Monday, August 24, 2009

Mad Men “Love Among the Ruins” Little Love, Lots of Ruins

This episode of Mad Men, “Love Among the Ruins” opens with a clip from that campy 1963 movie, “Bye Bye Birdie” with Ann-Margret’s singing the opening theme song. Personally, that movie has many great memories for me; my grandmother took my sisters and me to see it in one of the big movie theaters in downtown Cleveland when the film opened, and it represents some of the happiest times for our family.

But for the people at Sterling Cooper, it means a look or a feeling that they want for the ad campaign for “Patio”, the new diet drink from Pepsi. Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) seems to be struggling with how woman are represented and how the product is being sold to women, and she lets it show repeatedly. When Don sees the clip of Ann-Margret from the movie, it’s clear that Don is responding to the performance in the same manner as the rest of the guys. When Peggy begins to air her concerns to him, he tells her bluntly that men want Ann-Margret, and women want to be her. "You're not an artist, Peggy. You solve problems. Leave some tools in your toolbox." Peggy seems to struggle with wanting to be respected as one of the guys, yet in the privacy of her own apartment, she mimics Ann’s Bye Bye Birdie number while looking in the mirror. Later, she tries, somewhat uncomfortably at first, to fit in to the bar scene. She manages to pick up a college guy and they head to his place. Things almost grind to a halt when Peggy asks if her one night stand has a Trojan, and when he doesn’t, she suggests other things they can do. Later, she tries unsuccessfully to slip unnoticed out of his apartment. The next day, she acts like nothing has happened as she approaches Don about the Pampers account. Peggy wants to be respected for he mind, but she also wants to be a subject of men’s desire. Was her trip to the bar from a need to be desired or is she just trying to get into the heads of men to try to understand it more for her job? I sense that we are seeing the birth of a feminist.

Betty Draper (January Jones) is as big as a house. In fact, Joan (Christina Hendricks) says to Betty “Other than Wilma Flintstone, I've never seen a woman carry so well.” This doesn’t seem to make the cranky Better feel much better. In addition to the pressures of her pregnancy, there are also family problems as Betty is faced the fact that Gene, her father, is becoming somewhat senile. She perceives that her brother William is looking for any excuse to get hold of his father’s home. But despite the fact that we find that Betty’s relationship with her father had been less than stellar in the past, it’s Betty who seems to want to do the right thing for him. I found this segment of the episode rather dull. I was glad when Don (Jon Hamm) stepped in and forced William into pushing the solution of having Betty’s father move in with the Drapers and making sure that Gene's home is not sold. Don shows his dislike of William by making him leave Gene’s car at the Draper's and forcing William and his family to take the train home. Later, Don and Betty realize what they bought into when they find Gene rattling around the kitchen, pouring all the liquor into the sink, thinking back to the prohibition years and in his state of mind, thinking that a raid is coming. At a later date, Don, Betty, their kids, and Gene are at a gathering where a maypole dance is being performed, and as Don watches a young, barefoot woman dance with the children, he reaches down and runs his fingers through the grass. I am not sure if Don is wishing to be back to those carefree years where he had no worries, or if he was attracted to the woman, or both.

Problems arise for Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) while trying to land the Madison Square Garden account when Paul Kinsey (Michael Gladis) seems to be siding against the MSG people as he voices his opposition to the demolition of Penn Station. The MSG people aren’t pleased and Pete also chides Paul for his comments. Later, Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) wants Don, along with Roger, to break bread with an MSG man, Edgar, in order to try to patch things up. Don tells Edgar that if he doesn’t like the negative comments that are out there in the press, he should change the conversation. When Edgar’s curiosity is piqued and he asks Don just what is the conversation, Don knows he has Edgar roped back in. Also, Don and Betty have dinner with Pryce and his wife Rebecca (Embeth Davidtz), and while Rebecca seems nice enough, she comes off as a little aloof and this seems to but Betty off.

But later, Pryce tells Don that the headquarters of parent company PP&L want them to drop any further work with MSG as they see it as being too big of a cost outlay and administrative hairball in the long run. Don is incredulous, and tells Pryce that they are throwing away an opportunity that would cover many shapes and forms over many years. When he asks Pryce why the company bought Sterling Cooper, Pryce answers that he doesn’t know. By the way, the real public outrage over the destruction of the original landmark building was the driving force behind the creation of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Paul may have been on the right track but landed at the wrong station, so to speak. Who knows, maybe Paul had something to do with it.

Roger Sterling (John Slattery), by his own admission, has made his bed and now has to lie in it. His divorce from his wife Mona (Talia Balsam) and his remarriage to Jane has left it icy with their daughter Margaret. When Mona and Margaret, and then later the fiance Brooks Hargrove come to the office to go over wedding plans, the sniping begins. Roger tries to outwardly not be bothered by it. When he puts his blessing on the wedding invitation, we see the wedding date of November 23, 1963 – what we now know is the day after the assassination of President John Kennedy. Yes, I would say that there are going to be problems. Later, in the elevator with Peggy and then with Don while waiting for Edgar from MSG, Roger moans about not being wanted at his daughter’s wedding, and the toxic relationship he seems to now have with his ex-wife. It seems to me that there may be little love in the ruins of Roger’s life. While Roger seems to have twinges of regret, he still behaves as an ego-centric person who lives life for his own gratification. Roger seems to think that his choices should have no impact on everyone else’s life, and now he is seeing the harsh reality.

It seems that every character in this show has learned to survive in some shape or form. For Peggy, it’s almost as if she has a secret life outside the office, and in the office she tries to keep everything completely professional. Roger survives by drinking. Don survives by making decisions and then living with the consequences, but still seemingly wanting a life without all the responsibilities. But Roger’s daughter’s wedding date brings an ominous tone to what is to come – and I sense a true survival test will be coming with it.

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