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'Mad Men': 'Love Among the Ruins'

August 24, 2009 |  8:04 am
Peggy400 In the second episode of the third season, “Mad Men” seemed to be preparing for bigger storms on the horizon. More than ever, the show presented itself as a thinking person’s soap opera. Not unlike “Six Feet Under,” it weaved together several strands from various characters’ story lines, colored with a moody, dreamy quality. Nothing too shattering happened, and for all those new viewers who got hooked with the season debut, I fear it didn’t have enough raw magnetism to keep them going to episode 3, but we won’t know till the numbers come in. In the meantime, light a little prayer candle for “Mad Men.”

Ann-Margret is one of those stars so thoroughly suggestive of the early ‘60s that showing footage of her from “Bye Bye Birdie” is just as powerful as an entire scene in one of the show’s meticulously crafted sets. It would be hard to imagine anyone now getting such a thrill from Ann-Margret’s performance – corny and gawky by today’s standards – but Ken Cosgrove’s crew was wide-eyed and charmed. It also got Peggy thinking – what do men want? And does she have “it”?

She watches the office version of Ann-Margret for tips: Joan, buxom and smiling coquettishly at every utterance from some male guests at Sterling Cooper, might be attached to her sadist-doctor but she’s paid to set everyone at ease with a flash of her coral-red lips. Peggy’s a quick study – she goes to a neighborhood bar and picks up a young man in no time.

She’s good enough at flirting but her exit strategy needs some finessing. In the middle of the night, Peggy attempts to slink out of his apartment but he wakes up, suggests they have breakfast and after he’s rejected, casually mentions that he hangs out at that bar all the time. Peggy’s polite but there is no mistaking her message: “You were just practice. So long, buddy.”

At the Draper home, Betty and Don find themselves with another child – though he’s in the form of a senile, temperamental man. Betty’s father comes to live with them after his caretaker-lover leaves him and Betty’s brother, William, can’t quite broker the deal he wants. In one of Don’s take-charge (or is it bullying?) moments, he tells William that he insists his father-in-law live at his house, and that William pay for it. For someone whose own biological family is in tatters, if it can even be said to exist, Don will do anything to keep Betty’s sense of family intact. He’s proven himself loyal to her, which is not the same as faithful.

In other developments, Roger Sterling has gotten himself in quite the bind with the ladies of his fractured clan. Daughter Margaret does not want Daddy’s new baby-wife at her wedding – and Roger probably wouldn’t really care, if that didn’t add up to a win for ex-wife Mona. Margaret, a live wire who will probably become a commune-living hippie (or some other radical) as soon as the show’s timeline lets her, is one of my favorite, very minor, characters. She knows, like few others know, that her father is a sad, drunken buffoon – and she lets him know with each icy look. Yet, somehow in all that frost, she manages to show her love and affection.

For New York history buffs, there’s a nice Sterling Cooper storyline involving a client who’s looking to scrap Penn Station for the new Madison Square Garden (let’s all take a moment to honor that fallen Beaux-Arts masterpiece). Draper, doing one of his better sales pitches – better because it was realistically low-key and not hammy – has a line that resonates with his personal life-philosophy: “Change can be greeted with terror or joy.” For the most part, it seems Don has always found the joy, especially in the rebirth of claiming another identity. But will he soon discover the terror?

-- Margaret Wappler

Photo: Elizabeth Moss as Peggy. Credit: Carin Baer / AMC

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