they remember from the show long after they stop watching it. I mean, who can’t sing the “Fresh Prince” theme after all these years?
For reference, here’s the Mad Men opening sequence:
I’ve seen the opening sequence of Mad Men at least five times now, and I’m able to take a closer look at it each time. The theme music is an instrumental piece by RJD2 and fits the opening sequence nicely. It’s not too slow and it’s not too fast, but it’s mysterious, serious, intelligent, and sexy. The black and white silhouette of a businessman falling from the top of a building during the sequence is interesting as well – the fall is slow and languid, suggesting a dream-like state; some sort of suspension of reality. The style of the whole show is heavily influenced by Alfred Hitchcock and during the opening they pay homage to a graphic designer and Hitchcock’s main man for title sequences: Saul Bass. Bass created the sky-scraper filled opening to North by Northwest in 1959 and was also responsible for the movie poster of Vertigo, which also featured the motif of a falling man.
What’s most impressive about the opening sequence and the musical accompaniment is that both are modern and contemporary in essence, but still visually recall the time period of the show. It’s done in simple, basic colors: black, white, and red. In the background old ads are superimposed onto the buildings – these echo the color palette used in the show. The opening is slick but not greasy, and it’s definitely smart. This is not a show that will talk down to you or explain it all to you. In a way, the opening keeps the show from feeling stale since it’s set in the past, but it’s modern enough to keep the attention of a present-day audience.