Mad Men 3.2, “Love Among the Ruins”

In this episode: Sterling Cooper loses, than wins, then gives up Madison Square Garden; Betty and her siblings counsel each other on end-of-life matters; Roger’s losing a daughter, but he’s gaining a headache; Peggy has a one-night stand.

Don’t have a lot to say about this episode, even though I enjoyed it immensely. Most of this stems from the foregrounding of Peggy. She’s the character I’m most solidly behind. While she can at times be as inscrutable as Don, she’s generally more scrupulous, and her moments of warmth and self-discovery feel more genuine. Her frustrations with the other characters echo our own. Plus, her struggles to slip into new identities contrast with the naturally gifted Don.

Take, for instance, her enthralling imitation of Ann-Margaret in front of a mirror. Half-mocking, half-jealous, hers is a bravura performance.

Most of the episode is about CHANGE, in 12 foot tall letters. In fact, the fight between change and tradition is so obvious that Don even gets to give a little speech about it. So much so, that it simply overpowers the final scenes this week, of Don watching a teacher dance around a maypole, then returning to the office and giving Peggy a long stare .

My opinion is that these actions are less about the heavy thematic weight of the show, and more about Don’s quirks. Maybe he’s attracted to the teacher, maybe not. Maybe he’s invested in the soothing ritual of dancing around the maypole, or maybe he’s looking forward to the changing of the seasons it represents. We’re reaching for a suitable explanation, but Don is reaching for a soda cup. And maybe Don’s reaching for that explanation too, seeking to imbue that moment with a significance it ultimately lacks. It’s another moment that could mean anything from a series full of them. That doesn’t exactly equal depth in my book–overdetermination is not the same as ambiguity.


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August 2009
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