Monday, August 31, 2009

"Mad Men" recap: A brief musical interlude

This week's episode of "Mad Men" was full of music as Kinsey and his drug dealer/former schoolmate did their impression of Michigan J. Frog, Pete and Trudy did a Charleston that would put Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed to shame, Joan played the accordion and Roger, um, donned some blackface. Oh Roger. You truly are a prize a-hole.
Anyway, when we left the Draper family last week, Betty's addled dad Gene was moving in with them. This week, he's fully ensconced in the household, as evidenced by the piled of peeled potatoes that awaits Betty and Don in the kitchen. He thought he was on KP duty, Betty explains to a perplexed Don. Don and Betty aren't the only ones to notice Gene's befuddled state. The ever-curious Sally spies Grandpa's billfold in his room and snags $5, probably thinking that he won't notice it's missing. He does, and soon charges into the living room declaring that he's been robbed. Don, Betty and Carla all subtly roll their eyes, even as they offer to help look for the money. They think he's imagined it. He knows he hasn't. From here, I sort of expected this to result in Gene, in a fit of racist pique, accusing Carla. But he doesn't, not really. In fact, will you agree with me that he suspected Sally pretty quickly? At any rate, Sally is eventually overcome with guilt and "finds" grandpa's money on the floor. Both Gene and Carla know what's up, but they don't say anything. Gene calls Sally into his room at episode's end, and we think we know where this will go, too. But instead of punishing her, he asks her to continue reading "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" to him (yes, believe it or not, that is NOT a punishment in the Draper/Hoffstadt household).
I kind of like how this story surprised me, by making Gene a little more together and understanding than he's been painted in past episodes. Still, it was a bit anticlimactic.
At any rate, the real magic this episode is happening on the Sterling-Cooper side of things. Roger and his dippy young bride Jane are throwing a Kentucky Derby party at the local country club. Don, Bert, Pete, Ken and Harry are all invited. Kinsey, to his dismay, is not. Instead, he has to work on the Bacardi campaign all weekend with Peggy and Smitty (remember him from last season? He was one of the two guys brought in to "young" the place up. The other was Kurt, the gay German. What happened to that guy? I wonder if we'll see him again).
The country club party is quite the to-do, with Mint Juleps and all the trappings. Everyone tries to have a good time, but there is discomfort in the air, particularly when Roger, in blackface, warbles "My Old Kentucky Home." To their credit, both Don and Pete look a little taken aback by the performance. But dopey Jane loves it.
Meanwhile, Betty meets up with a silver fox outside the ladies room (no, not Roger. But kind of a similar type, don't you think? Only gentler.) He's enchanted by her, even with her big pregnant belly. He asks to touch it, and she concedes. I'm sorry, but did this scene remind anyone else of Betty allowing little Glenn to collect a lock of her hair in season one? Betty is always allowing guys to do odd things. At least this time it's an adult. Of course, she runs into him later at Roger's party, and they exchange meaningful glances. Will she seek him out again, or is this merely a charged interlude?
Oblivious to the cad fondling his unborn child, Don seeks out the bar and ends up making a friend of his own, though not one with sexual possibilities. This was a nice scene, with Don and the stranger bonding about how neither of them really fits in with the country club set. We do know that Don still considers himself an outsider, despite having all the trappings of a privileged life. But, instead of pushing away other outsiders, he embraces them. That's a fact about Don that was established in the first season, in that flashback when the young then-Dick Whitman befriended a hobo. Don's just more comfortable among people who are as lost as he is. Yet, oddly, I doubt that he'd ever really leave the golden sphere in which he resides. He's toyed with it before, but I think he fears that on some level (hence, his rejection of his own brother).
Even in the scene with his fellow bar patron, Don doesn't prolong the bond. He talks to the man, makes their drinks, then returns to Roger's party. Sort of sad, but Don is in a prison of his own making.
So is Roger, who oddly reads Don's distaste for him as resentment of Roger's happiness. Don nips that in the bud: "No one thinks you're happy Roger." Ouch.
Anyway, back at the SterCoop offices, Peggy, Smitty and Kinsey are brainstorming about the Bacardi campaign. They're also drinking. The guys get into a conversation about alcohol vs. marijuana. Peggy, in true Peggy fashion, leaves the room, realizing that this will be yet another instance in which the guys mess around and she's left to do all the work. She seems to be right: soon after her departure, Smitty and Kinsey call an old Princeton classmate of Kinsey's, who now deals drugs. The guy shows up, supplied with every narcotic in the book. Meanwhile, Peggy's new secretary -- a matronly, somewhat judgmental woman -- tells Peggy not to go in the office. She knows what the guys are doing and Peggy shouldn't be a part of it. Peggy, of course, walks in, but doesn't scold the guys. Instead, she surprises us for the second episode in row. The drug dealer seems a bit taken with her, and asks her name. Peggy then utters what is, by my count, the funniest line ever read on "Mad Men": "My name is Peggy Olson, and I want to smoke some marijuana." I don't know why it's so funny. Maybe it's the simplicity of the line or Elisabeth Moss's wonderfully understated delivery or the fact that the line is a total surprise. But it cracks me up every time I think about it.
The guys are sort of turned on by the appearance of Bad Peggy, and waste no time in lighting her up. They spend the rest of the episode being silly, until Peggy gets an idea for the Bacardi campaign and runs off to her office to work. Her secretary knows what she's done and doesn't approve, but Peggy gently tells her not to worry: she'll be fine. She then proceeds to knock stuff over in her office.
OK, you've probably noticed by now that I haven't mentioned a very important person from this episode: that lady pictured at the top of this post. Ah, Joan. I'm not ignoring you. It's just that it pains me to mention you because you break my heart. Honestly. Not only did you marry that horrible brute who raped you in your own workplace, but you're pouring as much energy into this marriage as you do into your work. Why, Joan? This man isn't good enough for you. That's clear even to his co-workers. You are awesome. You can run a seamless secretarial pool, dabble as a script reader, throw an awesome buffet dinner and play the accordion. Your husband, meanwhile, is a jerk who, as it turns out, even isn't that great a doctor. The only thing he has going for him is you. Get out, Joanie, please! Before you lose yourself.
Anyway, here are some more thoughts on "My Old Kentucky Home."
* We find out in this episode that Paul Kinsey was in Princeton's glee club, called the Tiger Tones. Also, they probably kicked him out, no matter what Paul says.
* I haven't mentioned that awesome Charleston done by Pete and Trudy. It was the complete flip side of Roger's blackface: un-self conscious, sweet and full of joy. I really like that Pete and Trudy seem to be getting along. Sure, we know that Pete, being Pete, will likely screw it all up. But it's hard not to see their goofy glee while dancing with each other. It just makes me smile.
* Not smiling? Harry Crane's wife. What was up her butt? I guess she wanted her husband to be the one making a splash and garnering all the spotlight. It's been hinted before that she resents Pete for the fact that Harry slept with Pete's secretary. I guess she just can't see him being the hit of the party. Relax, Mrs. Harry Crane. You're a character on "Mad Men." Your husband's lack of charisma is NOT the biggest problem you're going to face, I guarantee it.
* Loved the tense, teeth-gritting conversation between Jane and Joan in the SterCoop offices. Jane wastes no time in bossing Joan around, asserting herself as the wife of one of the bosses, now leagues above the woman who once owned her soul. Joan plays along, but just barely. There's no mistaking her deep disdain for the flaky Jane. You see the way Joan is holding her cigarette? You just know that she's dying to put it out in Jane's eye.
* I feel it's necessary to mention it again: Gene is forcing his granddaughter to read "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." With that, the drink mixing and lack of affection, there's no way little Sally will escape being messed up for life. Book her room at Betty Ford right now.


Bill Scurry said...

Between the accordion and the Charleston, this was as Lynchian as Matt Weiner gets.

Also, I hope Grampa Gene expires in his sleep and the Drapers get back to mis-raising their solipsistic Me-Generation kids who turn out to be my parents.

TV Writer said...

Wow, Bill. I had no idea your parents were brother and sister. This actually explains a lot of things.

Anonymous said...

It was a surprisingly semi-happy episode. It can't last. Nice comments. -cm