A brief post on yesterday’s Mad Men while waiting at the Newark Airport:
Certainly, the most memorable and alarming moments from the episode last night were courtesy of the Ann-Margret clips from Bye Bye, Birdie, which was released in 1963. Seen as part of that whole wacky movie, the scenes with the buxom young lady singing “Bye Bye, Birdie” and lunging seductively at the camera aren’t all that shocking. I mean, it’s a movie with Dick van Dyke and a scene in a secret Shriner’s meeting, so everything feels equally aggressive and shrill. Within the context of Matthew Weiner’s restrained, subtly crafted visual aesthetic, though, those clips from Bye Bye, Birdie are jarring beyond belief. The disconnect becomes even more apparent as Peggy sings “Bye Bye, Birdie” to herself in the mirror, and that intense juxtaposition highlights the real tension of the episode. The first episode of this season was about masculinities, featuring images of Don as Don Draper and Dick Whitman, thrilling male love between Sal and the bellboy, the sparring between Pete and Ken. This second episode, “Love Among the Ruins,” was about femininities, and the distinct gap between Peggy’s reality and the fantasy she sells in advertising. As a part of that scheme, we also saw the conflicts in Roger’s daughter’s wedding planning, hints of Joan’s expectations for impending motherhood, and Betty’s struggle with her role as an adult daughter. It might be telling that the episode’s title, “Love Among the Ruins,” is also the title of a poem from Robert Browning’s 1855 collection, Men and Women.
After laying out the contemporary boundaries of these gendered roles, Don also gives us the key to how this season will proceed, by selling the Madison Square Garden on a message of change and progress. Peggy may be looking in the mirror and pretending to be Ann-Margret, but her own behavior and the power she wields in walking out of that nice young man’s apartment, suggests her own readiness for changed paradigms.