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"Mad Men": "Three Sundays"

By admin Published: August 18, 2008

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Just how good is Elisabeth Moss? Pretty doggone good. Discussion, with spoilers, after the jump.

I was a little leery of the elaborate conceit around "Three Sundays," looking at the lives of Don, Peggy and Roger in the context of three different Sundays. It's the kind of thing that could easily seem contrived. But "Mad Men" kept the idea fluid, showing things in between the Sundays, and once again demonstrated what a very, very good show it is.

Elisabeth Moss's Peggy opened and closed the episode, with two very different expressions (seeming boredom at church, humiliation at the Easter egg hunt) but which fit together very well. Both, after all, underscored her distance from the Catholic church, and yet her complicated feelings. The boredom she feels at the beginning could belong to anyone, while the pain she experiences at the end -- though something more and more women would encounter as the '60s rolled on -- is in the context of her life uniquely hers. After all, she has made reconnection of sorts to the church by helping the young priest (Colin Hanks). But what he undoubtedly considers a gracious, even modern, gesture is in fact a way of telling Peggy that her reconnection has baggage -- thanks to her envious sister.

Not only was that a good Peggy story, it was one of several ways that the episode put together pieces that have been seen in previous installments this season. Peggy likes to act as if she has put her motherhood aside -- living a hard single life apparently, with the reference to being hung over in church -- but the consequences remain. We've also been seeing that Don's carefully constructed, artificial life for himself is falling apart, and that continued this week; the airlines gambit, which he opposed, has ended disastrously, and the ache from that, and from trying not to be his own father, is breaking down the barriers between his old life and new. His admission to Betty about his childhood left Betty, and by extension us, thunderstruck. That's just not something Don would do.

Don's relationship with Bobby also demonstrates what he has become, especially in the year and a half between the end of season one and the beginning of season two. Just as we saw in that first season that part of Don really believes the ideas his ads sell, we're seeing that he wants to make those ideas work in his own life. Where he was an aggressive womanizer in the first season, he's a passive one now; he doesn't really want to have sex with Bobbie -- he'd rather be with Betty, for whom he feels real passion -- but neither does he have the will to resist her if it's good for business. And he's not turned off by her TV-show idea.

As for Roger, as much as Don resists the chase, Roger loves it, especially when he knows he can win. He's a game player. In his pursuit of the prostitute Vicky (played with a sharp practicalness by Marguerite Moreau), the basic transaction is just a matter of money -- but Roger wants it also to be, if not a courtship, a negotiation. And Vicky knows exactly how to play him, right down to turning down his suggestion of walking in the rain -- Roger would get bored if she gave in on everything. And when cynicism rises in characters on "Mad Men," boredom is always the feared result; Bobbie goes after Don in his office, she says, to keep from getting bored with him.

There's more to look at, of course, such as the way parenthood is laced through the episode: Peggy, Don and his kids, Joan's reaction to Don's daughter, Roger and Mona with their daughter and her fiancee. That weirdly engaging moment when Don has a vision of a campaign for American Airlines and offers it to the staff in Chairman Mao-like aphorisms -- the most darkly telling of which is that they should pretend they know what 1963 looks like. Because we know what the real 1963 will bring. And the strange business with Cooper, the gum and Duck's explanation; is Cooper really just distant from his own company, or is he losing a step -- and Duck is positioning himself for a higher rise? (And shouldn't the collapse of the American deal slow him considerably? As Don observes, Duck is supposed to bring in new clients, not lose old ones.)

Good, good episode. Maybe the best this year -- although it's so good in large part because of what's happened in the three leading up to it.

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