"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.'" -Don DraperThe '60s are famous as a decade of great social change. So far, "Mad Men" has taken place on the front side of that change, but now that we're in 1963 - and now that we see that Roger Sterling's daughter is scheduled to be married the day after John F. Kennedy will be assassinated - we know that seismic changes are coming, both to Sterling Cooper and the world it tries to depict in its advertising.
But the shot of Margaret's wedding invitation aside, the changes people are either struggling against or embracing in "Love Among the Ruins" are on a smaller scale. The Draper/Hofstadt families are grappling with a new dynamic where Gene has to be treated like a child rather than the patriarch. Peggy wants to change the way her business works when it comes to selling to women, but in the end settles for changing her approach to men (even if just for a night). Roger doesn't understand why his marriage to Jane has irrevocably changed all of his personal relationships, and the new British overlords of Sterling Cooper don't seem to want to change their old business model to accommodate the new thinking of their American colleagues.
But as Don tells the Madison Square Garden representative, change is inevitable. The seasons change (and Don enjoys the feel of fresh grass under his fingers as he watches Sally and her teacher dance around the maypole), attitudes change and relationships change. You can't stop it. So the best thing you can do is find a way to make your life work around the change.
Don, despite his slip with the stewardess last week, is still making an effort to change, and to be a better husband to Betty. We know he didn't get along with Gene even before senility became an issue, and yet when he sees Betty wracked with guilt over the idea of her brother and sister-in-law becoming her father's caretakers, he goes alpha male and assumes control of the situation to make his wife feel better. William notes that Don has no family, had no people at the wedding, and in previous seasons Betty has complained that Don shows no interest in making her family his own. In this instance, he's willing to bring Betty's father permanently into his home because he knows it will make her happier. It's one of the more generous impulses Don has had of late. (Though even it's bolstered somewhat by a negative emotion, since Don dislikes William and takes obvious pleasure in sending his family back to Philadelphia without the Lincoln.)
And then Gene's midnight mental trip back to the days of Prohibition (he hears a police siren in the distance and assumes it's a liquor raid) makes both Don and Betty realize that having Gene live with them may be a much more drastic change than they had anticipated. Yet the situation isn't all bad; you get the sense that Don and Betty are happy to have Gene there for the family photo after Sally's dance.
At work, Don has a relatively easy time fixing things with the MSG people after Paul turns his pitch into an outraged ode to old Penn Station. But he has a much harder time understanding why Pryce's bosses back in London can't see how valuable the deal will be for Sterling Cooper long-term. During our interview about the season premiere, Matt Weiner said this about the folks from PP&L:
The British have come here because we're great. They're redefining how things are done. But at the same time, they feel everyone needs a parent. That's their attitude.Here, they're being too much the parent who knows best, when they should be recognizing that the son has a broader range of vision than they do. I suspect this is not the first time Pryce has butted heads with Don, nor will it be the last. (Though I hope this doesn't turn into a Richie/Ralphie situation where every season, Weiner brings in a new money man to cause Don problems, and not just because Jared Harris' accent is too good not to keep.)
But if Don can't bring Pryce and the Brits around to his way of thinking, he does eventually get through to Peggy on the subject of Patio. Though Peggy is now comfortable enough to openly disagree with Don (in one-on-one situations, at least), he's still her mentor and professional role model, and you can see how disappointed she is when he's just as turned on by Ann-Margret singing "Bye Bye Birdie" (he says it "makes your heart hurt") as the more callow likes of Pete and Harry.
Where Peggy is understandably interested in pushing to change the way Sterling Cooper sells products to women, she has the bad luck to catch Don in a bad mood. (Just as poor Pete did at the end of "Flight 1" last season.) Demoralized after the meeting with Pryce, Don bluntly tells her, "You're not an artist, Peggy. You solve problems. Leave some tools in your toolbox."
Now, since she gave up the baby, Peggy has deliberately walked her own proto-feminist path. She's now at the point where she doesn't understand a woman like Joan any more than Joan understands her. But frustrated first by this account, and then at not getting approval from Don, and at constantly having to deal with the sexism of her time and workplace, she decides to see how the other half lives. First there's her Ann-Margret pantomime in the bedroom mirror, and I love how Elisabeth Moss just turns the teenage girl thing on and off like she's flipping a switch. And then, satisfied that she can play the role, she picks up a college boy at the local bar. They're roughly the same age, but she seems years older than him (and certainly more sexually experienced), and she certainly never wants to see him again. But at the same time, there's sincerity in her voice - as much as you can read anything into the show's most inscrutable character - when she tells the kid, "This was fun." Might this evening lead her to a more carefree personal life? Whether it does or not, the experience allows her to set aside whatever irritation she feels for Don(*), and the next morning she's back in his office, just another colleague, the previous day's conflict forgotten.
(*) When Peggy is pretending to be the dumb secretary for the college boy and complains, "My boss is a jerk,"she seems to be using her real current issues with Don to enhance the performance.
I find it really funny that Peggy borrows Joan's joke about the subway in the same episode where Roger confronts Don about their estrangement, since I thoroughly believe that Don is as mad at Roger about stealing his "move forward" line to use in dumping Mona as he is that Roger violated Don's various codes about privacy and personal ethics by hooking up with Jane. Don may be a problem-solver some days, but in his heart he's an artist, and he just won't tolerate plagiarism of his words.
Aside from maybe Harry Crane, Roger is the character on the show who most strongly symbolizes the side that's going to be left behind in the cultural revolution. (Even Bert Cooper seems more forward-thinking; if nothing else, he was in on the Hentai boom decades early with that octopus painting.) Roger doesn't think about the future because he's too busy thinking about himself. He irrevocably transformed his life by leaving Mona for Jane, but he expects everything to more or less remain the same. He doesn't think Don should feel betrayed by Roger using him as the excuse (and the words) to leave his wife. He expects Margaret to be happy and smiling and eager to welcome homewrecker Jane into the family. He even expects Mona to make some pretense of being nice to him.
Roger wants things the way they were, not the way they are, nor the way they'll become. And because we know his daughter's wedding is scheduled for November 23, and that JFK will be killed on November 22, we know Roger's going to get an up close and personal view of one of the most transformative moments in our country's history. Knowing Roger - and knowing what Matt Weiner told me about the way history is viewed by the people living through it - we're going to see Roger too wrapped up in the ruin of his daughter's wedding to notice the larger story.
Some other thoughts on "Love Among the Ruins":
• Patio was, indeed, the awful first name of Diet Pepsi, though it only lasted into 1964. I can only assume that the commercials featured a Chevy Chase type explaining that "It's a floor wax and a diet cola!"
• It's always funny to watch Michael Gladis play Paul as the youngest old man in New York, but in this case, history will have proven Paul right, as the outrage over the dismantling of Penn Station (you can see a picture of the old interior here) will lead to the creation of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.
• I'm also amused whenever whenever Pete goes all Dychman blue blood whenever he's in the presence of people who come from old money. In many ways, Pete's similar to Don; he doesn't really know how to be a human being, but he can fake it in the right situations if he can remember which persona to adopt.
• Born in Indiana but largely raised in South Africa, Embeth Davidtz is one of those actresses where I'm never quite clear what her real accent sounds like. But she fits in nicely next to Jared Harris as Pryce's wife Rebecca, and seems just the kind of brittle, overly-cultured type who would make Betty feel uncomfortable (and inadequate) around.
• I can't be the only viewer who gets angry at the merest mention of Joan's husband, can I? It appears that he's only allowing Joan to keep working at Sterling Cooper until he gets promoted to chief resident, at which point he becomes the breadwinner and she becomes a baby machine. Grrr...
• Gene brings over steaks from Pat's, which raises the eternal question for anyone who has either lived or spent significant time in Philadelphia: Pat's, Geno's or Jim's?
• When Gene appeared last season in "The Inheritance," a number of fans pointed out actor Ryan Cutrona's resemblance to John McCain, and suggested that Matt Weiner was making some sort of commentary on the then-presidential nominee. But Cutrona had already appeared in the first season, more than a year before McCain had gotten the nomination. And now I'll remind you of the No Politics rule, and let's let this be the last that this comes up, okay?
Speaking of the commenting rules, I should say that you guys were great last week with all your comments. You pointed out things I either forget to mention or hadn't noticed, and just as importantly, you played well with each other. Even though I didn't bring up the rule about at least skimming all previous comments before posting your own, there was very little duplication among the comments. So good on ya.
That being said, iTunes recently goofed and for a few hours made next week's episode, "My Old Kentucky Home," available for download. And apparently, a number of people did download it. So it's at this point that I need to remind you about the No Spoiler policy here on the blog. Simply put, I don't want any discussion of that episode. I don't even want discussion of the previews for that episode (even though AMC's previews for the show tend to be opaque and/or misleading). Not a word. Are we clear about that? Good. And that being said...
What did everybody else think?