Welcome to the Convo, where ACG Blog contributors get together for discussion and analysis. Today’s topic is last night’s episode of “Mad Men,” “The Beautiful Girls.”
R.I.P. Ida “Hellcat” Blankenship.
The once-catty secretary executive secretary finally croaked, and she had the timing to do it with auto parts execs in the conference room. While sad, her passing certainly was not all that surprising, and led to the funniest sequence since last season’s lawnmower bit. “My mother made that!” Harry Crane yelped as they rolled her down the hallway, wrapped up in his now-tarnished afghan.
Thankfully, Ida was able to drop a few more barbed witticisms before keeling over, including giving insight into advertising. “It’s a business of sadists and masochists,” she told Peggy, freshly shot down yet again by Don. “You know which one you are.”
Head-on-desk action aside, it was Ladies’ Night on “Mad Men.” Practically every chick in the office got screen time, from Peggy and Joan and Sally to Faye and Megan and even Allison (aka Lesbian Photographer). Thankfully, Betty was kept to a minimum, as it should be.
Peggy got flirty/angry with insufferable pre-hipster Abe when she and Allison “ran into” him at a bar. He accosts her for representing the auto parts people, who won’t hire blacks for their stores. She storms off when he doesn’t seem as sympathetic to women’s causes. He shows up with some article that would kill her career; she makes him promise to kill it. Allison suggests she might like him (lesbian licking aside). Peggy’s story here was not as fulfilling, but it seems to be setting something up. She lamented earlier feeling threatened by new copy editors; might a black copy editor be in the future? That would make for interesting stories.
Joan (who still manages to be a bombshell in frumpy clothes and glasses with her hair pulled back) has a tiff with Roger, who sends over some authentic Swedish masseuses to “rub her the right way.” They reminisce over the good times at the out-of-the-way restaurant where they used to go during their midday trysts, where the clientele, Joanie notes, seems to have gotten older. Walking through “the old neighborhood,” which has gone downhill, Joanie and Roger are held up (Roger seems to be an old pro at it). The rush is too much for Joan, and she makes out with Roger for a bit. The next morning she acknowledges the kiss but stresses that they are both married. The theme here was beaten over our heads; Joan and Roger, revisiting their past love’s geography, found instead only aged, decayed locales, bereft of any former glory.
Sally hops on a train to the city, where some nice old dowager drags her in and shits on Don for a while. He’s pissed, and has Faye take her home (more on Faye later). That night she’s very saccharine, and manages to sweet-talk her way into a trip to the zoo the next day before Betty can be bothered to come pick her up. But Sally turns into a little Betty when it finally is time to go, kicking and screaming and running and falling. I’m still not sure what the whole deal with Megan was, so we’ll have to wait and see. Miss Blankenship made an astute observation; Sally has become a svelte young lady, no longer the pudgy ballerina who graced the first season.
Faye (who Don, despite his protestations last week, has bedded satisfactorily) felt her façade crumble a little bit more this week. Faced with actually interacting with a child, Faye turned into Dr. Faye, distant and proper. She freezes up again the next day during Sally’s hissy fit. She’s not good with children, she tells Don, and she wasn’t certain how to handle meeting Don’s kids before she got thrown into the Sally situation. He did some talking, probably comforted her, but to be honest I find it difficult to care about her and I zoned out for a minute. I did catch the conflicted look on her face as she entered the elevator with Joan and Pegs, a look they all shared. It’s a fine line between love and hate, ladies.
Peggy’s storyline seems more intimately connected to the civil rights movement than previous stories. Seemingly momentous historical moments (like Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech) have passed by with little more than a throwaway acknowledgment. So far on “Mad Men,” the civil rights movement has mostly been white people talking about black people. “Mad Men” has had a grand total of three black characters (Carla, Kinsey’s girlfriend and the elevator operator from the old building who once had a very awkward conversation with Pete). Are we finally going to see some color at SCDP, or is it all so much talk?
History lesson! Who is the “Ogilvy” Roger mentions when talking to his publisher? A quick Wikipedia search reveals Roger was talking about David Ogilvy, of ad agency (and SCDP rival?) Ogilvy & Mather, the “Father of Advertising.” Apparently one of his greatest successes was “Only Dove is one-quarter moisturizing cream.” Ogilvy’s 1963 book “Confessions of an Advertising Man” was mentioned back in season 3. I guess Roger’s memoir, even with its revelations about Coop, can’t stand up to Ogilvy’s bestseller.
This episode was all about the building tension of having more women in the workplace, with more diverse roles, who are nudging toward more equality and independence but are unable or unwilling to completely give up on men (though Peggy seems to be getting closer every day!).
Faye wrestled with her decision to pursue her career over marriage and children. I was nervous the moment I spied her in Don’s bed, thinking they are moving too fast, but the way he tenderly held her in his arms as she confessed she doesn’t know how to act around kids was very, very sweet. He gave her an empathy he could never seem to give Betty, possibly because Betty didn’t have it in her to admit domestic failures, even when she was literally paralyzed by them. I still think Faye is a good match for Don, possibly for the long haul, but I’m not sure she’s got the chops to be stepmom to that wild Sally Draper.
Speaking of Sally — wowza. Sally seemed bent to prove to her father he didn’t need any ladies in his life except her. She can cook, she can take care of her brothers. She tried to show how life would be easy with her around, just French toast every morning and trips to the zoo. But when she didn’t get her way, she pulled a Betty and threw the hissy to end all hissys, conveniently in the hallway of her father’s workplace. It was hard for me to tell if she really tripped or threw herself, seizing an opportune moment. I had a little trouble understanding the response of the women in the office, who couldn’t tear their eyes away. Did they empathize with Sally or did they empathize with Don? I think a little of both, but it occurred to me that they might just empathize with the overwhelming desire to throw a huge hissy if it will disrupt a man’s day just once. They spend so much time hiding their emotions, I couldn’t help but think their thought bubbles said, “You go, girl!” the moment Sally smacked the floor.
Joan, who has worked so hard to keep her emotions in check over the past few episodes (sometimes unsuccessfully), spilled over when she found out her husband will be going to Vietnam. Roger was the hero in this episode, understanding more about Mrs. Harris’ needs than Mr. Harris will ever understand. Not only did the man order up an at-home spa day for his soul mate, but protected her during a mugging, proving himself possibly the most dignified victim ever. Of course, she repaid him with sex in the street. Was it wrong to root for that?
Peggy, meanwhile, was finally reunited with Abe the Journalist, who I originally liked. But Abe proved himself to be a little lacking in wooing capabilities and managed to offend her and her work. He didn’t get why she can’t get worked up about civil rights; when she explained that it’s because she doesn’t have much in the way of rights either, he laughed. I swear, Peggy is going to be Gloria Steinem by the end of the decade.
And last, but certainly not least, Miss Blankenship left us all too soon. Some jokes were made at her expense; Roger eulogized her as “dying like she lived: surrounded by people whose phones she answered,” and another in the office said her cause of death was Don Draper. I thought Bert’s sorrow over her loss mirrored Roger’s feelings for Joan. I think Miss Blankenship’s death certainly reminded the office’s women of an ugly truth: their lives are devoted to mens’ interests.
The closing shot looked like a still from “Three Pennies in a Fountain”: three women, unlucky in love, sharing an elevator. Not sure what it signified, but I was struck by the picture of those closing moments: woman after woman after woman in the workplace. The world is changing, and quickly.
The good old “Mad Men” identity construction arc was back in “The Beautiful Girls.” In the past, we’ve seen a lot of this storyline as it relates to Don Draper, but what resonated most about this episode, for me, was the faces the women of SCDP put on to get what they want, and how falling flat on them (sometimes literally) is an inevitability.
It’s strange — I thought I would be excited beyond belief for THE RETURN OF ROGER AND JOAN, but watching Joan compromise the morals she’s worked so hard to establish and maintain was oddly disquieting. It seems like Joan’s desperation is wearing her down, and with her husband no longer physically present, she’s losing the firm grip she once had on her “married woman” persona.
Faye also lost it a little this episode. Her “cool and collected” mask cracked, and she let on to Don that she wanted to have the DTR and wondered sometimes if and when she would meet his children. She’s not used to being “dating Faye,” and having to preserve this nonchalance in the face of notorious womanizer Don Draper can’t be easy.
In many ways, Peggy has been lying to herself more than any of the women, going so far as to alter the way she speaks to better play her role. “One more drink and it’ll come out,” she jokes about her Brooklyn accent. But it isn’t a joke; it’s indicative of a larger problem that she has. Peggy is fully capable of deeper understanding of the social and political climate, but until now, she’s chosen to ignore the incongruity between what she does and how she feels – between who she really is and who Madison Avenue says she should be. When her date forces her to scrutinize her actions, the wheels in Peggy’s mind are set, perhaps irrevocably, in motion.
I can’t wait to watch our budding activist reconcile her political and moral ideologies with her work at SCDP. Pushing social awareness onto her colleagues is going to be an uphill battle, but as Mrs. Blankenship pointed out, theirs “is a profession of sadists and masochists,” and we know which one Peggy is. Let’s just hope she doesn’t end up dying at her desk.
Vanessa Van Landingham