Monday, December 22, 2014

Mad Men Season 3, Episode 2: Love Among the Ruins

Beautiful, young Ann-Margret is rushing up to the screen, singing her heart out against a blue screen.  It's a scene from "Bye, Bye Birdie" and Sterling Cooper's new client Patio wants to use it, frame for frame, in a copycat commercial pushing its new soda, a rival to Coke's Diet Rite Cola.  Who cares if it makes sense? If that's what the client wants, that's what they'll get.  So says new co-head of accounts, Ken Cosgrove.  On the creative side of the team, Peggy questions how that image will sell the product to women, but no one wants to hear her opinion.  Not when there's a casting call for Ann-Margret lookalikes on the horizon.

Betty is frazzled, and very pregnant.  Don worries she's not eating enough, she worries that Carla is stealing the Melba toast.  Betty picked now to do some home decorating and it's probably not a great idea to do anything while you're the size of a whale and feel like you've run three marathons.  She's working with a decorator but she'd like to take the family up to Tarrytown, a suburb about 25 miles north of the city, that has antique shops.  Don, model husband, agrees with her and they make a plan to go up there.  It's not riveting, just a slice of domestic life.

Pete is working on a PR nightmare   How to sell the newly-planned Madison Square Garden which will be built upon the current site of Penn Station, a Beaux Arts masterpiece.  Pete is the accounts man so he brings to the meeting Paul from creative.  Only problem, Paul is as outraged by their plan to scuttle the beautiful landmark as are those protesting the sale.  Paul is not the right man for the job and not what the client wants to hear and Pete should not have brought him to this meeting. They have to do a lot of damage control and quickly.

Lane's wife gripes about living in New York in this tense dinner.

But the men from MSG are not the only unhappy campers in New York.  Lane's wife hates living there and wishes she were back in London and nothing that Don or Betty do or say at that awkward, tense dinner will change that simple fact.  Betty is unhappy to learn from her brother that her father is not doing well and that his girlfriend/caretaker has moved out. Don is unhappy to learn that Betty wants her father, and her brother and his family, to come down for the weekend.  Mona is unhappy to learn that Roger's new wife expects to be part of their daughter's wedding and Jane is unhappy that her husband is unhappy that Roger is paying for the wedding (a wedding which Roger is now unhappy about).  Oh, and Bert Cooper is unhappy he had to walk across the office just to hear that the firm lost the Campbell soup account.

Peggy is bombarded with suggestions of what men want from women, how they want women to be sexy and flirtatious - whether it's Ann-Margret in Bye Bye Birdie or Joan Harris at the office, sex is the commodity that she sees women trading on.  It weighs heavily on her mind as we see as she acts out the flirtatious scene from the movie alone in her apartment and then later acts out Joan's line at a bar after work.  I think she was shocked and disappointed that Don didn't agree with her and think the "sex sells" approach to Patio was obvious and shortsighted.  So Peggy tried on that other persona, the one who can pick up a stranger at a bar and have a one night stand.

Don looks wistfully at the free-spirited Ann-Margret
Most everyone in this episode is dissatisfied and not getting what they want.  They don't want to be told no - whether it's Roger being told his new wife isn't welcome at his daughter's wedding or the Madison Square Garden executives being told their new project is unpopular - even if the opposition is valid or at least fully understandable.  Sterling Cooper doesn't get the client Don worked so hard to keep and Lane seems just as frustrated that his hands are being tied by the folks back home.  And speaking of home, Don certainly doesn't want Betty's "bastard" of a father in his home, but he also doesn't want her being unhappy and so he gets a new boarder.

Hope versus decay, the future - a shining city on the hill - or the past. Those are the choices. Things will crumble and die, can something rise from the ashes?  Can Roger's relationship with his daughter be salvaged, can Sterling Cooper work under the restrictions of their new owners, can Don and Betty's marriage survive her father moving in with the problems that his failing mental condition brings with him, can Peggy find her identity?  Can Don resist the attraction of the shiny, new while pretending to be an upright family man?  

We know Don is not living his vow of fidelity, but still his captivation with Sally's teacher is jolting.  How he watches her gambol about, barefoot, flowers in her hair.  He had told Peggy that watching Ann-Margret made his heart hurt and you see in his face some spark, some rejuvenation, when looking at these young girls.  They are, like California, new and clean and filled with hope.

This episode is about the struggle and conflict, not the resolution.  No one seems content with where they are by the end, despite that shiny photo of the happy multi-generational family. 


Love Among the Ruins is an 1855 poem by Robert Browning which, in essence, spreads the message that all great things may come to an end.  But while the great and powerful empires may crumble,  love can survive.

Remember Polaroid pictures (maybe you remember shaking it like on in the "Hey Ya" song?).  Didn't remember that they were $3 a piece (and that's when gas was .30 a gallon).

There was great uproar about the building of Madison Square Garden.  An editorial in the New York Times said:
Until the first blow fell, no one was convinced that Penn Station really would be demolished, or that New York would permit this monumental act of vandalism against one of the largest and finest landmarks of its age of Roman elegance.
The NY Time writer they mentioned, Ada Louise Huxtable wrote, after losing the fight to save Penn Station:
Any city gets what it admires, will pay for, and, ultimately, deserves. Even when we had Penn Station, we couldn’t afford to keep it clean. We want and deserve tin-can architecture in a tinhorn culture. And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed.
Following what many saw as the desecration of a sacred architectural landmark, the state instituted a law to protect future historical sites from the same fate.

Betty's brother mentions what her father said in a earlier episode - that Don had no one at their wedding.  That's something that 10 - 9 years later is still bothering them. We also learn that Betty and her father "fought all the time." 

We the audience wince at hearing that Margaret's wedding is scheduled for November 22, 1963 as we know what will transpire the day before in Dallas, Texas will make any conflict between Jane and Margaret seem trivial.

The scene of Don watching the teacher dance, reminds me of the scene of Kevin Spacey watching Mena Suvari do the cheerleading number in "American Beauty," the same sense of obsession and menace (albeit with a more age-appropriate couple and a better looking potentially cheating husband).


Peggy: Clients don't always know what's best.

Pete:  My great-great-grandfather, Silas Dyckman, would have turned his boat around If he had known that this city would one day be filled with crybabies.

Paul:  Do you know where the greatest roman ruins are? They're in Greece, Spain, Because the Romans tore theirs all down.  They took apart the Colosseum to build their outhouses.

Joan:  Other than Wilma Flinstone, I haven't seen anyone carry that well.

Lane: Well, if this is where we wanted to end up, we all did everything perfectly.

Roger:  Oh, look.  Princess Grace just swallowed a basketball.
Betty: How are you, Roger? 
Roger:  It's not hard to adjust to happiness.

Mrs. Price (to Don and Betty): How long have you been together? 
(Simultaneously) Betty: Nine years.  Don: Ten years.

Roger:  Eat our sweetmeats, drink our wine.  I understand one of our copywriters took a Yetta Wallenda-sized misstep. 

Don: Let's also say that change is neither good or bad, It simply is.  It can be greeted with terror or joy-- A tantrum that says "I want it the way it was" or a dance that says "look, it's something new."

Don: If you don't like what is being said, change the conversation.

Betty: All you care about is the house.  You want to walk in there, see Daddy on the bottom of the stairs and have his last words be "take the house."

Don: It's pure.  Makes your heart hurt. 

Don: You're not an artist, Peggy. You solve problems.

Gene: The plans, the plans, the plans you make.

Spoilery observation (don't read if you're not caught up!): 

First time we meet Sally's teacher, first time we see Don see her. And he watches her free spirited dance as he  runs his hands across the grass and it's strangely sexual.  He comes so close to running off with her, stopped only when confronted by the knowledge that Betty has finally discovered who she's been married to all this time.

First red flag that the British overlords may not always be in sync with what the guys on Madison Avenue want.  Lane is not a mere mouthpiece for Puttnam, Powell and Lowe.  You can see how he is already on the other side of the us versus them, feeling more a part of Sterling Cooper than the mothership from where he came.  

The secretary at the office tries to guess the sex of Betty's baby (who Betty refers to as "she"), but we know that the baby will be a boy (and will be named after Betty's father).  Again, we're whacked between the eyes with how different pregnant mothers were in the Sixties, what with Betty drinking alcohol, smoking and eating shellfish - the prenatal trifecta of no-nos!

William says - one thing I've learned from this is never get old. 

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