Death Becomes Her [Mad Men: Season 4, Episode 9]

RIP Ida Blankenship, we will miss you dearly, and your wise words of wisdom at every turn. This was an episode about women, young and old, trying to make due in a world that is not suited to their wants and needs. Taking my cue from dear old Blankenship, I’m going to use my post today to elucidate some of the incredible women standing in the background of Don Draper, Roger Sterling, and Bert Cooper.

It’s a business of sadists and masochists, and you know which one you are.  This week, we watched Peggy go on a date with Abe, a left thinking writer and avid reader of the village voice. When Abe criticizes Peggy for working at an agency that does business with racist corporations, she quickly beats him at his own game. Peggy lucidly pokes holes in Abe’s easy ‘anti-establishment’ rhetoric, pointing out the fact that most of the companies she engages with are family owned and organized. Moreover, if she were to take a true political stand, she could never do business with any one. While some of the companies she works for are racist, all of them are sexist. Abe, faced with Peggy’s proto-feminist sentiments, merely laughs: ‘a civil rights march for women?’. Well yes, Abe, precisely. Peggy is, in her own words, ‘not a political person.’ And yet on a personal level, she is keenly aware of the ways that sex functions in the workplace. Everyone assumes she has earned her position as copywriter by sleeping with Don, and so she is constantly trying to prove herself. She sacrifices not only her lunch hour, but her personal relationships on behalf of her ‘work,’ only to be dismissed by her boss who can’t talk to her until he’s had his afternoon nap. The severity of the situation of gender is such that even a radical like Abe can’t understand what Peggy is talking about. This episode seemed to perfectly encapsulate that tired old feminist slogan from the seventies: the personal is political. Peggy may not be a political person, but her personal life has political relevance, and it seems like she is finally starting to realize it. I look forward to seeing what happens with old Abe, who is surely not gone for good. Will he publish his piece out of spite or will Peggy have a change of heart?

She’s pushy, that one, I guess that’s what it takes. Dr. Faye has taken a lover in Don, and it seems like the sex might be mutually satisfying, a nice change from the monotony of Don’s former partners. But Faye is in dangerous territory. She’s not only sleeping with her boss, she also seems to be falling in love with him. When Sally showed up at the office, Don asked Faye to take her home and babysit. The next day, when Sally had a break down, he asked Faye to deal with it. At the end of the episode, she confronted Don with her insecurities. She is worried that she failed the ‘mother-test’ because she was not capable of calming Sally down. But why is this the critique? Why is she not angry at Don for treating her like a secretary… for demanding that she do the maternal work of caring for his child? Of course, Faye views Don’s treatment not as sexist, but as generous. She is thrilled that he would entrust his child to her care… this must mean he really likes her. I’m not quite convinced…

She looked so chubby in the pictures. Kiernan Shipka was dazzling this week as Sally Draper; she delivered every line with just the right mix of sexual innuendo and childish play. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Sally arrives at SCDP mid-morning, accompanied by a woman who found her dodging the conductor on the commuter rail from Ossening to Manhattan. When Don apologizes to this good Samaritan, she merely replies “men never know what’s going on.” This line encapsulates all of the plot lines that occurred this week, but most poignantly in the case of Sally Draper. When Don calls Betty to pick up her daughter, she tells him she will collect her at her own convenience, the following evening. The implication is that things at home are far worse than we know.  Don is thus stuck with his daughter for 36 hours. As usual, the parents are incapable of disciplining the children. Don tells Sally she must never do this again, and then proceeds to order a pizza and take the morning off so he can take his daughter to the zoo.

Sally looked positively thrilled to be laying on the couch with her dad all to herself. And here is where I must make my Freudian critique: Sally was clearly attempting to seduce her father into letting her live with him. My roommate was appalled by this reading, but it was textbook Freud. For Freud, part of the trauma of growing up (especially for the girl-child) is the knowledge that you are not in fact the only object of your mother’s love. As a baby, the mother nurses the baby, and loves it unconditionally. This unselfish and pure love is only temporary… soon the baby must begin to eat solid food, and once taken from the mother’s breast, life is never the same. The child learns that the mother’s love is directed not at her, but at the father.  The girl child knows she cannot satisfy the mother, she feels a profound lack, and envies the boy child for his penis. Unconsciously, the girl resents her mother for desiring the father, and so she attempts to win the father’s love for herself. “Daddy’s little girl” takes on a whole new meaning.

The theory relies on the assumption that all of our relationships to other people are (in some sense) libidinal… we may not realize it, but sex is always part of the equation. All of this made Sally’s behavior in last night’s episode all the more meaningful. She is threatened by Faye’s hold on her father… when Don tells her she might get to meet Faye again sometime, she responds with a simple “oh.” But that small word was full of resentment and frustration, as if to say, but Daddy, you said you weren’t going to marry her!  Sally wakes up early and makes Don breakfast… when Don tells her not to use the stove she coyly replies “Oh Daddy, I do it all the time.” All of this is made all the more significant because we know that Sally has discovered her own sexuality…  she is no longer an innocent little girl. She has asserted her own desire, and is projecting it onto her father. Perhaps you think this Freudian stuff is crazy-talk, but I find it hard to imagine watching last night’s episode and NOT sensing something slightly provocative in Sally’s behavior.

There’s much more to say about the women in this episode, but I’m off for now,I’ll leave you to ruminate (consciously or not) on penis-envy and the astronomical prowess of Ida Blankenship:)

Unlucky at Entertaining: [Mad Men, Season 4, Episodes 7 & 8]

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.

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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.

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