Angry Robot

Some Thoughts on Mad Men 302

There’s an impressive roman-a-clef aspect to Mad Men. Female identity is a strong theme in episode 302, as indeed it always is on the show. (Mild spoilers follow) The episode opens with the opening to Bye Bye Birdie, as Ann-Margret’s “25-year-old pretending to be fourteen” annoys Peggy. She asks, why does Pepsi want us to copy this in order to lure women, when it’s only men who are interested in her? Don passes on the conventional wisdom that men want her, thus women want to be her, leaving Peggy to mull that over. She performs an hilariously bad Ann-Margret imitation when alone in her apartment, and then later experiments with her own ability to make men want her (and thus make her want herself), by initiating a one-night-stand with a young student. She appears to be modestly happy with the results.

Meanwhile, a seemingly unrelated plot sees Don and the others woo and then reject the business of some developers who plan to tear down Penn Station in order to build Madison Square Gardens. I know little of New York history, but I read in the Globe today an article about Jane Jacobs that mentioned she was a key player in the public outcry against this development. Jane Jacobs, of course, as an involved and thoughtful activist and citizen, would be a much healthier model of female identity than Ann-Margret, but circumstances conspire to deny Peggy awareness of her. Fittingly, this detail is also denied the viewer. It fits in perfectly with some dialogue elsewhere in the episode, about cities, living downtown vs. commuting, Betty’s dad’s need to ‘get out of the city’.

The episode is titled “Love Among the Ruins.” Which seems apt.