Mad Men, Season 3

Week 6: Was the Tractor Scene Really About Vietnam?
Talking television.
Sept. 21 2009 6:32 PM

Mad Men, Season 3

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Week 6: Was the Tractor Scene Really About Vietnam?

Patrick, I see what you're saying about the reconciliation scene between Roger and Don: There was something unsatisfying about Roger's prissy "I don't like being judged." The last time these two had a disagreement—after Roger made a pass at Betty in Season 1—the resolution was much more entertaining. Roger apologized with a bottle of the good stuff, Don accepted, then contrived to get Roger so hammered at lunch that he vomited all over the Nixon people's wingtips.

I think you've also put your finger on what's been unsatisfying about Roger this season: It's not merely that we've seen less of him but that he's been less of an ad man than we'd come to expect. Last night, when Bert asked Roger what the ad business is all about, he replied, "I don't know. It's about listening to people and never saying what's really on your mind." That may sometimes be a useful strategy for an account man, but an agency built on that philosophy isn't likely to go very far anymore. (Recall that Peggy's case for telling the Pepsi people what was on her mind was vindicated a couple of episodes ago.) Roger's future in the business has never felt so uncertain; that said, we'd be remiss if we didn't pause to celebrate his wonderfully jaded deadpan about advertising's history. "Believe me, somewhere in this business, this has happened before," he says of the John Deere incident.

John Swansburg John Swansburg

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.

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On the subject of history, this episode was the first to make explicit mention of Vietnam, though Smitty dismisses it as nothing to worry about: The government is barely drafting anyone, and besides, if you're smart, getting called up is nothing more than an opportunity to make time with some secretaries stateside. Frayster Alex19 argues persuasively that the brief conversation about Vietnam is connected to Mackendrick's bloody loss of limb. "Listen to the completely uninformed, uncomprehending tones with which the young men discuss Vietnam," he writes. "Then comes the disaster no one foresaw, though they should have seen it coming a mile (or at least a few yards) away." In Alex's reading, Guy's fate is "a metaphor for how many promising young lives were soon to be lost, or at least forever altered, in sudden orgies of pointless bloodshed." Of course, given this episode's Union Jack vs. Old Glory theme, it was surely meaningful that the Brit MacKendrick was cut down by a quintessentially American farm implement. Was it also meaningful that Lane, spared reassignment to India, tells Don he feels like Tom Sawyer? Going forward, will he see things more from the Americans' perspective?

A few stray thoughts:

I'm thinking of naming my firstborn son St. John Swansburg. Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

Julia, was the Time cover story that Connie shows Don the same one you quoted from a few weeks ago? If so, that's extremely cool.

It was great sport watching Moneypenny do his thing this week: I loved the relish with which he ruined Joan's surprise party—though I did wonder whether he was right that she already knew about it—and his tweaking of Kinsey, whose beard he does not consider shipshape and Bristol fashion.

Speaking of Kinsey, did you guys catch him strumming a guitar in his office when the Brits made their rounds? An amusing little declaration of independence.

And speaking of guitar strumming, this episode marked the return of Bob Dylan, whom I believe we last heard closing out Season 1 (anachronistically) with "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." This time around, the episode ends with "Song to Woody," which appeared on Dylan's self-titled debut in 1962. The song is a tribute to Dylan's hero Woody Guthrie, but also an announcement that he intends to pick up where Guthrie left off, to chronicle the troubling world he sees emerging before him. "Seems sick an' it's hungry, it's tired an' it's torn," he sings. "It looks like it's a-dyin' an' it's hardly been born."

Can't wait for next week!
John

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