“Mad Men,” Episode 3, “My Old Kentucky Home”

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Let’s call this the long, awkward pause edition of “Mad Men” There are some good ones in this third installment of the season,“My Old Kentucky Home.”

It’s also an insightful, oh-so-telling study of the nature of couplehood in all of its many stages. In another life, Matt Weiner surely would have been a marriage counselor. He has a keen eye for those little details and small gestures that reveal everything about a relationship. 

And any episode that gives us Joan playing the accordion (“C’est Magnifique”) and Peggy Olson, proud graduate of Miss Deaver’s Secretarial School, smoking her first joint has got to be a goodie. I nearly choked on her declaration to Paul Kinsey et al: “I’m Peggy Olson. I want to smoke some marijuana.”

Overall, this is an interesting episode for the women of the Sterling Cooper mob. We’re seeing more assertiveness, certainly from Peggy (when Paul tells her to go get the blender, she shoots back “You get it”), but in subtle ways from other characters — even Carla, the Drapers’ housekeeper, in her dealings with Gene, Betty’s batty dad. I think it’s all part of the theme of great social change enveloping our characters. The show is a Petri dish for all of these New Frontier experiments, and we get to watch how various personality types react. (Harry Crane is so voting for Goldwater. And Nixon.)

It’s no accident that one of the two headline news items of the day that are referenced in this episode is the then-scandalous marriage of socialite Margaretta “Happy” Murphy to New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, barely a month after she got a divorce and had to give up custody rights to her four children. Betty has clearly followed this tabloid affair (she’s a closet New York Post reader?) because she knows all the details when the surprise marriage is referenced.

The other news that seeps into this episode, penned by Dahvi Waller and Weiner, is the radio report that references Birmingham, Alabama. (Try as I might I could not make out the first part of the report, the sound was too muddy). If this episode is taking place on May 4, 1963 — the date of the Rockefeller wedding — then the radio report is clearly about the civil rights demonstrations led by Martin Luther King Jr. against segregation in Birmingham (“greatest city in A-la-bam,” per Randy Newman). These were protests that yielded scenes of unbelievable brutality — children and teenagers getting beaten with billy clubs, bitten by police dogs and cut down with fire hoses — that helped turned the tide of public opinion and pave the way for landmark civil rights legislation in the years ahead.

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