Pulling the Plug On Grampa -- Or, Rome Wasn't Razed In A Day

Things fall apart -- Penn Station, the Coliseum, Grandpa's brain. Indeed, by the end of the tumultuous 1960s, even Miss Light-Up-The-Screen (and heart-hurter) Ann Margret would go from sex kitten to drugged-out wreck in "Carnal Knowledge." But we get ahead of ourselves.

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.



AMC's MadMen-Season 3 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 theAMC's MadMen-Season 3 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.

AMC's MadMen-Season 3 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.

22 comments about "Pulling the Plug On Grampa -- Or, Rome Wasn't Razed In A Day".
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  1. Rob Frydlewicz from DentsuAegis, August 25, 2009 at 1:24 p.m.

    Casting John McCain as Betty's dad was a genius casting decision, don't you think? He'll get an Emmy nomination, I'm sure of it!

  2. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, August 25, 2009 at 1:31 p.m.

    Excellent observation, Rob. And it hardly seemed McCain was acting at all.

    Re. Dorothy's observation of the May pole dance, my own take was that Don was musing and, I expected it to manifest in a campaign for Patio. I thought the way the young woman was sashaying around the pole was an allusion to the opening scene with Ann Margaret throwing herself at the screen. But perhaps I'm reading into something that wasn't there.

  3. Matthew Saleski from Yahoo!, August 25, 2009 at 1:47 p.m.

    Dorothy-- great insights as always!

    Let's talk about the Sal subplot for a minute-- you could just see it coming when he was all too familiar with Ann-Margret and who played her role on Broadway. His subsequent hotel encounter also falls into the grand "falling apart" theme. I also appreciated Don's way of addressing it through the London Fog slogan idea "Limit Your Exposure". It seems that more than one character in this episode is trying to figure out who they are.

  4. Erin Ulicki from Centro, August 25, 2009 at 1:48 p.m.

    I agree with Joe re: the Maypole dance and Patio - or in a more crude sense that Don was just lusting after the teacher.

  5. Abbott Wool from TelamericaMedia, August 25, 2009 at 2:13 p.m.

    Surely we don't need a newsletter about this one program?

  6. Richard Brayer from Car-X, August 25, 2009 at 2:32 p.m.

    yes, we do need a newsletter on one program if its Mad Men

    I dont get why Peggy went into the gin mill? also what did pops mean about pouring the hootch down the drain?

  7. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY, August 25, 2009 at 2:47 p.m.

    Don’s change-the-conversation bit got my hackles up because he said PR people understood the principle but couldn’t make it happen. That’s certainly not true today, especially in pharma PR, politics, or any other area where potential controversy is a constant. One of the basic tenets of media training – a staple of most PR programs – is to acknowledge and dispose of the unwanted question, then bridge to your own story and repeatedly deliver your key messages. I don’t know what PR was like in the 60s (would love to hear from someone who does -- I don't think Kennedy masterfully outmaneuvered Nixon on national TV by fluke), but find it hard to believe there were no agencies efficient at "changing the conversation."

    Re: Don's "we solve problems" job description, I love how he, Joan and Peggy successfully “solve problems” on the work front. This week I also liked how Don and Peggy solved personal problems – Don by temporarily ending all the dithering about his father-in-law in crybaby Betty's favor (more problems to come), and Peggy by embracing cuteness (and downplaying her job) to get some lovin’. She settled for little (in intelligence, grace, imagination and good manners – what kind of guy leaves a woman to find her own way home in the middle of the night?) – but got the physical connection she was craving without any emotional mess. I still don't feel anything electric or intriguing about her, though.

    As for furniture, what’s with the writers’ fascination with chairs? (Glad you commented on it, Dorothy.) Last season it was Don’s willingness or unwillingness to fix broken chairs. This season it seems the writers really want to show us that Don is sitting on what he wants and it’s within his reach – last week he compared peacefulness with putting your hand in the shady spot under a beach chair; this week he touched the grass beside his lawn chair to commune with the spirit of the joyful teacher dancing barefoot around the Maypole (she truly conveyed all those qualities that Don said make your heart ache). I’m curious to see what else Don might be sitting on.

  8. Marian Berelowitz from freelance, August 25, 2009 at 3:02 p.m.

    Given that this is one of the best shows on TV and that it's centered around the ad biz and that Dorothy's analysis is excellent and that currently 34 people are recommending this page, I think we definitely do need this!

    So ... why did Don let gramps stay with the Drapers? Is he simply being good to Betty or, as alpha male, doesn't like Betty's brother making the decisions? He certainly was channeling Tony Soprano in that scene (many parallels altogether between Tony/Don, Betty/Carmela, Gramps/Uncle Junior, etc.)

  9. Jrsy Gal from Digital Consulting, August 25, 2009 at 3:22 p.m.

    While this show certainly lends itself to finding sexual meaning in every character's action, for once, isn't it possible that there's a deeper meaning? It's easy to jump to the conclusion that Don was lusting after the teacher in the Maypole scene, but with remembrances of my own Maypole dances as a child, I truly thought he was longing for the childhood he missed out on, the innocence, the carefree feeling of running barefooted on cold grass, the solidity of the good earth beneath our feet. Gee, Abbott - some of us are having fun with the analysis...

  10. Rob Frydlewicz from DentsuAegis, August 25, 2009 at 3:23 p.m.

    "Patio" brought back memories of another soda marketed to women in that era. It was called "Like" and I remember seeing ads for it as a child growing up in Pittsburgh in the mid-60's. The tagline was something like "The first soft drink just for girls." The melody of the jingle was the song "Pocketful of Miracles". It didn't make it. Pittsburgh may have been a test market.

  11. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 25, 2009 at 3:27 p.m.

    Betty's dad has Alzheimer's which gets worse by the day. He was pouring the booze down the drain because part of his memory says he is living during prohibition. The longer this goes on, the shorter his short term memory gets. My father can't remember past 30 seconds literally. Nobody acknowledges or knows how bad it is going to get and nobody appreciates the only one who really would sacrifice is Judy. She'll be back.

    As for Don, last week with the stewardess, he looked like he had lost some of the fun of conquest. She moved on him. That's a game changer especially how bad he took it when last season Bobbi told him about his reputation. It seems like there's that part of him who wants the family he never had and he only knows how to handle things when he takes control. He is just oblivious to what is in store for him and he won't be able to handle it. Betty said last week she wants everything to be perfect. We all know how well that will be working. Even the Draper house looks like it is slowly coming apart.

  12. Julie Anderson from Geppetto, August 25, 2009 at 4:49 p.m.

    Gotta say....i think this blog is almost better than the show itself. Makes me wonder if i was paying attention at all...Dorothy really sees, doesn't she?

  13. Borgie from wttw, August 25, 2009 at 5:16 p.m.

    I had the same take on the Maypole scene as Joe M. It was inspiring Don with a new idea to save the day for the Patio campaign. A barefoot young woman with flowers in her hair running through the grass instead of a sexy Ann-Margaret lookalike. An old tv commercial for some soft drink I can't remember from the 60s flashed through my head, though.

  14. Jordan Gold from Freedom Interactive, August 25, 2009 at 6:37 p.m.

    I watched this episode twice and I noticed something very funny. A girl was eating a hamburger and a boy took it out of her hand and took a big bite - just as Peggy was to do a few minutes later. Not sure what that was about. Did people do that all the time then?

  15. Jordan Gold from Freedom Interactive, August 25, 2009 at 6:40 p.m.

    By the way, AMC has a nice writeup on Patio and what happened to it (it turned into Diet Pepsi).

  16. Randall Hoffner from ABC, Inc., August 25, 2009 at 6:47 p.m.

    About Betty's brother's arrested development and the bunk bed, we recall that last season he hung out in the tree house...
    And you are certainly right about Grand Central Terminal. Until Metro North spiffed it up in the 90's, it was looking pretty shabby, and had been for some time. Recall they had not even removed the WWII blackout paint off the eastern windows until the 90's when they removed the Kodak "big picture" display.
    Although I was young then, historically, I don't think there was much public conversation about demoing Penn Station: they just did it. Thanks mostly to Jackie GCT got a new lease on life. And by the way, Los Angeles looked bright and new in the 60's and in 1970 when I first saw it, but it looks pretty old and dingy now.

  17. Tommy Hollis from GAM.TV, August 26, 2009 at 9:38 a.m.

    @ Richard. Peggy went into the gin mill to pick up someone. Kind of an early women's movement thing as PJ Clarke's was soon to allow ladies to sit unescorted at its bar
    @Cynthia. Disaster PR had not been invented yet. (Man In The Grey Flannel Suit is actually a good look at old-fashioned PR.) Kennedy beat Nixon because Nixon was horrible on TV and JFK wasn't. For 1968, Dick hired Roger Ailes who would have tackled Nixon and wrestled him to the floor before letting him debate anybody.
    @Dorothy Parker. I feel I am watching the third season because I liked the first two so much. BUT there seems to be an absence of the kind and number of suspenseful plotlines that the first two seasons had.
    One interesting difference is that each of the female characters seems to have changed while the men remain what they were. Maybe they saw Betty Friedan on television hawking her book.
    @Jordan. Back in the early 60s, we took drags on other people's cigarettes that were perched on ash trays, slurped beer from their beer cans, took bites out of their lunch---and sometimes inhaled a cigarette and exhaled into the mouth of one's girlfriend and/or boyfriend.

  18. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY, August 26, 2009 at 9:58 a.m.

    With the news this morning of Ted Kennedy's death, the mood that's so much a part of Mad Men becomes part of the present. The pre-WWII family photo the Times ran --Teddy in his father's lap, Joe handsome on the far right, Jack, Bobby, Eunice, etc. still alive and smiling -- hit like a hammer. For those of us who personally remember the years of the Kennedy administration and the intimacy we felt we had with the Kennedy family, it's a significant ending.

  19. Laurie Kessler from Ubiquitous Media, August 27, 2009 at 12:38 a.m.

    Great, GREAT catch on the daughter's wedding being the day after JFK's assassination! Despite the tragedy of that day, you can just imagine what some of Roger's sarcastic remarks would be!

  20. Carolyn Schuk from Santa Clara Weekly, August 27, 2009 at 9:43 p.m.

    If Hooker is Moneypenny, then Lane Pryce must be...M.

  21. Tommy Hollis from GAM.TV, August 28, 2009 at 12:10 a.m.

    November 24th, Sunday saw the fulfillment of television as a medium when the cameras rolled for coverage as Jack Ruby shot Oswald.

  22. Mark Ramsey from Mark Ramsey Media LLC, September 1, 2009 at 3:25 p.m.

    If I never hear or see Bye Bye Birdie again it will be too soon.

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