Not Blogging Mad Men, Season 1

This is me not blogging about Mad Men, because many other people–especially Andrew Johnston at The House Next Door have already tackled it, far better than I could. They pay attention to things like small details, the craft of television, historical accuracy, continuity… I just want to write about how the show affected me, what I think about some plot points, and what future story lines I think would be most interesting. Plus it will be a lot easier to navigate a single blog post than to have to find detailed and comprehensive individual write-ups from a list of posts sorted only by date.

Peter and Peggy
I really think there’s some backstory between these two. They have to know each other from before, although I can’t figure out where. Him coming to her house is very familiar, even in a misogynistic, 1960s executive privilege way. I suppose it could be part of his master plan to inveigle himself into power over Don Draper, and buttering up the secretary is a good entrance point, but Peggy–despite overtly emulating Joan on her first day–really doesn’t seem like that kind of desperate pushover. Besides, the way Pete confides in her and defends her… I get that we only see a few snapshots of office life over the course of almost a year, but still… I wonder all kinds of things, like if Peggy and Pete never even thought they could get married to each other and gave up. Like how he might have met a girl living in Brooklyn. Like is he the one who got her the job, or the interview, or pointed her to Sterling Cooper in the first place?

Joan and Peggy
I really don’t think Joan hates Peggy, and I really do think Peggy feels sorry for Joan. I just don’t think Joan was expecting a girl who didn’t play by the secretary pool rules to advance, or stick with it despite being ostracized. Or that someone who came from secretary school would be talented. Joan, after all, is the one who went to college. I wonder sometimes if Joan suspected anything at all about Peggy being pregnant. How could she miss it? Then again, how often does she spend time with actual pregnant females? That junior exec with the eyeglasses and the wife at the phone company seems to be the rare fellow with a wife who works. I’m positive that no pregnant girls were hanging around in most secretarial pools or at college. She probably interpreted Peggy’s weight gain as a response to her own style of man-agement.

For all the snittiness and remarks about Peggy’s failures of secretarial efficiency, once Peggy is actually promoted and Joan is seeing her into her new office, I didn’t really get a nasty vibe from her about it. I didn’t exactly see that Don was promoting Peggy for her skills or encouraging her beyond his own need for an ad campaign (although perhaps that is exactly how a women would want to be treated by a coworker, if not a mentor), and Joan could have picked up on Peggy being used as a pawn in some game between men–a game that Peggy was unaware of or else ignoring. But once it’s official–once Peggy has a job title and an office–Joan seems quite matter of fact about it. She is hardly warm and gushing, but that last scene, where she makes the remark about being nice to the girls, seems like advice and not criticism. It is good advice. The people who have the best support staff get ahead in their professional and personal lives.

Joan in General
Joan. I adore Joan. True, she was sneering and condescending to Peggy, but I really didn’t see her as a bitch in general, even though the men referred to her that way that one time. And although she tells all the girls, one assumes, that they need to use sex to please their employers, I don’t really see her doing that herself. True, she’s had an affair with that single junior executive guy and she’s sleeping with Roger, but those seem like personal things. I just don’t get the idea that she rose to the managing/oversight position she’s in by sleeping to the top. I think she felt affection for the ad guy when she was younger, and that Roger noticed her AFTER she was put in charge of the women. I don’t know either that she’s looking for a husband. She is a presence absolutely integral to the success of this business. That is, she might want a husband, but she isn’t sticking around hoping one shows up at work. In fact, I can see it being a job she is reluctant to leave, even if marriage and motherhood appealed to her as much. When she shows up in the middle of the night to help Cooper with his telegrams, that is as much a call to duty as wanting to be as close to Roger or news of Roger as she can hope to be.

Joan is such a presence, and she was even identified (by Mrs. Roger?) as a good match, at least visually, for Don Draper, that I think she’s serving as the female equivalent of his character. First of all, when her roommate confesses her love for Joan, Joan goes completely blank. I can’t decide if it is insulting to her roommate to pretend that nothing happened or that it was just the tired and frustrated talking, or that it was the most graceful reaction possible. I honestly don’t think that Joan had a framework for responding to that kind of confession. Everyone at the office had to be looking the other way regarding Salvatore, but he came with a whole bag of excuses (Italian being the main one, as a generally outrageous people, right?). What is Joan supposed to do, really? She has a roommate who pays the bills and who is clean. Why alienate her? And when has Joan ever participated in or read about frank conversations about sexual orientation? Besides, Joan has a night on the town planned and the city is quite possibly the most important relationship in her life. She needs a companion to go with her and she has no other female friends. It may be cruel to ignore that the roommate is a lesbian, but on the other hand there are no ugly comments about unnatural and perverted desires.

Of course, you could interpret the unattractive and brutish louts that come back to the apartment a purposeful act of punishment. Are we really supposed to believe that those are the only guys Joan could find to exploit? Yeah, yeah, she’s older and the roommate is gloomy and the goal is to get money out of men rather than flirt, but really.

I think the most important thing Joan said about herself was that the “city is everything.” I hope to see more of that in season 2. I really do. If she’s DD2, and has no real human attachments, I wonder if she will be able to forge them and I wonder if an ability to do so (or not) will become a female thing or a youth thing or a childhood trauma thing.

Don and Women
So much of what I have to say about Don and women is unoriginal and already addressed by the program, often not very subtly. But the person I think gets the shortest shrift of all the shrifts is Midge. She gets classed unfavorably as kind of a whore, as a bohemian, and as a hypocrite. But you know what? She is a freelance artist working and supporting herself. If men are buying her things, they are televisions and wigs. She’s not getting rent money. She makes demands of him just like he makes demands of her. And when she actually refuses to leave it all behind to go with him to Paris on a moment’s notice, he has the nerve to get pissed.

I know, I know–he’s pissed in a psychological transference way. Midge also sort of does an uncomfortable thing and takes his check. I wish she hadn’t, but it’s unrealistic, probably, that she would give it back. She might never cash it, or she might save it, but it’s really just the sort of thing she does with men. She accepts their impromptu gifts. I love that she treats Don in the end like just another man, and in many ways he is just another man. He can’t imagine a woman’s plans to be as important as his whims. I am very pleased when Rachel sticks it to him when he makes the same bizarre request of her. He really does think she’ll drop her responsibilities to follow an irresponsible man.

I don’t want to get into what he thinks of Betty. I think he does respect her, and I think the fact that he calls her psychologist says more about the psychologist than him. The doctor, after all, gave him a phone number and a list of best times to chat. And Don needs to chat as badly as anyone else. I do think he would have gone along with Betty working, even if he didn’t believe that she could restart her modeling career and even if they weren’t both pretending that the Coca Cola thing was an authentic offer. Betty’s the one who talks herself out of that. Which brings me to…

I can’t figure out just what kind of piece of work Betty is. Is she really that focused on looks? Or are those things she just says about her daughter to get reactions? The first time, when she was going on and on about the theoretical scar that could have wrecked her daughter’s life, I really think she was saying something more and more outrageous just so Don would agree to let her go to a psychologist. When she was complaining about how her daughter looked in the family pictures, I think she was trying to get at other things that had bothered her that afternoon, like her husband’s failure to be present even though he’s the reason she had to drag her family out to the stupid city in the first place. For all that we hear her discuss her daughter’s looks with other people, I don’t remember an instance where she turned any kind of criticism on the girl herself (key words being “I don’t remember”). When you hear about some of the things that she claims her mother told her, I can understand why Betty would be pondering the looks of girls and of women but she’s keeping it under control.

I really hope we don’t see an alcoholic Betty next season. Maybe I was getting too sensitive, but the glasses of wine really started adding up.

Obviously closeted, but I don’t think he’s in denial. He knows exactly who he is and what he wants, but he doesn’t want to risk his position. When he is asked by the salesman, “What are you afraid of?” and answers, “Are you joking?” he is referring to how his career could be ruined by the discovery of his secret. The salesman can love and leave but Salvatore is the one who has to live among the people he works with. If he wants to break off on his own and start his own company, he can’t have this following him around. You can argue about whether or not this is a mature or shallow or shameful repression, but I don’t think it’s an unknowing one.

In Conclusion, and Henceforth
I have said far too much about a show for a girl that can’t name scenes and cite actual quotations, and now suddenly there’s a flashing message on this website telling me that I do not have permission to do that. Huh. You can bet I’ll be copying and pasting this post elsewhere until I figure this out. I wonder if someone is trying to hack me. I would be flattered. Maybe I’ve exceeded a word limit.

Maybe it’s a sign that the terrorists have won.

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  • John  On July 25, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    I really liked your point about the men Joan and Carol brought home. I had the same thought about why they’d picked these two sad-looking middle-aged men, but the idea of punishment is a good one. Nice write-up.

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