Monday, June 24, 2013

‘Increase and Decrease’

I wasn’t going to write anything about Saint John the Baptist Day, but inspiration—if that’s the right word—sometimes comes unexpectedly, and the Mad Men episode broadcast tonight, the finale of season six that ended just minutes ago, got me thinking.

It’s not the plot or the characters, but only the wardrobe that got me started. The suit and tie Don Draper wears while exiting (for the last time) Sterling Cooper & Partners reminded me of the promotional art that appeared on the web in the weeks before the start of the season three months ago. To wit:

Courtesy AMC

As advertising goes, this is an enigmatic message that, of course, suits the complexity of the program’s dramatics. Duality. Coming and going. Past versus future. Draper, briefcase in hand, walking away but to work; and Don walking toward the viewer, holding a woman’s hand. The two Dons are aware of each other, metaphysically interdependent even, but they cannot interact as though they occupy extremes in a cyclical motion.

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”
John 3:30

In a darkly humorous scene in this episode that appears to draw from John 3, a minister accosts Don, absent from the office and drinking in a bar again, to deliver some helpful ministry, promising that Jesus can give not only eternal life, but relief from pain in this earthly existence. “I’m doing fine,” says Draper in dismissive retort. “Nixon is president. Everything is back where Jesus wants it.” The minister goads Don, provoking one of his kid-in-the-whorehouse flashbacks; he slugs the minster, and winds up in the Tombs to sleep it off. In the morning, he goes home to Megan and tells her he needs to get out of New York. He wants to go from East to West. To Los Angeles.

Courtesy Trevor Stewart
The Gospel of Saint John Chapter 3 is laden with dualities that echo the As Above, So Below foundation of the Western Mysteries. The verse quoted here can be interpreted as comment on the summer solstice, how the potency of one season surrenders to another. The two solstices are connected by their significances and their positions on the calendar. Significance: there are two Christian feast days that commemorate nativities – John the Baptist’s on June 24 and Jesus of Nazareth’s on December 25. (All other feasts mark deaths, if not martyrdoms.) Calendar dates: both of these feast days approximate the solstices. The summer solstice brings the peak of daylight embodied by the longest day; the winter solstice conversely is the shortest day that begins the lengthening of daylight hours for six months. Each solstice knowingly chases the other in perpetual increase-decrease. They cannot catch each other any more than the two parallel lines flanking the Point Within a Circle can connect.

The closing scene of this Mad Men episode shows Don, newly deposed from his agency and simultaneously acknowledging his alcoholism and looking for a new way forward, as he tries to connect for the first time with his three children, the oldest of whom, Sally, recently had complained about not knowing anything about him. Clearly, one of Don’s dual lives must increase, and the other must decrease, and not cyclically either, if he ever is to achieve harmony and peace in his earthly existence. He brings his daughter and sons to the closest thing he had to a childhood home, that whorehouse, which now in 1968 is a prominent part of the decay of what son Bobby calls “a bad neighborhood.” Don shoos them out of the Cadillac and onto the sidewalk, and explains this was where he grew up. Cue the music: Both Sides Now by Judy Collins.

Friends, the days will get shorter now. The days will be hotter for a while, but the daylight hours will diminish until the next solstice. Inevitable transition. Cyclical reversal. It is a great time to examine our own dualities, if necessary, to affect some adjustment. I know I need that. Or maybe just to resolve to gain the most light from the shortening daylight hour.

Have a wonderful summer. The Magpie Mason will be updated as news demands, but the time of (temperate) Refreshment is here.

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