Mad Men, Season 3

Week 4: Why Didn't the Patio Ad Work?
Talking television.
Sept. 8 2009 11:58 AM

Mad Men, Season 3

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Week 4: Why Didn't the Patio Ad Work?

Great. You've both made me feel like an ogre for questioning Kiernan Shipka's acting chops, and Patrick is now blaming me for the death of Grandpa Gene. With regard to the latter, I accept no responsibility: The man was sick! He was salting his ice cream! But I'm willing to admit I was wrong; it was much more fun having the old coot around than I thought it would be. How can you not love a guy who believes he should have received a commendation for beating the clap? Still, I prefer being surprised by his early exit—and feeling a little wistful that he won't be around to stir things up anymore—to having had Eugene Hofstadt No. 2 wear out his welcome.

As to Kiernan Shipka, I'm going to stand my ground. I mean, I don't think she's terrible. As child actors go, she's pretty darn good. But in a couple of key scenes this episode, I felt as if I was watching the most talented kid at the school play. The sequence Patrick mentioned, in which Betty abandons Sally on the stoop, asked a lot of Shipka, and I found myself focusing more on her acting than Sally's predicament: the slightly too whiny "No, no!" when the policeman announces Gene's death; the slightly too studied walk to the door her mother's just closed in her face.

John Swansburg John Swansburg

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.

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Have I mentioned I'm not fond of kittens? I'm glad Peggy took down that "free kittens" sign when she posted her roommate-wanted notice. I hope those kittens never find a home.

Speaking of symbolic fruit, Patrick, how about Betty devouring that peach at the end of the episode—Sally's peach, the one Grandpa Gene bought especially for her, Bobby's allergy be damned. Couldn't Betty have made herself an English muffin if she was feeling peckish?

I will say this for the scene between Sal and Kitty: I loved how creaky their bed was. (Thanks to reader jonwcollins for confirming I wasn't just hearing things.) There clearly hasn't been any tending going on in that bed for quite some time. The neighbors would have complained.

One of my favorite things about Mad Men is that you never really know what the next episode will bring. If you thought this week would explore a growing rift between Roger and Don, you were disappointed. Roger barely showed his face in Episode 4, though he did get off a good line. Why didn't Sal's painstaking replica of Bye Bye Birdie work? "It's not Ann-Margret," says Roger. As Julia pointed out, Peggy smiles smugly after the Pepsi people reject the Patio ad. She believes she's been vindicated: Cosgrove should have persuaded them to take a different approach, one that was tailored to the target audience of women. She may be right—her ad might have sold more Patio. But would it have gotten past the Pepsi reps and into production? I can't help thinking that it's Roger who's figured out why they didn't go for the ad. They wanted Ann-Margret, and Sterling Cooper delivered only a good copy.

(In this week's "Inside Mad Men" video on the AMC site, Matthew Weiner makes an interesting point about the Bye Bye Birdie ad, explaining that he sees it as a metaphor for other failed imitations in the show, including the Draper marriage.)

On the subject of selling ads, have you guys noticed that it's been a while since Don last worked his creative magic? Other than the London Fog ad in the first episode—which I thought worked better as a coded message to Sal than a come-on to coat shoppers—we haven't really seen Don doing his thing. He approved the direction of the Patio ad; rescued, temporarily, the Madison Square Garden account; and looked in on the jai-alai meeting. But we haven't seen him really wrestling with how to sell a product the way he has in past seasons—with Lucky Strike, Israel, Kodak, others. I miss that glazed look he gets right before inspiration hits him, and I'm eager to see whether the changing times will register in his campaigns.

Possible new TV Club featurette: "Unexpected Joan Harris Extracurricular Activity of the Week." Last week: the accordion. This week: Ibsen. Next week: captain, Sterling Cooper softball?

Magnanimously,
John

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