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Mad Men: My Old Kentucky Home - Review

After watching tonight's episode of Mad Men I was left with a strange feeling. Was it the social awkwardness seen in many of the characters? Or was it that nothing really happened to move the story along? Don't get me wrong I really liked this episode but in a different way that I liked the first two of the outstanding 3rd season. Maybe I was just hungry. Hmm.

"My Old Kentucky Home"
kept with this seasons theme of change as this time we get to see how the characters react to social and status changes. As always, the atmosphere was dripping with authenticity which only adds to the richness of what's on the screen. This show has always been about the deeply layered characters and not about "moving the story" along.

Class conscious insecurities are plentiful as there were lots of just under the surface issues that the characters try to come to grips with such as Peggy doing anything to advance her career; Joan putting on the best show possible in order to further her husbands career; Roger throwing a Kentucky Derby party at his country club to show people he is happy and Betty strutting her stuff to strangers again.

Since most of episode happened outside the business hours of Sterling Cooper we also get to see how unhappy everyone really is with their lot in life. It was kinda nice not to see Lane Pryce's blunders though it wasn't as nice to not see Don Draper's creative brilliance or to hear Sal's sarcastic quips.

On to this weeks recap and review . . .

Bad Peggy Olson:

The episode picks up where last weeks left off with Peggy holding auditions for an Ann-Margret type to be put on display for Patio Diet Soda. Harry asks the clueless girl to dance for him again but Peggy quickly puts him in his place. Co-Account managers Pete and Ken come in to inform the writers that Don wants the new slogan for Baccardi on his desk Monday morning which means they will have to put in some overtime over the weekend.

On Saturday, Peggy and Smitty gather in Paul Kinsey's office to come up with those new Baccardi slogans while drinking the namesake liquor for inspiration. Paul takes this (and every) opportunity to point out he went to Princeton, waxes nostalgic about his pot smoking days and manages to insult Peggy by sending her for a blender. Ah, that Kinsey. When she goes into the break room her overprotective new secretary Olive is there and she proceeds to blab Peggy to death. She is not a good fit for the upward mobile and very private Peggy, that's for sure. Smitty suggests they call someone for some pot and Kinsey happily obliges. Who knew he had a little black book with pushers in it?

Kinsey's drug dealing college buddy Jeffrey shows up with a bowling bag full of goodies. He's got it all, dexi's, benzadyne strips, boo and junk if they really want it. They just want some pot but before he gives it to them he complains that Kinsey never calls him. Umm, okay. After being tipped off by Olive, Peggy confronts Kinsey and Smitty and just when you think she's about to pull out her goody-two-shoes she surprises everyone including the Tom Cruise wannabe Jeffrey and asks to smoke some pot with them.

The aftermath of the pot smoking includes brutal honesty and insults. Kinsey makes a condescending remark to Jeffrey and he responds by telling him that the Princeton Tiger Tones kicked him out of the group which forces Kinsey to start an impromptu sing-along to show he's still got it. This prompts the funniest Peggy line ever as deadpans: "I am so high." Kinsey doesn't like that he gets outed as a poser by his old college buddy and his insecurities are what keeps him miserable. Turns out that the ascot wearing, pipe smoker thing is all an act or didn't you know? Olive gives her a hard time but Peggy quickly takes command of the situation and puts the old lady in her place. It was funny how Peggy vacillated between stern commands and random comments about jewelry. Seems that getting high makes Smitty horny, Kinsey extra pretentious and Peggy more creative. There may be more pot smoking in her future.

Joan's Illusion:

Jane sashays through the office with her epic hat and rubs her new status as Mrs. Sterling in Joan's face. There was subtext galore as in the span of about 30 seconds she flaunts her wealth, insults Joan's weight and criticizes where she lives. Clearly she wants to point out that Joan is a loser. Secretly I was hoping that Joan would just haul off and smack her but our Joanie is much too smart for that.

Later, Joan is getting ready for a dinner party she is throwing for slime ball fiance Greg's, Chief of Surgery boss (and colleague) and wants to impress. Greg shows his combative nature once again by telling her how he thinks the seating arrangements should be made. He treats her with incredible sexism but relents when she tells him to "stop talking". It's amazing to me that he actually believes that he can control and bully the fiery Joan. Having Joan walk around in that black slip was a bonus, plain and simple.

Before dinner, the guests are gathered in the living room when they make fun of one of the wives when she asks if she should "cut the cheese." What are they, 12 years old? The Chief Surgeon's wife tells Joan to not have a baby right away but the real bombshell is that she mentions that Greg's future is bright because he got a woman like her. All this time Joan thought she was the one benefiting from the relationship when it is in fact Greg that is achieving a higher status because of her. Only a matter of time before Joan bails on the rapist/doctor for good.

A misguided comment by the Chief Surgeon brings to light that Greg is not the brilliant doctor he pretends to be and embarrassed he objectifies Joan by forcing her to perform for the guests. Turns out our Joanie is a woman of many special talents as she sings and plays the accordion. She chooses "C'est Magnifique" and you can tell that by the look on her face that she is profoundly sad that he thinks of her as a performing monkey. Word has it that Christina Hendricks actually played and sang herself which should not only spike accordion sales but make her that much more lusted after desirable to men everywhere, if that's possible. She needs to extricate herself from that situation pronto!

Gene and Sally's Quality Time:

At the Draper residence, Betty is complaining to Don about her father's absentmindedness and downs his drink, much to his surprise. Sally is spending quality time reading "The Decline of the Roman Empire" to her grandfather which is a great irony since that's exactly happening with Sterling Cooper. Very clever easter egg indeed. It was pretty funny how Gene got impatient with Sally over mispronouncing those very large words. Is it me or does Sally sound exactly like Drew Barrymore?

Later, Betty is putting on her doily dress and has Sally come in to help her. Characteristically Betty totally dismisses everything she says or does and shoos her away when she is not needed anymore. Sally passes her grandpa's room and see his money clip on the dresser. Curious like every other child alive, she decides to swipe five bucks from him thinking he wouldn't notice. Big mistake. On their way to the Derby party Gene starts yelling to Betty that someone stole his five dollars. Don tries to give his some cash which just pisses him off that much more. Thinking that he's just having a another episode they leave.

Carla is turns Gene's room upside down looking for the five dollars and as he shows his racism towards her she gives it right back to him. Her reactions in this scene were right on the mark and makes me wish we could see more of her. Gene scolds Sally when she doesn't look hard enough. As the night drags on with everyone tired of listening to Gene whine about his missing five dollars, Sally throws it on the ground and pretends she found it. With a sad face she gives it to him and he suspiciously accepts it. Good thing Carla is there as who knows what he would have done to her if they were alone. The tension in this scene was pretty palpable especially as it's obvious that both Gene and Carla knew it was Sally who took it.

At the end of the night, Sally sheepishly tells grandpa goodnight and he orders her into his room. Turns out he wants her to continue to read "The Decline of the Roman Empire" and not give her a whuppin like she believes will happen. Crisis averted!

Roger's Folly:

With the Derby party in full swing, Don and Betty meet up with Ken, Pete and Trudy as well as Harry and his wife Jennifer (who is also wearing an epic hat). They have some awkward moments as they talk about kids in front of Pete and Trudy. By the looks on all their faces you can pick out who is comfortable at these kind of events. Betty, Pete Trudy and Jennifer all come from money while Don, Harry and Ken do not. Later we get to see Jane's comfort level as well as her solution to it. Pete corners Don and starts talking business but Don is not interested.

Later on, Roger is entertaining the crowd by doing his Al Jolson impersonation and singing to Jane in blackface. Yes, you heard that right; blackface. Now, given the time period it's not so unusual especially for someone like Roger Sterling but the fact that in a few short years this would be the height of racism is not lost on us. By the look on his face, Don doesn't like it at all and he goes off in search of a stiff drink. I think it's a mixture of his disdain for the act and his growing intolerance of Rogers crazy antics.

Don meets up with a fellow disenchanted soul when he fixes himself a cocktail. Connie (played by Chelcie Ross) and Don share childhood stories to point out how far they both have actually come. It's a nice moment because these are the times that Don is actually forthcoming about his childhood.

While Betty is waiting for Trudy a distinguished stranger starts hitting on her. Does she react with anger or surprise? Of course not. Betty characteristically goes into come hither mode and flirts right back. Did she know him? Didn't she realize she looks like a severely pregnant woman wearing a doily? You gotta believe this will come back to her in a bad way. Afterwards, Bert Cooper comes up and introduces Betty to her mystery man, Henry Francis. They look into each others eyes with incredible passion and yearning. They generated so much heat I was surprised Don's suit didn't get singed.

It's time for the roaring twenties dance off and Pete and Trudy impress everyone with their flawless and well-rehearsed moves. Without children, this seems like something they would master to show off at just the right moment. Pete's rubber legs take center stage which causes everyone to clear the floor including Harry and his wife who gets upset with him for his callousness towards her. Even though she tries I'm sure she can't over the fact she married a schlub. How disappointing.

As the evening winds down, a drunk Jane lets slip that she knew about Don and Betty's marital issues which brings back the hurt of their breakup. Perhaps she thinks that Don had an affair with her before Roger. Betty leaves in a huff and Jane starts pawing at Don in nonsexual way when Roger walks up and think there's something going on. Talk about role reversal! Just because Don walked in on Roger making a move on Betty back in the first season, Roger naturally assumes Don is doing the same thing. Roger reverts to "everyone's jealous of me" mode and confronts him. Don sets him straight by telling him it's not jealousy but that Roger has become foolish and that no one actually thinks he's happy.

The episode ends when Don approaches Betty at the party for some comfort when I'm sure she's lost in thought over Henry Francis. Oh, Betty.

Random Thoughts . . .

You can bet that Peggy's antics will circulate all around Sterling Cooper first thing Monday morning. She will become the butt of the water cooler jokes once again but I'm sure Don will give her credit for doing whatever is necessary. Count on some severe disrespect from Olive, that's for sure.

It was fun watching Paul Kinsey get outed as a poser by his old college buddy. It's time for his pretentiousness to take a break. He should also feel pretty bad that Peggy did all the work as usual even when she was high. He can sing pretty good though.

Major props to the child actress Kiernan Shipka who does an amazing job in this episode. She has just the right amount of sadness and innocence to pull these scenes off. Even if she sounds exactly like Drew Barrymore? Wanna greenlight an E.T. remake? This is your girl.

Nearly everyone on this show pretends to be someone they are not. Why should Jane be different? She should realize two things though. 1. Don't mess with Joan, ever. and 2. Divorce Roger before he burns through all that PP&L cash.

Pete should dance in every episode. Enough said.

This is the episode Christina Hendricks should send in for Emmy consideration. She hit the ball out of the park with her nuanced acting and heart wrenching performance. Realizing that she was the one who helped Greg's standing and not the other way around was a highlight of her many great performances. Major bonus points for her accordion playing skills and for looking smoking hot. Somebody give her an award!

To put the timeline in context, Roger mentions that the marriage of Nelson Rockefeller marriage to second wife Happy took place earlier in the day which effectively put an end to Rockefeller's presidential aspirations. Clever.

Even though it's on basic cable, I was still surprised the characters were smoking pot so intensely. I'm definitely not a prude but I was slightly shocked. It took a moment before I realized that's gotta be a breakthrough for television. Props to Matt Weiner for being so bold and unapologetic.

Best Exchange:

Joan: "Well, I won't have their wives think you have a wife who doesn't know how to set a table."
Greg: "Joanie, I don't want to have fight right now."
Joan: "Well then stop talking."

Next Best Exchange:

Gene: "Now you're getting ridiculous."
Carla: "Maybe it fell out of your pocket."
Gene: "It didn't."
Carla: "Well, I didn't take it."
Gene: "I didn't say you did."
Carla: "Not yet."
Gene: "Will you stop it Viola."
Carla: "My names not Viola. It's Carla."
Gene: "Do you know Viola?"
Carla: " We don't all know each other Mr. Hofstadt."

Best Lines:

"I know I look good for my condition but I'm still in my condition." - Betty Draper

"I'm Peggy Olson and I want to smoke some marijuana." - Peggy Olson

"I am so high" - Peggy Olson

"You're arrogant and you know what else? You can't sing."
- Jeffrey to Kinsey.

"No one thinks you're happy. They think you're foolish." - Don to Roger

Overall I give this episode a solid 4.6 Lucky Strikes out of 5 because Sally avoided a beat down and even though nothing really happened. As I mentioned at the top, this episode left me feeling a little wanting but those looks of sadness and quiet desperation won me over. Here's to not giving a darn about story progress!

Feel free to leave any comments or observations below and in the meantime enjoy this sneak preview of next weeks episode where Don drops a hint about Sal's sexuality. Enjoy!

-- Janaki Cedanna

Next Week's episode: "The Arrangements" - Gene and Don cross paths. Peggy is looking for a roommate. A wealthy new client has very high hopes. Sal directs his first musical!

Posted by Janaki Cedanna on August 31, 2009 5:41 PM
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