"The warm, dark places into which one would have crawled, into which a whole nation of silent fugitives (guided by a rainbow or an oracle) would have crept hauling baskets and infants, are turned inside out."
– Geoffrey O'Brien, 'Suburbs,' Dream Time: Chapters From the Sixties.
As the late 1950s hinged at the early 1960s, a shift of paradigm occurred in America when hierarchies of WASP socio-economy gave way to multiculturalism, sexual awakening, Pop Irony and a refashioning of the means and ends of power. It is an era abundant with ideas of the regression and sublimation of consciousness. Of the artifice of surroundings.
On Mad Men, drama relies very little on exterior settings. The story unfolds inside offices, houses, department stores, bars, hotel rooms. Occasionally, a park scene is depicted, replete with frivolous but timely environmental dispossession, or a furtive departure from curb to taxi out front the Hotel Pierre.
When circumstances draw Don and Pete to Los Angeles, suddenly the exteriors are exposed, and when Don takes to the Palm Beach poolside in his Madison Avenue suit, he naturally passes out from sunstroke. L.A. triggers the eruption of Don's inner life. The job is abandoned (trusted to the green hands of a displaced Campbell), the hat and suit are shed in favor of sunglasses and cabana shorts. It is Draper's Hour of the Wolf, where the Artist, at a psychic crossroads in coastal lands, finds a luxuriant abode of arabesque people, and these people, who introduce exotic things (like Mexican food and incestual family mores), both venerate Don and cackle at him, and they are silly and frightening in their nonchalant disdain of ordinary means. Don is called on to reimagine his "career," delve its invisible affects and realities. The Count and his expatriate entourage are only desperate idlers, and must ever dissimulate with flash and taboo their own Euro-tragic demise.
Don retreats to his nebulous roots in San Pedro, the exurb of the Port of Los Angeles (where Art Pepper, the lapsed St. Augustine of So Cal jazz, chronicled a riotous recurrence of rebirth). Intimations of the Opti-Man post-human project are made, a California brand, (which Campbell relates with the same enthusiasm of spotting Tony Curtis in the men's room). Don transgresses the space-hole, fresh from the Pacific Ocean's primordial soup, and returns to autumn New York in his camelskin topcoat and adventuresomely removed brown fedora. When challenged to defend his craft by Duck Phillips - the booze besting Duck's comportment at the merger meeting – Draper (Whitman, mystic poet) is steadfast in his allegiance to the Art.
Having attended a conference in the deep-freeze subterranean presentation room where bullet points of nuclear warfare were illustrated, Don is prepared for the apocalyptic headlines of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Most citizens are not - Father John Gill seems a bit of obsessed with the scientific insinuations of hell-bent disaster. His sermon uses metaphors of Final "summit meetings," and he warns Peggy of the judgment fires no less than he warns himself.
Charitable acts are undertaken – Duck to Pete as new head of Accounts; Pete's secret information of the merger to Don; the flashback "divorce" of Don and Anna. Up to now Peggy has applied her church-going only to business interests (her consultation on the parish social, The Last Supper thematics reflected when she eponymously bestows plastic cups of whiskey to Cosgrove and Salvatore in advance of the Popsicle presentation). Peggy (since given a makeover by her new gay European friend, fortuitously arrived) is begged by Father Gill to reconcile her breach with the Absolute, and so she does, perhaps engaging an act of charity upon herself, by revealing to Pete the bygone calamity of his orphaned sire. Pete responds, "Why would you tell me this?"
Various characters question the motivation of those who extend a truth to them. "What are you doing?" asks Betty's modish quickie, a proto-Mayor John V. Lindsay from the dim, scarlet shadows of the midtown cocktail lounge at the end of the earth. Betty never seems to fully enjoy herself during this assignation, but assuredly emerges satisfied. Betty, earlier in the ob-gyn office, contemplates the framed needlework of fawn and mother deer as gravely as Campbell later poses his hunting rifle in the office after the rest of Sterling Cooper has fled. And Joan, last of the Sabine Women but first as practitioner of the Women's Lib, doesn't like French cuisine (epitome of the old florid New York), but willing to try the new chef's menu at La Cote Basque. . .