“How is the city?” asks our lax-bro-in-the-making friend Glen.
“Dirty,” replies Sally. And with that one word, budding woman Sally Draper (and yes, I feel like a total creep for writing that, but this is kind of the point that Mad Men tried to make this week) defines the main theme of this week’s episode: Sodom on the Hudson, and its corrupting influence on those who try to make their way in the big city.
We see Megan’s communist father, Emile, disappointed in the bourgeoisie lifestyle her daughter has taken up with ad-man Don Draper. We see Peggy, whose mother has watched her go from good, unassuming Catholic girl, to hedonist who works in an office to all hours of the night, lives in sin (with a Jew, no less), and spends the rest of her time making tit jokes with the human blowjob joke that is Stan (quick aside — for the life of me I cannot ever remember Stan’s last name if the show told us at any point, but for some reason whenever I hear his name I think of Stan Darsh, so if at any point I refer to him as Stan Darsh and no one has any idea what I’m talking about, I apologize.).
We see Sally, who leaves her dad’s room for a night on the town in a short, sparkly dress, her face dolled-up with make-up, and wearing a pair of boots that Nancy Sinatra might have a hard time wearing without tripping all over herself. Yet Sally, for all her attempts to become a grown-up by asking to go to the American Cancer Society dinner that becomes the centerpiece of this episode, realizes that she doesn’t necessarily want to become a full-fledged adult, not just yet. Sally’s at the age where you finally get to sit at the grown-ups table at your family parties, only to realize that being a grown up isn’t nearly as fun as it seems from far away — it’s complicated, lonely, and despite the occasional blowie here and there, mostly boring. Plus, instead of spaghetti, you get some weird looking fish that you don’t really like, but when you’re an adult, nobody gives a shit that you don’t like fish.
In terms of actual plot development, there were two main points: Peggy and Abe shacking up, and the team at SCDP finally closing out on the Heinz account. This season (7 episodes in already, if you can believe it) has been pretty light on real plot development, but is shaping up to be a lot like The Sopranos’ third season, which just like this season of Mad Men, never really had a full plot line (save for Freddie Prinze Jr. wannabe Jackie Jr.’s short and untimely foray into gangsterism), but instead was a season of one off episodes that really gave the show room to breathe and to explore different themes with its characters.
Let’s start with Peggy: Am I the only one who has felt a little bad for Peggy’s mom as this show has gone on? We’ve explored how the times have changed for the wealthy, cigar-chomping, brandy-swilling men of the 1960’s, but Peggy’s family’s blue collar Catholicism is really something that the show hasn’t gone into as much. Peggy’s mom is the kind of woman who, back in season three, cried for the passing of Pope John. She’s had to see her daughter have a baby out of wedlock, abandon that baby for her career (the horror!), meander throughout Manhattan spending her time doing god-knows-what, and now, move in (it actually did take me a little while to realize that this was a big deal back then) with a Jew (even more horror!) who will “use her for practice” until he leaves to start his real family.
Is Peggy’s mom a bad person for not being able to handle any of this? I think not. What she is, like so many others were, is ill-equipped to handle the rapid social change that took place during the 60s. The revolution was a rapidly spreading blaze, and anyone who wasn’t young or savvy enough to be a part of it was quickly turned into dust.
We also got to see some good interaction between Joan and Peggy this week, which I’ve always thought was one of the more interesting relationships that the show has to offer. The very first scene of the show was between these two, but the dynamic between them has slowly changed over the course of the series, as Peggy slowly gained her footing both in life and in the company, while Joan has largely stayed in the same position (or you could argue, is in an even worse position), since the show began. Of course though, Joan still does have some pretty excellent advice about the flakiness of dudes and their break-up habits. We are the worst like that.
Megan Draper also got some time to shine today (and by “shine” I don’t just mean “arouse me by speaking in French”, although it certainly could apply), as it was both her idea of beans throughout the ages and her guiding Don through the dinner meeting that finally sealed up the Heinz account for SCDP. As someone who was expecting Megan to turn into Betty 2.0 after Don hastily proposed to her at the end of last season, Megan is turning out to be a surprisingly strong character who has managed to both keep Don in check, and also not let him smother her career, which she seems to be turning out to be quite good at. It was hinted at that she might have other ambitions (if my memory serves me she was only a secretary originally to supplement her acting career) that she’s been putting on hold, both for Don and for her part as a cog in the capitalist machine, so it will be interesting to see if her ambitions eventually lead her down another path. But for now, she’s just another inhabitant, compromising her way through the dirty city.
- I would really like to see a spinoff series with Roger and Sally, they were pretty great together all episode. Could it be a TV adaptation of Matchstick Men? That would be fucking awesome.
- Next time I’m at a wedding with an open bar (which should be every wedding), I am absolutely using the line, “I’d buy you a drink, but I think they’re still free.” Either the girl watches the show, and will be impressed by my awesome cultural reference, or she doesn’t watch the show, and she’ll just think that that’s something I’m clever enough to come up with on my own. It’s a win win!
- I don’t think this is new territory, but the “next week on Mad Men…” clips are useless to the point of being a parody of “next week on…” clips. I know that Matt Weiner despises spoilers with the tenacity of an AVClub.com commenter, but c’mon, either make them semi-useful or don’t bother having them at all.
Jon Eiseman is a corporate slave and sometimes writer. You can find his oft- neglected tumblr here, and can follow his oft-abused twitter @Jon_Eiseman. He’ll be recapping Mad Men every Monday for Portable.tv.