Episode 3: My Old Kentucky Home, Or The Decline And Fall Of Practically Everybody
There wasn't much action in this rather opaque episode -- at least in the classic car-crash sense. But the character details that emerged were like ice sculptures at a fancy shindig. You find them both tacky and beautiful, and can't stop staring.
Didn't that consummate old Princetonian himself, F. Scott Fitzgerald, maintain that "plot is character?" Certainly, we got ghosts of Gatsby types aplenty wandering around the grounds of Roger Sterling's Long Island country club on Derby Day. And then there was the mention of that other-famous-writer's "A Midsummer's Night's Dream" at the bar, where we found Don craving an honest day's work -- rather than work disguised as a hoity-toity party -- and an old-fashioned. Add in a song (Cole Porter's "C'est Magnifique") a dance (the Charleston) and peeing not in your pants, but in some stranger's trunk, while perhaps reading Edward Gibbon's "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" and you have quite a mess. Or a chasm. The episode was all about the generation gap starting to divide the culture, and the elaborate, ritualized and codified social and class structures that would also soon give way. Timber!
But let's start back at the agency, where the pot smoke is hitting the fan, or, in this case, the mohair sweater, which can't possibly absorb the stink. (Was there supposed to be some sort of joke in which Moliere and mohair rhyme?) More importantly, was the announcement, "I'm Peggy Olson and I want to smoke some marijuana!" one of the most glorious lines ever offered? It reminded me of a story that Hillary Clinton famously tells about meeting Bill: that she walked right up to him in the Yale library and said, "I'm Hillary Rodham. And if you're going to continue to stare at me, and I'm going to stare at you, I think we should be introduced." Or some such. It's that direct, wide-eyed, earnest, ambitious, steely, yet at the same time still slightly frumpy and uncool energy of both that's so poignant, and perhaps also off-putting.
This episode takes place a decade earlier. And even given Paul Kinsey's faux beatnik ways, would these guys really be lying around on the floor of the agency, smoking weed in the early 1960s? (And calling it "grass"?) One guy I know who started working in the biz in the early '70s said it wasn't till then that the divide between the booze drinkers and pot smokers became evident, but that even then, the chairman of the agency was still celebrating Fridays by opening a bottle in his office for the invited few.
While we're quibbling over details, I've wanted to point out for a while that much of the way Peggy talks about creative also seems ahead of its time. The idea that she wanted to make fun of Ann-Margret in "Bye Bye Birdie" wouldn't happen for a client like Pepsi, maybe ever. (In the early 2000s, BBDO used Britney Spears to recreate song and dance numbers from Marilyn through Madonna for a Pepsi Super Bowl spot, and that piece of work didn't have an ounce of satire in it. And the latter-day Harry Crane equivalents were still slobbering over the performance.)
Certainly, after the recent death of "60 Minutes" producer Don Hewitt, his obituary showed that in those days, he just made it up as he went along (and that's how he invented the idea of putting supers on the lower third of the screen to identify people being interviewed on camera.).
Creatives were also operating in the land of the new. So even having the concept of adapting the iconic opening of a popular movie into a commercial was breakthrough enough entertainment at that point. (Until then, TV ads were "radio with pictures.")
Along the same lines, Smitty's initial idea for Bacardi -- "Bacardi-licious," which Peggy picked up on by supplying "Barcardi-lightful" -- reminded me of the Snickers work that's running right now. (And that might have evolved from the seminal lyrics gracing singer Beyonce's hit song, "Bootylicious." )
Peggy really took to that strong cigarette. Once sufficiently baked, she came up with a vacation situation for the rum that had legs: a hammock set up on a city rooftop, among the clotheslines. (Very "West Side Story," which was a hit on Broadway at the time.) Olive, Peggy's new secretary, has a name that conveys a person who is drab and self-effacing -- as opposed to the previous secretary's "showgirl" name, Lola. Peggy's post-weed-induced realization -- that Olive is afraid -- sets her apart from the previous generation of women, and also sets her apart from female convention. I am pot-smoker, hear me roar, she seems to be saying. Who needs connubial bliss when you have cannabis?
And now to the Derby party, where it became clear that those to the country club born -- Betty, Trudy, Pete, Roger, Bert-- were separated from the have-nots -- Don, Harry Crane, and poor drunken, anorexic Jane. (Boy, is she doomed! Talk about "Valley of the Dolls," real soon!)
Speaking of the haves -- where was Pryce and his wife? They of all people would have appreciated Roger's performance in blackface, complete with singing about darkies and corncobs. Add to that Pete and Trudy's beautifully choreographed rendition of the Charleston, the dance of the crazy rich kids of the 1920s, (and they both could really swing! Vincent Kartheiser has the moves!) and the afternoon ended with a shocking one-two punch of entitlement and antique notions: class distinction and extinction.
Betty enjoyed meeting a mysterious stranger whom she allowed to palm her belly, a weirdly intimate gesture. Certainly, she showed more interest in him than she does in her children, whom she generally ignores. She orders Sally upstairs to zip her up, and then barks at her not to bother Grampa Gene and to go watch TV. Leaving for the party, she walks right by both kids after kissing her daddy goodbye.
So obviously, Sally is feeling left out -- and acting out. Something compelled her to steal five bucks from Grandfather Hofstadt, and then hamhandedly try to return it without being caught.
I know that Matthew Weiner likes to set up ominous storylines that foreshadow nothing and merely mess with our heads, but I have a terrible fear about the relationship between Sally and Gene. Emotional abuse? Physical abuse? Was there ever a history of sexual abuse in the family? We don't know for sure. To some extent, it will be Betty redux, whatever that was, just as Gene is calling Carla "Viola." His deft handling of the return of the fiver also shows that he's not as demented as one might think. And while it's cute that Sally can pronounce all those sophisticated, polysyllabic words in Edward Gibbon's tome as she reads to the old man, hearing her stumble over terms like "licentiousness" just seems too creepy.
And then there's Joan. Joan can do everything, perfectly, but is about a decade too early to be Martha Stewart and will suffer mightily for that. When I got a glimpse of her hubby vacuuming in the preview, I was hoping that all was well on the domestic front.
What we see from her dinner party, however, is that husband Greg is not only sexually insecure, but also defensive about not doing well professionally, and hiding his problems from his wife. (Thus he freaked out over whether the seating chart was toadying enough to the chief.)
To change the subject from his botched surgery, he drags out his wife's (matching red) accordion, and forces her to perform. (He obviously can't.) He's not proud of her, but rather, grasping and desperate for what she can do for him.
Still, Joan has so many untapped talents, and the result is utterly charming. The guests love it. She sings "C'est Magnifique" in French -- a song written in 1953 for the musical "Can-Can." ( Mid-century, placing her right in the middle of the cultural chasm, between the Charleston crowd and the potsmokers.) The scene is as unexpected and delightful as when Uncle Junior sang in Italian on "The Sopranos."
Whether Joan, she of the long-line bra and the beautiful singing voice, can carry not only a tune, but also Greg, remains to be seen. The chief of surgery's wife already warned her not to get pregnant. That goes for quitting her job as well.
Meanwhile, back at the country club, with the 23-skidoo-ers, Don has a run-in with Roger, after a soused and stick-thin Jane, who seems nothing like the would-be poet who shared Roger's hotel room, reveals to Betty that she knew she and Don had split. A glass of milk is ordered for Jane (the child-drunk gets the elixir that big daddy Roger hopes will fix everything.) It's already spilt. Roger thinks everyone's jealous of his happiness. Don tells him, "No one thinks you're happy. They think you're foolish."
At the very end of a long day, Don wanders the grounds, holding Betty's wrap and purse, when he sees Roger and the new Mrs., dancing closely.
He spies Betty, alone in her white dress, like a ghost or a stood-up bride, up ahead, shrouded in gloom. In "A Midsummer Night's Dream," the Shakespeare play that Don's new mysterious friend Connie mentioned earlier, Puck begs the audience for its forgiveness and approval. Like Puck, Don goes to Betty and holds her tight and kisses her, as if to beg her to forget the past, as though it had all been a dream.