Mad Men–Season 3, Episode 2: Love among the Ruins

So I have probably improperly processed the episode, although I am allowing alliteration. “Love among the Ruins” was far more depressing to me than it seems to have been for other people online, and I think it’s because I am aligning myself too sympathetically with Peggy’s point of view in this one, what with my sexism ruckus blowout on the Skeptic’s forum a week or so ago. My frustration with that whole situation is not so much that people in the end didn’t agree with my point of view, it was that they seemed to deliberately misunderstand it, or dismiss it, or not even hear what I was trying to say–and yes, appearances to the contrary, I am done worrying about it now. It’s just that watching Peggy say, quite clearly, how she objected to the “playing up men’s fantasies” angle for the ad campaign for a diet soda aimed at women–even if she was wrong–and no one really listened to her. They really did not care what she had to say.

Also horrible: Harry Crane telling her that she shouldn’t care because she isn’t fat anymore, and the tight look on her face when all the implications of having a baby out of wedlock, and keeping it secret, and giving it away, and watching her sister raise a baby the same age got shoved down into silence, and she still managed a polite, “Thank you.”

Also horrible: Peggy dancing in the mirror a la Ann-Margaret, trying hard to see what men found appealing in a woman in her twenties acting like a teenager, and failing to reproduce it. You could read this two ways: Peggy wants to figure out how to get men to listen to her, or Peggy wants men to love her. What redeems this scene from being completely tragic (although you have to get through a few scenes) in the end is that she does not in fact go for the Ann-Margaret playing a teenager to score herself a man–she emulates Joan, who is a woman who behaves like an adult and gets men to love her and to listen to her. Joan is a much better role model for Peggy.

Peggy, always the student, uses Joan’s line to pick up a young fellow for her own–and it works. Furthermore, I am happy to say that she isn’t particularly girly around him, although she does excessively compliment the drink choice (I presume) she lets him order for her. I found it very gracious how she allowed him to believe she was a secretary, but still reinforced that she worked in Manhattan (which underscored that he was a student still turning to his mother for advice). She let him know by biting his proverbial sandwich–no, wait, his literal sandwich–just what direction their relationship was turning that evening (I think relieving him of the need to say it aloud to his friends). She brought up the matter of birth control (although I looked away at the wrong second to talk to Husband and missed if she went ahead without it), and it was she who was the sensible one about leaving at night because of work in the morning. Without belittling him or being rude, Peggy also got the message across that she really wasn’t interested in a follow-up.

I read somewhere online, in someone’s comments I think at the “What’s Alan Watching?” blog for this episode, that what Peggy is doing is pulling a Don Draper with this hook-up (who absolutely looks like Pete Campbell, totally obvious, thank you very much), but I don’t think that’s anything more than assertiveness and self-assuredness. This is a very good lesson to take from Joan. I think before this happens, Don has told Peggy to stick with what tools she has in her tool box (a line I don’t fully understand the meaning of even if the intention is clear), and she is aware of the tools in her box. She’s very good at her job, and she did hold a man for a long time with the delectable Trudy as an unwitting rival. Her steady hand and her cool detachment facing Don in his office the next morning was not a result of her finally “getting some” and “releasing tension.” Sure, she had some fun, but mostly she remembered which tools were hers.

I certainly prefer this Peggy to the one that got all glammed up and played Ann-Margaret for her coworkers at the stripper club or wherever it was all the other copywriters went without her because they were entertaining clients from out of town (yeah, it would probably behoove me to look it up) last season. Peggy knows how to be Ann-Margaret. She just doesn’t like to be Ann-Margaret, and she wants to appeal to men for different reasons in a different way. And besides basically borrowing a line from Joan to get the ball rolling at happy hour (and then later), she is a success. Somehow, for a while, she’s made her peace that the guys want her to listen to what Ann-Margaret is saying. She’s heard them, and she’s got the patience to wait for them to hear her.

Counterpoint to all of this is Betty and William, and the senile father. It’s hard for me to figure out Betty’s relationship to her family. During the episode where Betty went home (and the estranged Don accompanied her) after her father’s stroke, I got the impression that no one ever really listened to Betty, either, except for the housekeeper/nanny/Mammy figure, who treated her like an adult by telling her honest, adult things. We only hear from Betty the kinds of things that her mother told her, and I’m really not sure how much of that is true, but her brother is a real weasel who may or may not be clearheaded about their father’s illness (and may or may not be just greedy), and their dynamic is strange. William’s Wife Whose Name I Forget seems sensible enough, but does not seem like a partner to him–particularly the way she volunteered that she “didn’t get a vote” and how William immediately followed with “Don doesn’t get a vote, either.” It’s hard for me to tell if he is exactly as impatient with Betty as he ought to be, or if he dismisses her out of hand, too. I don’t know that putting Granddad in a home was such a horrible idea, considering how ill-prepared any of them really are to take care of a man without reliable faculties but a set of car keys. I know Don is sort of power-tripping on sending back the horrid house guests in a misplaced fit of pique about Madison Square Garden (because power-tripping by putting them in bunkbeds wasn’t emphatic enough, I guess), and I suppose he feels like he owes Betty’s and maybe he feels like he is trying to help his mother in her hour of need vicariously through Betty’s father, or maybe he really does have a strong sense of family, or whatever, but clearly no one is anticipating how BAD AN IDEA THIS IS with a NEW BABY IN THE HOUSE. I know something awful is going to happen. It has to. I’m not saying that the baby is going to die or anything, but there has to be an incident with senile grandfather and newborn when no one is looking that brings up the issue of what to do with him, and how Betty responds to it is going to be her big character development moment of the season, except that–of course–all my predictions are wrong.

I’m not getting into Roger Sterling or the Brits, even though they are all respectively awful, except to say that Don is having done to him with a short-sighted parent company EXACTLY WHAT he’s been doing to the forward-thinking, brusque Pete. I keep waiting for Don to chill out already about Pete and really see what Pete has to offer, and for Pete to chill out already and stop looking for reasons to be a victim.

PEGGY AND PETE REVELATION: They are both talented people who think a little askew about the job they are asked to do. They aren’t really pioneers, but they’d be promoted a lot faster even a few years later. Their problem is–besides maybe being sociopaths–that no one can actually hear what they are trying to say, and that they lack the finesse to sell them on it anyway. /REVELATION

Don and Pete really ought to branch off on their own, but even within Sterling Cooper they could get a lot of good, impressive work done if Don would just look at Pete’s brain instead of his manners. Pete’s not totally without fault, but he has already expressed a willingness to work with and learn from Don, and really respects him. In my LaLa Land fantasy, Sol would be their artist and Joan would find something amazing to do. Peggy I might leave behind, because there will be more for her to do within a large company.

Roger is just unbelievable, but congrats to the ex-Mrs. Sterling who is fabulous, and to the young Miss Sterling, who has maybe been a brat but has also been able to clearly state her points, with barbs, instead of just crying or yelling.

I’ve gone on too long (this always happens when I start to write and get interrupted), but I have to say one last thing about Sal. Sal really seemed understated on the Flaming Hetero persona that he’s spent two seasons building. Sure, he made one weird quip about Ann-Margaret being twenty-five and acting fourteen, but that was it. No talk about models, or getting them alone, or any of that. It’s noteworthy, I think, and I accredit it entirely to his near-tryst with the bellboy on his business trip… that and the conversation he had with Don about it, which sounded uncannily like a conversation about raincoats (which is even funnier when you consider, well, raincoats and condoms), but was not a conversation about raincoats at all. It depressed the hell out of me when he presented a storyboard last week without faces, and then he did it again on this Patio thing, but I’ve found a way to admire it instead of crying over it (I’ve done my crying for Peggy this week, and it’s enough).

THESIS ALERT:
Sal has made some kind of peace or overt admission to himself, and he’s basically out to one person, and he’s done with the artifice. He can’t (or won’t) just step out into the world as a gay man, but he won’t play with fake faces anymore, and he won’t draw them. Compare these sketches to that beautiful portrait of his shirtless neighbor in a hammock from the series premiere. I get that the work he’s doing has changed, from magazine spots to storyboards, and you just don’t draw the same kinds of pictures, but these faceless people are the ones the show producers are showing us since Sal’s encounter, and it means something. I mean, he’s still doing the static ads, too–you know they haven’t just dropped print–but they have not come up.

These blanks, too, are hopeful in a way, because they could be anybody. Sol is not pigeonholing people anymore. I think this is a big move for him. Someone could get a good thesis out of that, especially if they actually know about commercial art. Which I don’t. But I do know that Sol’s darling young wife who he clearly really loves is in for a world of hurt. I wonder if she’ll be angry or relieved.

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