This move has proven to be more challenging than we had anticipated in a number of ways, but perhaps the most salient challenge has been the loss of one of our cats. Calliope got out through a faulty screen in our new home no fewer than ten hours after she’d arrived here and we’ve yet to find her. We’ve flyered the entirety of our neighborhood, and keep checking the shelters every other day, hoping she’ll be brought in. It’s hard to watch television in the same way when you don’t have the kitty bookends you’re used to on either side of your couch. We remain confident that we will find her, and I hope that, for the time being, she’s being fed and has found a dry place to sleep. It does rain here. And I’m sure she’s not fond of that.
So because of this, it’s taken us a little bit to get back into our television watching/writing groove.
It does work out, though, that I’m pairing “Love Among the Ruins” and “My Old Kentucky Home” together. At least for Peggy, these two episodes contain another natural progression of her ever-evolving character. Lest we forget that Peggy worked her way up from secretary to copy writer with only a degree from Miss Deaver’s Secretarial College, these two episodes have her looking further forward, culturally, by emulating two of her peers.
In “Love Among the Ruins,” Peggy and the team are asked to create an ad for Pepsi’s new diet drink, Patio, which is to be shot-for-shot like the opening of Bye Bye, Birdie in which Ann-Margaret throws herself desperately at the camera. Peggy struggles with the idea, finding Ann-Margaret herself to be shrill and unappealing, but she immediately recognizes the driving force behind the campaign in her male colleague’s excitement. Ever the budding feminist, it inherently bothers Peggy that a product for women is being sold to men:
Peggy: I understand why you like this. But it’s not for you. I’m the one who’ll be buying Patio.
Harry: Oh, you’re not fat anymore.
Peggy recognizes the age old adage that sex sells, and sees Joan as a living embodiment thereof. Joan entertains some executives in the office with a casual icebreaker about how crowded the elevator was that it was like riding the subway. Peggy watches as the executives coo over Joanie and utter their disbelief that a woman like her would ever ride the subway. As a matter of fact, she doesn’t. “Well, my husband won’t let me,” Joan purrs. “It’s a figure of speech.”
Later, Peggy tests out both of these models of forward sexuality, revealing her own desperation as she stands before her bedroom mirror, brushing her hair and bursting out into her own sad rendition of the Bye Bye, Birdie title song. Just as soon as she began crooning, she stops, and goes right back to brushing her hair. She later heads out to a college bar and tries out Joanie’s subway icebreaker, to a less generous response. Still, she catches the attention of a completely infantile man — another Pete Campbell type — and makes it the plan of her evening to seduce him. I honestly can’t decide which part I find more sad: Peggy’s ridiculously poor taste in men, or the fact that she has to dumb herself down to snag such a doucheface. I usually watch Mad Men with a reserved curiosity, sometimes with awe, but rarely do I feel the need to grab a character by the shoulders and shake some sense into her. I did, however, desperately want to do that when Peggy didn’t bother to correct this mini-Pete about the nature of her job when he asininely assumed she was merely part of the steno pool. She’s too good for this tool, isn’t she?
But Peggy doesn’t care if she’s clearly too good for this tool, as the goal of the evening is to be sexy. Borrowing a move from my playbook, she snags his burger and takes a bite, which also secures her a place in his bed, even if he’s too dense to realize the direction the evening’s taking and his friends when his friends goad him about cab fare. At his home, Peggy appears to have learned at least one lesson from fucking Pete Campbell and she refuses to have sex with mini-Pete sans condom, but they do spend their evening doing other sexy things. Peggy then wins back any respect I had lost for her by trying to sneak out while mini-Pete slept. Even though he wakes, she says her goodbyes to this manchild she never intends to see again with a completely insincere assertion that they should do this again sometime.
What’s most striking for me about Peggy’s sexual tryst is the fact that she walks into the office the next day with barely a hint that anything had happened the night before at all. The minute Don walks in, she approaches him and gets straight to work. Somehow, enacting a certain type of femininity — the type of femininity Peggy somewhat disdains — has enabled Peggy to be one of the boys. Now she, too, has her private dalliances, and she can push them aside entirely without attaching any emotion to them at all. I’d say that’s definitely following Don’s advice to “leave some tools in your toolbox.”
In the following episode, Peggy, Kinsey and some brand-new copywriter, Smitty, are stuck working on a Bacardi Rum campaign over the weekend while the rest of the office heads out to Long Island for a soiree (“work disguised as a good time”) hosted by Roger and Jane Sterling. Perhaps I missed it, but I couldn’t tell if this was supposed to be an anniversary party for Roger and Jane, just some silly Kentucky Derby-themed event or if it was somehow tied to Roger’s daughter’s wedding. I guess it’s not really that important, as it ended up being a work event for the S-C employees in attendance, anyway. But back at the office, Peggy’s new secretary, Olive, has also joined them for the weekend. Olive is much older than most secretaries and much more strict about her job. But she’s also fiercely loyal to Peggy, proud, in some way, to be a woman’s secretary, because she pins all her hopes for her sex onto Miss Olson.
But while Peggy is busy working, Kinsey and Smitty and busy hooking up with Kinsey’s dealer to buy some weed in order to get their creative juices flowing. Of course Kinsey, that symbol of the counterculture who dates black girls and goes on freedom rides and loves cardigan sweaters and beat poets and fought so hard against tearing down Penn Station to build Madison Square Garden in “Love Among the Ruins” before the deal fell through altogether, has a dealer. Kinsey’s dealer is an old college buddy from Princeton, who, throughout the day they spend high in the Sterling-Cooper offices reveals some hidden hatred for Paul, especially the fact that Kinsey didn’t attend Princeton on old money, but on a need-based scholarship. And moreso the fact that Kinsey has used his Ivy-League education to erase his “Pure Jersey” roots.
Despite Olive’s protestations, Peggy returns to work with Kinsey and Smitty and declares that she, too, would be interested in getting her creative juices flowing. “I’m Peggy Olson,” she declares, “and I wanna smoke some marijuana.” What follows is an amazing discussion of Paul’s past, failed brainstorming that is both punny and heavy and terrifying. I think my favorite thing uttered during this weed-fueled work retreat is this line from Kinsey, which reveals a particular dark cloud that still looms over the culture at large:
“I keep thinking about rum and I keep thinking about Cuba and I keep thinking about how we’re all going to die.”
Eventually, Peggy hits upon the right idea and excuses Kinsey and Smitty from work. She also excuses Olive, who chastises her for joining in on such illicit activities. Olive sees Peggy toking up as instantly destroying her future — a future Olive wishes she’d had an opportunity for. But Peggy, still rapturously high, takes Olive’s face in her hands and assures her, “I’m going to be fine.” And I, too, am confident that she will be.
As for Betty, she learns from her brother that their father’s dementia is getting worse and that his live-in girlfriend, Gloria, has left him. So Betty schemes to get her brother and his wife to bring Daddy down to the Draper house for a weekend in order for her to regain her place as good daughter and caretaker. William, it seems, would rather put the old man in a home so he can inherit the house. Betty spends the entire weekend pouting until Don enables her to get her way by commanding that William leave their father at the Drapers, along with the Lincoln, and that William, Judy and the kids high-tail it to the train station so they can get back home. Unfortunately, living with a man with dementia proves harder than the Draper’s anticipated when they catch him up at night, pouring all of their booze down the sink because he thinks he’s at a raid during Prohibition. (That’s why people with dementia live in care facilities, Betty! So they don’t throw out your boozahol!)
In “My Old Kentucky Home,” Grandpa Gene has another complicated adventure at the Draper house while Don and Betty head off to Roger’s party. When he finds $5 missing from his money clip, he goes on a tear throughout the house, assuming it’s been stolen. Don tries to pacify him before they leave by handing him $5 to replace what was lost, but Gene won’t have it. Everyone assumes that this is simply another one of his episodes and that he’s merely misplaced his money, but, for once, Grandpa Gene is right. His money was stolen by everyone’s favorite little fuck-up, Sally Draper. I actually hadn’t thought until just now that Sally’s actions might have been motivated out of sheer opportunism. I had thought that she’d taken the fiver the way we all steal money from our parents’ purses and wallets when we’re little. What’s $5? They go to work every day and make money. How would they ever notice that $5 is gone? I thought it was done out of innocence, which naturally turned into a way for Sally to seek affection from someone who paid attention to her when she heroically “found” the missing money and returned it to her grandfather. But now I think there was a hint of cruelty in this, too. Little Sally may be a massive fuck-up, but she’s clearly an observant creature. Surely she thought that, of all the people to steal from, Grandpa Gene would be the least likely to notice because sometimes he thinks he’s at a Prohibition-era raid. It’s different than taking $5 from Betty’s purse because to steal from her mother’s icy neglect isn’t preying on her disease to get what you want. I now think that Little Sally is little better than Betty’s brother, or Betty herself, in terms of manipulating her relationship with her family members to suit her needs.
Although many things happen during an episode (or two!) of Mad Men, the last plot I’d like to discuss is Joanie’s dinner party. I’m obviously very sad to hear that she’s actually married to her fiancé-doctor-rapist, because that guy’s a tool, but I was happy to see that Joanie has completely taken the reins in their relationship in the same undermining way she handles the boys at Sterling-Cooper. When throwing a dinner party for some of Greg’s colleagues, Joan discusses the seating arrangements with her husband, only to have him throw a fit about where guests expect to be seated versus where they are actually seated. Joan insists that her arrangements follow Emily Post’s rules of etiquette for formal dinner parties, but Greg will have none of it.
Greg: I don’t want to have a fight right now.
Joan: Then stop talking.
She diffuses the situation by suggesting that they make dinner a buffet, allowing the guests to sit wherever they want. This seems to be a skill only Joan has: the ability to diffuse situations without losing any of her upper hand, and providing solutions that allow the other combatant to feel like they’d made that decision themselves.
But for all of the power I see in Joan’s subtlety, there’s something very darkly wrong in her happy hostess game, true. There’s only so much of it that’s her will before it becomes what pleases Greg: Joanie, playing her squeezebox like an organ grinder’s monkey, and singing “C’est Magnifique,” performing the kind of femininity she’s always been so good at performing, but without any sense of power or authenticity behind it.
- Gee, that Pete Campbell is one swell dancer!
- Harry’s wife complimenting Betty on her pregnancy. Cut to Trudy, trying very hard not to cry because she’s barren.
- Another excellent cut to: Harry telling Peggy she’s not fat anymore, then cut to Don telling Betty to eat some oatmeal lest baby #3 be super fat.
- “I just walked backwards all the way from the living room!” — Sally Draper, continuing to be super fucking weird.
- I never want to see John Slattery in blackface ever again.
- I loved the icy exchange of greetings between Joanie and Jane. I also loved Jane’s enormous hat.
- Don Draper used to piss in people’s trunks.
- As I’m currently outfitting my home in mid-century modern furniture, I proclaim that Roger Sterling’s green sofa shall one day be mine!
- Pete Campbell, the sniveling bastard at his finest: “My great grandfather Sylas Dykeman would have turned his boat around if he’d known he’d be founding a city full of crybabies.” This, followed by his crybabyish announcement to Kinsey that “I’m going to have to tell Don about this.”
- “My Old Kentucky Home” really made me want a mint julep.