Let's continue our deconstruction of Mad Men, a/k/a the best show on television. Where episode one provided an emotional bridge back to season two, episode two sets up the coming conflicts in season three. So let's take a look at how the plates are spinning and what might make them crash. IOW, today's lesson is in how to set up the premises for conflicts and how to foreshadow coming events.
Ken Cosgrove v. Pete Campbell
The battle between Pete Campbell and Ken Cosgrove is already shaping up to be epic. Last week, we might have all thought Ken was a shoo-in. This week, we get mixed messages. First, we see Ken dominate the Patio cola meeting, surrounded by creative staff and taking command in every way. Then we see Pete, joined only by Paul and his Commie Pinko Facial Hair, flub the Madison Square Garden account meeting. Score one for Ken, right?
Not so fast. The head honchos didn't want the Madison Square Garden account, as it turned out, so Pete didn't actually lose anything. And Ken -- boyish, charming, easygoing Ken -- ran roughshod over Peggy during the meeting. Yes, they do tend to treat her badly, but Ken takes on an almost cruel edge when he attacks her objections to their creative choices. I liked Ken a lot less after that scene. He was far too condescending.
Then we have the obvious pairing of Ken and Don. Don echoes Ken's cutting remarks when Peggy presents her objections to him. I think we can read this two ways. Either we can assume that Don and Ken go together, therefore Ken will win the job in the end. (I suspect this is what the writers want us to conclude.) Or we can realize that Don's ego is too big to tolerate a clone, meaning that Ken is being set up for some conflict with Don later in the season.
I am leaning toward the second choice, both for the reasons already mentioned and because I think Pete Campbell is too vicious and ambitious to tolerate Ken getting ahead of him. I predict Pete will crush Ken, but it's going to take him some time to figure out how to do it, and he may have a few stumbles along the way. Don's going to get in on the game at some point when Ken rubs him the wrong way. Ken probably doesn't have the stamina for this kind of war. Should be interesting.
Peggy Gets It On
Okay, let me start by saying that the Anne-Margaret screeching scene was horrible to sit through. And then we had to endure a piece of it a second time, later in the episode when Don watched it. I kept wondering why the director let it drag on so long the first time, and why they repeated our exposure to it later. It seemed like overkill. Really, we get it -- the ad execs for the diet cola want something stupid in their commercials. Peggy sees how stupid it is, but the men are dazzled by what they perceive as sexy. We get it. Move on, already. Please.
But I think there's a larger point. The Anne-Margaret song is not just a prototype for an ad campaign, but a glaring example of how cultural perceptions have shifted since the Mad Men era. This particular type of infantilized female is no longer glorified as it was then. And thank god for that.
I read an article this morning about how the Anne-Margaret bit was used to propel Peggy toward discovering and accepting her own sexuality. There's certainly some truth to that. But what I find interesting is that Peggy, the most modern female in the show, reacts to Anne-Margaret's stupid flutterings just as this modern woman did. Anne-Margaret trivialized herself in that song. Peggy and I both are made somewhat squeamishly offended while watching it.
My response to the Anne-Margaret thing was to grunt and roll my eyes a lot. Peggy's was to get laid. Go, Peggy. Her way is more fun! We saw her experiment with her own sexuality in this episode -- singing in her mirror a la Anne-Margaret, stealing Joan's flirtatious line about the subway, hiding her own success to make the boy in the bar feel stronger. But in the end, she took what she wanted and then walked away. She's still the most modern woman on this show, and her flirtations are play-acting used to achieve her goal.
I expect we'll see a lot more of this type of behavior from Peggy as the season progresses. At the end of the second season, she confessed her pregnancy to Pete. Without that hanging over her head, without guilt dogging her every step, she's free to find a new path. (Anyone else notice the lack of Colin Hanks this season? He acted as Peggy's guilty conscience in season two. She doesn't need him anymore.) Peggy's arc for this season, then, promises to be one of character development, but I'm willing to bet that the stronger she gets, the more she'll take on the guys over things like that Patio cola creative. I can't wait for her to start winning a few.
Roger Is a Naughty Boy
Dude thought he could dump his middle-aged wife and marry a teenager, and everyone would just fall right into line with it. How shocked he must be to discover that women hate this kind of behavior. We haven't seen Jane the Child-Bride yet this season, but how much do you want to bet that when we do, she's no longer the wide-eyed poet version of the Anne-Margaret sexy-infant-woman? I predict she'll be trying to remake herself into a grownup. I predict demure necklines, society lunches, and a character who begins more and more to resemble Roger's first wife. And the more she resembles the first Mrs. Sterling, the less Roger will want her.
The most telling line in the Roger subplot was when his wife and daughter confronted him in his office early one weekday morning. Roger went to pour himself a second cocktail, and his ex-wife scolded him. His reply? "You're not my wife anymore." Watch that line begin to resonate over the course of the season. Without the formidable first wife to check his less noble impulses and nag him into compliance, there's no way the ineffectual second wife can hold the reins. Roger will lose interest in Jane, and then his season-one shenanigans will look like child's play.
We'll see a lot of conflict between Roger's new wife and the other women on the show -- I wonder, in particular, whether last season's battle between Joan and Jane will get a rematch. Even without that, we'll have Jane versus the daughter (great foils for each other, by the way), Jane versus the first wife, Jane versus the wives of business associates. Oh, and can you imagine how awesome a cage match between Jane and Betty would be? This is going to be good.
Don Draper, Family Man (Yeah, Right)
I can't explain why, but I find Don's position the least interesting of all those set up for us last night. So, he arranged to have Betty's senile father move in with them. So, he prevented Betty's nasty brother from glomming onto Daddy's house and all its contents. So what?
There was that beautifully poetic moment when Don was watching the maypole dance, and he played his fingers against the grass. He was watching the barefoot dance teacher, and it was clear that if his wife hadn't been there, he would have been after that teacher like a dog goes after steak. But Betty was beside him, and his only recourse was to stroke the lawn and fantasize.
How should we interpret this? Is Don going to let Betty continue to act as a check on his behavior as he tries to be a family man? He didn't do such a great job of this last week when he fooled around with that stewardess. So maybe not. I don't know, what do you all think?