But She Hasnâ€™t Got THAT (Mad Men Season 3, Episode 2)
And…we’re back. Back to the Mad Men we love, with an episode so packed with meaningful dialogue and densely woven themes that it’s hard to know where to start. Aptly titled “Love Among the Ruins,” we see relationships and lives and cities decaying, but also new life and love struggling to arise.
Following this season’s dominant theme, it’s “out with the old, in with the new” even as Paul laments that New York is a city that “has no memory.” Neither does Betty’s elderly father, making him so unpleasant that his second wife leaves him and his adult children are fighting over what to do with him, before Don has mercy on his fellow war veteran and decides he should come live with the Drapers.
Then there’s the matter of Roger’s new wife, who his daughter doesn’t want at her wedding out of loyalty to Roger’s old wife. There’s also a new baby in Betty’s belly, which may account for the “foul mood” she finds herself in, ragging on Don for every little thing from his sooty topcoat to asking her the simple question “What do you want me to do?” and perhaps speaking as much about herself as the baby when she says, “She’s really kicking today.”
Most prominently of all, there are the new clients who want to tear down the old Penn Station to make way for the “new Madison Square Garden” – which only Don in his prescient manner foresees as a “new city on the hill” for New York, not to mention the beginning of 30 years of revenue for the agency that has the same vision he does – unfortunately, his own is now run by folks from the very old country of Britain, who are so myopic that they only foresee a paltry short-term revenue and so cut the clients loose. And they say there’ll always be an England.
Most sweetly, there is the promise of new life in spring in the closing scene when Don and Betty watch their daughter dance around the Maypole, and a stiff and be-suited Don, observing the pretty young teacher dancing barefoot with the kids, surreptitiously touches the fresh green grass with his hand, reaching for what he feels cut off from under the burden of his professional and marital duties, yearning for the newness that he touts to clients can be found in California, while “New York city is in decay.” So is Sterling-Cooper, we can now clearly see, being so badly managed by the Brits that Don asks Price, “Why the hell did you buy us?” only to hear, “I don’t know.”
The second (and for me, far more compelling) element of the episode is the story of women. We see Joan briefly but ominously, when she tells Betty that she’s glad to know you can be pregnant and keep trim as Betty has, because “Greg’s warned me that, come July, when he makes Chief Resident, I’d better watch out,” and we realize these are the last days of relative freedom for Joan, before she too is pregnant, dependent and stuck at home.
On her reluctant third time around, Betty appears to be feeling that constriction more than ever, but either her pregnancy or the events of last season have liberated her feelings, making the axiom that “depression is anger turned inward” come alive as she shakes off the lethargy of past seasons and gives Don hell over every little thing.
But it’s Peggy’s story that is the most heartbreaking part of the episode, showing both how far she’s come in her career and yet how left behind she still is.
We find out that even Roger has come to see Peggy’s value, albeit bundled into a left-handed compliment, as he prefaces a request for advice about his daughter with, “You’re the only one around here who doesn’t have that stupid look on your face.” (Roger seems unaware of what this says about him, given he picked his second wife from the secretarial pool and continues to make googly-eyes at Joan.)
Peggy’s now so accustomed to and confident in her job that she and Don seem to have reached a near-telepathic level of communication, yet she still gets dissed by her male co-workers, who are too busy ogling Ann-Margret on film to listen to her input on how to sell diet soft drinks to women. Even Sal (who couldn’t be more "out" to our contemporary eyes as he discusses his love of musical theater) compares a Broadway star to Ann-Margret by saying, “She doesn’t have THAT.”
“That” being the type of feminine sex appeal that smacks even a gay man in the face. "That" being the presentation that men seem to want from women, and what Peggy decidedly doesn’t have, at least to anyone but Pete so far.
We expect no more (or no less) from the boys at the agency, so it’s Don that truly disappoints both us and Peggy, in a brief but rich and densely written scene of the two debating the use of a “Bye Bye Birdie” as done by Ann-Margret rip-off to sell diet soda to women. Peggy tries to explain that she “understands fantasy” in advertising but wonders why that fantasy can’t be from a woman’s point of view, and Don paints her the cold hard facts – that advertising is about showing a woman that men will want and thus women will want to be. “I’m sorry if that makes you uncomfortable,” he says cuttingly. (A near-cousin of the famous, “Don’t get emotional” put-down that all women have heard from men trying to pre-empt or negate their opinion.)
When Peggy tries an appeal to aesthetics, saying that if they were making a film, they’d never stoop to such a cheesy level, he appropriately sets her straight about her profession --“You’re not an artist. You solve problems.” – before going one horrible step further, uttering words that every woman has heard in some form, countless times: “Leave some tools in your tool box.” In other words, be less than you are, or at least appear to be less than you are. Play dumb. That’s how to get what you want, how to succeed.
It’s advice that Peggy seems to take to heart, as we see her enter a Brooklyn bar after work to pick up a man, stealing a quip of Joan’s to break the ice, only to have her own, far more clever jokes fly right over his greasy little head (“You’re funny,” he says, in that puzzled deadpan way that actually means, “You’re strange.”)
This naïve Brooklyn boy physically resembles Pete Campbell and yet makes Pete seem a paragon of sophisticated intelligence, helping us understand what attracted Peggy to the seeming callow and callous guy in the first place, by showing us the outer borough boys that were her other choice. This one’s so unsophisticated he doesn’t even have a Trojan on him so they can have sex safely (of course, come to think of it, Pete apparently didn’t either), and upon hearing that Peggy works at an ad agency marvels at "how much typing you girls do.”
We see Peggy pause before deciding not to correct him, clearly wanting to go home with someone that night, wanting someone to hold her, her earlier objection to an ad that she think portrays a woman as “I’m young and excited and desperate for a man” echoing in the viewer’s mind as the shadow self that the driven career-Peggy has been trying to evade.
As heart-breaking as it is to see Peggy singing and posing like Ann-Margret before a mirror in her nightgown, trying out a persona that will never fit, or sadly washing out her “unmentionables” in the kitchen sink and hanging them up to dry at night like countless single career women before her, it’s nothing like the pain of watching her do the classic feminine downsizing in order to squeeze into the expectations of a man, so that she won’t scare him off.
As a final note, I think this episode reveals the answer to the much-debated question of how Mad Men will handle the JFK assassination, when we find out that Roger’s daughter’s wedding is scheduled for the day after it will occur. I predict that we’ll be at that wedding and see the impact of the assassination refracted in the reactions of the guests, fulfilling creator Matthew Weiner’s stated desire not to directly cover an event that has been done to death (pardon the pun) in the “where were you when you heard” vein, but instead reflect how it affected Americans and America afterward.