Mad Men–Season 3, Episode 3: My Old Kentucky Home

Tonight’s episode of Mad Men was slow… but not in a bad way. It was not boring at all, but the scenes dragged out and dragged out and unwound and you just didn’t know where they were going to end up. It was an hour that seemed like much longer, and I can’t even say that so many things happened to the characters in it that I was tired out from watching them, because they didn’t. Maybe I was just holding my breath the whole time. Maybe it was that everyone was sort of in a haze during this episode that I got caught up in it, too.

There was the atmosphere of the garden party, the smoke from the joints, the increasing senility of Grandpa. The scenes just unspooled while you watched, with nothing and everything happening all at once. I think my favorite scenes were the ones at Sterling Cooper, and not really because of the joint. Peggy announcing she wanted to smoke marijuana was funny, but her line that set the tone for the scene was when she told Paul off for never, ever asking her anything about what she liked and so he had no business presuming he knew what she wouldn’t like (I’m paraphrasing). Her bluntness (ha! see what I did there?) startled him. Paul is pretentious, but I think he is pretty self-aware. He hadn’t noticed that he never bothered to ask Peggy anything outside of girly work stuff, but he was immediately embarrassed because he knew she was right. I like to believe that he fully sees her as a person and as a professional now, and that his behavior toward her in the office will undergo a major change–just by paying attention.

It was very interesting, too, to see how Paul is playing his own part in the pageant of hiding your roots and assuming the identity of someone you weren’t.

The Princeton scholarship was a nice reveal. So was seeing him interact with his drug dealer friend. The drug dealer friend knows Paul’s history and blabs it, and they can fight over it, but Paul isn’t keeping secrets and thus can control the outcome of their spat. Drug Dealer Friend makes peace on Paul’s terms, which is a good contrast to the permanent anxiety Don carries around because he has to always hide his identity from everyone. Don so far has been able to control every situation, but now that Connie (Hilton?) from Roger’s party knows one detail about Don’s past, his secret is technically unsafe. If they meet again, it will be an interesting encounter.

Also fantastic were the scenes between Peggy and her secretary. It’s weird that she came into work on the weekend even when Peggy didn’t ask her to (or pushy?), but it’s not like she really had anything else to do. Why not? And I don’t think it was particularly obnoxious or judgmental of her to scold Peggy for smoking dope at the office for a REALLY long time while she was just sitting around with no Internet waiting for her. And I think Peggy, in her addled state, appreciated whatever revelation she had about Olive’s fear for what was going to happen to Peggy, and found it touching and inspiring. Olive so far doesn’t seem like an idiot, and Peggy needs a good secretary… one that has been a working girl and a wife and mother and a working girl again probably has a nice bit of perspective, too.

This will be where I segue into my thing about mothers. I don’t think it’s anything shocking or original for me to comment about how few mothers there really are in fictional works (from fairy tales to television shows), much less supportive, helpful ones, but this episode of Mad Men was overflowing with them. There was Betty dolled up like the Madonna herself, in white bridal lace; she may not be a good mother to her children but she was certainly the beautiful image of Motherhood, and everyone noticed. There was Olive the secretary (a mother of a college kid), the pregnant woman at Joan’s party, the chief of medicine’s wife, Harry’s wife Jennifer, the First Lady, and–because being infertile calls attention to pregnancy matters as much as a belly does–Trudy. Then there were the cute young trophy wives, who were definitely not mothers, like Jane and the one at the side of that guy that touched Betty’s belly, and these young women were just not doing much more than looking good. Jane is insecure and inappropriate (although I don’t think she’s so terrible), and the other girl was nothing but a look in this scene, but they were in definite contrast to the matrons and the reproducing.

A lot of people online are reading the gesture of the strange man touching Betty’s belly as a flirtation, or a gross imposition, or a chance to cop a feel on a bulge on a beautiful woman’s body, but I didn’t read it that way at all. Rather, I saw it as a gesture of sincere respect and awe, not just for mothers and babies, but for continuity and the ways that mothers are wise. He’s got himself a nice little trophy on his arm at that party, but he probably suspects that what he feels for her is probably closer to–as Don puts it–foolishness than it is to love. This scene, ensconced in the middle of an episode in which mothers are so powerful and perceptive, seems like homage and not at all like lechery. ESPECIALLY after Betty had self-described as an open umbrella, which is certainly a very evocative image of protection and security (even if it is Betty we’re talking about).

What was incredible about mothers was the guidance they were imparting. Hearing Joan get a frank talking-to about how great she was and how tenuous her marital circumstances were was amazing. Joan has been self-sufficient the whole time we have seen her, but she really had no clue what was going on at the hospital. She has received very valuable information about her husband and her marriage, and it will be interesting to see what she does with it. The pregnant nurse hearing the advice and reacting to it–she received the same suggestion from the same person–while Joan was getting it was a nice contrast to Joan’s obliviousness. As an RN, that wife had much more prior knowledge about her own doctor husband than Joan had, and when she said she dismissed the advice you got the impression she did so thoughtfully. I am so relieved that Joan’s decisions will be informed beyond having vague suspicions about her husband’s status and unadmitted disappointments in his character.

So Olive the mother/subordinate. That is a relationship full of potential. Peggy is definitely in charge and she’s so arrogant (and maybe a little sociopathic–I haven’t really decided) that I’m sure she knows best about what she needs (and it’s worked so far!), and she really doesn’t need an older, conservative woman telling her how to behave in the office. But this woman is not without experience in life and with work; this is her second go-around with the career thing, and for all her talk about being loyal, she really would rather be at the office than accompanying her husband to the dump. It’s one thing if her son had actually come home from college that weekend, but because he didn’t, she’s there at Sterling Cooper. And isn’t that sort of what Peggy is doing? Her son didn’t come home to her at all, and here she is at Sterling Cooper on the weekend. We know so little of her, but she seems like a sensible, practical woman who has balanced career and family well enough. When Peggy, in her addled state (did I already say that upstream? sorry. I keep getting interrupted and don’t feel like rereading), catches on to the source of Olive’s concern about what Peggy is doing, she is touched and immediately reassuring. It’s a little grandiose to say that she’ll accomplish everything that Olive wants for her (and we have no reason to believe that Olive failed to accomplish everything she wanted for herself), but for the first time Peggy really seems to understand that people see her and understand what she’s doing. Compare that to last week, when no one listened to her at all and it made the two of us bonkers. Olive, unlike Paul and Peggy’s male co-workers, understands what Peggy is doing and why and can articulate it. She doesn’t like it and may not approve of it, but Peggy has been seen and heard without explicitly having to ask for it. And it absolutely is significant that Olive has a college-age child. Peggy is college age. She is not able to see herself from the outside. Olive has a perspective that Peggy cannot have, and when Peggy senses fear in Olive (whatever that actually is) she respects it. She brushes it off, but she acknowledges that it is not crazy for Olive to worry. Peggy is just confident that Olive doesn’t have to.

I feel like Peggy finally has allies in the office now. Don has always seen her, but only as well as he can see anyone, which isn’t very. Joan and Bobbie Barrett have seen themselves in Peggy and given advice to their Peggy selves, but it wasn’t very useful advice to her. But Paul and Olive have looked at Peggy and seen her, and they have communicated with her. It has to be a relief. No wonder she’s able to finally get some good work done. A burden has been lifted from her mind.

I guess I didn’t really finish all my thoughts about the power of benevolent mothers to do good and change lives. It was all planned out eloquently in my head but I didn’t get more than a few minutes in a row to write today. Retroactive thesis alert. Have at it, kids. Also, I need to track down a reliable source of screen captures. I hate making my own, and I really wish I had some good ones of these benevolent mothers to liven up the page a bit. The AMC official selection just isn’t doing it for me.

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