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Deliberatepixel / Mad Men: Love Among the Ruins

Mad Men: Love Among the Ruins

peggy olson

Need to backtrack? Episode one is here. Remember there are many spoilers, so if you're still catching up on older episodes, you might want to skip this.

If Don Draper has said it once, he's said it a hundred times: when it comes to marketing to women, focus on pleasing the men. Because that's what women want too, in the end. According to this advertising logic, a shrill, silly Ann-Margret type singing "Bye Bye, Birdie" in a commercial will sell diet cola to women, and, in the Sterling Cooper conference room, the men are already sold on the idea. Peggy, however, is disgusted at the suggestion that either women or men would be attracted to a woman whose shtick is to "be 25 and act 14," and her confusion and disagreement over how women are supposed to appear, behave and choose sets up the underlying theme in this chapter for many of the women in Draper's circle.

Betty Draper, for example, is having a bitch of a day. Not only is she dragging her very pregnant self out to dinner with Don's snobbish, condescending British boss and wife, but her post-stroke father is doing poorly. When her brother, William, brings his family and her father for a visit, he reveals he wants to put their father in a home. Later, the only other alternative he offers is to take care of his father himself, with Betty's sister-in-law as nursemaid. All of which convinces Betty she is a horrible daughter.

Margaret Sterling, on the other hand, thinks she is a more than good daughter, and it's Roger Sterling who is a bad father. Margaret's wedding, (set for November 23, 1963 - hint, hint), is now the primary battle within the family split by Roger's divorce of his wife Mona and marriage to twenty-year-old secretary Jane, whom Margaret does not want at her wedding. "She's young enough to be my sister," she spits, "how does it look?"

Clearly, how she looks is on Peggy's mind. As she passes Joan in the office, she pauses to listen to the easy banter Joan shares with a group of male clients, and notes the way Joan knows precisely what to say to make them laugh, and how to demurely mention and still downplay the fact of her husband. Later that evening, at home in front of her mirror, Peggy mockingly reenacts Ann-Margret's flirty song. But for all her mockery, she ends with a sober, serious reflection. While she's essentially right, the boys at the office were right, too - Peggy is not entirely comfortable in her own skin, and, more to the point, with how that skin is seen. The instinct in her that makes her good at advertising also makes her understand the gap between being and being viewed, and it also makes her understand that most women are not in control of that.

The next day back at Sterling Cooper, she goes for confirmation from the one man whose opinion she values and whose approval she, daughter-like, seeks: Don. Unfortunately, he lets her down by finding Ann-Margret not shrill, but appealing. He reminds her of the way to reach women with marketing, all well-traveled ground. He probably thinks he's doing her an instructive favor by dismissing her ideas that women might want to see something other than an idealized version of what men want them to be. When she says, "I don't mind fantasies, but shouldn't it be a female one?" he bluntly tells her, "You're not an artist, Peggy, you solve problems. Leave some tools in your toolbox."

The irony is that Don is the one to dictate what men are truly attracted to, since his own saga of attractions is a study in contrast to his wife. While pretty, poised and well-behaved Betty is the woman he married, all of the affairs we've witnessed have been with strong, independent, outspoken women. It could be that Don isn't as sure what women, or men, want as much as he believes he does, and he might have the largest blind spot of all. Peggy, despite her own admiration for Don, seems to sense this.

On her way out of the office, Roger asks her - because she's "the only one around here without that stupid look on your face" - what it would take for her not to want her father at her wedding. She tells him her father is dead. Roger seems satisfied with this, and Peggy a little lost.

So she takes matters into her own hands, stops by a crowded bar, uses the banterish line she picked up earlier from Joan, and finds a nice young man to go home with. She also easily plays along with the fact that he assumes she's only a typist - presumably to land him, although he seems genuinely nice enough that she wouldn't have to put herself down to keep his attention. After dealing with the issue of protection (she learns from her mistakes, give her that), she leaves in the middle of the night, and pleasantly and definitely avoids his attempts to nail down her place of work or another date. When we see her next back at work, she is calm and quietly confident. She's proven to herself she knows how to play that game if necessary, and also that she doesn't have to - unless she wants to.

Don makes a similar decision to take charge, although with a more ambiguous result: after seeing his successful pitch to a client turn useless when the men in London nix the project, Don returns home to find the situation with Betty's family causing chaos. He settles it with more than a few authoritative strokes. It's hard to believe his decision to keep Betty's father at their home and casting out William is rooted entirely in compassion or concern for Betty, if it is very much at all. It seems more likely that, after feeling so out of control at work and coming home to see William taking over the typically masculine household tasks, he simply got tired of it and laid down the law because he needed to prove he could still do it. Later that night, when a police siren triggers Betty's father's addled mind to return to the Prohibition era and prompt him to dump alcohol down the drain, the look on Don's face underscores the fact that he realizes what his bid for control could end up costing.

It's uncertain if Don really understands family, or the peculiar give and take it demands. He went great lengths to escape the "two sorry people who raised him," neither of which were his own flesh and blood. His sweet, sad brother Adam he paid off to stay out of his life; Adam later hung himself. Even though at Sally's school May Day event, they can pose comfortably for a family picture, grandfather included, Don is fraying. And, as is the case for everyone around him as well - Betty, Roger, Peggy - family, real or constructed, may or may not be the thing that will keep him in one piece.

Season Three Episode Two Video Recap



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