Comfort, Nostalgia and a little Lynch on Mad Men and The Walking Dead

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We’re all striving for balance . . . It’s the ultimate goal. And it’s such a heavy thing, perfect balance. Sometimes things rush together and there’s balance somehow, but it’s fleeting.” – David Lynch

I overuse this quote. I’m obsessed with it. It informs what I love so much in my favourite shows. Characters striving to get to that place where they can find comfort, or back to the place where they had comfort. Two very different shows, Mad Men and The Walking Dead, leap out as examples of what the quote is saying and other quotes from Lynch.

“But there’s so much mystery as a child . . . when you’re small you’re always looking up at things [as an adult] you can get down and look up at things and it’s sort of the same again. Except you know so much. That wrecks a lot of it.” – David Lynch

Mad Men Season 5 Episode 7, The Codfish Ball is dripping in the search for childhood nostalgia. Megan’s Heinz Baked Beans pitch sets the tone for the episode. She gets the idea while feeding Sally and Bobby spaghetti, just like her mom used to serve to her as a child. She translates this thought to beans, imagining a cave mother serving her daughter beans, dissolving into the same scene in the Middle Ages and continuing through time until it ends on the moon with a space mom feeding her space daughter beans, her space helmet sitting on the table beside her. It doesn’t matter that cavemen never ate Heinz beans and it’s unlikely that we will ever live on the moon, but we want to believe that our favourite moments will be frozen in time. What’s more realistic in her pitch is children becoming their parents. Megan’s father confides in Don that, “My daughter pretends to find interesting what I find interesting because she loves me.” The same is true of Sally who begs her father to let her come to a banquet where he will receive an award from the American Cancer Society. Sally also has a Don Draper moment when she lies about what happened to her grandmother. While she in fact tripped over a phone cord because Sally had taken it into her room, Sally claims she tripped over one of Bobby’s toys. Sally takes further praise because she called the paramedics who came to the rescue. The glint in her eyes as her father praises her can be seen many times in Don, when he delivers a pitch.

Back to Sally wanting to see her father get his award. The scene where she reveals her outfit for the awards dinner is the perfect example of one of those childhood moments that will stick with you forever.  One you will idealize and smooth over and over until it’s perfect. She’s all dressed up and finally gets to see the magic that happens when parents go out for the night. And all the adults are admiring her. The magic moment is briefly interrupted when Megan’s father suggests she “can spread her legs and fly away.” Here he reminds Don how quickly favourite daughters turn into women who seek out men like him. Sally’s evening continues to be magical as Roger picks her as his date and gives her the very special task of collecting business cards and giving him boosts of confidence.  What wrecks the magic of the evening is Sally witnessing Megan’s mother and Roger in a sexual act.

The conclusion of season 6 brings this episode to mind for a few reasons. Most obviously, it is the episode where Sally witnesses her father and Sylvia making love, but it’s also the episode where Don stops lying. He gives in to his own childhood nostalgia and pitches to Hersey a true story about how he used to by a Hershey bar from money a prostitute at the brothel he lived in gave him. He may have lost the account and later his job but he has allowed himself this one moment of childhood freedom. Even though Sally will certainly be scarred by what she witnessed with Don and Sylvia, the episode marks the first time Don stops lying to her. It’s a truly grown up moment and not one of childlike wonder for Sally but I get the sense that it might be for Don.

Back to, “The Codfish Ball” which ends as it begins, with Sally on the phone talking to Glen. He asks how the city is and she scoffs that “it’s dirty.”  One wonders if this will wreck her moment or if she will “candy coat it,” making it perfect again.

“We favour ourselves in our memories. We make ourselves act better in the past and make better decisions and we’re nicer people and we take more credit than we probably deserve. We candy coat like crazy so we can move forward and live. An accurate memory of the past would be depressing probably.” – David Lynch

The Walking Dead Season 5 Episode 11 is my favorite of the show thus far. After years of death, turmoil, fear and trying to survive, the group reach Alexandria.  As Sasha says “it’s everything we’ve been fighting for”.  A community of seemingly good people living behind an impenetrable wall. The first thing Rick does is set his watch. He does it as a survival instinct but there is a moment of bewilderment that passes over his face. This one normal act is so foreign that it’s unsettling. The feelings of unsettlement continue as Rick and (son) are offered their choice of mansion to call home. They choose the one with, “curb appeal”. As they walk inside and are surrounded by windows with drapes, books on shelves to be read, blankets folded to be spread and frames waiting to be filled with pictures we are again filled with unsettling nostalgia. Everything they want is there but it’s not quite right. It recalls the episode earlier in the season when Tyresse is staring at pictures of Noah’s brothers, indulging in a piece of his friends love and family. That one moment of letting his guard down costs him his life as he is bitten by one of Noah’s brothers that he had been lovingly staring at on film. As he dies visions of the violence that got him to this point flash before Tyresse’s eyes. The group has been fighting for this kind of indulgence and now that they have it, they must deal with the deeds they’ve done to get it.

In one spectacular scene of comfort Rick takes his first warm shower in years. We see the water carry the blood and dirt off his body and down the drain. Rick looks completely at peace until he wipes the fog off the bathroom mirror. Again his comfort unsettles him. As he begins to slowly remove his beard in patches, then smooth his face with a razor his appearance begins to jar him as well as the audience. It is the first time we’ve seen his naked face since season one and it is a reminder of all he’s done to get to this place.

The group spend the night huddled together on the living room floor clutching their weapons. Every time they open a door they seem disappointed that there isn’t a walker lurking behind to attack them. Some can’t even stay inside the protective walls. Giving into the safety of this place means that it has to be worth their actions. Some are beginning to realize that they were fighting for the life that lived in their most cherished memories. This place will never bring them comfort.

I think I overuse the Lynch quote because it reminds me of a space and time where I felt the perfect balance – in the classroom learning about film. The quote comes from a worn out photocopied version of Lynch on Lynch from one of my favorite film classes. Just flipping through the underlined, highlighted and crumpled pages is my favorite kind of nostalgia.  Outside that film class was chaos, but inside was the most perfect comfort.

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