Mad Men, Season 3
Week 2: When Did Peggy Become a Man-Eater?
Dear Patrick and John:
Well, we said we wanted more Peggy. This brutal episode put Miss Olson front and center and dashed the hopes of any modern viewers who thought career success might bring her happiness. Peggy is lonely. She feels disconnected from her colleagues, who dismiss her objections to a lame ad concept—an effort to sell Patio, which really was the name of Pepsi's first diet cola, to female consumers with an inanely frolicking "Ann-Margret type"—as prudery. The implication is that she doesn't get the appeal of (or possess much) womanly sexuality. When she turns to her mentor Don, hoping he'll back her critique of the pitch, he brusquely dismisses her: The Ann-Margret idea will work, he says. "We're not making art."
And so she heads to a bar, borrows a flirtatious line she heard Joan use at the office, and picks up a gawky, ill-mannered college kid. She beds him on his pull-out sofa—he doesn't have a condom, but she knowingly suggests, "There are other things we can do"—and leaves him in the wee hours without so much as taking his number. The next morning, despite the stinger she downed the night before, she's back at work, full of ideas for Pampers. The scene presents a Peggy who's taking her sexual cues from both Don and Joan: a deadpan, drink-downing, man-eating monster. My biggest question about the incident: Is this Peggy's first conquest, or has she been making a habit of one-night stands? There's evidence pointing in both directions, and I'm eager to hear what you think. I also wonder whether you found this plotline as depressing as I did. I suppose one could argue that this episode finds Peggy with a new and thrilling sense of sexual power. But given her pathetic quarry, I couldn't get too excited for her.
The episode also, sadly, downgraded Sterling Cooper's top Brit, Lane Pryce, from deliciously Machiavellian schemer to impotent bureaucratic functionary. (An empty tin suit!) After Pete and Paul botch a meeting with the developers of Madison Square Garden—they're tearing down the original Penn Station to make room for it, and Kinsey boneheadedly scolds them for this architectural sacrilege—Pryce tells Don to go make peace. Don commandingly bullshits his way through lunch, winning the business for Sterling Coop. A day later, Pryce tells him that London doesn't want the account; it would cost too much to maintain. Don is furious—and confused. "Why did you even buy us?" he asks. "I don't know," Pryce responds. It's still not entirely clear how Matthew Weiner will use these new British overlords as the season plays out, but I suspect we'll see more of the frustrations of life at a multinational corporation, where personal mojo—even mojo as concentrated as Don's—isn't enough to get things done.
Of course, Don's mojo is still good up in Ossining, where he bullies his brother-in-law into treating Betty's ailing father right. Addled Dad won't be going to a nursing home; instead, he'll be moving in with Betty and Don, on brother Willie's dime. Did you read this as genuine generosity on Don's part? He knocks heads to make Betty happy; she looks elated when she learns of the plan. But then again, Betty is at her most unpleasant this episode, nagging Don about his coat, greeting the children with an impatient "What?" Perhaps he was just trying to shut her up.
I'll let you two have at the May Day scene: I couldn't tell whether Don wanted to cast that dancing teacher-sprite in the Patio ad or just give her a twirl around his own maypole. (For what it's worth, the real Patio was endorsed by a kind of proto-Jane Fonda called Debbie Drake, whose work is available on YouTube and well worth watching. She's an Ann-Margret type with a fitness twist: a real compromise candidate.)
But before I go, I have to ask whether we kiboshed our bet about the JFK assassination too soon. Did you notice the date set for Roger's daughter Margaret's wedding? Nov. 23, 1963.
Looking forward to that rehearsal dinner,
PS: Please also submit your nominations for this episode's best outfit. I adored Don's trim new sunglasses, but I think Betty's garishly floral dressing gown won the night.