These past two weeks of Mad Men have been incredibly satisfying for me… they seem to prove my own assertion (in this blog) that the series is articulating Peggy and Don as parallel characters.
Who is Peggy Olsen?: Last week, Peggy and Don spent the night together at the offices of SCDP. Peggy chose Don and the Samsonite account over birthday dinner with her smarmy boyfriend and her family. I loved the way she handled herself on the phone, the way that she seemed to mourning not the loss of her boyfriend (whatshisname?), but the loss of what he represented for her: everything she is supposed to want out of life– a husband, a house in the suburbs, a couple of blonde kids. Peggy represents the paradigm of the working girl, and all of the contradictions she must encapsulate. Peggy’s resolve that this is what she wants to do has to be strengthened by the presence of Dr. Faye Smith, a woman with a career who is well-respected by both men and women. Note, that this feeling of respect does not extend to her name… she is referred to as ‘Dr. Faye,’ never ‘Dr. Smith’… I suppose in 1965, you have to choose your battles.
This tension between one’s work and one’s femininity is something we saw play out further this week, when Peggy and Joan engaged in what I am tempted to call a ‘battle of the sexes’. What I mean by that is that Peggy and Joan are fighting over what it means to be a woman, and what is the most effective use of the power one wields as woman. Peggy, taking her cue from Don, wields the power she holds not as a girl-copywriter, but as a senior copywriter, who has power to wield over her underlings. Joan prefers to use her femininity itself as a force for charming the men above her into doing as she pleases. Other mad men blogs have pointed out the generational difference between these two women, and surely, there is something to be said for the fact that the office Joan entered as a secretary (in the mid 1950s) is different from the one Peggy walked into in 1960. But I also think that the difference is related to the kind of power these women wield. Joan entered the world of advertising looking for a husband, Peggy seemed to be looking for something else… satisfaction? a vocation? I think Joan’s anger toward Peggy must in part stem from the fact that married life has not turned out how she expected. Her husband is about to head to Vietnam, and she is still working in an office. I also think that Peggy and Joan’s varying performances of femininity have to do with the way they are limited by their bodies. Joan’s curves make it virtually impossible for her to be read as anything but super sexy. If she tried to cover up her considerable figure, she would look frumpy… and so she dresses to enhance. Peggy, on the other hand, is (in Don’s words) “cute as hell.” I know I know, you are thinking: Sexy beats cute every time. But Peggy’s character makes a convincing argument to the contrary. With her slim figure she can play it both ways… at times, she can be just one of the boys, but when you least expect it, she sleeps with Duck (or Pete) or strips down to the nude in front of a co-worker. She’s negotiated an entirely different role for herself as a woman than the one Joan embodies.
Who is Don Draper?: These past two episodes have seemed to answer the question that opened up this season of Mad Men: who is don draper? These fateful words were uttered by the journalist who wrote that scathing review for which Don was reprimanded by Burt and Roger. Don Draper, it seems, is a man who has lost everything, and shockingly, is capable of demonstrating emotion. Last week, he cried in front of Peggy. We saw a broken man dealing with the loss of not only his family, but the only person on earth who knew the real Don. This week, the answer to this inevitable question became even more complex. Don is a person that exercises, a person that keeps a diary, a man comfortable encouraging his female protegé to fire a sexist brute of an employee.
I have to say that I’ve felt very uncomfortable with this new Don Draper. I felt like I knew what to expect from the cold emotionally bereft silent type that occupied the past 3 seasons of this show. It almost seems like this new Don is … “empowered.” What a detestable word… so uncouth, so very HIP. But perhaps there is another way to read this new Don, as an inevitable transition from depression to something more sustainable. The fact is, when you are in the depths of depression, journaling, cheesy though it may be, helps. So does being submerged in water, or maybe that’s only useful for the ‘religious rebirth.’
Final thoughts: Betty Draper is on the verge of doing something crazy, I can’t wait to see what it is. I love that Faye hasn’t lost her outer-borough accent. More Francine please, less Bethany.