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Mad Men: Performance Anxiety

Logan Hill is still off steaming in some Turkish bathhouse, so once again we're guest-recapping Mad Men, and in this week's party-packed episode, everybody must get stoned. Or, in poor Joan's case, schooled. Like some retro episode of Glee, this installment featured a spirited Charleston, a forced accordion solo, a blackface serenade, and a Tigertone duet, plus one heartfelt performance of "I Am Peggy, Hear Me Roar." Betty's father growled like a bear! And Paul Kinsey acted like a name-dropping clown so lazy he can't even get his own damn blender. Action-packed, filled with subtle strangeness, and altogether excellent.

The Pitch: Chain of Fools

The Campaign: Five Mad Men (plus a deadpan Peggy) ogle potential Ann-Margrets, then groan when they learn they'll be trapped in the office all weekend to brainstorm a Bacardi campaign — the creatives, that is, not moneymen Pete, Ken, and Harry Crane, who are invited to Jane and Roger Sterling's Derby Day soiree. Jane herself struts into the office wearing the Guggenheim on her head, then launches an epic fusillade of bitchery at Joan, from fat-bashing to "I get a nosebleed anywhere above 86th Street." On the upside, Peggy has a great new older secretary, Olive, with a healthy working life combined with a loving family.

In the Draper home, attention-starved Sally announces, "I just walked backwards all the way from the living room" to her refrigerator mom. Then she swipes $5 from her grandfather, and with every scene, we became more terrified he would bash her (or possibly the maid, Carla's) head in with a lamp. When she pretended to find the money, we peeked through our fingers — and although nothing happened (and by the final scenes, she was once again timidly lisping to Grandpa from The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire), we felt as traumatized as if it had.

And on to the parties! Peggy, Paul, and Smitty listlessly brainstorm, until the dudes decide to ring up Paul's old college drug-dealer buddy Jeffrey. Though Olive warns Peggy away, she barges in on what amounts to an Apatow movie with mohair cardigans. "I'm Peggy Olson and I want to smoke some marijuana," she announces.

The creatives get giggly. "I'm hungry — it's just not worth it to get up," says Peggy. Paul mocks Jeffrey for dealing drugs; Jeffrey sneers at Paul's Jersey roots, yells "You're arrogant, and you know what else? You can't sing!" And somehow this intra-Princeton class warfare devolves into a showdown over whether Paul was kicked out of the Tigertones. Paul defends his honor with a solo; Peggy and Smitty applaud; the Princetonians reconcile in harmony.

Meanwhile, Joan plays hostess for Dr. Greg Rape's colleagues. "Joanie, I don't want to have a fight right now," he says as they debate etiquette. "Then stop talking," she responds coolly. The party swiftly degenerates into a series of dispiriting hints — from chatter about "Code Pinks" to a series of subtle put-downs from Greg's boss's wife, who warns Joan not to get pregnant and says, "The fact that Greg can get a woman like you makes me feel good about his future, whatever happens." After his boss brings up Greg's lame surgical skills, Joan plays the accordion like a trained monkey.

At Jane and Roger's Derby Day, the Sterling Cooperites schmooze, Trudy endures the baby bonding of the other ladies, and Roger croons to Jane in blackface, a grotesque performance that disgusts only Don.

Don retreats to the bar, where he bonds with an old coot, Connie, who, like Don, is a poor kid in a rich world. "I'm Republican, like everyone else in there, but somehow, however expensive my cuff links, I feel like I've got the head of a jackass," Connie says, referencing A Midsummer Night's Dream. Don tells him about a roadhouse where he once parked cars for fancy folk. He pissed in their car trunks. "There's probably some kid out there now doing that to us."

Meanwhile, a master PUA macks on eight-months-pregnant Betty, there's chitchat about the scandalous marriage of Rockefeller and Happy, and Pete and Trudy cut a rug, cracking us up and overlapping with the narration of ...

Paul, lying on the carpet quoting T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men": "This is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends ... " "We get it — you're educated," snarks Smitty. Paul moans, "I keep thinking about rum, I keep thinking about Cuba, and I keep thinking about how we're all going to die." As Smitty hits on Peggy, she invents a Bacardi campaign and announces, "You both can leave! I'm in a very good place right now."

Then she returns to her office for a showdown with a disappointed Olive. Peggy has nothing to hide, she argues: "The thing is, I have a job, I have my own office, with my name on the door, and I have a secretary. That's you! And I am not scared of anything." As she gazes at Olive, her eyes widen, with a stoned revelation. "But you're scared! Oh, my God. You're scared. Don't worry about me — I am going to get to do everything you want for me."

At the Sterling party, sozzled Jane offends Betty by referring to her marital troubles, then drools at Don, "You don't like me! I'm a nice person!"

Roger confronts Don. "It's a mistake to be conspicuously happy," he theorizes, self-righteously. "No one thinks you're happy," says Don. "They think you're foolish."

Don and Betty kiss in the darkness.

Early Results: That pot-smoking sequence could have been a cliché but for the fact that it was so damned funny, particularly the Tigertones sing-in. And it paid off with Peggy's eerily empowered speech: verging on arrogance, but genuinely (if narcotically) liberated. Olive suggests that Peggy's damaging her future, but Peggy seems to believe she is living in the future, one in which women won't have to tiptoe, or be slotted as a Betty, a Joan, or a Peggy 1.0. (Although they might be a Samantha, a Miranda, a Carrie, or a Charlotte.)

Meanwhile, Joan's disastrous buffet suggested that the only thing worse than marrying your rapist is marrying your loser rapist. Donkey-headed buffoons popped up all over the place, from Princeton-babbling Paul, to drunken mean girl Jane, to blackfaced Roger. In this cavalcade of humiliation, class resentment welled up everywhere, from the revelation of Paul's "Joisey" past to Carla's bitter remarks ("we don't all know each other").

Betty's bottomless vanity gives us a headache, but kudos to the writers for not sending her into labor on the dance floor!

As usual, applause for the details, including pseudo-Ann-Margret's credit as "The nurse in Romeo & Juliet"; Lola's warning that two coffees make Peggy edgy; "Maryjane was my muse"; and Peggy's deadpan punchline, "Paul puts me to sleep." Not to mention Pete and Trudy's madcap Charleston, which cakewalked right over some crazy line between mortifying and truly adorable.

Photo: Courtesy of AMC