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'Mad Men': Roger in black, Joan red with embarrassment

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I’m starting to think that if it wasn’t for John Slattery, this new season of Mad Men would be just a tad draggy. Bedazzled by the premiere’s period details, charmed by last week’s Don-lays-down-the-law-to-the-in-laws scene, I’ve tried to ignore the heavy portentousness (all those long, silent, but meaningless stares characters aim at each other) of Mad thus far.

But this week’s third installment nearly ground to a glum halt a few times, starting with Betty’s now-verging-on-abusive lack of affection for her two children. Those poor kids, who receive nothing from their lovely-looking mother than a grim stare and a sharp bark (“Go watch television!”). It’s no wonder little Sally took to petty thievery.

Oh, right: SPOILER ALERT! Duh: Don’t read further if you don’t want to know what happened this week.

Anyway, stealing five bucks from Grandpa’s wallet proved a dead-end subplot. Tension was suggested (was the old man going to go racist, and accuse the nanny/maid?) and dissipated. Similarly, the Peggy-smokes-dope scenes at the ad agency were played for the kind of laughs I’d have thought Matthew Weiner would believe beneath him (i.e., network sitcom quality).

I usually love any scene involving Joan, and, early on, her cutting exchange with Jane, former secretary and now Roger’s new wife, was delightful passive-aggressive viciousness. But Joan’s home dinner party was pretty excruciating in an obvious way. We learned for what seems like the 87th time that her doctor-husband is Not Worthy Of Joan. It culminated in that image of Joan squeezing an accordian (a curvy monkey performing for approval) while shooting eye-daggers at hubby for forcing this humiliation upon her to save his own skin.

With Jon Hamm pushed to the corners of this episode, thank goodness for any scene involving Slattery. The audacity of putting Roger in blackface to sing “My Old Kentucky Home” (the title of the episode) wasn’t, of course, scandalous. You can’t embarrass Roger, although Don tried to shame him for his younger-wife decision, and you can’t scandalize a Mad Man fan: we’re all too, too sophisticated for that, right?

You disagree? Agree?

Please be sure to read Karen Valby’s always-vivacious Mad Men TV Watch.

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