Episode 3: My Old Kentucky Home, Or The Decline And Fall Of Practically Everybody

Roger performs in blackface! Red sings and plays the accordion! Sally steals! And Peggy inhales!

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!

Mad Men Season 3/Episode 3 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'sMad Men Season 3/Episode3 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.

Mad Men Season 3/Episode 3 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 andMad Men Season 3/Episode 3 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.

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23 comments about "Episode 3: My Old Kentucky Home, Or The Decline And Fall Of Practically Everybody".
  1. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , September 1, 2009 at 2:18 p.m.

    Dorothy I love reading your columns about Mad Men, it's like watching it again, without taking an hour. But, you missed that Connie was Conrad Hilton (frankly, I did too, I had to watch again and read blogs to confirm).

    Do you think that making a proper Old Fashioned might be all it takes for Sterling Cooper to open the door and land the Hilton account? Only on TV could it be so. Here's my suitably dark prediction - S/C comes thisclose to winning Hilton, only to have Barron Hilton rebel against his father and shun S/C, unless they agree to have Joan work for Hilton.

  2. Richard Brayer from Car-X , September 1, 2009 at 2:22 p.m.

    a very unique episode and a great analysis- except you missed the fact that Olive is a man who is really a Russian spy

    seriously I , too wonder about Grampa as creepy sexual predator- let hope not

  3. Ron Boyd from 1969 , September 1, 2009 at 2:25 p.m.

    The actual quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald is, "action is character." It's from his notebooks.

  4. Kate Lafrance from Hartford Woman Online Magazine , September 1, 2009 at 2:32 p.m.

    I was so glad to see this today because, for some reason, I was re-examining this episode as I went to sleep last night. Although I'm a die hard fan of the show I do recall that 2nd season I stopped watching after the first few - the way that the shows tend to get all "Twin Peaks" really bothers me. It's a great premise, cast and set that I can't help feel is getting under utilized while Weiner goes off on his artistic indulgences. Half the show dedicated to pot smoking? Out of context, focusing on every detail, nuance, facial expression and the weirdness of it all ... I was just waiting for the dancing midget to appear. I really hope this doesn't alienate viewers and cause the eventual cancellation of a show that started out with so much promise.

  5. Erin Ulicki from Centro , September 1, 2009 at 3:14 p.m.

    I love this column! Thank you for writing it every week as everybody's insight either clarifies what I was thinking or puts it in a new light. I too was creeped out by Grandpa's choice of bedtime reading and don't really want to walk down that path.

    I also am wondering where Joan's story will lead. It seems as though she has physically grown this season and I assume it is because all is not well in married life (or you don't have to diet once you land the man). But am also hoping she will heed the advice to not have children yet and stay on at S/C to see how far she can take her role.

    What's the over-under on Betty's baby having asthma and low birthweight?

    Oh - and Jane's hat when she came into the office - very mod, but it was like a giant bubble on her head.

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , September 1, 2009 at 3:55 p.m.

    Gene's actions will not improve or even prove he molested his daugher because of his illness. He can do things that would otherwise embarrass himself so watch when he starts to blurt out things while the audience may never know if they are true or not. As for Betty, she is more of a cold hearted icon than Don can ever be since Don - not that it excuses his actions- has used his intellegence and is showing more affection for his children than she has regard. Poor Jane. She reminds me, so far, of those older head bookkeepers of the 70's who never got passed calling the boss Mr. They were put in the position where they showed you how complicated filing punch cards numerically are just to make their positions more important. Jane could almost be the Ann Margaret of Patio.
    And yes to hearing, "they always hate creative" where food disappears many times certainly not at S/C either. Remember, goodie closet stuff was not shared with the creative back draft.

  7. Randall Hoffner from ABC, Inc. , September 1, 2009 at 4:18 p.m.

    I think you are right that this was historically too early for a pot party at an ad agency office. It wasn't until a few years after this that it became a thing in the counterculture, and it didn't get nearly so mainstream for some time after that.

    And wasn't that Charleston the best?!

  8. Gordon Plutsky from Digital Bungalow , September 1, 2009 at 4:34 p.m.

    Jonathan - great catch on Hilton - where did you read that?

    Great job on the recap as always, I look forward to them. Watching the reactions while Roger did blackface was interesting. Who would think Pete would look disgusted?

  9. Borgie from wttw , September 1, 2009 at 4:47 p.m.

    I already love the show for all its attention to historical detail in the set decoration and mention of current events. But when Kinsey shows up in the same mohair cardigan my dad wore the 60s....wow, Mad Men, I'm yours forever.

  10. Ray George from HawkPartners , September 1, 2009 at 5:29 p.m.

    Wonderful recap on the many details in this episode. My favorite moments were at Joan's dinner party and the many exchanged glances, particularly at the end when Joan realizes she far outshines her husband. I had been hoping they would come back to the thread from last season about her obvious talents - definitely rooting for her.

    And I am frankly astounded that someone figured out the Conrad Hilton reference - amazing (and pretty cool, if you think about the currently tainted Hilton legacy).

    Thanks as always for the wonderful recap - almost as good as the show itself.

  11. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY , September 1, 2009 at 5:44 p.m.

    Performances, performances, performances. Two unwilling, two calculated, one just plain bad. The best was Joan’s, eye’s flashing anger at her husband for again forcing her into an unwanted situation, proving with an improbable accordion and Little Sparrow voice that she outclasses him on every front. The most unsettling was Sally’s command reading at her grandfather’s bedside (like others, I’m wondering why her parents don’t remember the sexual grab he made for Betty, perhaps momentarily mistaking her for his dead wife). The worst performance was Paul’s (both the a capella stuff and the beat poetry). And the most embarrassingly self-serving were Pete and Trudy’s Charleston (I would only have liked it if they had fallen into a pool at the end) and Roger’s blackface crooning to Jane (it never works, just ask Ted Danson and Whoopi Goldberg). The only performance prompted by joy seemed to be Roger’s, proving that love does, indeed, make you foolish.

  12. Alan Stamm , September 1, 2009 at 5:49 p.m.

    Gordon:

    These are among the blogs where Jonathan likely spotted the Connie Hilton connections:

    * Slate TV Club: Mon. night post by Julia Turner, deputy editor [http://www.slate.com/id/2225274/entry/2226878/]

    * NYTimes Arts Beat: Mon. afternoon post by David Itzkoff [http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/31/did-don-draper-meet-the-guy-you-thought-he-met/]

  13. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY , September 1, 2009 at 5:56 p.m.

    While kinda-sorta brainstorming Daiquiri Beach ideas for Bacardi rum, Paul asks about making a frappe and Smitty suggests a trip to the roof, but neither has the sense to develop those elements into a compelling ad concept, as I’m sure Peggy will (Tar Beach with the world's first frozen daiquiris). Clever, but I still can't warm to Peggy. I appreciate her achievements and admire her doggedness and facility at borrowing from other people (whether it's Don's approach to developing creative concepts or Joan's approach to starting conversations with men), but nothing she ever says or does really surprises or moves me. She tries all sorts of things, but never fully engages. She has no friends, no social life, and I've only once seen her crack a smile (when the Twist came on and she squealed like everyone else). Detached, boring and humorless -- not my kind of heroine.

  14. Royelen lee Boykie from Mad Men Musings , September 1, 2009 at 7:05 p.m.

    This blog just makes me happy. Hello EVERYONE and thank you, as always, Dorothy.

    Remember last season when the Draper family was out having a picnic? Son Bobby was roaming around the park, neither Betty nor Don had a care where. Of course, with our modern day sensibilities, we had a queasiness in our stomach. But it was all a setup OF US.

    That doesn't mean Grandpa won't do something inappropriate but the context will be VERY different. And even so, this concern we have is modern. Parents didn't worry about this the same way then. Yes, it was happening, yes, they were in denial, yes they put kids in dangerous positions.

    Grandpa is likely to do something like set a fire though and Weiner will have set us up AGAIN.

    Oh, I LOVED the ending of this past episode. How unexpected. Do you think they ever got out of there? It seemed like an inescapable party -- another Alice in Wonderland kind of adventure.

  15. Joe Bobblog from DBI, Inc. , September 1, 2009 at 8:03 p.m.

    The break with Roger, the frustration with the Brits, and now he hits it off with Hilton. My guess is Don leaves S/C to start his own agency with Hilton as his first major client. Takes most of S/C with him except Peggy who gets Don's old job.

  16. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , September 1, 2009 at 10:13 p.m.

    On the Conrad Hilton thing, it was on several discussion boards (I just googled it). Believe it or not, it is now also on Conrad Hilton's Wikipedia biography.

  17. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY , September 1, 2009 at 11:06 p.m.

    I'm so glad to see a growing number of fans for Joan, who radiates unexplored power the way Betty radiates barely suppressed rage and resentment. I don't know where or how she learned the things she knows (what's her background? what made her so perceptive and cunning and resilient? how did she learn about men? who on earth taught her to play an accordion?), but she conveys the sense that she's always learning and always paying attention. Like Ray, I think she's definitely realizing that Greg isn't her equal and that her future with him won't play out as planned. The admiring Irene Ettinger gave Joan plenty to think about, both about Greg and herself.

  18. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY , September 1, 2009 at 11:17 p.m.

    P.S. Hats off to Jonathan for uncovering the Connie connection. The name kept sticking in my mind and I thought it had to be significant, but nothing about the character, though interesting, rang any bells. Now I'll have to researc the Hilton dynasty. All I remember was that Liz Taylor was once married to Nicky Hilton and that he or one of his children (or siblings?) was the subject of some awful tragedy like suicide. Connie seemed like a pretty decent guy.

  19. Ej Meany from IPC , September 2, 2009 at 5:39 p.m.

    The Connie thing is a great twist... though I kinda winced at Don's pissing-in-the-trunk tale! I watched again last night, and noticed that Roger fed Don an idea for the future Hilton account, the line about how you can be happy here in a club, and choose the guests you want to invite. So many layers. And killer gazes from my favorite gals. Poor Joan, she's tied herself to a loser. And Betty. She's gonna have to deal with a teenage Sally (mini Don!). It's funny, I work in a creative post like Peggy ("they hate creative"!), but I am definitely drawn to the plights of the more desperate women. Powerful storytelling.

  20. Jeff Passe from UNC-Charlotte , September 4, 2009 at 2:56 p.m.

    Olive, the secretary, is not just a secretary. I see her as some sort of superego for Peggy. The fact that she's there on the weekend, and is so protective, I wonder if she's even real.

  21. Tommy Hollis from GAM.TV , September 4, 2009 at 6 p.m.

    If Cliff's Notes were as interesting as your summations, Dorothy, I would have finished school.
    But, as for the show itself, the plotlines have been reduced from interesting turns (Draper's identity, Peggy's B.I.C. religiosity and her entry into the world of commerce and the jackass men you meet, Pete's socioeconomics, an interracial relationship, the Kennedy-Nixon clash, Joan's efficacy in an office of low lives who all should be working for her, Draper's relationship with a smart client who sees him finally as he is, and the Cuban Missile Crisis) into figuring out whether the Hilton Hotels or Diner's Club will be the account and whether Pete beats the literateur to become "Head of Accounts." (An odd title--sounds British or Scottish maybe.)
    In fact, the second year when plotlines were added on seamlessly and long-lost issues paid off, I wondered once whether if the show lasted long enough, Weiner would solve the Pine Barrens story left unanswered by The Sopranos.
    I tried to remember Polly Bergen as the actual Pepsi Girl...thought it was 1962 or so...but found it to be 1953-1955. Weird was that someone in Pepsi's marketing Department or agency in that era saw something in being light and watching weight and had Polly sing "Pepsi Cola's up-to-date with modern folks who watch their weight. Who made it light, just right for you. Refreshes without filling you." Instead of two full glasses and a nickel too. I guess they flummoxed after that until someone saw that youth had arrived with the baby boom and you were, by the 60s, asked to come alive because you were in the Pepsi generation.

  22. Cathy Carrier from Ashland Indy Film Festival , September 4, 2009 at 7:46 p.m.

    Was that John Waters playing Connie? I kept thinking Connie has got to be someone big......Hilton...good one.

    Did Betty have a one night stand last season? Do you think the kid could be from that?

    Love this blog. Had to wait four days to read it until I had time to watch the DVR..
    Thanks for taking the time to dish Dorothy, and everyone. It's great.

  23. Jody Quinn from Edelman , September 11, 2009 at 1:54 p.m.

    Interrupting my catch-up marathon to agree with the Midsummer Night's Dream scape of the episode. And to note that Roger's blackface performance is an imitation of an imitation of the Al Jolson, the legendary song-and-dance man of burlesque and vaudeville. The artifice is too precious to ignore..whether it's "Bottom" in Midsummer Night's Dream as the consummate ass, just one of the "players"; the "mask" of dishonesty; the foretelling of Roger's downfall, the growing civil rights movement, etc.

    Even creepier is absolute match print of Roger's and real-life trainwreck actor Larry Parks' portrayal of Jolson in "The Jolson Story" (1946) and "Jolson Sings Again".