The Great Mad Men Re-Watch, Part 3: The Miseducation of Peggy Olsen

Welcome back to the Great Mad Men Re-Watch! Anyone here for the first time? Well then, welcome! Please stand up, state your name, and admit to being addicted to the best show on TV. In the next three episodes, Roger makes a play for Betty, Betty makes a play for a career, and Peggy makes a play for a cherry danish. All that and a fistfight, too, right in the middle of Sterling Cooper.

Note: If you're watching for the first time, be wary of spoilers from later in the series!



Season 1, Episode 7: “Red in the Face”


Review Notes:

Not to overstate matters, but Don and Betty are on a collision course with the fiery depths of Failed-Marriage Hell, and their journey officially begins here—at a dinner with Don’s boss, to be exact, during which Roger drains a bottle of vodka and regales the Drapers with his war stories. Then, while Don goes to the garage for more vodka, Roger sidles up to Betty in the kitchen and proceeds to make a brash play for her. And Betty isn’t not into the attention. Don doesn’t quite walk in on them, but he’s smart enough to know something fishy just transpired, and after Roger stumbles off to his car, he confronts her, saying, “Sometimes I feel like I’m living with a little girl!”

It’s easy to side with Don here, since we saw how Betty acted during Roger's come-on her, and how her eyes lit up at having the most powerful man at her husband’s agency throw himself at her. Don has also been having regular phone sessions with her therapist—a shocking invasion of privacy—who dismisses her anxieties as petty and immature. So isn’t everyone fulfilling everyone else’s needs at this point? All Don really wants is a wife he can treat like a child, with room on the side for the strong, independent women who don’t threaten him, like Midge and Rachel. And Betty, chubby-child that she once was, wants to be kept and admired. To a fault: Later in the episode, the divorcee from next door, Helen, confronts Betty at the supermarket for having given Helen's 9-year-old son Glen a lock of her hair, at his request. It earns a smack in the face for a shocked Helen; imagine how much harder Betty would have hit if Helen had also mentioned how Glen watched her tinkling on the toilet?


Elsewhere in this episode, Pete Campbell continues to trace the contours of his own manhood. Not literally (Peggy has already helped him out in that department), but in a plot that sees him return a hideous, salad-themed Chip N’ Dip wedding gift and exchange it for a much manlier hunting rifle. In one disturbing shot, we see him aiming it at the women of the office. Later, he delivers a hilariously deranged monologue to Peggy about hunting. You'd expect her to be horrified, but instead she seems aroused. Shortly afterward she orders an extra danish from the snack cart, and you sense something is up with Ms. Olson.



Fun Finds:

– “It’s like eating a mermaid.” —Don, on his first experience eating oysters. (He and Roger would consume four dozen and as many cocktails over one lost lunch.)

– I totally forgot that Don had paid off the elevator operator, making his barfy, post-lunch revenge on Roger all the funnier.


Grade: A
The cocktails, the food, the suits, the onion dip. It’s this episode, I think, in which audiences began to clue in to Mad Men, and the ‘60s nostalgia craze it began to usher in took hold.



Season 1, Episode 8: “The Hobo Code”


Review Notes:

A few big firsts in this episode: One, Peggy’s ad copy sells (after Don takes a chance and does an aggressive sell on Belle Jolie), and she is invited to share a celebratory cocktail with the boys. Two, we get a big piece of Don’s past: In a flashback sequence, we learn of his humble past as a “whore child” taken in by a religious farming couple. And finally, the matter of Sal’s homosexuality, obvious to no one except one very interested Belle Jolie exec, is addressed head-on at a Roosevelt Hotel bar rendezvous. "Elliot, I have thought about it. I know what I want. I know what I want to do."


This episode, like so many, revolves around romantic disillusionment. On the one hand, you have Peggy, who begins the hour getting ravaged by Pete only to have him reject her at her victory party later that afternoon, threatened due to her encroaching success. There’s one shot of her tearing up on the dance floor that reminded me of just how deserving Elisabeth Moss is of an Emmy. (Three times nominated; perhaps four will be the charm.) Then you have Sal, poor Sal, caught in a dark place between his true nature and a culture that's completely intolerant of it. And finally Don, who spends much of the episode getting high with Midge and her bohemian pals. He wants the two of them to take off together for Paris using a bonus check handed to him by Bert—how he planned on squeezing that one past Betty would have been entertaining to watch—but she wants to stay with Roy and her kind. He signs over the check to her and walks out.



Grade: A-
I love this episode, save for the hobo stuff. I just can’t get past the flashbacks. (Much like I’ll have trouble with Don’s journaling in Season 4.)



Season 1, Episode 9: “Shoot”


Review Notes:

Betty getting shot (by a camera, for a Coca Cola ad), and Betty doing the shooting (of a BB gun, at her neighbor’s prized pigeons) are the two “shoots” referred to in the title of Season 1’s ninth episode. We learn in this installment that Betty is a former fashion model, and it was during a photo shoot that she first met Don. Her return to modeling comes not by accident, but as a miscalculated incentive on the part of a rival ad agency trying to lure Don away with promises of bigger clients, a bigger paycheck, and bigger prestige. “It’s a panty-dropper,” the recruiting exec tells Don of running the campaign for a company like Pan Am. The couple’s power-dynamics and ambitions play out against this scenario, Don considering his own value on the market and what the new position might offer him; Betty craving her own career, a ticket out of the house that has become her prison. There are only so many cigarettes one can smoke while staring emptily out of a living room window wondering when your husband is coming home, after all. But one choice is contingent on the other, and when Don sees the photos of Betty and her perfect family picnic (it's amazing, really, that that was how Coke once pitched itself), he grows disgusted and rejects the offer. That leads to Betty’s own dismissal, and, soured on defeat, she informs Don she’s abandoning modeling. Which brings us to the final image, of Betty, dainty Betty, taking shots at pigeons with a lit cigarette dangling out of her mouth. She had to displace that rage somewhere, after all.


There were a couple of memorable face-offs elsewhere in this episode, both involving Peggy. One is a confrontation between Peggy herself, who is quickly gaining weight and tears her skirt in the office, and Joan, who condescendingly advises her that “there’s a pretty girl hiding under all that lunch.” But where Peggy until now would have smiled, looked at the floor, and thanked Joan for the advice, a newly emboldened Peggy looks Joan directly in the eye and says, “You actually think you’re being helpful, don’t you?” It’s a satisfying shift in the dynamic between the two women. The second comes after Ken relentlessly mocks Peggy’s weight from afar. At an office mixer that night, he compares her to a lobster (“All the meat’s in the tail”), sending Pete into an angry rage. Pete clocks Ken right in the face, and a knock-down, drag-out fight ensues. It’s a funny scene, all the more so because Don and Roger ignore it completely, but also a satisfying one, if only to finally see a man stand up against the disgusting treatment of women at Sterling Cooper. And that it’s Pete defending Peggy’s honor makes it all the sweeter. See? He has some good in him, after all.


Fun Finds:

The guys watch Jackie Kennedy’s ad on behalf of her husband’s 1960 presidential run, targeting Spanish-speaking voters.


Grade: B+
Solid work, but not one that jumps out as a classic.



QUESTIONS FOR RE-WATCHERS:

1. Are you as "good with words" as Don is? Prove it. Describe the taste of oysters.

2. You've just been handed a $2,500 bonus check in 1960, or about $20,000 today. How do you spend it?

3. What's your favorite line from Sal? I like the one where he says about Jackie O: "It's like their better-looking sister married a handsome Senator and now she's going to live in the White House? I'm practically jealous."


Episodes to watch for next Tuesday: "Long Weekend," "Indian Summer," and "Nixon vs. Kennedy"


RELATED STORIES:
The Great Mad Men Re-Watch, Part 2: A Basket of Kisses
The Great Mad Men Re-Watch: Here We Go!
Announcing the Great Mad Men Re-Watch

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I love this re-watch..thanks for the great re-caps!
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ummm boring!!
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