Mad Men: "My Old Kentucky Home"
A-

Mad Men: "My Old Kentucky Home"

A-

Mad Men

"My Old Kentucky Home"

Season 3, Episode 3

So, let’s review what we learned tonight:

• Proper etiquette for a dinner party, by way of Emily Post

• Some reasons Rome fell

• How to make an Old Fashioned. Properly. And with confidence, without a wrong move or a moment’s hesitation.

We also saw quite a few “dos” and “don’ts” related to the proper use of wives as tools of professional advancement. (“Do” learn how to dance the Charleston with ease and precision enough to drive everyone else off the dance floor. “Don’t” just ignore her when she wanders off annoyed at your poor dancing.) And we explored pot’s ability to enhance creativity. Or at least inspire melodramatic readings of T.S. Eliot.

Pot first: Perhaps united by their shared ability to pass work off to their inferiors—sorry, “the creatives”—Pete and Ken look positively chummy as they leave Peggy, Paul, and Smitty to create a campaign for Bacardi. What begins as a rum-fueled dead end brainstorming session takes a turn when Smitty and Paul bond over their shared love of “Mary Jane,” only to discover that neither loves it so much they’ve cultivated a regular connection. Paul boasts he likes to get high, “whenever I can.” It doesn’t take long for him to reveal this isn’t very often. But today will turn out to be one of the days he can and does get high, thanks to old college buddy Jeffrey (Miles Fisher), the other great cocksman of Princeton ’55.

Sterling-Cooper’s newfound—though maybe I’m assuming too much—love of pot doesn’t really shed much light on the drug’s ability to enhance creativity. But it does prove itself able to enhance creative types’ introspection and insecurity. First we see Paul confronted with his past as a Jersey-born scholarship student, an interloper amidst the ranks of blueblooded types like Jeffrey. (Shades of Don’s lamentations later in the episode.) Making the revelation worse: Jeffrey’s accusation that Paul’s poor singing got him kicked out of the Tiger Tones. I thought Paul and Jeffrey were going to come to blows, but it all gets patched up with a song. School ties really mean something to the men of Princeton ’55, it would seem. (Incidentally, Fisher’s fun enough in the part that I found myself wishing the S-C staff would develop a drug problem just to keep him around.)

But it’s Peggy who has the more profound experience. She comes away brimming with confidence about her ability to make the Bacardi job work—singlehandedly, it would seem—and her place in the professional world. Though it might be more apt to say she’s newly confident about her confidence. Her stoned speech to her new secretary Olive—a new character who seems to be a weird mix of dedication and disapproval—feels like an extension of the ease with which she bats down the leering Harry at the episode’s beginning and the way she lashes out at Paul and Smitty for their habit of not taking her seriously about anything other than products aimed at women. She knows she’s going places. Or at least she can see the road ahead, one stretching past even the rewards of a private office and a secretary. Why do I suspect it won’t always be a string of blissful Saturdays like this one?

Saturday at the Drapers, on the other hand, is anything but blissful. After learning the meaning of the word “licentiousness” courtesy of Edward Gibbon and Grandpa Gene, Sally Draper takes up petty theft, upsetting the entire house by stealing five dollars from Gene’s money clip. What follows is interesting as much for what doesn’t get said as for what does. Carla, the family’s maid expects Gene to accuse her of the crime. He doesn’t, or at least he doesn’t exactly. It’s almost as if both Carla and Gene knows how this scenario is supposed to play out, they’ve both seen it and maybe been a part of it so many times before. Note also how Carla knows she has to take control of the situation, even to the point of bossing Gene around. But she still doesn’t take her dinner at the table with everyone else.

And table placement plays a major role at both the soirees that figure prominently in this episode. In the smaller one, Joan and Greg entertain the chief of surgery and another couple from Greg’s hospital. There’s enough riding on the affair for Greg to appear visibly nervous. He even helps out with the vacuuming as Joan sets up. From the looks of things, Joan’s now exerting some control within the relationship, at least for now. He’s a bully a rapist, though. It won’t last.

While I’d come to think of Greg as someone who’s privately awful and publicly accomplished, we’re starting to find out otherwise. There a quickly hushed-over reference to a slip-up at work and both the other wives seem eager to spend some time alone with Joan. Their conversation makes Greg’s promotion to chief resident, and its accompanying ticket out of their small apartment, sound less of a sure thing than Joan has been led to believe. Then there’s this line: “The fact that Greg can get a woman like you makes me feel good about his future, no matter what happens.” And that means…? That he’s not getting the promotion? That she feels better about Greg than she did before thanks to Joan because she spotted the cracked fellow beneath the perfect exterior? It’s clear that Greg’s not sharing a lot of what’s going on at work at home, and that he feels sharing his home, complete with his accordion-playing wife, with his co-workers has become a somewhat necessary measure.

Finally, there’s the big Kentucky Derby/coming-out-as-a-married-couple party thrown by Roger and Jane, the one whose appalling musical centerpiece gives the episode its title and leaves Don shaking his head and disappearing in search of some bourbon. I’m not sure what to make of the scene in which he opens up to a stranger about his past parking, and pissing in, cars for a social club. Is Don being so casual about his past because he’s meeting a total stranger who shares his taste in booze, his distaste for office politics masquerading as social events, and his uneasiness around old money? It’s a wonderful moment, however: Don mixes the drink like a pro. Is it because he’s had to serve them or because of refinement of his own taste? Is it both? Did one lead to the other? We know a lot more about Don’s backstory now, but the show still has a lot of fine work to do now that the broad strokes have been painted.

Or maybe he just really needs a drink because he can’t stand the way Roger’s living his life anymore. He may no longer act as if he’s on a perpetual shore leave, but he has a wife who’d fit in better at a sorority house. Don doesn’t think he’s happy. He looks happy enough to me, but it’s a quicksand kind of happiness. Even the way Roger asks for a glass of milk suggests he knows he’s dealing with a child.

Their many, many problems aside, the Draper’s marriage looks positively solid by comparison. Don’s still cheating, and if Betty knew what would probably be enough to end this period of relative happiness again. Or maybe not. Maybe Betty’s made her peace with the way things are and can be satisfied with the Don she gets at home, even if the Don she sends out into the world behaves quite differently. Whichever the case, tonight’s episode-ending kiss, not long after Jane reminds the Drapers of their recent separation, looks passionate and sincere. Sweet even. The picture of marital bliss, they’d be right at home on a magazine ad of some sort.

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

• I spent the first few moments after this episode looking for a recipe for an Old Fashioned Ala Draper. Esquire’s recipe comes closest. There’s a YouTube video of someone making a “bacon-infused Old Fashioned.” I can’t imagine Don would approve.)

• Roger performing in blackface. I’m at a loss for words.

• Where’s Kurt? Did I miss something?

• Sally’s story feels like we’re watching a tragedy in slow-motion. Beneath her eagerness-to-please she’s turning into troubled girl whose troubles deepen as the seasons pass.

• “Code Pink.” Gross.

• I haven’t even mentioned the intense guy who touches Betty’s stomach. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him.

• Have you seen this site, The Footnotes Of Mad Men? (Thanks to Entertainment Weekly for the tip.)

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