Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mad Men "Love Among the Ruins": Demolition Men

Mad Men has always been about change, for an often obtuse series, that much has been obvious. But for "Love Among the Ruins," the theme is not willing to just lie under the surface. The title alone references Robert Brownining's famous poem that deals with change, the contrast between the past and the present -- and the conclusion that love in the present trumps the past. What's new, pussycat?

The Madison Square Garden account is the obvious companion to Browning's poem, with Penn Station slated for demolition (would happen in October of that year), and Don's pitch about the perception of change is a perfect companion -- presenting MSG as something new. But the poem theme also lines up metaphorically with a lot going on in the episode. For one, that sort of thinking is right in line with the philosophy of our Dick Whitman/Don Draper, living in the present. Roger Sterling abides as well, but he's more a tourist in this philosophy, borrowing Don's words to justify his mid-life crisis, which is probably a bigger offense to Don than sleeping with his secretary (leading to the divide so eloquently framed in the picture from above). Roger's 'live for today' bed has been made, and now he's whining in it*, fighting with his daughter over her wedding plans and her desire to leave his new bird out of it. A wedding which we find out is set for November 23 of that year, which would prove to be one day after the assassination of Kennedy. Another signal of demolition to come. (Is Matt Weiner comparing the destruction of Penn Station with the JFK's death? Kind of, sort of?)

*Reminds me of what might be my favorite 'read between the lines' moment in the episode: when Don says to Roger, "Your words not mine." That scene can be contrasted with Peggy stealing Joan's joke about the subway, subverting the Don/Peggy Roger/Joan dynamic a bit.

Speaking of contrasting present versus past, the opening scene with Ann-Margret reminds us that the Bye Bye Birdie star kind of stepped in as the de-facto sex symbol in the wake of Marilyn Monroe's death last season, and the film proved to be her breakout role. And the play the film was adapted from, with it's "rock n' roll rhythms" was supposed to "unhinge forever the clean-cut harmony of the all-American musical." Ah, change never shaked it so good (although, in retrospect, Peggy's right - "Bye Bye Birdie" is a tad shrill).

After some trepidation with the premiere (some day I'll get around to finishing a recap/analysis), I'm liking where this season is going. Jared Harris' Pryce is a delightfully vicious villain and Don bringing his father in-law Gene into their home gives our anti-hero another potential foil at both home and the office. Consider my interest now fully piqued.


Betty said...

really interesting post

rkex said...


I was hoping, after a lack of music in last week's premiere, that you would identify the songs in Episode 2. As usual, MM chooses the obscure over the Top 40, and I am not familiar with what i heard. I hope the AMC site will, again, post the song credits, as i have built soundtracks for each of the first two seasons.
Glad to see you back to discussing MM, and will be here every Monday!

drake lelane said...

Thanks rkex, and I agree... the music this season so far as been a lot more obtuse and in in the background -- more use of score than in the past. Outside of "Bye Bye Birdie" (and David Carbonara's usual brilliant score), I didn't notice the music much. And that's hard for me to do.

rkex said...


I need to go back and watch again, but there was a soul tune playing in the background of the bar scene, maybe a couple of them. Last year we could count on AMC listing the credits on their blog but, so far, nada this season.
An example of obscure, hard-to-identify songs was those from Paul's party in Episode 2 last year ("Congratulations Honey" and "Temptation Is So Hard to Fight"). Between your blog and AMC, I put together all of the music from Seasons 1 and 2. I'd send you a copy if it was legal (hint... contact me).
I guess I'll rattle the cage at AMC. I'm eager to start assembling the Season 3 soundtrack!