Monday, August 16, 2010

"Mad Men" Ep. 4.4: "The Rejected"

It's the Peggy Olson Comedy Special! You know you're in for a rare treat in episodes that feature Peggy getting high, and so it is with this one, even when she's sober - from the hilarious sight of her head popping up over the office partition to spy on Don to her equally hilarious rejection of Ms. Assistant Photo Editor's advances. ("He doesn't own your vagina." "No, but he's renting it." Bwah!)

But of course it wasn't all laughs all the time from Peggy. We got a glimpse of her not-so-sunny side both in her treatment of Allison and in her reaction to the news of Trudy's pregnancy. While her anger at the insinuation that she slept with Don was understandable, I thought her pushback was unnecessarily harsh. Peggy's always had a streak of cruelty, or maybe it's just a lack of empathy; interestingly, the last time I remember seeing it was when she crushed Pete's declaration of love with her revelation about his baby, a confession that seemed to give her an odd kind of peace even as it robbed Pete of his. At the time, it really seemed that with that gesture she'd managed to put her whole history with him firmly behind her. Pete took a bit longer to get to the same place, but nothing we've seen so far this season has suggested that he's let their past intrude on their present. And yet with a single, supremely awkward congratulations (loved Peggy's silent head-slam afterwards) and a couple of exchanged glances, pregnant with meaning (sorry, couldn't resist), it all came back in a flood. But only for a moment, I think. They've both moved on, however ambivalent a part of them may still feel about it, and there was something valedictory about that last look.

Speaking of which, that last shot? Not subtle at all. Powerful, though. Past and future, juxtaposed: suits (with Pete) on one side of the glass, counterculture (with Peggy) on the other. A suggestion of diverging paths. But I don't think it's really that simple. After all, for all the attention this episode gave to Peggy branching out, it was just as much about Pete thinking outside the box - with an indirect assist from Ken Cosgrove (Kenny!), no less - and coming into his own. Pete's always shown an ability to see the big picture, only he didn't always have the timing or judgment to capitalize on it. His coup with daddy-in-law showed he's gotten exponentially better at calculating when to take a gamble. What's that line about sharks having to move forward or die? Pete's still a shark, and I mean that in the best possible way. I can't see him losing his forward-looking stance any time soon.

Meanwhile, Peggy, for her part, may be a modern woman, but she's still a bit of a square. She continues to hold on to the idea of getting married. She parties with bohos, but she clearly isn't one of them. Not yet, anyway. Nor does she seem particularly tuned into the social upheavals that are coming. That little exchange with her art guy about Malcolm X (don't remember the exact quote, but his crack about her not reading the stuff between the ads) was pretty telling.

If anything, I think that last shot was just a reminder that Pete and Peggy each still have one foot in the future and one foot in the past. And their tenuous positioning underscores a point that the show has been hammering home all season, thus far mostly through Don - that the new Sterling Cooper is still trying to decide what kind of firm it will be. Will SCDP move ahead of the times, or will the times overtake SCDP?

The answer still lies largely with Don, whose developmental arc hasn't started bending noticeably upward yet. He's still drinking way too much, and still has no clue how to make amends with poor Allison. He did, however, continue to champion Peggy's ideas for the Pond's Cold Cream ads rather than a return to Freddy's tried-and-true "it will help you find a husband!" mantra. True, Don's rejection of the latter had a lot to do with his visceral distaste for Doctor Blondie's testing methods and, by extension, his own personal junk (“you can’t tell how people are going to behave based on how they have behaved!”). But his basic insight - that to succeed advertising has to influence the consumer's wants, rather than the other way around - rings essentially true. I also couldn't help wondering if it wasn't at least partly, if unconsciously, triggered by the sight of Peggy trying on the wedding ring. He doesn't want Peggy - or SCDP - to be mired in tired old tropes and traditions, even if he hasn't figured out how to change them. Therein lies the chief challenge and source of suspense for the rest of this season.

Other random notes:

-John Slattery (aka Roger Sterling) directed this episode; perhaps as a consequence, there wasn't much Roger in it. That opening phone call with Lee Garner, Jr., however, was priceless.

-The episode was titled "The Rejected," an obviously important theme that I haven't really discussed - partly because Alan Sepinwall has preempted me with his excellent recap.

-Lots of significant, mostly uncomfortable, exchanged glances in this episode: Don and Allison through the one-way glass (awk-ward); Don and Peggy (over the wedding ring); and, of course, Pete and Peggy.

-Oh, the things Pete thought but did not say when Trudy said, “How would you know what it [fatherhood] feels like?”

-I laughed when that one secretary joked about her and Joan's exclusion from the Pond's Cold Cream focus group: “We’re old and we’re married. They don’t want us.” Joan's posture: "Bitch, please. Speak for yourself."

-Speaking of older secretaries, Don certainly had his coming to him. Joan made sure of it.

-Will Cosgrove jump ship and rejoin his old pals at SCDP? Pete will love that.

-Harry's still a bumbler. And it still doesn't seem to matter. I bet we continue to see his fortunes rise, all because he lucked into one good idea (television). C'est la vie, I guess.

-Did Life photo-girl find Peggy and her new beau hiding in a *closet* during the police raid? Food for thought there...although Peggy did seem pretty into the guy, who came across as rather charming. Not that that forecloses Peggy's experimenting. But I don't see a three-way in her future any time soon.

Best line: I love Stoned Peggy (“This film is more interesting than I thought...It’s rhythmic!”), but I have to give the prize to the little old man at the end:

"Did you get pears?"


Blogger ToastyKen said...

Cute observation about the closet. :) And I liked this gag near the beginning:

"Lee.. Lee... The JOCKEY smokes the cigarette."


11:01 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home