'C'est Magnifique': Mad Men Recapped
Mad Men's third episode of Season Three, "My Old Kentucky Home" (aka "the Episode That Leaked," aka "the Peggy Gets Spoilered Episode"), has already been disseminated here and there since it appeared briefly on iTunes a couple of weeks ago. But those of us who waited for the broadcast were rewarded with the season's best episode to date -- with the added bonus of interminable Viagra, Cialis and Canada Dry ads slathered on top for good measure. Suck it, new media.
Anyway, with all of Season Three's plots, subplots and set-ups established in the short-attention span melodramas of the last couple weeks, viewers finally were able to spend a little more time per segment with Don Draper and Co. Or let's just call it Peggy Olson and Co.: The Ann-Margret-hating, bar-crawling wildcat of episode two hadn't mellowed out in the week since, and her frustration with the heinous Patio soda campaign once again opens the proceedings here. It's short-lived though; Pete and Ken need copy for Bacardi's Daquiri Beach campaign by Monday morning. That means a Saturday in the office for Peggy, Paul and Smitty, who'll rummage through brand-name clinkers ("Bacardi-licious! Bacardi-lightful!") and alcoholic experiments before Kinsey finally calls up his old drug-pushing Princeton pal to bring some weed by Sterling Cooper.
Pete, Ken, Don and the rest dodge weekend duty with a trip out to Long Island, where Roger Sterling and his new wife Jane have planned a "Derby Days" garden party. Jane remains the ruthless social-climber she grew into last season, yet with uniquely new assholish, class-leaping entitlement issues. Her office encounter with Joan dips into sub-Arctic temperatures, yielding confessions like, "Roger's having my ring resized; I keep losing weight," and, when Joan mentions moving to the Bronx, "I get a nosebleed anywhere above 86th Street." Bitch. By the time Jane has requested that a girl to go flag down her driver around 1:15, the series' villainess has been officially cast. In a show teeming with weasels, infidels and even Englishmen, one woman has raised what appears to be an insurmountable bar for awful behavior.
And it'll only get worse at the party, which, despite Betty's interest and a lacy new frock that makes her "look like an open umbrella," Don has about zero interest in attending. You think he might even get out of it for a second when Betty's father Gene inflates the disappearance of five dollars into the crime of the century at the Draper residence. "You people," sneers Gene as Don offers him a five-spot of his own. "You think money is the answer to every problem." "No, just this particular problem," Don replies.
Little do any of them know that little Sally -- who precociously reads The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to her grandfather every night and walked backwards from all the way downstairs just to zip up her mother's dress -- kiped the cash a little earlier. It's a sharp, subtle bit of character development for a show that's been more than a little on-the-nose this season: Gene's in the early stages of dementia, but is he that crazy to make up a missing five bucks? And is Sally simply a garden-variety Kid Klepto, or is she experimenting with just how sick her grandpa is? This is the Mad Men I love -- the one whose sociopathic children of all ages go around seducing, manipulating and/or taking advantage of helpless adults with relative impunity.
Not so much, however, the one where Peggy alternates between seething resentment and liberating self-discovery from one scene to the next. It's happening more and more, as though Matthew Weiner's designated feminist mascot is entitled to only as much development as he's willing to give her between epiphanies. He's even more hamfisted with Peggy's secretary Olive, a by-the-book veteran who exists only to remind Peggy of the danger she'll encounter (i.e. the boundaries she'll shatter) by heading off to smoke pot and infiltrate the boys' club. Among that crew: Kinsey's college chum Jeffrey (played by Movieline hero Miles Fisher, right), whose seduction efforts fail when Peggy is simply too high to let her expanded consciousness go to waste. She's gonna crack this Bacardi thing yet, but not before confronting Olive with what we all knew: Peggy isn't scared, but she is empowered, and she has her name on her office door to prove it. Take that, white guys! Except you, Jeffrey, who has something she'll probably need more of as the season continues.
Out on Long Island, meanwhile, one of those white guys knows just how to keep his guests entertained: Roger belts a blackface-baritone rendition of "My Old Kentucky Home" to Jane -- a grimly tacky two-fer lest there be any doubts about his faltering judgment. Don's had about all he can stand, fleeing to the bar for a cocktail. There he makes friends with the folksy bartender Connie, who can't find the bourbon but has a story or eight to tell about growing up in New Mexico. Of course Don one-ups him -- he peed in car trunks when he was 15 (now that's the Dick Whitman flashback we all want) -- but their exchange is one of the episode's highlights: A couple of guys far from home, down to earth, and looking for a way out. In keeping with the Mad Men spirit, they won't get it.
Betty isn't quite that desperate, but she still indulges a hands-on stranger riveted by her ravishing looks and pregnant belly. "I wish you were waiting for me," he tells her outside the ladies' room; he's later introduced as Henry Francis, an aide to Gov. Rockefeller and official Believer in Love. That makes for some awkward conversation, but none more awkward than Jane's fantastic, drunken lunge at Don. "You don't like me!" she yelps, gripping the lower part of his suit jacket. "I'm a nice person!" Roger confronts Don, Don confronts Roger, the Campbells cut a mean rug to the Charleston... what a party!
But you know what it could really use? Joan Holloway playing "C'est Magnifique" on an accordion while singing along in French. Really. It might be the single greatest scene in the history of Mad Men -- not just for the unexpectedness of it or the quirk factor, like with Freddy Rumsen's pants-pissing in Season Two or Betty's bird-shooting in Season One. It's both of those things, matched with the misery of Joan's domestic situation; her slimy husband Greg may not be the rising medical star that he seems, and Joan's reward for hosting their own dinner party is to be trotted out like some busty, self-aware circus animal. The bemusing irony gives way to horror amplified in Joan's forsaken eyes -- the most vulnerable we've ever seen Christina Hendricks's brassy heroine, and a throwback to the series' breathtaking old days when bad and weird things happened to good people. Only on Mad Men would a character be so ashamed of such delightful hidden talent. Maybe she should try it after a joint.