The Carousel from Mad Men’s Season 1 Finale

“Nostalgia” says Don Draper in Mad Men’s carousel pitch, “it’s delicate but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, ‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound’. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home.”

Mad Men’s Carousel Scene. One of Don Draper’s finest pitches.

Many have considered Don Draper’s powerful pitch for the Kodak Carousel in the finale of season 1 of Mad Men to be his greatest pitch. And yes, it certainly was to my ears. Jon’s voice always captivated me, and he influenced the way I composed for the show. As a result, I focused more on scoring Don Draper’s scenes than the others. Just have a look at the YouTube video above.


The product in question, a slide projector with a rotary tray for storing photographs, is tentatively called the Wheel. But Don believes it is capable of something more. “It’s not called the Wheel,” he says. “It’s called a Carousel.” As he flips the projector from slide to slide, he contemplates the memories onscreen. A picture of him pushing his son Bobby on a swing set in the park, lying with his daughter Sally on the couch on Christmas morning, a younger version of himself kissing his wife Betty on their wedding day.
Don’s presentation is beautiful, nostalgic, genuine. He uses anecdotes, invokes the memory of Rachel Menken and even throws in some Greek for good measure. All the while, he thinks of his family and how he’s neglected them throughout the years. His half-brother just committed suicide. He longs for better days.
“It takes us to a place where we ache to go again …. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.”
It’s the greatest sales pitch of all time.

From Emily St. James, AV Club

“The Wheel’s” greatest stroke is that it takes the way that back-story motivates Don and moves it from the theoretical to the achingly tangible. On the one hand, the centerpiece of “The Wheel”—a long, masterful pitch from Don that lands Sterling Cooper the Kodak account—is complete and utter hokum. Designed solely to provoke an emotional response that will be so undeniable the company will reach up and land business with a firm far larger than it deserves. On the other, it’s a pitch so good, so nakedly emotional, that Don actually sells himself. He runs home to be with the family he could use to backfill those happy memories, maybe, only to find the house empty.

Noel Murry, AV Club

My favorite scene: Back in the boardroom, pitching Kodak on “The Carousel” slide projector–not “The Wheel,” as the episode is pointedly called–Don describes the difference between the newness that advertising tries to sell and the nostalgia that it simultaneously tries to speak to. In addition to encapsulating one of the key themes of the series, Don’s speech sums up a lot of Mad Men’s appeal. It’s at once a classic TV drama with a sense of retro style and a sophisticated one in look and tone, on the cutting edge of elliptical television storytelling in the same manner as The Sopranos and The Wire. Mad Men is only a perfect show in that forgiving TV realm where 80% is as good as perfect. But I’m ecstatic that it’s been renewed for a second season, because with this cast, these writers, and this premise, next year Mad Men might clear 90.

Jon Hamm in The Carousel from Mad Men as Don Draper pitching the Kodak carousel

Final Thoughts

The Carousel from Mad Men is a brilliant piece of writing by Matthew Weiner, as well as creative editing by Malcolm Jamison. But if it wasn’t for Jon Hamm’s performance, I don’t think I would have scored the scene as well as I did. I will forever remember the Carousel scene in Mad Men as one of the greatest moments in television history. It showcased the brilliance of the show’s writing, directing, and acting, leaving a lasting impact on all who watched it. As a composer who had the privilege of scoring Don Draper’s scenes, I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of such a remarkable piece of television artistry.

Don and Betty Draper in The Carousel pitch from Mad Men

Check out on YouTube and scroll through some of the comments and you’ll see how this scene has touched many people. Also, my video page here.

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