Monday, August 31, 2009

At the Mountains of Madness- Part Three: "My Old Kentucky Home"

If it's Monday, it must be Mad Men day here at Charge Shot!!! First things first, welcome to the new site. This feature's been going strong for three weeks now and you can expect more stuff like this (but the same amount of video games-related content) in the coming weeks with our new additions to the staff and our general re-tooling to a pan-pop culture blog. I for one am excited that my personal favorite role model/object of disgust Don Draper made it into the banner for the new layout; to quote Pete Campbell, "Why, that's just swell."

The third season of America's favorite television drama about the advertising industry is starting to take shape with this week's installment. We've seen how 1963 has been opening for Don Draper and co. and now it looks like things are really beginning to get rolling. The old guard is struggling to maintain control in the face of the British invasion, papa Hofstadt has moved in with Betty and Don, Pete kind of got promoted, and Roger got re-married. It's starting to look like all that the men of Madison Avenue have taken for granted these past few years is beginning to slowly slip away- let's see how they handle that.

Allow me to act as midwife in the birth of the brave new Charge Shot!!! Mix yourself an Old Fashioned and let's get rambling, ramblers!

This week's episode "My Old Kentucky Home" can be easily broken down into four basic plotlines. We'll start in ascending order of relevance and screen time with the "D" plot of little Sally Draper and Grandpa Gene. As Mad Men devotees are readily aware of, Betty's father Gene Hofstadt isn't in good shape. He's suffered a few strokes recently and is beginning to show early signs of possible Alzheimer's-related dementia. Last week, thanks to some slick convincing on the part of Don, Gene moved into the Drapers' Westchester home. Already it looks like his presence is causing as much of a problem as we all knew it would.

Gene keeps having moments where he forgets where and when he is, last week he poured out of all of Don's booze in an attempt to hide it from the Prohibition-era fuzz and now he's peeled a bunch of potatoes in the kitchen after he had a flashback to his Army days. Things only get worse when precocious little Sally Draper steals five dolalrs from his billfold. I assume that his outrage over the disappaernce of his cash is seen by Betty and Don as something of an overreaction- how much more was $5.00 worth in 1963? A ruckus is caused when he indirectly accuses the Drapers' black maid Carla of taking it, all while Sally looks on. After overturning every mattress in the house, Sally finally finds an indirect way to the return the money to grandpa (God, she's adorable) and all would seem at peace until Gene knowingly extorts her into reading him Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire before she goes to bed. All of the talk about "decadence", "corruption", and "effeminate orientals" makes for a lot of symbolism, eh?

Our "C" plot brings us to the Bronx apartment of Joan and her husband, Greg. Greg's throwing a dinner party in an effort to impress the head of surgery at his hospital (he's a doctor, if you'll remember) and of course it's dutiful wife Joan's responsibility to play hostess. Throwing Emily Post instructions around, Joan is trying to assume the mantle of lady of the house, but Greg is getting all controlling and not letting her do her job. Joan who was so adept at being a woman in a man's world as a single, maneating, ├╝ber-secretary is not quite as good at married life; or maybe it's just that she's married to Dr. Rape that's screwing up her usual sense of place. Over drinks we learn that Greg, who we assumed was so perfect on the outsider and only a monster on the inside- David Lynch style, may have let someone die under the knife. The wives of Greg's friends tell Joan that she's the best thing going in his life right now, personal and professional, and that she should avoid getting pregnant. These revelations about Greg are going to figure in pretty heavily later in the season, I would say. In order to change the subject from his professional failings, Greg makes Joan perform for their guests (which apparently was what you did back then, a practice I'm quite glad has faded out of style, personally). What is Joanie's hidden talent you ask? The accordion. That's right, the accordion. Joan and "Weird Al" Yankovic share a proficiency in the accordion. She sings in French for the guests, in what must be humiliating for her but seems to do the job which, given Greg's winning personality, may have been the point all along. Oo lah la!

"My name is Peggy Olson and I want to smoke marijuana."

Peggy's subplot deals with her, Paul, and Smitty (where's Kurt?) having to spend Saturday at the office trying to figure out a way to sell Bacardi rum. After experimenting with actually drinking the stuff, Smitty suggests they get high to get their creative juices flowing. Paul calls up an old college buddy from the Princeton class of '55 (as he reminds everyone as much as he can) and his fellow "cocksman" (a word I wish was still in use) shows up to deal some pot to the creative department at Sterling Cooper.

This part of the episode reveals two things- 1) Peggy's growing assertiveness and influence amongst the creatives and 2) Paul might not be as "hip" ("hep"?) as we were lead to believe oweing to his Jersey origins and lack of recent dope smoking. As with last week's episode, we can see that Peggy is going out of her way to become more included with her male colleagues, who still aren't 100% on board with her as one of the guys. She's becoming more outgoing and willing to play the game as opposed to the wide-eyed, earnest innocent we met in the pilot. Her smackdown/reassurance of her secretary Olive is particularly telling,.We're also finally getting some more character development from Paul Kinsey, whose subplots so far have revolved around his willingness to date black girls and his sweet parties in Montclair, NJ. Our resident Orson Welles look-alike apparently has an inferiority complex (who didn't see that coming?).

The final and biggest plot of this week's episode involves Don and Betty attending a party thrown by Roger and Jane at a country club on Long Island. Don seems particularly reluctant to attend based on his disapproval of Roger's recent behavior and Betty is concerned about her pregnancy-related appearance. This all comes to a head when Roger's buffoonery (performing in blackface!) drives Don to mingle with a fellow traveler on the up-from-nothing road. His new found friend is a man named Connie from New Mexico (this guy?). There they discuss how much they hate these high society parties and Don reveals some more about his past, namely that he's from Illinois by way of Pennsylvania coal country and that he used to pee in fancy people's cars when he worked as a valet. Don also shows us how to make a mean Old Fashioned, which I suspect will be rechristened the "Don Draper" in a matter of years.

Also revealed this episode, Pete and Trudy Campbell cut a mean Charleston.

Betty has a brief encounter with a kind of creepy, Reed Richards-looking type who wants to feel her belly while she waits for Trudy Campbell outside the ladies' room. It's weird that Betty's biggest display of intimacy so far has been with a stranger who hits on her at a country club and not with her husband. The weirdo is later revealed to be a bigwig at the governor's office, perhaps we'll hear more from him later in the season?

Draper marriage troubles escalate when a drunker Mrs. Jane Sterling fumbles for Don's belt and tells her she's so happy that he and Betty reconciled after their separation, as well as questioning why Don doesn't like her. Betty storms off at this humiliating display, Jane is of course one of the few people privy to the Drapers' recent squabble, having been Don's secretary through most of the ordeal. When Roger intervenes, Don tells him what he's been feeling, namely that Sterling's been acting like an idiot for the past year, divorcing his wife, marrying a 20-year-old etc. Also of note, it was Roger's divorce that helped to necessitate the selling of Sterling Cooper to the Brits, and we all know how Don feels about that (if you don't, he doesn't think well of them).

Don finds Betty and smooths things over, but we can only wonder how much longer until the bottom falls out for the "effeminate orientals" at Sterling Cooper.