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Everything Fades: Love Among the Ruins on "Mad Men"

Times, they are a changing.

Bob Dylan may not have wrote the lyrics to his hit song until 1964, but the words are especially apt for the goings-on at Sterling Cooper this week on Mad Men.

Just a few quick words about this week's remarkable installment of Mad Men ("Love Among the Ruins"), written by Cathryn Humphris and Matthew Weiner and directed by Lesli Linka Glatter, which I thought was absolutely beautiful in its elegance and pathos.

I knew that the matter of Betty's stroke-afflicted father Gene (Ryan Cutrona) would have to come back into play, likely this season but I never expected things to take such a dramatic turn, with Don confronting Betty's manipulative brother William (Eric Ladin) and forcing his hand: Gene would be installed into the Draper household, William would support him financially, and Gene's house would remain untouched.

That Gene would now seem to have become a permanent fixture at the Drapers', pouring out their liquor into the sink (believing it to be Prohibition) and attending Sally's maypole dance with equal relish. I'm very concerned that between Betty's father moving in with them and the imminent birth of their third child, there's going to be a hell of a lot more strain on Don and Betty's relationship. It's clear that what passed between them has been intentionally forgotten for now but secrets have a nasty way of showing up when you least expect them. They can pretend all they want that things are fine between them but the reverse is quite true. The sight of a nearly full-term Betty drinking wine and smoking in bed was startling; it's clear that despite her perfect exterior, she's still firmly gripping onto her crutches to make it through the day, pregnancy or no.

Peggy, meanwhile, attempted to get in touch with her inner flirt after seeing how the men of Sterling Cooper reacted to the scene of Ann-Margret in Bye, Bye Birdie!, which they would be reproducing for an ad for a new Diet Pepsi product called Patio. She ends up, at Don's suggestion, doing some "research" at a Brooklyn bar, where she picks up a young engineering student and fools around with him. (She wisely doesn't have sex with him as he's unable to produce a "Trojan" and we all know how Peggy got into trouble with that situation last time.) The coquettishness with which she says that they can "do other things" and then the following morning admits that it "was fun," is diametrically opposed to the prudish Peggy we've come to expect. Could it be that she's about to get swept up in the sexual revolution to come?

Peggy and Don have become more alike than I would have ever expected from their initial encounter in the Mad Men pilot episode. The forcefulness with which she speaks, the way she envisions the world, the way she offers her opinion all speak of Don's influence and the two are bound by secrets in a way that no one else on the show is. The final shot of them alone in Don's office, discussing the Pampers account, speaks of an equality and understanding between them that must be absolutely foreign to anyone on the outside looking in.

But everything changes. Life goes on, styles, morals, and principles are as fluid as the wind through the grass. Just as Peggy's attitude towards sex is undergoing a transformation, so too is Manhattan itself, as seen from the trenchant battle over the construction of Madison Square Garden, which would force the demolishing of the beautiful Beaux Arts structure of Penn Station, a position which Paul Kinsey is firmly against and makes his "radical" notions known during a client meeting with the Madison Square Garden overseers.

Don manages to charm the client over dinner with Roger (and, yes, things between the two former friends is glacially cold still) but no sooner do they iron out any kinks then Pryce informs them that the London office does not want them involved with this particular client. The encounter rattles Don who questions Pryce why his company even bought Sterling Cooper in the first place. Pryce, of course, isn't sure himself. This can only lead to more trouble down the line for Sterling Cooper and relations are going to get much more strained, I'm sure.

Roger, meanwhile, has just as many family issues to deal with as Don as he prepares for his daughter Margaret's wedding. But Margaret doesn't actually want Roger and new bride Jane attending her wedding; she's fine with him paying for everything and she attended his wedding to Jane but she doesn't see why they need to be at her wedding. It's a position that Roger ascribes to Mona's poisonous influence over his daughter and accuses her of whispering in her ear. Roger even asks Peggy later what her father could do that would force her not to want him at her wedding. (Nothing, says Peggy, he passed away.)

But something tells me that this wedding won't end up happening after all. The invitation which Roger cavalierly tosses on the table in his office clearly shows a wedding date of November 23rd, 1963... which just happens to be the day after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Given the public's future mourning over the loss of their beloved president, I dare say that Margaret and Brooks will end up calling off their nuptials in the end. Whether that will be a plus or a minus for Roger remains to be seen.

Best line of the evening: "You're not an artist... You solve problems." - Don to Peggy

Next week on Mad Men ("My Old Kentucky Home"), the writers fend off boredom when they are forced to work after hours; Roger hosts a party while Joan and Greg host a party of their own; Jane pays a visit to Sterling Cooper; Sally has a run in with Grandpa.

Mad Men Sneak Peek: Ep 303: "My Old Kentucky Home"

Comments

Amanda P. said…
I may have mis-heard, but I though Roger's daughter just didn't want HER at the wedding (meaning the new step-mom). I didn't catch that she didn't want Roger there...but it was late and I was tired so I may have mis-interpreted.

I also caught the November 23rd reference, but my husband didn't. Since neither of us remember where we were when Kennedy was shot (not being born yet), I wouldn't be surprised if other people didn't understand the importance of the wedding date.

It's so nice to watch a show where you can't predict what will happen, and you have to assume the characters motivations, just like real life. I get so tired of the predictable sometimes!
Marissa said…
I really liked the first episode of the season but I actually found this one to be more interesting and compelling. The maypole scene with Don was filled with electricity as were Don and Peggy's interactions.

There's so much simmering just below the surface--it's just a matter of time before it all boils over.
Ally said…
When they showed the invite, I turned to Q and said, "Something tells me this wedding isn't going to happen."

My favorite line, "You're not fat anymore."

Sight correction - ep was written by Cathryn Humphris and MW.
ewench said…
Maybe not so much stress, didn't many women just continue to smoke and also drink during pregnancy in the 60's?

I didn't get what was going on with the slow motion Sallys teacher Maypole scene - did she just catch Don's eye or was it symbolic of him getting in touch with nature or a renewal or something? Why was he playing with the grass?
Barbara said…
Like ewench, I was taken by Don's reaction to the maypole moment. Was he captured by the innocence of the children, by the sexy young teacher (a contrast to the Ann-Margaret moment, I thought)or simply taking a breather from the madness of his life?
I took Betty's smoking and drinking to be cut from the same It"s Another Time cloth as the scene from last season when the kids were running through the house with plastic bags over their heads. But I don't mind saying that I have no sympathy for Mrs. Draper. She's always in a foul mood, always being snarly to her kids, always whining and disatisfied. Suck it up, Betty! We don't care how disappointed you are with the way things have turned out!

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