If we know anything about the 1960s, it's that it was a decade of change. Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner and several cast members have hinted that change is perhaps the biggest theme of this season, and in this episode, plenty of seeds were planted. Not all our characters will bloom into beings capable of accepting the changes ahead though. While Don and Peggy remain ever versatile, if disgruntled, at doing what needs to be done (at least for a little while), the older generation — Roger Sterling and the British leadership at Putnam, Powell and Lowe — show themselves to be dinosaurs. And we all know what happened to them.
"Change is neither good or bad. It simply is." — Don Draper
Don makes his strides at home with Betty, when her father, Gene comes for a visit. Abandoned by his second wife and slipping further into senility, Gene is a nuisance to Betty's brother, William, who greedily pushes to have their father put into an "old folks' home" in hopes of getting his hands on the family home. When Betty refuses, William lays on the guilt, suggesting he and his wife, Judy, will move in with Gene and Judy will play nurse. Don arrives home to find Betty, the self-declared "terrible daughter," in tears.
With the same boardroom savvy that has made him a success, Don springs into action, telling William how it's going to be: Gene (and his car) will stay with the Drapers, William will pay for his father's expenses, the house will sit empty. "We'll pretend you did the right thing on your own," Don says. We know from past seasons that Betty has always struggled with Don's inability to accept her family as his own, but his actions speak for themselves, as do January Jones' silent glances of appreciation to Don as William breaks the news to her.
In truth, Don probably loved sticking it to his weaselly brother-in-law, and it's impossible to say that one action alone makes Don a reformed man. But he is clearly trying to make Betty happy, and the gesture is perhaps the most loving and certainly the most generous we've seen from Don in a while. It's miles from his cold statement at the beginning of the episode when Betty prepared him for Gene's visit: "Tell me now, not three seconds after I've dozed off." And it further cements Don into a suburban life he already hates. But for now, Don deals with Gene, even when he pours out the Drapers' booze in the middle of the night after a police siren makes the old man think he's in the midst of a Prohibition-era raid. For now, Grandpa belongs in the family picture taken at Sally's field day. For now.
"I don't mind fantasies, but shouldn't it be a female one?" — Peggy Olson
At the office, Peggy the feminist struggles with a new campaign that she feels is selling the wrong image. Patio, Pepsi's ridiculously named diet drink (Don calls it a drink that sounds like a floor), wants to use an Ann-Margret-in-Bye-Bye-Birdie-type to sell the product. Peggy, never one to identify with the girly-girls, doesn't see the point, as that image attracts men, not the women who buy diet drinks. But Peggy is opposed on all sides and is even shot down by Don, who in a foul mood, snaps "You're not an artist, Peggy. You solve problems. Leave some tools in your toolbox." (In this episode, Don may feel like a problem-solver, but I honestly think if Peggy had caught Don when he hadn't just found out an account was being sacked, her argument might have been heard.)
That defeat, coupled with Peggy's wonderment and envy at how Joan Holloway — excuse me, Harris — interacts with men, sets Peggy on a new mission. As Roger Sterling puts it, Peggy is "the only one who doesn't run around here with that dumb look on your face." So if she can't change the way her company does business, she'll change her approach to men. She even auditions for her new role with her own sad version of "Bye Bye Birdie" in the mirror. Confident that she can be Ann-Margret enough to woo a strapping lad, she heads off to the bar.
There, after stealing Joan's joke about the subway, Peggy hits it off with a young pre-law-turned-engineering student. ("Those two things are very different," Peggy observes.) It's painfully clear that Peggy is more mature than this guy, but she plays dumb for him, even letting him believe that she is a secretary. (Though there was nothing fake about her declaration that "I work for a jerk," at least in that moment.) Fun, flirty and take-charge works for her; she grabs the boy's burger and takes a bite. He calls her flirty, but I say she's being Don Draper, leading this poor fellow exactly where she wants him to go: the bedroom.
But again, Peggy has changed, and with good reason. Peggy hits the brakes on the heavy petting when her young suitor reveals he doesn't have a Trojan. "I can't," Peggy says, unwilling to make the same mistake twice. (Ironically, didn't that guy remind you a whole lot of Pete Campbell?) But, never one to disappoint, Peggy says there are other things they can do, and by the time she gathers her things and runs, her would-be one-night stand was successful enough. The kid tells her that he hangs at that bar a lot, and though Peggy feigns interest, I doubt she'll go back to that well now that she knows she can be that woman. That's enough for her to return to the office the next day and carry on with Don as though nothing happened. It's safe to say that Peggy remains an enigma.
"I did my job, and now you're telling me it was all for nothing because you forgot to check with your boss first?" — Don Draper
On the flip side of the coin, Don deals with the London office's refusal to change with the times. Even though they bought the broad-minded American agency, they still want to lead the agency in a close-minded way. After Mr. Pryce (who I enjoy more every time he's on screen) sends Don out to (successfully) clean up the mess made by Paul Kinsey's love letter to Penn Station in the boardroom, Putnam, Powell and Lowe decide the aren't interested in the Madison Square Garden account for financial reasons. Don is confused at how they would let such a gold mine slip through their fingers, especially one that promises acclaim and 30 years of future business. But like he did with Peggy, Don gets the short answer, the one he doesn't want to hear. At least we got another great speech by Don at the lunch with MSG representative first: "If you don't like what's being said, change the conversation," he tells the jumpy exec.
"I could give two craps about the wedding. All I want to do is win." — Roger Sterling
Don also recalls his recent trip to California, noting how clean and hopeful the state is compared to decaying New York. For our purposes, Roger Sterling is New York in this scenario. Even though he married Jane, change won't come easy for him. Roger is enraged (well, Roger's version of enraged) when his daughter, Margaret, asks that Jane not come to her wedding. He seems befuddled by Mona's displeasure with him, and seems even further lost as to Don's underlying anger towards him. (At their MSG lunch, Don essentially calls Roger useless; I can't wait for that anger to boil over.)
Roger admits that he doesn't even care about the wedding; he just wants to beat Mona. It's perhaps his self-centered nature (remember, he championed the merger as a way to pay for his divorce and new wedding) that makes him so resistant to change. Truth is, Roger is going to get at least one interruption: His daughter's wedding is scheduled to take place the day after what we know will be the day President Kennedy is assassinated. Think he'll notice?
A few other notes:
• Embeth Davidtz (Junebug, In Treatment) was icily awesome as Mrs. Pryce. Line of the night: "What we lost in London we gained in insects." I hope we see more of her this season.
• We've seen lots of bare feet this season. Don was shoeless twice in the premiere: first during his flashback and again when escaping the hotel fire. Tonight, Sally's teacher felt the grass beneath her as she danced around the maypole. Don wanted what she had, as demonstrated by his absentminded stroking of the ground as he looked on. I'm interested on everyone's take on the scene. Is this perhaps a new love connection Don is considering? Or is Don just enjoying the change in seasons?
• I don't know why it bothers me so much, but I miss the old Bobby Draper. Nothing against Jared Gilmore, the actor now playing the youngest Draper kid, but maybe I am a little more like Roger Sterling than I think.
• Brief as it was, I liked seeing the difference between the heads of accounts this evening. Ken listens to Peggy's complaints about Patio, but ultimately shoots her down like everyone else. Meanwhile, Pete is so busy name-dropping his blue-blooded Dyckman forebears that he lets Paul Kinsey self-destruct in front of the Madison Square Garden clients. Having Don clean up your mess is no way to impress Mr. Pryce, Pete.
What did you think of "Love Among the Ruins"? What do you think is in store for the Drapers now that Gene has moved in? Were you happy for Peggy or slightly saddened that she was willing to make those changes in herself? Share all your thoughts in the comments below!
If we know anything about the 1960s, it's that it was a decade of change. Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner and several cast members have hinted that change is perhaps the biggest theme of this season, and in this episode, plenty of seeds were planted. Not all our characters will bloom into beings capable of accepting the changes ahead though. While Don and Peggy remain ever versatile, if disgruntled, at doing what needs to be done (at least for a little while), the older generation — Roger Sterling and the British leadership at Putnam, Powell and Lowe — show themselves to be dinosaurs. And we all know what happened to them....