Mad Men, Season 3
Week 2: Why Was Don Fondling the Grass?
Man, you guys both punted on the maypole scene! Although I think you're right, Patrick, that it's the moment when Don starts tenderly caressing the grass at his feet that most warrants our examination. I could take a stab—You see, grass is what remains when there is no patio—but, thankfully, our readers have a few sharp theories about what's going on.
VT Biker writes that Don is fondling the sod not because he's hot for the "frolicking teacher" but because he envies "her unbridled happiness and apparent freedom." The comment continues:
Don Draper is more trapped than ever. Between now having to deal with the father-in-law (and let's face it, if you already struggle with family life and its trappings, try adding an in-law into the mix) and now losing the independence he seemed to have at Sterling Cooper, he is a man who is boxed in.
In the scene, Biker notes, Don was "so dressed-up that nary a single part of his body was even exposed to nature at all, completely suffocated and trapped inside those suits. He was touching the grass to feel some sense, no matter how small, of freedom from all of the above."
Seashellonthebeach counters that Don's motives are less pure:
"They had just shown the teacher frolicking in a couple of shots barefoot and Don, behind the shades, is having a 'DON MOMENT.' I think he's feeling the grass to feel the same thing that the teacher's feeling with her feet. And, of course … allowing his imagination to run away with those thoughts." Seashell sees teacher nookie in Don's future: "He will once again escape with this woman, as he always does."
It's interesting, I think, that Seashell chose the word escape here, since it suggests that the nookie reading and Biker's are not so far apart. The idea is that Don strays not because he's a "misanthropic horndog," as you put it, Patrick, but because being with other women is a way of trying on alternate selves, alternate lives. It's maintaining a fluid identity, not sexual gratification, he's addicted to. In fact, that's part of what I found mesmerizing and tense about the California plotline in Season 2: Don seemed so at home with the jet-setters he took up with there that I couldn't help but wonder whether he'd ever go back. Matt Weiner seemed just ballsy enough to set Season 3 on the beaches of Monaco, abandoning Sterling Coop, Betty, the kids, and even poor Polly the dog, who I hope doesn't meet the dismal end you conjured for her, John.
As for the Peggy mirror scene, I hated watching it—my stomach for squirm-inducing television isn't as strong as yours, Patrick—but I think it did feel true to the character. Like you, John, I was at first heartbroken to find that Peggy, who has always seemed almost impenetrably tough and no-nonsense, secretly aspires to Ann-Margret-dom. But it's really no surprise that Peggy—a professional image manufacturer now—would wonder how her own image compares. And so I think what we're seeing in this episode is not Peggy abandoning her principles but Peggy stretching her legs and trying on new selves the way Don does. And as Emily Nussbaum pointed out over at Nymag.com, no matter how dweeby Peggy's conquest was, it sure did seem as if they were having fun. It's hard to begrudge Peggy that.
Before I go, I'll briefly defend "moments of self-discovery set in front of mirrors," John. Mirrors are one of the few places where you can see yourself the way the world sees you, which is fascinating; don't tell me you've never given yourself a good gander. The device is a bit hackneyed, but people really do it, and so such scenes often ring true. I think the private intimacy of the moment is part of what made Peggy's song sting.
Now where did I put my hairbrush …