Pulling the Plug On Grampa -- Or, Rome Wasn't Razed In A Day
I liked the fast-moving pace of episode 2, and it also seemed to suggest frenetic times ahead. There were parallel family feuds this week -- Roger's ex-wife Mona and daughter Margaret announced that they didn't want his new Mrs. to attend the girl's coming nuptials. Mona comically refers to her young replacement as "June." It may be a May-December pairing, but the new wife is Jane.
We get a glimpse of the engraved invitation, and what a monumental shocker the wedding day turns out to be: Saturday, Nov. 23, 1963! The day after the JFK assassination! As with 9/11, the country absolutely shut down in the face of that tragedy (and ensuing chaos with Jack Ruby.) Retail stores draped their windows in black, and Americans stayed at home, pressed to their television sets to watch Oswald getting shot and the Jackie-designed, Lincoln-inspired funeral cortege, including John-John's heartbreaking salute. So June, Jane or no Jane, there's still a major hitch for Margaret.
Meanwhile, in the Draper household, an increasingly bitchy Betty (who is dieting, smoking, and drinking up a storm through her pregnancy) can't bear the thought of her perfectly reasonable sister-in-law, Judy, cooking for her dad Gene and ministering his Coumadin. That meant Don had to go all Tony Soprano on Betty's brother William's ass. (Really, that thuggish side that he showed with Bobbie reappeared just as he seemed to be turning into Atticus Finch!) He tells him, "Leave tonight and leave the Lincoln." (Shades of "Leave the guns, take the cannoli.") Betty refers to her brother's "never-ending bullshit," and it's suggested that he's a guy only interested in getting his grubby hands on the family homestead, and an arrested-development case to boot, (underscored by his position in the bunk beds) but his views on elder-care for someone with dementia seemed realistic and practical enough to me. Not exactly putting Gene in front of a death panel.
But let's get back to Ann Margret. What an opener! I haven't been able to get the young Ann Margret's face out of my mind, nor, for that matter, can I stop her signature screeching, er, singing, from playing in my head. ("Guess I'll always ca-aaa-are.") And I couldn't help thinking that even though Birdie was created as a Conway Twitty-esque Elvis-type character who's off to the army, it's also one of Don's pet names for Betty. It's interesting that as the only female in the army of men watching in the conference room, Peggy's reaction is shouted down. ("No one seems to understand that this should be aimed at women," she later tells Don.)
The episode was also about women's appetites, and, literally and figuratively, how to fit in -- how much physical space to take up in the world. Betty is great with child, but on the anti-nurture diet. Peggy's completely baffled about who she should be outside of the office. Indeed, she's the opposite of Ann Margret -- she's more like 14 playing 25. She tries on various personae, and her own performance, throwing herself at the mirror to sing "Bye-Bye Birdie," was so poignant that it made my heart hurt.(Kudos to Elisabeth Moss.)
Equally painful was her attempt to channel Joan's flirting prowess -- and the fact that she chose not to correct the Brooklyn College student about her status at the agency. She took a lusty bite of his burger, but the one-night stand on his ratty pull-out couch was further proof that, as she put it last season, "I always pick the wrong boys."
Still gorgeous and curvy, Joan seems to be getting huger. She tells Betty that "other than Wilma Flintstone, I've never seen anyone carry so well." But she's the one who's starting to seem like a cartoon. Having married the doctor, her swagger is back, and she's acting like life with her date-rapist husband is all that and a bag of chips -- he "won't let" her travel on the subway, and she's mentioned leaving her job more than once. Hope she doesn't end up like that other redhead, Ann Margret, does in "Carnal Knowledge": sleeping 12 hours a day and heating up TV dinners.
Meanwhile, musically, Elvis gives way to the British invasion, but business-wise, the Brits have already invaded Sterling Cooper, (about 20 years ahead of the Saatchi brothers) and the results are dismal. (Though it makes for top-drawer office drama.) Pryce, the new British overlord, is proving to be a regular chinless wonder. His favorite line seems to be, "Just got off the phone with London. Apparently, there's a problem." Bert Cooper responds brilliantly: "Don't call us down here every time we lose an account," he tells Pryce. "This is an advertising agency. We will wear out the carpet."
And Don actually gets to call Pryce on the carpet. Don gets the Madison Square Garden biz in the agency's pocket, only to hear from London that they have to decline the account . "Why the hell did you buy us in the first place?" he asks Pryce. "I don't know," he says with surprising honesty.
The two couples -- Pryce and Mrs. P., Don and Betty -- go out for dinner, and it seems that the Brits truly feel they are royals exiled among third-world colonials. In response to Betty's question about how she likes New York City, Pryce's wife mentions living near "Africans" and the "insects." (What? I've lived in Manhattan for 20 years, and I've never experienced any bugs in the spring.)
The episode is called "Love Among the Ruins," and the Penn Station fracas is a wonderful conundrum to fix on, in terms of the thinking at the time of what should stay and what should go. On the one hand, it was a beautiful Beaux-Arts building, as ever-pretentious Paul Kinsey explains in a meeting. On the other, by the early 1960s, it had fallen into disrepair and was a dump. (As was Grand Central, before Jackie Onassis, among other members of New York royalty -- and maybe even a Dyckmann or two -- saved it in the late '70s and raised the funds for renovation.)
From a contemporary vantage point, the Penn Station rebuild was hideous and disastrous. But Don did have a point about California, hope, and newness. He responded to the situation with some some high-flyin' Draperisms. "If you don't like what's being said, change the conversation," was one. I also loved, "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.'"
That and his advice to Peggy: "You are not an artist. You solve problems. Leave some tools in your toolbox," show what a master he is at the ad game. He even seems to surprise and amuse himself with his genuine genius for understanding image.
As a self- invented persona, he also embodies the "don't con a con artist," idea -- giving him an ability to spot corporate phonies before anyone else.
The episode ends with a Maypole Dance -- and Don putting his hand on the cold grass under his chair, an echo of the bedtime story he told Betty last week, after warming the milk, to help her fall asleep.
Say cheese, Drapers.