Warning: This article contains SPOILERS for Mad Men, Veronica Mars, Twin Peaks, and Lost. But you’ve probably seen all of those shows already, right? RIGHT?
A strange thing happened in “The Flood,” the most recent episode of Mad Men. No, it didn’t involve Pete Campbell getting a gif-worthy punch in the face, nor was it some sort of embarrassingly anachronistic continuity error. The strange thing was… Harry Hamlin showed up. Harry fucking Hamlin. Mad Men has always been a show that avoids injecting recognizable faces from the real world into its fictional realm– that’s partly how it maintains its sense of authenticity. With the exception of a few well-known character actors, there haven’t been any “name” actors to speak of on one of TV’s most popular shows. Why then did the star of Clash of the Titans show up as the head of accounts for Cutler, Gleason and Chaough?
When Hamlin appeared on last Sunday’s episode my wife immediately jokingly shouted: “Look out it’s Aaron Echolls! Get him out of there or he’ll kill someone!” referring, of course, to Hamlin’s murderous character from Veronica Mars. Only moments later Roger introduces Don to his friend Randall, played by William Mapother– “Look out, it’s Ethan! Get him out of there or he’ll kill someone!” My wife, of course, referring to Mapother’s Ethan, one of the kidnappy Others from Lost.
It seemed like an odd coincidence: two notable villains from two of our favourite television shows appearing in the same episode of Mad Men. I started to wonder: have any other celebrated TV antagonists appeared on Mad Men?
The first actor to spring to mind was Ray Wise who plays Ken’s father-in-law Ed Baxter on the show. Arguably, Wise’s most famous role was as Twin Peak’s Leland Palmer, who like Harry Hamlin’s Aaron Echolls, is revealed to be a murderer in the conclusion of a long over-arching whodunit. Of course, Leland wasn’t wholly responsible for his daughter’s death, he was possessed by the demon, Bob.*
Similarly, Jared Harris, who played Lane Pryce, was also Fringe‘s dastardly David Robert Jones (to say nothing of his turn as Prof. Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes- Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2). And remember that guy from the Cool Whip plant back in Season 5? It was Dennis Haskins, AKA Mr. Belding from Saved by the Bell! While Mr. Belding didn’t murder anyone (that we know of…) I think we can safely call him the antagonist of that show, with his scheme-foiling and such.
Whether made consciously or not, these casting choices have changed the way I view the show: I simply don’t trust these people. Peppering the supporting cast of older gentlemen with familiar pop-culture villains almost subliminally evokes the antipathy between the younger and the older generations in the 1960s. There was a fundamental sense of distrust for the establishment that Mad Men‘s casting choices seem to abstractly communicate to the younger generations who didn’t live through the ’60s. I don’t know how it feels to hate Nixon and fear the Vietnam draft, but I do know how it feels to hate Veronica Mars’ nemesis, and fear expulsion from Bayside High.