(Clearly another installment in this never-ending series.)
My previous post, on “The Wheel,” discussed in great detail the relationship of Don Draper to his past via the fading photographs of him and Betty and the children. “Nostalgia,” Draper says,”literally means pain from an old wound.” The “twinge” Don describes to the Kodak Eastman people is tinged with sadness—the life projected on the wall is one his actions have destroyed—but it is also a pain that’s tempered by the knowledge that it can be compartmentalized. The Kodak Carousel is more than a projector: the titular wheel effectively functions as a container for captured moments that can be opened and re-experienced at a whim or it can be a simple storage device for memories a person wants to know are safely preserved. This second person doesn’t necessarily want to re-experience their lives one twinge at a time, but the thought of being unable to do so could cause a pain unmitigated by memory. This would be a powerful pain, a constant reminder of itself by virtue of its absence. In “The Wheel,” Don feels remorse for transforming the family projected on the wall into something that evokes no more than the twinge of memory. He claims that twinge is “more powerful than memory alone,” but clearly it isn’t.
In the fifth season finale, “The Phantom,” directed, like “The Wheel,” by Matt Weiner, the problem with Don’s definition of nostalgia is immediately challenged by, of all things, a toothache:
But his toothache isn’t an ordinary toothache. As his dentist informs him later in the episode, his tooth had formed an abscess, which means that its core has become rotten and the tooth must be pulled. It’s an absence that can only be treated by the creation of a larger controllable absence. Early in “The Phantom,” the abscess functions as a physical manifestation of the guilt Don feels about his complicity in the suicide of Lane Pryce in “Commission and Fees.” Weiner signals as much in the form of the phantom that accompanies Don’s pain: