This episode was a doozy! I am reeling. There were more shocking, creepy, and riotous moments here than in any Mad Men ep yet. I’d be tempted to call it the series’ best episode ever, but then I’d be endorsing blackface. Which I’m not prepared to do until we get a chance to talk about Roger’s godawful serenade.
Before we tackle that one, though, let’s quickly review the episode’s most intriguing threads.
Little Sally’s Amber Alert. The scene of Sally Draper reading Gibbon to her grandpa filled me with dread (also annoyance; I wish she weren’t reading something so symbolically obvious and situationally unlikely as the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire). But the real tension in the scene was: Is Gramps going to grope Don’s daughter? After all, he dementedly fondled Betty last year. Am I the only one who was worried we’d have to send for Mariska Hargitay?
Pete and Harry’s Dance-Off. We got a misleading preview of Pete Campbell’s dance skills in the season opener when we witnessed his spastic victory jig. Never did I suspect he was such a hot-stepper! He and Trudy were a triumph at Jane and Roger’s garden party: We saw the perennially awkward ad man in a moment of joy and grace, light-footed and lively, in sync with his wife, looking as dapper and delightful as Fred Astaire. Do you think Pete and Trudy practiced for this moment, scheming to steal the spotlight at the boss’s soiree? (Poor Harry Crane and his disgusted wife, Jennifer, are forced to shuffle their pathetic two-step off the floor once the Campbells get cranked up.) Or do you think Pete and Trudy are just the sort of WASPs who would have been carted off to dancing school as children? Either way, their savoir-faire left striving Harry looking blue.
Peggy’s Higher Plane. Her name is Peggy Olson, and she wants to smoke some marijuana. This episode suggests that Peggy is feeling not lost—as we worried last week—but free. Free to boss her secretary around and take advantage of her willingness to work weekends. Free to tell the boys, “You never ask me how I feel about anything except brassieres, body odor, and makeup.” Free to smoke a joint—with a pricelessly determined look on her face—and let her guard down with her colleagues. And free, in the midst of a weed-fueled fever dream, to devise what sounds like a winning campaign for Bacardi and tell her colleagues, Go home. I’ll take it from here. What did you make of her final speech to her secretary? Do you think she’s really as free as she feels?
Kinsey’s Jersey Roots. Kinsey was just comic relief this episode, but he is getting so good at playing the goat! When he’s asked to stuff his sweater under the office door to stanch the smell of the pot, he indignantly pouts: “But it’s mohair!” We learn that he was a coxswain at Princeton (that lummox?), that he wrote his thesis about the Stoics (who were not notably concerned with mohair, as I recall), and that he showed up at college with a Jersey accent entirely unlike his current mannered patois. Finally, we learn the best way to insult him: Tell him he can’t sing. He once performed a cappella as a proud member of the Tiger Tones.
Don’s Vaulting Skills. I didn’t know how much I wanted to see Don Draper vault over a bar and chat up a Southwestern stranger while mixing an old-fashioned (with rye) until I saw him do it in this scene. Otherwise, I couldn’t make head or tail of it. Explication welcome.
Joanie’s Butterfingered Surgeon. The rapist vacuums! Joan has married the malevolent surgeon, and the newlyweds are having his colleagues over for dinner. We learn that despite Joan’s rape she has not ceded all power in the relationship; her husband does housework and is amenable to Joan’s compromise when she refuses to seat his boss at the head of the table. We also learn that her consort may not be the brilliant medical specimen she’s been led to believe; he botched a procedure and didn’t tell her about it (which means he may not get the promotion that will allow her to quit Sterling Coop). He changes the subject by asking her to perform “La Vie en Rose” [Oops, it was “C’est Magnifique”— thanks, Patrick!], which she does, sexily but stonily, while accompanying herself on accordion, a scene that plays like an instrument-fetishist’s fan-fic come to life. I think what we’re seeing here is Joanie realizing she’s married beneath her station. I wonder if she’ll stay put or head for the hills.
Roger’s Blackface Serenade. Finally, we’ve got to discuss Mad Men’s blackface moment. Roger Sterling is throwing a Kentucky Derby party at a private club and serenades his young bride—and the rest of the crowd—with “My Old Kentucky Home,” his face smeared in chocolatey greasepaint. The scene is repulsive, and intentionally so; we’re supposed to recoil at the sight of Roger enacting retrograde ideas about race and class. Instead, though, I recoiled at Mad Men’s decision to go there. The scene isn’t gratuitous: The episode is largely about generational and class conflicts, and the blackface crystallizes Roger’s boorishness for both Don and the modern viewer. But I’m still not sure it was necessary or warranted (or advisable for a show that is still working to attract new viewers; did you see the ratings for episode two were lower than those for the premiere?).
I haven’t even touched on pregnant Betty’s belly rub or the fact that the episode closes with a beautiful shot of the Drapers in the distance, passionately making out on a darkening, verdant lawn. Like I said: a doozy!
Eager to hear what you guys thought,