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Mad Men: Mad Minstrels

[Alex Blagg, formerly of Best Week Ever blog and Blagg Blogg Dot Com, and currently the editor of Wonderwall, will be bringing his wit, wisdom, and love of skinny ties to this season of Mad Men.]

Holy shit, you guys. Three episodes in and I’m already burned out. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mad Men. But I love it as a fan, sitting on my couch on Sunday nights whilst lazily hoarking popcorn into my mouth and not really thinking too much about it. Maybe my deep appreciation of the show exists on a much more superficial level than I would care to admit. Maybe I just find pleasure in watching well-put-together people smoking and drinking in old-timey clothes. I don’t really know, but this recapping business is like school on Saturday. So for The Comprehensive Guide to the Cultural and Philosophical Implications of the Work of Matthew Weiner, go check out FancySmartPeopleTVRecapsGum.com. Meanwhile, here’s my weekly list of things I noticed and/or thought about the show between handfuls and popcorn and naps.

Mad Men isn’t so much about men anymore. Sure, we’re still treated to our weekly glimpses into Don Draper’s deeply conflicted heart of darkness, but between the predatory and remorseless sexual exploits one week and his random acts of kindness and touching humanity the next (Pop Quiz! What does Don Draper hate the most: women, racism, or himself?), the guy is pretty much an unknowable cipher. Of course Pete’s always fascinating, but mostly as some kind of ambitious, fancy-dancing psychological Anti-Anti-Hero foil to Don. And as The Rodge and the rest of the men of Sterling Cooper are more often than not cast as amusing sideshow players and occasional clowns in this Midsummer Night’s Dream of Madison Avenue, the tragedies of Peggy, Betty and Joan increasingly seem to take center stage. Being a woman in New York in the 1960’s seems like the socio-economic equivalent of living in Chechnya today.

Pete and his lady are America’s Best Dance Crew. What can I even say about this? It somehow managed to give me douche chills and warm my heart at the same time.

There are real lessons to be learned about the dangers of drinking and smoking when pregnant. Considering how often Betty Draper parties whilst pregnant, it’s no wonder that her children turn out to be money-thieving little monsters that she can barely stand to look at. I don’t know if the writers are trying to foreshadow the birth of a severely disabled child for the Drapers or what, but it seems like every time we drop in on Betty these days, she’s washing down cigarette smoke with whiskey.

Sally Draper is going to be so fucked up when she gets older. Her mother clearly hates her, Dad is emotionally (and often physically) absent, she’s stuck with a lisp and has a creepy grandpa living in her attic, to whom she reads The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire every night before bedtime. If that isn’t a recipe for epic latter-life American fucked-up-ness, I don’t know what is. It’s like we’re watching the origin story of Octomom.

When left unsupervised, rich people go totally fucking insane. This statement is timeless, and irrespective of geography. I’ve never been to a “Derby Days” party, but it apparently involves binge drinking, wearing ridiculous hats and acting cartoonishly racist. We like to think that, in this day and age, the overt bigotry on display was distantly odd and unsettling, but I’d bet Roger Sterling money that this past weekend, at both a private estate in the Hamptons and in some secret country club in Alabama, unfathomably wealthy men were painting their faces with shoe polish and ridiculing an entire race of people to the drunken delight of their alcoholic wives in funny hats.

Don Draper is the MacGuyver of drinking. When he retreats to the bar to escape Roger’s racist recital, Don discovers a folksy old cowboy who can’t seem to find any bourbon (at a party where everyone is drinking Mint Juleps) for his Old Fashioned. Don literally leaps over the bar, and within seconds, is muddling, stirring and straining a perfect Mr. Boston’s Cocktail while charming the pants off the old codger by telling him about the time when he was a valet and used to pee in people’s cars. It sort of makes me think the series should end with Don slumped over at the end of the bar in some shitty midtown watering hole, telling amazing stories about fingerbanging flight attendants to uninterested disco kids while Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” plays in the backgroiund and the screen just goes black.

Peggy always gets the best lines. Is she doing “other things” with the writers or something? She had so many dry little quips this episode, from the much-anticipated “I’m Peggy Olsen and I want to try marijuana” to “Paul puts me to sleep” to the LOL-worthy “I’m so high right now” response to Kinsey’s Ivy League a cappella nightmare. (Lesson: Never sing barbershop quartet songs when smoking weed with your friends.)

If I were getting high at the office on a Saturday, Peggy’s new secretary would totally bug me out. Not sure why, but that old lady just seems weird and scary. Somehow even more so than the Princetonians.

Joan’s accordion scene could only have been weirder and sadder if she were singing Nirvana’s “Rape Me” in French. First Joan gets passive-aggressively undermined by the secretarial plaything The Rodge actually bothered to turn into his wife, then she gets in a fight with her rapist fiancee over a chafing dish, then she finds out he’s actually terrible at being a doctor which means she won’t even have the money to go along with her misery, then she’s trotted out to play the accordion like a voluptuous circus animal. Like I said: Chechnya.