Mad Men Season 3 Episode 3: “My Old Kentucky Home”

"Don't you just love a good cotillion?"<br>"I'm going to poop in your trunk later."
"Don't you just love a good cotillion?""I'm going to poop in your trunk later."

Does anybody really enjoy parties?  No – let me rephrase that – does anybody really enjoy the beginning and middle of parties?[1] The start of a party is always awkward, filled with obligatory introductions and desperate foraging for small talk.  After you’ve settled in, there’s the necessity of “mixing” – of making sure that you talks to all the appropriate people, as well as the lonely people, and of course the new people – in short, of making sure that you talk to everybody except the people you actually want to talk to, which are usually the people you came with.  It’s worse than working, because at least at work you don’t have to pretend to be enjoying yourself.  That’s why work parties are so uneasy – they take the usual social labor endemic to parties and multiply it by injecting actual fiscal anxiety into the situation.  We all have to perform, both in our social spheres and on the job, but it can be harrowing to try to cobble together your professional and public personas into a living, breathing, reacting creature who doesn’t drink too much or say the wrong thing or eat too much or give away too much information to that bitch Donna from sales.

This episode was all about parties – work parties, specifically.  It was a great device, because we got to see all our favorite repressives and dipsomaniacs engaged in deceptively casual situations that were actually totally fucking intense. Unlike the players, we knew exactly why everything was totally fucking intense, which gave their performances (social and otherwise) extra resonance.  Let’s rate those performances, shall we?

The fact is that your job at work parties is to appear to be having an AWESOME TIME while also being TOTALLY APPROPRIATE and also NOT A ROBOT but instead a RELATABLE, PROMOTABLE PERSON.  That’s why Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) is so comfortable at work parties (in fact, he’s probably more comfortable at work parties than in any other situation.)  All he does all day is pretend to be an AWESOME, APPROPRIATE PERSON MADE OF FLESH AND BLOOD, NOT FEMO AND LUCITE AND DARKE MAGICKE, YOU JERKS.  Part of what makes him so weird is that most people are just trying to get through their day, so they don’t understand why he’s always going up to them and saying things like “YOU THINK I’M A REAL BOY, RIGHT?” and “HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF COFFEE?”  But at a work party, all anybody is doing is going around saying things like that, things like “SALES HUH WEIRD!” and “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU ATE A BIRD THE OTHER DAY I ATE A BIRD ONCE BUT AT A DIFFERENT TIME AND LOCATION.”  This is because most people are bad at talking to people they don’t know, except if they want something like a good or service or those papers on their desk by 9 AM sharp. But Pete is great at it because it is his whole life, because he doesn’t know anybody and no one knows him and all he does all day is take middle-aged men to weird restaurants.  At Roger (John Slattery) and Jane’s (Peyton List) party, everybody was playing on Pete’s turf (for once.)

TOTALLY NORMAL PERSON
TOTALLY NORMAL PERSON

Normal people hate socializing, because it’s so uncomfortable: it involves very advanced lying skills.  Socializing is inherently political.  It’s all about forming new alliances, intelligently handling enemies, reinforcing old alliances, negotiating truces, dodging mine fields, and so on – all while pretending that you have no idea that you are doing that, or that other people are doing that, or that you know that they know you are doing that, and also that this is all rilly, rilly fun.  Work socializing is double-fun, because it conflates the battle for community status with the battle for professional status.  At work parties, most people are pretty paralyzed, because their heads are exploding from the cognitive dissonance between what they are pretending to do (chill out at a picnic!) and what they are supposed to do (jockey for position.)  Thus, work parties tend to live and die on the strength of the Office Extrovert.

In normal work situations, like when you are trying to get something done, the Office Extrovert is annoying – he’s always running around making bad jokes that you have to try to laugh at, or making meetings awkward because he can’t read a room, or trying to “show you something.”  But the Office Extrovert’s inability to understand other people, which makes him so awful at work, is a godsend to the work party.  He can’t tell that people are way more uncomfortable than usual.  He’s tricked, by the trappings of the occasion, into thinking that everybody is having an awesome time.  (It also helps that he is usually having an awesome time.  Extroverts tend to be self-centered, and to project their feelings onto others, thus: if he is having an awesome time, everybody else must be too.)  And so the Office Extrovert becomes the life of the party – people laugh at his jokes, however bad, because at least they break the ice; they listen raptly to his long stories, grateful that, for a while at least, they don’t have to come up with anything to say.  For one night only, the Office Extrovert is exactly the man he thinks he is: suave, socially adept, and witty.

One of the banes of successful socializing is self-consciousness.  Like most extroverts, Pete has no insight into his own feelings and personality, which is why he loves to socialize.  Most normal people are not comfortable with lying precisely because it makes them feel self-conscious; therefore parties, with their high levels of ritualistic pretence, make them feel awkward.  Look at Harry Crane (Rich Sommer.)  He’s much more normal of a guy than Pete; he’s probably better liked; he’s certainly more affable.  Yet at Roger and Jane’s party, Harry performs far less successfully than Pete.  This is because Harry’s just not OK with goal-oriented socializing (and his wife Jennifer’s (Laura Regan) prodding doesn’t help.)  Harry’s self-consciousness keeps him on the fringes of the fete, even though in real life he’s fairly popular.

Fairly popular.
Fairly popular.

Yes, tonight was FULL OF WIN for ol’ Pete.  He got to make a dance!  He got to say HAI GUISE and people said it back!  Trudy (Alison Brie) likes to say HAI GUISE and make dances as well, because she no has a fetus so all she does is practice saying HAI GUISE and play Social Smartz with Pete.  Betty (January Jones) and Trudy got along real well because they are both pretty ladies who enjoy calm, attractive environments, as well as ignorance of the fact that their husbands are crazy liars.  Jennifer was sad because her husband was not a crazy liar!  And so was said husband!  But they should appreciate the fact that their lives/personalities are actually quite normal.  The cumulative effect of this incident was to point out an irony about the sixties, which is part of Mad Men’s Indian name, “A Child’s Treasury of Ironies About the Sixties!”

And there was another irony hiding behind the above irony!  This irony was about Don Draper (Jon Hamm), of course.  See, Don Draper is even better at socializing than Pete.  This is because the other ingredient of being good at socializing, besides a lack of self-consciousness, is being very self-conscious.  You must be self-conscious as well as other-conscious when socializing, because in order to get people to like and respect you, you have to understand what their personalities are and what the stakes of the situation are and also how you are coming across and how your persona can help or hinder you in achieving your social goals.  You have to know how to act and you have to understand that you are performing.  You have to understand your audience.  This is a paradox, and also a Jedi trick – you have to simultaneously totally understand the artificial nature of interactions while not letting the fact that you are being artificial bother you because you are totally ignoring the implications of this artificiality even as you are wielding it.

Pete actually understands this, he’s just missing part of the equation.  He understands this because he is trying to be Don Draper, because everybody is trying to be Don Draper.  He apes everything that Don does, understanding why Don does it, but the part he is missing is that he doesn’t know that it sucks.  People like Don because he does and says all the right things, but also because they sense that he is still human and actually hates it.  Pete, on the other hand, has no idea that socializing sucks.  He loves it, which paradoxically makes him a giant douche.

Paradoxical douchery.
Paradoxical douchery.

Pete is both very good and very bad at socializing.  Nobody likes him but he is the master of awkward interactions.  Nobody wants to go out with a beer with Pete, but on the other hand, they also know he is very useful, because you can foist your weird aunt on him and he will talk about curtains with her for like ten hours and never even know that it is horrible and boring.  In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, and as Harry can tell you, Pete Campbell was the king of this particular work party.

Except that everybody’s true love is Don Draper (including me!)  Why?  Mostly because Don spent this episode ruling.  The best thing was when he jumped over the bar instead of using the door.  This is because Don is a rake!  He delighted the flip out of that old rich man, whom the Internet suspects was supposed to be Conrad Hilton.  He did it by being good at being a bartender and drinking poor-quality drinks with him and telling charming poop stories.  In other words, instead of making a queerbait dance, Don acted like a human.  He said he hated parties, like all good-hearted people, even as he ruled at being at a party. Don knows the funnest thing to do at a party, at least during the middle part, is to sneak off and be separate from the party with somebody else and complain about the party together and get wasted.  Then people miss you and wonder if you are off being cooler than them and the answer is yes and your stock goes up.  Also by sneaking off you are anticipating the best part of the party, which is the end part when you are drunk and making fun of everybody else and saying witticisms.  It’s mean because you are leaving all the workhorse socializing to Peter the Sturdy Burro, but it’s fun because there are no consequences for that.

Betty had a good time at the party because wives feared her, and she had a nice dress, and she saw a racism, and a man petted her.  These are some of her favorite things.  Betty is probably good at socializing; I’m not sure yet.  She doesn’t have any friends, but most people don’t think she’s weird; they just think she is a pretty and strange lady, or possibly a pony.  She knows appearances are important, but I am not sure if she knows why or how or even that she thinks that they are.   She likes going places because all the men say oh look a lady pony and all the women say oh hai woah you caught a Draper.  That is her job and she has many costumes for it.  She liked Trudy because they are the same except Trudy is not as good and doesn’t own a Draper.  (I mean, Trudy is not as good as her in Betty’s eyes.  I think Trudy is cool because she is passionate and good at managing Pete, but Betty doesn’t know about that.)  And she liked leaving the house because she hates her children.  Betty is a very David Lynch-type person and often in her mind she is whispering the word “appropriate” over and over again in order to avoid hearing her own thoughts.  She does not like to drop in to see what condition her condition is in.

Politeness!
Politeness!

Roger’s performance of “My Old Kentucky Home” was interesting in contrast to everybody else’s performances.  Roger’s favorite thing in the world is to be totally inappropriate all the time.  He seems to have a perverse drive to make situations as uncomfortable as mortally possible, probably because he finds uncomfortable people entertaining.   The purpose of Roger’s performance, unlike everybody else’s performances, was not to charm others and consolidate his social status.  Rather, it was one part dare, one part hubris, and one part whimsy.  It was his party, and he could wear blackface if he wanted to.  The “joke” of the blackface, for Roger, probably lay in the fact that he was the most powerful person there.  It was funny to him to pretend to be poor and powerless, because he is the opposite of poor and powerless, because he is the opposite of poor and powerless.  And, in a weird way, by aping the mannerisms of someone “lowly,” he was not only making fun of poor black slaves but also of everybody else at the party.  Everybody else has to pretend to be awesome, but Roger has nothing to lose, so he can act weak or weird or however he pleases.  In a certain sense, he was flaunting his power over his guests – they have to wear “rich cultured whiteface,” but he gets to run around in blackface.  The tittering guests are enslaved to convention[2], but Roger believes himself above the rules – perhaps because men like him made the rules.

Yet there was a certain insecurity to the party – the ostentatious flaunting of wealth, the gusto with which Roger kissed Jane after the performance, tarring her with face paint.  Something felt a little bit Gatsby.  Roger’s little display after Jane drunkenly accosted Don revealed definite insecurity.  I don’t think he was jealous of Jane going after Don; it seemed more that he was desperate for Don to go after Jane, to validate, in some odd way, his choosing her.  He needs to believe that Don is jealous of him – and, indeed, that everybody is jealous of him – because, on some level, he doesn’t really believe in his own choice.  He needs external evidence that he is free and wildly happy, perhaps because he doesn’t feel authentically free and truly happy.  Don brutally disabused him of his illusions of being envied.  We haven’t seen any repercussions from this yet, but that doesn’t mean that it was an insignificant gesture.  If Roger didn’t already hate Don a little, he definitely does now.  I wonder what Roger would make of Dick Whitman?

The Totally Discreet Charm of the Petit-Bourgeoisie
The Totally Discreet Charm of the Petit-Bourgeoisie

Our second work party was at Ye Olde Harris Homestead, and man was it middle-class –  charades!  Pillow sittin’!  Emily Post!  Dip!  Vacuuming!  There were so many keenly-observed details of time and place – most of which I probably didn’t get, actually, but I got enough that the entire thing felt painful even before the guests arrived.  The anxiety over seating was . . . grandmotherly.  Everybody knows that the key to a good party is nonchalance.  The Harris’ bickering and fretting made the party felt doomed before it started.  If Roger and Jane’s party seemed like something out of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Harris party was pure Sinclair Lewis.

As a couple, Joan (Christina Hendricks) and Greg (Sam Page) seem to be pursuing an aggressively upwardly mobile life strategy.  They’re not aiming to be upper class, like Roger and Jane or Pete and Trudy; rather, they’re trying to become the Drapers.  Joan hitched her wagon to Greg because, let’s face it, she’s not getting any younger, and a handsome young doctor is her best chance for solid middle-class bliss.  We haven’t been as clear on why Greg wanted Joan (besides the fact that she’s a stone fox), but tonight tossed us some tantalizing hints.  Their preparations for their dinner party – cleaning, fussing over place cards – revealed that they at least share the same social ambitions.  That’s a poweful bond – just ask Pete and Trudy, or Don and Betty.  Additionally, it appears that they’re living in Joan’s comfortably appointed apartment, and subsisting largely on Joan’s salary.  Greg may not like that Joan works, but he’s obviously not afraid to eat of the fruits of her labor.

The party also showed us that Joan is far more socially adept than Greg.  The guests certainly seemed more impressed with her than with him.  At one point, the chief resident’s wife even comments that the fact that Greg nabbed Joan gives her more confidence in him(!)  In the short span of the dinner party, Joan seemed to find out more about Greg, his position at the hospital, and the life she’s married into than she learned from the span of their entire relationship.  Joan’s excellent at dissembling, so her chagrin was not obvious to the guests, but it was clear that she was taken aback.  Greg’s future is not bright.  He was definitely depending upon the party (and Joan) to help advance his career, but even Joan’s not charming enough to compensate for his apparent incompetence.  A successful party and a clever wife can help someone like Harry Crane, whose work performance is solid, but it can’t spackle over serious performance problems like Greg’s.

Good bargain.
Good bargain.

The writers doled out hint after hint that Greg’s job is in jeopardy, letting the tension mount throughout the evening.  Christina Hendricks was excellent at subtly conveying to us how Joan’s gradual realization of how little she really knows her husband, the tiny fissures that appeared in her gracious hostess persona as it dawned upon her that she’s made a bad bargain.  Her tolerance of Greg (and I don’t think we’ve seen half of what she’s suffered) has been dependent upon the premise that he is a catch and that she was lucky to nab him.  She’s been able to hold her head high in the office (and in her altercation with Jane) because she believed in him, in their future together.  She’d thought that she’d caught a Draper, and that his temper was a small price to pay.  Instead she’s married to a weak incompetent, a liar.

Greg deliberately misled her about the real purpose of the party and his position at work.  Her lack of information about his true status put her at a definite social disadvantage.  If she weren’t so quick on her feet, she would have been caught flatfooted by the revelations made by Greg’s colleagues and their wives – the long years during which he will make nothing; the wait before they will be able to afford to have children (a wait that Joan, at her age, can ill afford); the improbability of Greg’s promotion.  This is very important information – it means that Joan will probably have to keep working for a long time, it means that the lifestyle that he’s promised her will be impossible for many years, it means that everything that Joan has told her colleagues about her future is a lie, at least right now.  That’s probably the unkindest cut – pride is more important to Joan than anything, and it appears that hers is about to take a fall.  She’s been telling everyone at Sterling Cooper for months that she’ll be leaving soon to have babies, just as soon as Greg’s promotion comes through.  Now she’ll have to eat her words.  She’ll have to face questions from Peggy, her rival; Roger, the love of her life; Paul, the boyfriend who talked about her; all the catty office girls, who’d like nothing more than to see her brought low.  On the heels of her confrontation with Mrs. Roger Sterling, this must be a bitter pill.

And, of course, just when Joan’s at her most devastated, Greg asks her to provide a diversion.  Greg, who lied to her, who didn’t trust or respect her enough to treat her like a partner, asks her to distract from his mistakes, to layer another performance over the performance she’s been struggling through all evening.  It was an enormously tense moment, the final humiliation.  The fact that Joan plays the accordion indicative of what is probably a working-class background.  Daughters in working-class households were taught to play accordion because their families couldn’t afford pianos.  Playing the accordion, therefore, causes Joan pain, because it reveals her true antecedents – origins that she’s spent her whole life trying to escape.

Actually, they're all Ibsen heroines.
Actually, they're all Ibsen heroines.

In the next episode, “The Arrangements,” Joan makes fun of Peggy’s advertisement for a roommate by saying that it “reads like the stage directions from an Ibsen play.”  Yet it’s Joan who is the true Ibsen heroine.  Ibsen’s female protagonists were trapped by Victorian values in lives that they found profoundly dissatisfactory.  Hedda Gabler is an especially instructive example: Hedda, a voraciously ambitious woman, marries a man she doesn’t love, but who has good career prospects.  She discovers that his future is not as promising as she thought, due to a professional rival.  Her ambition drives her to destroy the lives of the rival and his wife, but her perfidy is discovered, and she ends the play by killing herself.  A Doll’s House is also interesting to examine – its heroine, Nora, is married to a man who does not respect her.  She pretends to be helpless for his benefit, as he finds it attractive, even as she secretly supports him as a secretary.  Her husband Torvald is soon due for a promotion, which she looks forward to as it will allow her to quit her job.  However, a colleague of Torvald’s starts blackmailing her regarding her job, and her fear of Torvald finding out about it almost drives her to suicide.  When Torvald does find out the truth, he berates her, which eventually motivates her to leave him.

Given the similarities between Ibsen’s work and Joan’s situation, I don’t think this reference was a coincidence (especially since the whole “performing after dinner” motif was so Victorian in the first place.)  Ibsen was highly concerned with the hypocrisy of Victorian marriage, of traditional male and female roles.  The Victorian marriage model didn’t die with them – it persisted through the decades, through Joan’s time and to our own.  Hopefully Joan will be an Ibsen heroine in the mold of Nora, rather than of Hedda[3].

Our final work party was supposed to be more “work,” than “party,” but who could resist the opportunity to get stoned with Orson Welles, Tom Cruise, and Baby Steve Buscemi?  Not Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss)!  I enjoyed the opportunity to spend more time with Smitty (Patrick Cavanaugh.)  Like Paul (Michael Gladis), he’s not nearly as big a hipster as he’d like to think he is (that honor goes to out-n-proud Kurt.

Look at this fucking hipster.
Look at this fucking hipster.

This is evidenced by the fact that, despite their super-keen sweaters, neither ad man is able to score without calling upon Risky Business-era Tom Cruise, ak.a. Jeffrey (Miles Fisher), Paul’s college roommate.  If either Paul or Smitty were true beatniks, they’d have called up their local tea dealer.

This work party was the most casual, despite it taking place at Sterling Cooper.  Resentful of working on a Saturday while the power players frolic at Roger’s garden party, the rank and file rebel by smoking trees.  Peggy “Or You Could Just Become a Robot” Olson tries to get them to focus before herself succumbing.  Although the atmosphere was generally light, there was still some jockeying for position – Peggy smoking to impress the boys; Jeffrey calling Paul’s pedigree and singing talents into question; Olive chastising Peggy; the reeling off of college credentials; the aforementioned hipster competition between Smitty and Paul.  But the stakes were different than those at the other parties, making for some interesting dynamics.  Not everybody was playing the same game, and in these tensions we could read the cultural clashes incipient to this time in American history.

Baby Steve Buscemi
Baby Steve Buscemi

Smitty is a little bit younger and a little bit cooler than Paul.  Paul puts on Beatnik airs, and while Smitty also affects some of these, he’s also in touch with more modern currents.  He’s totally comfortable with his work partner Kurt’s homosexuality (and he’s aware that there are a lot of gay people in advertising); he listens to hipper music; and he’s at ease with himself in a way that Paul just isn’t.   Even more importantly, unlike the other guys at the office, he’s not so threatened by Peggy’s intelligence and cool demeanor that he doesn’t notice that she is an ADORABLE ROBOT MURDERER.  (Yes, Pete noticed that Peggy was cute, but he doesn’t really appreciate her finer points.  Smitty likes her because she is both ravenously ambitious and rabidly naive.)   Paul might read Ginsberg and Marx, but in his heart of hearts he still wants to be Don Draper.  He pretends to be too good for Sterling Cooper because he’s afraid he’s not good enough for it (and he may be right.)  Successful novelist Ken feels no need to broadcast his artistic inclinations at work because he’s a successful novelist; Paul needs his hipster pose because without it, he’s Harry without the glasses (and the competence.)  Paul doesn’t seem to have noticed that he is a middle-class guy working at an ad agency; he seems to think he’s storming around with Burroughs and Kerouac and Corso, fomenting revolution.  He calls Jeffrey not so much because he’s desperate to smoke pot as because he’s desperate to be seen smoking pot.  If he can’t go to the garden party (and he wanted to, make to mistake), then he has to appear like he never wanted to go in the first place.  If he can’t yell O HAI SALES then he must yell O BOI CONTER CULKURE.  He’s playing the same game as everybody at the garden party, he just doesn’t know it.  The other kids at the party, Jeffrey and Smitty and Peggy, are working from entirely different sets of assumptions.  Paul’s value system shines through like a white bra through a macrame sweater, and everyone sees it but him.  Smitty would have probably been more impressed if Paul had eschewed pot altogether (especially since Jeffrey was no Neal Cassady.)

College
College

Speaking of Jeffrey, his tales of Young Paul certainly threw Current Paul’s pretensions into high relief.  You can take the boy out of Jersey, but you can’t take the Jersey out of the boy.  Paul’s vaguely British inflections seem all the more ridiculous now.  I wonder what his Princeton days were really like?  Certainly, he wasn’t a cocksman, especially if he was in the Princeton equivalent of Glee Club.  (By the by, the actor who played Jeffrey went to Harvard, where (of course) he sang with the Harvard Krokodiloes, a big-deal a cappella group.  How many times do I have to say it – YOU CAN’T UNDERESTIMATE HOW INSANE MATTHEW WEINER IS.  HE IS INSANE, YA’LL.  “Get me a dude who looks like Tom Cruise and has an amazing Ivy League Glee Club background.”  “I don’t know, Matt .  . . ”  “DO IT.”  “Okay, well there’s this guy who was cloned from Tom Cruise’s DNA, except taller, with a touch of Christian Bale for a nice Bret Easton Ellis touch -”  “What school did he go to?”  “Harvard.”  “NOT GOOD ENOUGH.”  “I don’t know if we can get a Princeton Tom Cruise – ” “FUCKIN’ FINE.  BUT I’VE GOT MY EYE ON YOU.”)

Yes, Paul will always be a scholarship boy, unlike progressive ninja Peggy, who went to secretarial school in Brooklyn but who will cut a bitch, high if she has to. Jeffrey and Smitty couldn’t get enough of it, probably because they’d both like nothing more than to be househusbands – Jeffrey because he’s lazy, Smitty because that’s how he rolls.  I liked Jeffrey – he reminded me of a young Roger Sterling.  He had the same louche disregard for convention, too – he may be a drug dealer, but he’s a blueblood drug dealer, dammit.  You don’t need to play by the rules if your dad invented them.  Smitty is trying to be from the future, so he’s not afraid to say he went to a state school.  His pass at Peggy was adorable, especially since all it accomplished was to activate her Copy Writin’  subroutine.  Smitty was trying to pull an party escape on her, but Peggy was too autistic to notice.   Instead he had to lie around with Jeffrey and Paul and be all end of the party.  The end of the party is the best part, because everyone is wasted and comfortable and wants to be there, but it’s also boring, because everybody is wasted.  And Jeffrey and Paul just don’t get Smitty, man – Jeffrey is too nihilistic and Paul is too bourgeois.  Smitty wanted to go on the roof and talk about folk singers and smoke so many cigarettes and have dreams and talk about how everybody’s so phony and how he’s kind of a terrific liar, I mean he lies all the time for no goddamn reason, and Peggy would look into his eyes and play checkers with him and he’d let her keep all her kings in the back row.  But Peggy had to go keep Olive down, and cared not for his liquid eyes.  I’m going to be really sad if we don’t get more of this plot.

Girl Sheriff Captain
Girl Sheriff Captain

Pegs, Girl Sheriff Captain, was even more charming than Don in this episode.  She wanted to smoke pot, and so she did it!, with no nonsense.  Olive wanted to remand her, but she couldn’t; instead she got a face full of stroking.  Pegs is even more insane than Pete; she’s totally post-convention.  Not only does she not recognize how normals act –  she doesn’t care.  She has Goals.  She does not need Olive, nor writing partners.  She will write the entire campaign herself, as soon as she gets a glass of water!  The women of America need not fear that they will never break through the glass ceiling – Peggy will quirk her little fist at it,  and it shall shatter.  Olive was trying to remind Peggy of the rules, not because she was trying to punish her, but because she was trying to protect her.  But, quoth Peggy, I recognize no rules, and no order, because they were invented to keep down me and mine.  Olive didn’t understand and got scared, but Peggy was all, no, anarchy’s cool, I’m going to be the Queen of the Thunderdome.  After watching everybody else get the crap kicked out of them by the demands of conventional society, it was nice to be reminded that caring about said demands is indeed a choice.

And at the Draper manse, The Affair of the Five Bucks reminded us that social occasions and workplaces aren’t the only areas where we have to dissemble – home life can require heapum white lies.  Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka) has been committing little acts of theft and vandalism throughout the series.  Obviously, these crimes are a cry for attention.  But while we’ve seen her punished for some of these acts, we’ve never seen Don and Betty actually comprehend their meaning.  Often, Sally isn’t even caught, as Don and Betty pay their children less attention than some people pay their dogs.  When she is caught, she gets a slap on the wrist, and then it’s over.  Her theft of Gene’s money was a test, and I think that he passed it.  He noticed what she had done, but he did not withdraw love or approval from her for it – instead, it seemed to inspire him to pay even more attention to her.  This was the one example of white lies working out well – Sally pretended that she wasn’t a thief, Gene pretended that he didn’t know it, and the two actually became closer as a result.  Some pretenses are actually useful.


[3] On the Nora tip, I can’t resist this footnote – Joan’s French accordion performance reminds me of Nora’s tantarella dance.  At one point, Nora tries to distract Torvald from discovering her “crime” of working by performing this Italian folk dance, which features major to minor chord shifts, tempo shifts, and tapping (sound familiar?)  The dance requires that the dancer vamp, spin, and jump until she is exhausted and collapses.  The dance originates from a folk remedy for tarantula bite – peasants believed that the only cure for tarantula poison was to perform it, and bite victims would dance it for hours or even days.  Medically, the dance may have worked because the sweating incurred from the dance flushed the poison from their bodies.  In A Doll’s House, the dance is a metaphor for how Nora’s life has spun out of control, due to Torvald’s poisonous attitude towards her.  Joan’s performance also operates in this way – she is forced to perform because of Greg’s lies, because he has allowed the dinner party situation to deteriorate to the point that only she can rescue it.  The lyrics, which are about fading love, repeat the idea again and again of love taking you for a spin. Given that the tarantella involves large amounts of spinning, it’s hard not to see this as another Ibsen reference.  At least, it’s a nice metaphor for how Joan is forced to keep performing, never resting, lest the toxic nature of her circumstances destroy her.


[2] The only guests who didn’t seem amused by the performance were Pete and Don.  Pete loves to turn social tricks, but he probably resents the reminder that some people don’t have to.  He may also be sensitive enough to the changing times to know that Roger’s performance is offensive (hard to say.)  Don doesn’t like to be reminded of his chains either, but he also may have been offended on a more genuine level – with his background, he’s bound to resent Roger’s blueblood classism.  Additionally, as Roger’s friend, it probably pains Don to see Roger playing the fool, however Roger sees the performance.


[1] More on the end of parties later.

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