Mad Men Writing Prompt: Season 1, Episode 8

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“The Hobo Code”

midge

Midge is a strong, confident, independent woman. She doesn’t let Don control her. She can take him or leave him, which I think is what attracts him most to her.

Episode Summary: This is an episode about attachment and detachment. Characters are attached to the things they shouldn’t be (Pete and Peggy, Don and Midge) and detached from the important things in their lives (wives, children, feelings).

As the director says in the DVD commentary, the episode doesn’t use splashy drama to push the narrative forward. It’s a subtle push, an interior look at Pete, Don, and Peggy. We get more background information on Don in the form of a flashback when a hobo visited his family. The hobo instructs a young Don on the “hobo code,” a series of visuals carved in fenceposts that lets other hobos know where they can find help or places they should avoid. When the hobo leaves, Don discovers what has been carved in a fencepost outside his house: “A lying man lives here” — a reference to Don’s father. But a reference to Don, too, and Pete, and almost all of the male characters on the show.

But what doesn’t lie? Photographs. I was struck by the use of photographs in this episode. In the scene when Peggy comes to Pete’s office where a few of the guys are gathered, Trudy’s photo on Pete’s desk is in almost every shot. Here’s a photo of the wife juxtaposed with the presence of the lover. When Don visits Midge’s apartment in the midst of her bohemian party, one of the women is flipping through a photo album. And then Don takes a photo, and when it develops it reveals the true relationship between Midge and one of the guys.

“Of course,” is all that Don says. In that moment he realizes he’s lost Midge and needs to move on, just like the hobo.

Writing prompt: What is the truth-revealing moment in your story? Perhaps someone looks at a photograph and sees something that hasn’t been apparent before. Maybe it’s the receipt of a letter or e-mail. Likely your character has subconsciously known the truth, but needs a physical token like a photograph or a letter to see it clearly.

 

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