Mad Men – 4×09: SCDP needs some SATC

First of all I’d like to say how sorely disappointed I was to discover that my supposedly genius title for this post (“Blankenship Down”) had already been used by 3+ television review sites by the time I posted mine so I had to change it. Gosh, was it that obvious? Sigh. I’m going to chuck it to “great minds think alike” and leave it at that.

Miserable girls of all shapes and sizes (AMC)

So, can we say funniest Mad Men episode, ever? No I’m serious, its never been this funny. Also, very very very un-Don-centric which was surprisingly welcome. We’d had just enough perpetual disaster and then “recovery” and then… is he really any better (?) stuff lately. I mean, I loved every minute of it but it was the perfect time for lack of Don insight, only to return next week with some major developments. Good call, writer’s room!

Before I get to discussing each character I’d also like to say that the final elevator shot of Joan, Peggy, and Faye (the redhead, brunette, and blond, respectively) and those lonely lovesick looks on each one of them… CLASSIC. Those are really the kind of moments I hope Mad Men will be remembered for when its all over: the pain mixed in with the almost comical.

Don Draper

Let’s get him out of the way, shall we? And speaking of, he sure got sex with Faye out of the way after all the b.s. about not being ready, too, eh? I’m not quite sure what the point was of having him say that in one episode and then starting the next episode with the two waking up together without any intended irony. Any thoughts? I assume the writers are trying to tell us that he’s treating her differently from the Alisons and Bethanys and Stephanies of late but it still doesn’t make sense for them to have him say that and having him fail without emphasizing that it was in fact a failure. They treated it very naturally. I mean, shouldn’t we at least have seen how they came to sleep together after what he said? They even showed it in the “Previously on Mad Men” intro. If you disagree I’d love to hear why you think this was done!

The rest was in regards to his relationship with Faye and Sally. More specifically his attempt to turn his relationship with each of them into a relationship with each other. And why? Because they are girls?! It’s been quite a few episodes since they’ve alluded to the earlier theme this season of “being old fashioned” but I think this is a great example of Don being just that. Of Don thinking that men cannot relate to women and women cannot relate to men a well as they can relate to each other (more later on how the women think the exact opposite)… even if they are total strangers! But wait, we know how much he values his close relationship with Peggy and surely its largely due to their similarities so, what gives? What gives is that Don doesn’t much think of Peggy as a woman — simply an “extension of himself” (you know, like Adam’s rib!) But worse, and more sexist even, is that he thinks women (even ones without children) have a better sense for another person’s children, even more than their own father! Now this doesn’t make Don a bad person, and I’m not saying it to criticize him in any sinful way, but it does show us how men of his generation thought about these things. My father is not American but he is in his 70s and therefore a man of Don’s generation, and I know he never felt as comfortable talking to me about my misbehavior as he did with my brother. Mainly that was left up to my mother. To this day he will not ask if there’s a problem unless I come to him with it, probably just out of not knowing how to approach it, as opposed to being the strict protective father that many of my friends with younger parents are used to. In this way, I can understand Don’s standoffish-ness, but unlike Don, my dad was not a man hoping to succeed in the modernity-driven advertising business or trying to start a new life and/or family in 1960s New York. Don’s in big trouble.

Joan Harris

I’m not quite sure much needs to be said about her behavior this episode, as it was quite simple. We’ve known for a long time that she’s less than satisfied with her personal life. We know she wanted a successful husband which would allow her to both be a housewife and a mother without financial or societal insecurity. Unfortunately, she “fell in love” with the wrong aspiring doctor, and whether she ever really fell in love with him or just loved the idea of him is hard to say but, certainly, if she did not think he would have a Dr. in front of his name she wouldn’t have agreed to marry him.

Anyway, now she’s childless, back at a job that she hates (though she didn’t used to hate it, she certainly does now), and her husband is being sent off to Vietnam. To say that things did not go according to plan is putting it mildly. She’s distraught for her husband, for the possibility that she may have to think of herself as a widow, the chance of ever having children (its too late to start over) — so in her panic she sleeps with fucks Roger. It is what it is. I wrote two weeks about their ship having sailed, and their timing being off, and that still stands. All this episode did was remind us how much worse off they are because not only are they unable to fully let go of what they lost in each other, but now they’ve both cheated on their spouses. Whether this will affect either one of them seems unlikely to me. They are two of the strongest and most forward-thinking characters on the show and for them to dwell on this and feel guilt over it is unlikely. Now, whether they will try to regain what they once lost in one another, is another story. Certainly Roger appeared open about his feelings. Do you think this will come to anything else? I wouldn’t be so quick to say that this is their last sexual romp…

Peggy Olsen

He came back! Kissing Closet Boy came back! Just last week I lamented my then-apparently incorrect belief that he had to return, so you can imagine my excitement when he (Abe) walked into the bar and onto my screen. Yay! Regarding their conversation, I didn’t quite understand what Peggy got so upset about when Abe jokingly replied to her anecdotes on sexism in the workplace:

“Alright, Peggy. We’ll have a civil rights march for women.”

Yes, sexism was bad back then but Peggy was trying to compare it in equal measure to the racism of the times and it just wasn’t. I know it can be stupid to compare evils but logically-speaking women not being able to join country clubs is not equally as serious as being forced to sit at the back of the bus, or attend a public school, or being mobbed and having your life threatened simply for straying for being Black. Either way, Abe didn’t fight her on it, he just made a little joke. Emphasis on the little. It was more like a comedic shrug. Her reaction was unfair. I didn’t realize how empowered yet, at the same time insecure, Peggy felt about being a female copywriter. To say that it would be as easy for a Black man to “fight his way” into her shoes the way she did is pompous and, frankly, incorrect. And then, the poor guy is so distraught about Peggy taking offense that he tries on her proverbial hat, heels, and purse, and goes on to write an article in defense of her very point! Yet again she treats Abe badly, and never even thanks him. Understandable that she wouldn’t want the piece published but to be that rude to him… twice? No, Peggy. Bad, Peggy.

Faye Miller

Here’s a character I’m not particularly excited about. I mean she’s fine: smart, pretty, sociable, kind. Nothing really wrong with her except… that there’s nothing really wrong with her! I’m used to characters with several layers of depth (i.e. Joan, Peggy). And if its a character that’s just honestly themselves most of the time (i.e. Roger, Pete) they’re either funny or arrogant or confused or some other trait that makes them worth watching. What does Faye really have going for herself? She’s just herself and might have a few issues about not having kids, and she had some ex-boyfriend that she kicked out, and she wears a wedding ring to ward off suitors but… that sounds like 10 different girls I know. Also, to have her be the one that Don is actually thinking about making things work with is anti-climactic. It’s not like I’ve been waiting for him to hand out the last red rose or anything but the fact that he would have to settle back down with someone was implied very early on in the season, and though it’s not spoken of or touched upon often, we know its there — or at least I’ve felt it.

We didn’t get to see any of Faye’s interactions with Sally when she took her back to the apartment and I’m wondering if that, too, wasn’t a bit of a mistake. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had originally written that scene and cut out (probably at the same time that they decided not to write a Don-and-Faye decided to sleep together scene) but this gives me hope in my blah-ness over her because it may be a hint that the writers aren’t too worried about giving Faye lots of screen time. They’ve already implied two important scenes with her instead of showing them so, perhaps she won’t be around for very long. After all, does SCDP really need a psychologist? Yeah, they probably do but no one except Lane really knows it.

Finally, I’d just like to point out that Faye represents a different version of Peggy. A more feminine version, what with that blond hair and those big eyes… she looks like Marilyn, but isn’t that kind of flirt. Just like Peggy she’s focused on her career above anything else and simply hopes that within that world the right man will “come along”. This is a concept which modern-day girls such as myself are very familiar with, but we have to remember that Peggy and Faye are in-between a generation which still actively searched for the man of their dreams (see: Joan) and one that did not (see: Stephanie). Interestingly enough, Faye keeps her New York/Bronx-ish accent while Peggy doesn’t retain her Brooklyn one (“a few more of these and it’ll come out“). I found the choice to keep her accent a bit puzzling at first (and it is a choice, by the way) being that the New York accent isn’t exactly as classy as the image Faye tries to keep up, but I believe it must come from an honest place. Unlike Peggy (and despite advertising herself as off-the-market) I don’t think Faye is all that devious after all. Don will be the one to break her heart, not the other way around. She’s a lot weaker than she pretends to be, which is probably why I don’t like her as much as the other girls, and also because behind that weakness there doesn’t appear to be anything evil (see: Betsy), which would at least be interesting. In other words, she’s not as exciting.

Sally Draper

Kiernan Shipka as Sally Draper (AMC)

Oh man, Kiernan Shipka. First of all you must read this interview with her (Q&A Kiernan Shipka – AMCtv.com) to realize why she’s so damn good: she’s smarter than me and she’s only 10! I know we often underestimate the intelligence of children, and this might be the case, but I have to wonder if I talked like this when I was 10 years old. Doubtful. Emmy nomination? Yes, please.

(SKIP IF YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT NYC HISTORY: Also, I’m kind of obsessed with any Subway references on Mad Men since I live in New York City and ride the subway multiple times a day, every day. Plus, I’m a history nut. For example, when in S3 Peggy talked about the cane on the seats on the subway ruining her stalkings last season I freaked out (can you believe the seats were made of cane in the 60s?!?!). In Sunday’s episode Sally is “riding between carriages trying to avoid the conductor because she didn’t have enough money“. First of all, we call them carts now; second of all, if the space between carts back them looked anything like it does today that’s a bloody death wish! You can easily fall straight down into the tracks underneath the speeding train, especially being that small! Lastly, did a conductor come by and sell you a ticket the same way they would on an Amtrak back then? So cool!)

The only thing we really learned about Sally here, is that she has begun to resent her mother in a very serious way. Not sure if any of you watch In Treatment, as very few people actually do, but I’ve been addicted since S1, back when there was a 12-year-old girl named Sophie from divorced parents who tried to throw herself into moving traffic. Sally reminds me a lot of this girl except a little younger. In her sessions with her psychiatrist, (SPOILER ALERT) Sophie realizes that she’s been punishing her mother for sticking around and raising her meanwhile praising and adoring her cheating and neglectful father simply because it meant she wouldn’t have to go “home” when she was with him. Going to see her dad was like an adventure, and what she was truly running from was the empty feeling of having only half a family. Not as if Betty is mother of the year, but like I’ve said before, she’s the one taking care of three children while Don is out getting drunk and hitting on college-aged girls.

[And finally, a moment of silence for Ira Blankenship — you old hellcat, you!]

Sunday Night’s Theme

No matter who broke your heart, or how long it takes to heal, you'll never get through it without your friends. (HBO)

Female companionship. Who does a woman have to confide in in 1965? Carrie Bradshaw would say that there’s no one like your girlfriends, but Carrie is a long way from 1965… she’s still in the womb.

“Oh I’m not shocked by your lesbian hi-jinx, I just hope you know you can never do what a man can do [points at his penis].”

Joan has “lost [her] best friend, as she revealed last week. She asked Greg who she would talk to once he was gone, and so when he is, she seeks companionship in Roger. Also, remember how poorly she treated Peggy last week after Peggy tried to befriend her by firing Joey. No thanks, girlfriend.

Faye doesn’t appear to have many friends, and is looking for a companion in Don Draper, but little does she know she’s barking up the wrong tree. She also fails miserably in trying to connect with Sally.

Sally clearly has begun to hate her mother and can’t talk to her, so she seeks out her father to bond with. She also shuns off Faye, who she has no interest in.

Peggy’s tries to connect with, Abe, who doesn’t seem to “get her” and so she’s left alone again. Her best (and perhaps only) friend might be a woman but ironically, she’s a lesbian. This is no coincidence.

Noticing a pattern here? Women lonely in their own minds with all the issues about what it means to be a woman in these times but no other women to talk about it with… and they do it to themselves! They continue to seek out men as their counterparts, well knowing that those men will have an even harder time trying to understand them. Delusions of grandeur. I hate to sound like a bra-burning feminist but Carrie Bradshaw has done my generation a world of good by emphasizing the importance of female comradery — a little something that the SCDP women of ’65 could have used.

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4 Comments

  1. Karen
    Posted September 22, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I was a junior at a large public university in 1965 and my roommate was black. Her family owned a funeral home and she used to come back from visiting them on weekends with flower arrangements that would have been otherwise discarded. I never enter a funeral home today without those memories being invoked. While blacks had a long way to go in achieving important goals at that time, 1965 was not as racist as MM has depicted it to be. I graduated and worked in the burgeoning computer field with a black systems analyst and we shared the terror and grief of MLK’s death and the street riots. Professional people were more aware that the characters in MM would have us believe.

    • Posted September 22, 2010 at 8:33 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Thank you for that, Karen. Only last week I was talking about how confusing it is for a young girl like me to relate to some of this stuff from a historical perspective because I didn’t live it, therefore I’m left with having to believe what MM portrays as truth, particularly if I’m to follow the conflicts presented on screen.

      If in fact people were more aware than the SCDP employees seem to be, perhaps it’s a result of their profession. Abe seems to be very aware and names several publications which have publicized the matter. Like he says, it’s in the ad business’ best interest to look the other way. Even Don says it… the bit about not hiring any blacks. I get a feeling that may be Peggys next step. She’s got to replace Joey right?

  2. Time
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I like it to see how you judge the characters in a somewhat personal manner. “No, Peggy. Bad, Peggy.” Interesting approach.

    Also, I find it interesting how you point out again that you don’t like Faye. Strangely I really enjoy her character whereas I don’t really care if Joan cries her heart out or not. You say that Faye is a bit too normal, like other girls you know irl, but I think the people on Mad Men are generally more “normal” than characters on other shows. The characters are plausible, seem real and so Mad Men is a relative climax-less show altogether, which is also the reason many people find the show boring.
    I like In Treatment too. Especially the messed up girls. The young one and the one who is in love with him.

    • Posted September 27, 2010 at 9:10 am | Permalink | Reply

      Definitely the reason why some people find this show boring is that the characters are so “normal” but what makes it fascinating, for those of us that have the patience, is the sense that we get to see the complexity that lies within each normal person like you and I. (As opposed to shows based on extraordinary characters in extraordinary situations.) The reason why I don’t like Faye as much as the others is that she’s both seemingly AND interiorly normal.

      I say “No, Peggy. Bad, Peggy.” because I truly relate to these characters on a personal level for that very reason but I need something more revealed for Faye. Maybe it’s coming…

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