Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mad About the Men: Love Among the Ruins

Spoiler Alert. Season 3, Episode 2:

Let's start with the themes at play in last night's episode, clearly this one was all about family and patriarchy. We had Roger Sterling (the ultimate Silver Fox) getting told by his daughter she doesn't want him and his new dollybird wife at her wedding. Then there was the patriarchal theme as played out by the Drapers and Betty's father who is clearly in the grip of Alzheimer's or something similar.

Ah Don.... just as I think I've gathered the strength to leave you, you pull me back in, like the beaten wife I am. Last week I screamed at the TV as he once again cheated on Betty with that dopey Air Stewardess. This week I cheered for him as he put Betty's weasel of a brother in his place.

Don was the king of the lion pack this week, stronger than Sterling and so much better than Betty's brother - the ultimate man of the house.

Underpinning all of this was the impending demolition of Penn Station, the metaphorical "father figure" of old New York. There were a lot of sidelines about public transport last night - Joan's flirtatious subway joke, Peggy emerging from the filthy subway in Brooklyn, Draper telling his brother-in-law which train to bugger off on out of his house (that too was leaving from Penn Station). These were glimpses of a grimy city we don't often see outside the gleaming offices of Sterling Cooper. I also enjoyed Embeth Davidtz's cameo as the wife of new Brit boss (his name escapes me) when she made that snipe about the insects. This is New York pre-gentrification.

This all brings me back to the title of the episode 'Love Among the Ruins' Love among the ruins of a family, among the literal ruins of a soon-to-be brutalised landmark, among the ruins of a city. This is a show full of ruins after all... ruined people and now ruined places.

The secondary story was Peggy's sexual re-awakening. Her little parody of Bye Bye Birdie was thoroughly creepy but by God! It worked!! We saw Peggy go to a bar alone, simper, get bought a drink by a burger-eating cretin and then, get laid (kinda - she's not making that mistake twice).

Most telling was the fact she lied about her job and let her new beau believe she was "just a secretary".... women of New York sighed a knowing sigh of understanding at this point. Penn Station may be gone, but some things haven't changed so much after all.

Peggy's sexual re-awakening was thematically tied-together with the "Patio" pitch and it brought us the most enigmatic moment of the episode. Peggy complained to Don that simply parodying Bye Bye Birdie in a diet soda commercial was making an ad for women from a man's point of view.

Don shot her down with a line that cut to the quick of any of us who have worked in advertising: "You're not an artist Peggy, you solve problems. Leave some tools in your toolbox."

DAMN! that hurt.

BUT. Then he went to that May Dance and became transfixed by the female teacher (?) dancing around the maypole, so joyful, so pure, so energetic. He leaned over and let his fingers run through the grass.......

Cut to Don returning to the office and staring at Peggy through her office door. he sees her, we wanted him to go in, but he didn't. In that moment by the maypole, Don realised Peggy was right, Bye Bye Birdie was wrong. Pretty soon we're going to see a pitch for a diet soda brand with a woman dancing barefoot on the grass around a maypole.. you mark my words.

Also I do want to give a brief mention to the vitriolic wonder of Betty this week, from the missing melba toasts to her shouting at the kids and sulking about the soot-covered coat (more city grime there), she was great.

LINE OF THE WEEK: "You're not fat anymore." - Paul Kinsey to Peggy.
Closely followed by Sterling asking the Brit guy if he ever got drunk and wore his suit of armour.
NEXT WEEK: The preview suggests we will finally see a bit more of Joan and her horrid husband. Hurrah!

Diligently construed by E. Nolan
Photo by Carin Baer

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