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It’s out with the old on ‘Mad Men’

Don makes a convincing case to get rid of a New York institution while embracing an old nemesis, and Peggy finds her old values leave her feeling a little lonely.
/ Source: Entertainment Weekly

Poor Margaret Elizabeth. It is going to rain on her wedding day. Roger's daughter doesn't want her father's young bride to show her unlined face. The fabulous former Mrs. Sterling tried to propose a compromise. Roger and June (ha!) could host their own table; she'll sit with the in-laws. Roger had the arrogance to suggest that he could find his ex a date if little Margaret was worried about an odd number of guests. Oh, he's a low-down dirty dog. Jane be damned.

A date has been set. November 23, 1963. It rained that day on the East Coast as a nation mourned. November 23, 1963. JFK's body was returned to the White House for a private family memorial.

For now he is just the petulant father of the bride, piqued that his little girl no longer worships him. Roger should be used to disappointing women by now. He shared a look with Joan in the office that spoke volumes. After greeting a very polished Betty (''oh look, Princess Grace swallowed a basketball!'') who had come to meet Don for a dinner date, Roger gazed for a moment at Joan.

''Good night Mrs. Harris,'' he said tenderly, while she held her wedding ring like an amulet. That answers that mystery, hey folks? Our Joan got hitched to the damned doctor. She has until June 1 to get away cleanly. Once he becomes Chief Resident, she told Betty, he wants her knocked up. The aggressiveness of that expression feels fitting. In every great dramatic series, there's that first moment when you realize your favorite characters, and thus you, will not be spared (ie., think Wallace from "The Wire"). I'll never get over Joan having to smooth down her skirt so she and the doc could make their dinner reservations.

Frustrated by his daughter's disapproval, Roger initiated a sideways conversation with Peggy on the elevator. So much focus on the bustling downstairs lobby these last two episodes, and the literal upwards and downwards movement of the characters! Roger deemed Peggy a young girl. He determined her to be ''the only one around here who doesn't have that stupid look on her face.'' (Roger, old chap: This first slap is for Joan. This sherry on your head is for the telephone operators. And this knee to the groin is for the Sterling Cooper secretaries who are hired specifically for their eager, girlish, slightly scared pretty faces.)

Roger glibly wondered what her old man would have to do to get disinvited from her own wedding. Peggy told him her father was dead. He smirked, not unkindly. But he smirked.

Peggy takes the spotlightAfter a few passing glances last week, Peggy strode into the spotlight last night. Sterling Cooper is trying to win a Pepsi diet drink account and the client wants a campaign á la Ann-Margret in "Bye Bye Birdie." As the Sterling Cooper boys got boners under the table for the winning redhead, except for Sal who admired the gal's sass, Peggy sat there with a cocked eye. The client is wrong-headed, she insisted. They should be catering to a woman's fantasy, not Ken's or Harry's or even Sal's. The boys called her a prude. Though Harry said kudos for not being a fatso anymore.

Home alone in a nightgown straight out of "The Sound of Music," Peggy gave her mirror her best Ann-Margret. She swished her skirt, she swung her hair, she sang into her brush ''Guess I'll always care!'' I'd been thinking all episode how lucky Peggy was to be free and self-contained as various families hissed and scratched each other. And yet this scene was so lonely and so evocative of what she's given up that I half-cheered when she forced herself into a neighborhood bar to find a little action.

She'd butted heads with Don earlier that evening. These two, the only people on the show who ever really talk and listen to each other, are such real admirers of one another. But whereas Don's big hurting and insatiable heart treats cynicism like a life preserver, Peggy still seems to rely on hope. Maybe it's their age difference. Don knows their business is corrupt, and that what they're selling is a fraud. He may be moved by Ann-Margret.

''It's pure, it makes your heart hurt,'' he tells Peg. He may be so taken by a dancing barefoot woman on a spring day that his hand droops to the ground to feel the warmth of the grass beneath him. But he'll use the fantasy of Ann-Margret to sell diet schlitz to sad women. ''Look how happy I am that I drink....Patio,'' he said, trailing off miserably. And the innocence of his daughter's teacher is moving and all, but why the hell wasn't he watching his daughter? They are not artists, he lectured Peggy.

Peggy had my favorite line of the episode. At the bar she introduced herself to a nice enough egg by tossing out a line she saw Joan use to charm some clients at work. The fella buys her a drink and blabs good-naturedly about why he switched from pre-law to engineering.

''If we're all going to be replaced by machines there has to be a guy that makes them,'' he said. Peggy, who deserves a more interesting date, replied ''Or you can just become a robot.'' (Like this guy I work with, Don, who just shuts down in the face of anyone's emotions but his own and had the nerve to tell me to keep some tools in the toolbox....)

But when Peggy did talk about her work, her earnest date was clueless. ''I don't know how you girls do all that typing,'' he gee-whiz marveled.

And then came the line, delivered with a delightful sense of amused confession. ''I work for a jerk,'' she declared. Is this the first time she'd realized that Don is kind of a jerk? Does she care? If she realizes that this handsome hunk of talent and secrets and tortured soul can also be a real d--- sometimes, doesn't that only increase their bond? He's off the pedestal. (And yes, I did wonder if maybe she was talking about Roger all along. Help!)

Peggy went home to the French fry's apartment. Our lady has learned a valuable lesson. No Trojan, no homerun. But listen, guy, she told him, surely we can run around a couple bases. He invited her out to breakfast, but she wanted to wake up in her own bed. He didn't give his phone number, she didn't ask for it. The girl deserved an innocent make-out session. At work that morning, she marched right into Don's office and the two went back to work.

While Peggy experimented with freedom, Don looked more tired and trapped than ever. Betty was snippy because she's subsisting on Melba Toasts. His old drinking buddy Roger annoyed him because he's a shallow charmer who runs away from his family obligations. (And dammit, if there's one thing Don just can't forgive it's that.) His father-in-law was beached in his socks and skivvies in the guestroom or hallucinating in the kitchen.

At work, Don wooed clients with beautiful sonnets of spin. The man behind Madison Square Garden was sick of feeling villianized by nostalgic New Yorkers who didn't want to see their beloved Penn Station leveled. Don saw no point in romanticizing the struggle between new and old.

''Let's also say change is neither good nor bad, it just is,'' he said to the skittish client. ''It can be greeted with terror or joy, a tantrum that says 'I want it the way it was' or a dance that says 'Look, something new!''' (Look, out yonder under the maypole, something new, and with flowers in her hair!)

Don is the perfect PR man for a changing city. The man literally, forcibly, has no history. Why should anything? But he's kidding himself. He yearns for nostalgia, for a closeness to the ground and the people around him.

The Sterling Cooper Agency — good to still see that company name in the lobby for now — looks like it might be history by season's end. When Don landed Madison Square Garden, Mr. Price said the head office in London wanted them to walk away from the new lucrative client. It seems the big guns want them to fail. Out with the old.

So help me, TV watchers, on this whole notion of out with the old. Why do you think Don stepped up and insisted that his father-in-law, whom he can't stand, move into his house? When Betty realized what Don had done, she gave him the first tender look of the entire evening. Don is a private man. We saw how callously he abandoned his brother. You'd think this was a man who would pay for a fancy nursing home to deal with his wife's drooping Dad. So what do you think was at work here? Would the Don we know really have offered up his home? Was it his erratic though extreme moral code kicking in? Did he see himself in Gene? Can this generosity last? Help me understand what is happening in the Draper home!