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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

April 30, 2012 at 10:50 AM

Mad Men Monday: Is Megan becoming Don?

One thing that “Mad Men” does so well is illustrate for us the mysterious process of “creativity” as it applies to advertising; that strange mixture of sincerity (because the best ads appeal to something real within us) and hucksterism. This week, we saw the birth of a Heinz ad, voiced haltingly by Megan, who seemed to be in the kind of trance we’ve seen both Don and Peggy enter when crafting a idea. Don gazed at her like she was something he’d never seen before — sort of a Peggy wrapped in a Joan? — and later, when the two of them made an unrehearsed pitch to the Heinz boss over dinner, it seemed as meticulously choreographed as a ballet. Note how Megan smoothly turned Sally’s spaghetti dinner into beans, how Don took credit for the idea (because we know this client doesn’t like “little girls”) but gave Megan just a little room to shine, and how they worked together in a way we haven’t seen them do before. Oddly, though, Megan didn’t seem particularly triumphant afterwards — Peggy was more excited than she was — and it was yet another reminder that we don’t really know this character yet.
In this episode, which mostly followed the stories of three daughters (Megan, Peggy, Sally) and their parents, we were able to fill in just a tantalizing few blank pages in the book that is Megan. Her parents, a sophisticated French-Canadian couple, turned up for a visit, and promptly demonstrated that Megan’s childhood wasn’t all big-toothed smiles and berets. Her father, a communist/socialist/Maoist (according to Don) and a presumably failed academic/writer of some sort, seems perpetually angry; her mother bitter and flirty — and more than flirty, as we (and Sally) saw her getting rather intimate with a happy Roger at the ACS party. (LSD, it seems, really turned Roger around.) Megan’s father, however, seems to understand his daughter better, perhaps, than Don does; he’s disappointed that Megan’s settled for being a rich man’s wife, working in advertising and letting go of her dreams. But what were those dreams, and were those what were behind Megan’s absent smile at the office while champagne was poured? We’ve heard vague mention of Megan being an actress; is that what she still wants? Is SCDP just a stop along the way for her? Is Jessica Pare having Megan speak in that little-girl voice on purpose (which seems odd to me; wouldn’t Megan be the type who makes an effort to sound mature and sophisticated?), or is that just how the actress herself talks, or has Megan been playing a role all along? We shall see.
Peggy, meanwhile, adjusted her expectations rapidly this episode when Abe, rather than stammering out the proposal she’s expecting, asks her to live with him. (Peggy expected this after being schooled, deliciously, by Joan — who, we should note, is still wearing her wedding ring.) Elisabeth Moss’s face, as Peggy absorbed the blow with a frozen smile, made peace with it, and moved forward in just a few seconds, was a remarkable study in subtlety. And we saw the return of Peggy’s formidable mother, who darkly reminded her daughter (“Peaches”) that “Abraham” was quite possibly just using her for practice, and would move on when he was done. (A variant on why-buy-the-cow.) Seemed naive of Peggy to think that her mother would be OK with this, no? Though it did seem a little harsh of Mrs. Olson to leave with her bakery box. (People who are living in sin don’t deserve cake!)
A less welcome return was Creepy Glen (played, sigh, by series creator Matthew Weiner’s son, so I guess we’ll never see the last of him), who’s now Sally’s phone pal while he’s away at camp. Poor Sally — who must be, what, about 11 or 12 by now? — is trying so very hard to be grownup, and for a while seemed to be having fun at the party, despite the ballroom’s lack of a grand staircase. (A sweet detail, reminding us how very young Sally is.) Loved her mod silver dress, and her repartee with Roger — which reminded us that he must have been, on his good days, a pretty fun dad to his own daughter. But Sally, who appears to be in the throes of an eating disorder, saw something she shouldn’t have seen, and sighed to Glen that New York seemed “dirty.”
And that was it for episode 7 (titled “At the Codfish Ball” — which, a little Googling will tell you, is a song from a Shirley Temple movie; who in turn was the name of the drink which a world-weary Sally dismissed in a late scene), in a season that many of you are finding a little slow. I’m enjoying the subtleties of the season, but I’m ready for something dramatic to happen — and I think that two episodes in a row with virtually nothing of Lane, Pete and Joan (though Pete had a wonderful moment with Megan’s father in which he smoothly and schmoozily shows that he knows his role very, very well) is two too many. Overall this isn’t my favorite “Mad Men” season, but there’s still time to turn things around.
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A sweet father/daughter moment. (Photo by Ron Jaffe; courtesy of AMC)

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