Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Mad Men Season 3, Episode 3: My Old Kentucky Home

There is a lot of pretending going on and for a change it's not by Donald Francis Draper.  Joan is playing the dutiful wife, Roger is playing the deliriously happy newlywed, Paul is playing cultured hipster, and Peggy is playing the bad girl.  The difference between the public face and the private reality of most of the characters is the main theme of his particularly excellent episode. 

There are four separate locales - Roger's annual throwback soirée at the country club, Greg and Joan's apartment, the Draper home and the Sterling Cooper offices.  The Kentucky Derby themed party Jane and Roger Sterling are throwing is particularly illustrative as it reveals much about class distinctions, who rates and how much.  Not everyone at the office is invited and Sal, Paul, Smitty and Peggy are stuck working while their coworkers enjoy mint juleps and a particularly uncomfortable mini-minstrel show.  Pete views the party as a great networking opportunity, Harry sees it as a way to ingratiate himself with the powers that be and Don is wondering how long he has to stay.  Betty is enjoying the chance to dress up and be festive, but a strange encounter with a libidinous pol and some harsh truths from a drunken Jane cause her some consternation.  Don has his own meaningful encounter with a likeminded stranger to whom he immediately opens up. 

At the office, the creative staff is trying to come up with ways to sell Bacardi rum. Paul suggests when one is stumped creatively, a visit from Mary Jane may help.  He reaches out to a former college classmate who now peddles drugs and he and Smitty smoke in the office while Peggy is outside.  Peggy's overprotective secretary Olive is there and warns Peggy about what the boys are doing and tries to steer her away. But we've seen the new Peggy. the one who wants to break free of her old self.  So off she goes, introducing herself with the now classic line - I'm Peggy Olson and I want to smoke some marijuana. 

Olive hangs around, fretting about Peggy.  It's an interesting dynamic, the older woman worrying about the future for this young girl.  But Peggy is blazing a new trail for women and she assures her secretary "don't worry about me.  I am going to get to do everything you want for me."  Peggy has her name on the door and a secretary.  She doesn't have to act how Olive thinks she should, she can write her own script. She's going to be just fine.  

Less fine is the professional future of Joan's doctor husband, Greg Harris. He is scared to death about having the head of the department over for dinner.  Joan takes his concern as typical nerves and doesn't realize there's more at stake tonight.  Joan discovers during the evening that Greg had a problem with a surgical procedure and his career path may not be what he had hoped.  Greg had been keeping that important piece of news from her and is embarrassed to have it brought out in the open, even more so because a contemporary is lavished praise for his success with the same procedure.  So he deflects attention by having Joan perform for everyone, entertaining them with her prowess with the accordion.  (He also was probably motivated by jealousy and feelings of inferiority after seeing how everyone was so impressed with Joan.)  It's embarrassing and demeaning to her - he might as well have said Dance, Monkey - but Joan handles it as she does all the other insults Greg has sent her way.  Because that's what she believes a woman has to do. 

At the Derby Day party, two encounters are particularly meaningful.  Don leaves the show Roger is putting on to go make himself a drink.  There he meets an older gentleman, Connie, who is also escaping the suffocating confines of a business meeting disguised as a celebration (in his case, a wedding).  The two feel like outsiders even though they both were invited here and appear to fit the mold.  But unlike Pete Campbell neither was "to the manor born" and so, dressed up or not, on the invite list or not, they share a common bond of not quite fitting in.  Don is more himself in this encounter than we are used to seeing him and he and Connie immediately click.  Connie's comments - about seeing the glittering mansions from the vantage point of his little boat as a kid and seeing them from the inside and how different they are really - resonate with Don.   Both of them came from modest backgrounds and now both are hobnobbing with the highbrows, but neither feels comfortable.

We also see another side of Betty at the party.  A strange gentleman comes up to her and instantly starts flirting (despite her wedding ring and extremely pregnant condition). She is not put off by his inappropriate behavior, but intrigued.  Is this because she's thrilled someone finds her attractive in spite of looking like she swallowed a beachball?  Or is the Betty who flirted with cheating in the past, and who also considered single life without Don, still there, percolating?  This handsome, older gentleman lets her know he's unencumbered and wishes she were as well.  Their exchange is interrupted, but the looks Betty gives him as she walks away lets us know that she was not finished.

The fourth locale is the Draper home. There Sally did a very rash, unthinking and understandably age appropriate thing.  She stole $5 from Grandpa Gene. It's not a big deal, kids do that.  But it has big consequences.  Because, even though Gene has shown signs of dementia, he remembers very clearly having $35 dollars and knows that someone took a fiver from him.  And at his age, with people questioning his intelligence and memory, he is not going to let this pass.  Betty and Don think he's imagining things, that this is another example of his mental decline.  They try and placate him with money but he wants his money returned. Carla feels under attack that stated or not the implication from Gene is that she must have stolen it.  Things between them do not improve when he calls her Viola (after his former housekeeper) and then asks her if she knows Viola (to which Carla bristles telling Gene that they don't all know each other). 

The whole day is spent looking for the lost money and Sally deals with her guilt knowing that she has caused her grandfather such distress. Eventually, she pretends to find it and returns it to her grandpa. She worries he knows she took it and he'll be mad at her, but he sweetly invites her to come read to him.  He knows he was right and he knows Sally realizes she did a bad thing, but he doesn't need to make her feel any worse. 

Not everyone is in their right mind.  While high, Paul insults his former Princeton classmate who then reveals the truth about Paul - his accent is fake, he's just a scholarship kid from Jersey trying to blend in with the upper crust.  Like Don and Connie, Paul turns out to be just another member of the hoi polloi trying to fit in among the upper crust.  And Jane is plastered, so she lets slip that she knew about Don and Betty's marital troubles.  Betty looks hurt and walks away.  Roger and Don exchange some harsh words and he hits Don with the truth that he is there by Roger's largesse and nothing more.  Don walks out of the party and sees Betty and they embrace.  But after his staring at Sally's teacher and her staring at Henry, what should we make of this embrace? 


There are many parallels between the country club party and dinner at the Harrises.  Who is invited, where they sit, how the wives behave being a reflection on the men.  Betty has only to look like a Nordic goddess to play her role, Pete's wife Trudy goes farther, being funny and engaging, dancing an impeccable Charleston duet with he husband.  The young surgeon with the capable hands can have a ditzy wife. But Greg needs to have the perfect wife and hostess, with special talents beyond her fabulous body, to make up for his own shortcomings. 

Gene asks Don "How's Babylon?"  Babylon was the title of episode 1.06, which dealt with the aftermath of the reappearance of Don's brother, Adam.  Here, Gene is using it to reference the bustling capitalistic Manhattan, in the other episode it referred to a place from which one may be exiled. 

Gene has Sally read to him from Edward Gibbon's "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire."  Strange choice of reading material for an 8 year old.  Hard not to think that we're being set up for something to fall apart whether it's the new British-owned Sterling Cooper or the newly reconciled Drapers. 

Connie finds out more about Don than his wife does in their brief chat behind the bar: "Where you come from?" "Pennsylvania by way of Illinois.  We lost our farm, ended up in coal country."

We learn that Kinsey's accent is contrived, that he's actually from Jersey. And that he was not, like Pete, to the manor born.  

Three years after a divorcee moved into her neighborhood, to the shock of everyone, Betty is now talking about governor Rockefeller marrying a newly divorced Happy.  Henry, who was very clearly coming on to a pregnant lady, said they married for love. Is this the first she's contemplated that perhaps divorce isn't the worst thing ever?

"This is the way the world ends, with a bang not a whimper. I keep thinking about rum and Cuba and how we almost died." These are Paul's marijuana-assisted thoughts. 

We're hit with racism, both overt (Roger singing the episode's title song while in black face) and slightly more obtuse (Gene asking Carla if she knows Viola).  The party-goers mostly laugh at Roger's performance and while Don seems put off you can't tell if it's because of Roger making a general fool of himself or the racist nature of the performance. 

The song that Roger sang, which also gave the episode its title, was written by Stephen Foster in 1852. According to a number of sources, Frederick Douglass claimed that Foster's "My Old Kentucky Home" awakened "the sympathies for the slave, in which anti-slavery principles take root and flourish."  

The dance that Trudy and Pete do is the Charleston, which was popularized in 1923 in the Broadway show Runnin' Wild.

Joan plays and sings C'est Magnifique, written by Cole Porter for the 1953 musical Can-Can.

Betty had wanted to dance earlier at the party, before her encounter when the handsome older stranger.  But after that, she sat out the rest of the party, claiming she no longer felt like kicking up her heels.  Maybe having some feelings for a strangers stir up caused her to lose interest in dancing with her husband.  


Jane: I get a nosebleed anywhere above 86th street

Gene:  Just wait.  All hell's gonna break loose. 

Sally: I just walked backwards all the way from the living room.

Greg: Joanie, I don't want to have a fight right now.
Joan: Then stop talking

Gene:  I don't want your money.  You people, you think money is the answer to every problem.
Don: No, just this particular problem

Peggy: I'm Peggy Olson and I want to smoke some marijuana. 

Connie:  I hate other people's weddings.
Don: Why's that? 
Connie: Make me nervous.  All those expectations

Connie: It's different inside.

Connie:  By golly, you're prickly. 

Connie: I'm republican, like everyone else in there.  But somehow, no matter how expensive my cufflinks, I feel like I've got the head of a jackass.

Peggy:  I am so high.

Henry:  I wish you were waiting for me. 

Irene: The fact that Greg can get a woman like you, makes me feel good about his future, no matter what happens. 

Bert: Divorce is political "hari kari." 

Peggy: I'm in a very good place right now. ...
 I am not scared of any of this.  But you're scared.  Oh my god.  You're scared.  Don't worry about me.  I am going to get to do everything you want for me.   I'm going to be fine, Olive.

Jane: Don't you just love looking at her? Aren't they a beautiful couple? I knew you two would get back together, no matter what the problem was. 

Roger: You know, my mother was right: It's a mistake to be conspicuously happy.
Some people don't like it.
Don: No one thinks you're happy.  They think you're foolish.  

Spoilery Observations (Don't read until you're caught up). 

Connie turns out to be millionaire Conrad Hilton who becomes a prickly client of Sterling Cooper and a bit of a father figure to Don. 

Henry turns out to be the one who helps finally break up the Draper marriage and becomes Betty's long-suffering second husband.  

The head of the department's wife tells Joan not to get pregnant, that money will be too much of an issue for a while.  Joan does eventually get pregnant, just not with Greg's child.  

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