Peggy Olson on musical star Ann-Margret: "Let's assume we can get a girl who can match Ann-Margret's ability to be 25 and act 14."
Bitter much? I don't blame her. The latest episode of Mad Men opens with a musical number from the 1963 film version of Bye, Bye Birdie in which a wide-eyed Ann-Margret flirts shamelessly with the camera while Sterling Cooper's male members look on, enraptured. The occasion for the screening: Inspiration for a new ad campaign for "Patio,", a Tab-like soft drink that will later become Diet Pepsi and is meant to keep 60s ladies looking svelte and feeling sexy. When Peggy expresses disdain for the idea, she is quickly shot down by the men, who have not quite shaken off the shiver that went up their legs minutes prior. (Shorter Ken Cosgrove: You may be skinny again, and therefore attractive, but your opinion still means shit.)
The focus on women's weight turns out to be a recurring theme. Back in the Draper household, Don chastises Betty over the missing melba toast - "Jesus, Bets. Have some oatmeal. That baby is going to weigh a ton." - and the first thing out of Joan Holloway's mouth later that day is praise for Betty's baby-bump. ("Other than Wilma Flintstone, I haven't seen someone carry so well." A few minutes later, Roger Sterling weighs in: "Oh look, Princess Grace just swallowed a basketball.")
The Drapers have more pressing issues to deal with than Betty's expanded belly, of course. Betty's ailing father, Gene, has been abandoned by his wife, and her brother, William, is angling to put him in an old folks' residence and acquire his rightful prize: the ancestral home. Betty, who has invited her extended family for a visit is, in her own passive-aggressive way, having none of it. Pregnancy, you see, is a "condition" that works in a woman's favor when appropriate.
But back to Peggy, the real star of this episode, and, I'd argue, the series itself. As the opening scenes make painfully clear, the scrappy copywriter's dealings with men need an update. Luckily, Joan Holloway - Harris? - can, as always, provide assistance:
As can the previously maligned Ann-Margret. Being 25 and acting 14 is apparently easier than it looks at first glance. It broke my heart to see Peggy defaulting to this type of performance so quickly.
In what was perhaps the episode's most painful scene, Peggy goes over the soda campaign with Don, whose awe for Ann-Margret seems in direct proportion to his disgust for a strongly-opinionated woman. "You're not an artist, Peggy; you solve problems," he tells her after she speaks of her disdain for the Patio pitch. "Leave some tools in your toolbox." Somehow, coming from Don, this sentiment doesn't seem nearly as benevolent as Bobbie Barrett's "it's a powerful business" iteration.
Peggy, however, is nothing if not a quick study. Hot on the heels Don's minor smackdown - and a strange encounter with Roger Sterling in the office elevator - she decides to test out some of those previously neglected tools at a Brooklyn watering hole near her home, where she reels in a well-meaning, but fairly bland young student with the very same line she saw Joan deploy so masterfully earlier in the day. I was alternately fascinated and disappointed with the manner in which Peggy both took control of this seduction and summoned her silly-girl side. "You're funny," says her suitor after she makes a grab for his burger. Yeah, I guess you could call "funny". "Phony" would be another word.
Back at the Draper home, the situation regarding Gene, Betty and William has become increasingly untenable, and Don, in an tour-de-force of emasculation, reads William a riot act that is reminiscent of Pete Campbell's own Drapered humiliations.
Betty seems both surprised and impressed.
The episode closes with a dreamy Maypole dance scene near the Drapers' home in Ossining - Don seems taken with the young elementary school teacher, but it was hard to tell if he is responding to her sexually (her free-spiritedness reminds me of Don's bohemian ex, Midge) or reacting to what she symbolizes. As Don says in his lunch meeting with one of the MSG men, "Change is neither good nor bad, it simply is. It can be greeted with terror or joy, a tantrum that says I want the way it was or a dance that says, look, something new."
Random notes: Is this a literal sign of things to come? Also: Speaking of rape, did anyone catch Joan's comment that once her husband finishes his medical residency she's better "watch out"?
As for this lady, Lane Pryce's wife, what was with her comment regarding the number of "Africans" and "insects" in her new Sutton Place neighborhood?
And did anyone else note the date on the wedding invitation for Roger Sterling's daughter?