The Emperor has no Clothes: Mad Men [Season 4, Episode 6]

First, my apologies for not posting last week (Mom, I know you were sorely disappointed). I had my first week back at school, and blogging fell by the wayside. These past two episodes have been the best yet this season. Last week, we got to hear January Jones utter the word ‘masturbation’… and this week, we got to see a nudist in action (well sort of).

We might frame last night’s episode as about two concepts: origins and their repression. Peggy peeled off her clothes; Roger remembered Don Draper as he used to be– a bright young man with big ambitions and a healthy respect for authority. As usual, the parallels between these two characters point out the carefully built walls that shield Don and Peggy from getting too close to anyone or anything. This season, we can’t turn away as Don’s defense mechanisms crumble all around him, revealing a broken man who bears little resemblance to the dapper gentlemen we met some years ago in the pilot.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This episode we watched Peggy attempt to work with the new art director, Stan Rizzo, on copy for Vick Caugh syrup. Poor Stan Rizzo, it’s tought to be a nudist in a world of clothed people. Luckily, the secretaries are impressed with his Johnson campaign stories and KKK footage.  Peggy is unimpressed– and presumably this is why he has such antagonism toward her. Or perhaps he dislikes her because she assumes she has nothing to learn from him and he knows it. Regardless, Stan claims Peggy is not only sexually repressed, but should be ashamed of her body. Sexual harassment in the workplace is mere par for the course in the world of Mad Men, but this actually seems unnecessarily cruel. Is he threatened by her talent or does he just want to sleep with her? I can’t tell.

After a drunk Don commands Peggy and Stan to spend the weekend working on Vicks, things get really wild. Exasperated by Stan’s laziness, Peggy calls him out on his bullshit and strips down to her birthday suit. Stan, called on his own bluff, takes off his pants, revealing an erection he claims has NOTHING to do with Peggy’s nudity. I loved this scene. Just when I give up on Peggy (who I do think is sort of smug and self-important) she does something to surprise me. She seems to be constantly reinventing herself with every action. One minute she’s sexually promiscuous, the next minute she’s a virgin. One minute a buttoned up catholic, the next minute, a marijuana smoker. It’s refreshing to watch someone so playfully act out identity– which is of course, always in flux.

But even as Peggy reveals her flesh, she keeps a wall up around herself. She has no desire to let anyone (either at the office or elsewhere) know her secrets. Don, however, is becoming increasingly transparent. This episode we learned via flashback how Roger discovered Don Draper some years ago. We got a glimpse of a young man (probably around Peggy’s age) with raw talent and a thirst for success, selling fur coats at a mom and pop shop. After talking his way into a job at Sterling Cooper, Don apparently quickly rose to the top, snagging a lovely wife and a house in Ossining along the way. But after years of building up a professional persona, Don is cracking up in real-time. For the first time, we are seeing alcohol have an effect on Don. He drunkenly embarrasses himself in front of the Life Cereal executives; he leaves his Clio at the bar; he gets rejected by Faye Miller, and seems to be blacked out for an entire weekend (he picks up a brunette on Friday night and wakes up with a blonde on Sunday). Don has always been a drinker, but never before has his drinking effected his performance at work.

The repression of one’s origins may be painful, it has also always been essential to Don’s survival.

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