Mad Men–Season 2, Episode 5: The New Girl

As usual, I have no idea where to start. This time I’ll dissect the title and see where it leads me. I definitely will be ending with things I have to say about Peggy.

So the “new girl” is Don’s new secretary. She is a Jane among the Tarzans, and she comes in with no doubt in her mind what a college degree permits her to do. She is husband-hunting, but that was obvious from the outset with her reaction to Joan’s wedding ring and her assumption of equality with Joan by leaning in to give her psychic advice. She believes that she and Joan have the same goals. It’s an assumption that causes her a bit of grief later, when her education is trumped by authority and experience, but it pretty much establishes what kind of girl she’s going to be and how she’s going to stir up the office boys. I feel some Ken Cosgrove storyline coming on.

Now, the next time we see her, she is really tramping it up. I mean, yikes. This is trampy for even some of the offices I worked at with no men in them at all. Her shirt was unbuttoned to the midriff. I don’t care that she had a full slip on underneath… it’s the exposing and not what is exposed that is vulgar. Joan’s appearance at this moment was the entertainment highlight of the episode for me. First, she carried off the contradictory need to chastise and permit suggestive displays with one fell swoop. Second, her shooing of the men and their tent poles from the dead clients file cabinet was brilliant. Yeah, go pitch your tents among the uneducated masses, guys. It’s obnoxious to stand around and gawk, but it’s also of vital importance that this girl doesn’t leave (out of disgust or by marrying)–Joan really doesn’t have time to replace her. Again.

Ironically, the final scene with Jane, where the older copywriter guy (who I want to call Rumsfeld but won’t and whose name I can’t readily check because he isn’t listed on IMDb for this episode) comes out and plays Mozart for Jane and Ken on his zipper is probably the least sexist and patronizing thing that has happened to her. It’s shocking, true–no one ever expects to see that at work–and it is stupid, but it is harmless and goofy and equal-opportunity offensive.

Moving on.

Those crafty writers, however, have picked a clever title that could apply to any of the women, really. It’s nice to see a new side to Betty… the not-taking-crap-from-Don side of her. This is different from the hen-pecking side. Don is giving her stupid crap and Betty is dismissing it and refusing to be distracted by things he’s trying to distract her with. He should have called her. Period. Whether or not she would have been able to come get him. She doesn’t care about the car. Period. He promised not to tomcat around at night anymore. Period. I love when he tries to dodge the infidelity question by moving on to the high-blood pressure issue. That blows up in his face; I don’t think he expected her to have knowledge about it or experience handling it. She absolutely has all the power in this entire scene. Of course, she has the luxury of not being injured, ashamed, traumatized, indebted to Peggy, and a little hung over. It’s a lot easier for her to take charge because she has the presence of mind to do so. But Don’s not ever going to accuse her of acting like a little child anymore.

The new girl is also Bobbie. I wasn’t really sure that I could call their relationship a love affair, or even a sex affair, but then here comes Rachel Menken Katz. So I guess Bobbie is supposed to be the new Rachel, seeing as how they are both women with their own agendas in a man’s world. I was a little disappointed, sort of, to reunite with Rachel in this way. Not in a Mrs. Dr. Katz way, not in an in front of Bobbie way, but in such a shallow way. But that’s how these things go in real life, and there’s no way that I would have been happy to have a rehashing right there in the restaurant. I do wonder if Rachel is still managing the department store. She’s got to be, right? Her character may have been conflicted about her desires but she was always quite clear about her goals.

ASIDE There’s a whole term paper waiting to be written on the significance of “Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “Spartacus,” and the foreign film that Bobbie mentions in the car, the title of which got by me but which I bet identifies the film Don went to go see at the beginning of this season and the contents of which are probably relevant in some way, too. But, alas, film analysis and Sondheim are beyond the scope of this blog post. I just want the record to show that I identified this source of a layer of meaning but decline the opportunity to pursue it. END ASIDE

Abrupt jump to Pete Campbell. God, I love this character! I hate him and I admire him and he is a jerk who is oblivious to everyone else’s feelings but he is very, very good at cutting to the heart of the matter and seeing through bullshit. His private interview with the infertility specialist is interesting. He’s playing up the bravado, but he is undergoing an experience he does not want to be having because his wife asked him to. And then he drops this line about worrying about the bomb. I think Pete does wish he could have children (he’s brought up the subject before, to Peggy of all people!) and is a little frightened of the idea, but I don’t think it’s because he’s worried about the crazy world around him. I think that is sort of a political answer to the doctor (he works in advertising; he knows what people are saying) but I don’t know if he can articulate his problems to himself, much less a medical person (who was probably not trained at the time to handle psychological aspects of medicine in any in-depth way). His obtuse glee in his sperm motility at the end of the episode was revolting, but I did sort of side with him against Trudy on this. She wasn’t being forthright with her feelings at all, and she was going to stew about them for a long time. He treated her with just as brutal an insensitivity that you can get, but he did get the topic right onto the table (the table they symbolically fled from later). She had to expect this possibility. She couldn’t explain why she wanted a baby. She wants it because everyone expects it? Because she’s keeping up? Because of the stuff? Just when you think she is actually expressing a sincere desire to be a parent, she invokes all the material possessions she and her family paid for, and then had the balls to ask Pete to justify the expense. His questions to her were fair and appropriate, if his approach less so, and he held up amazingly well considering that she pretty much invalidated his entire participation in the marriage in the first place. She should have known that her balls were not going to be up to the challenge when it had just been medically established that his balls were superior.

But then there’s the magazine that Pete chose to whack off to. I don’t know what contemporary slang “Jaybird” is supposed to be (jail bait?) but there’s no getting by the cover art. Nice shout out to the martyr St. Sebastian!

Poor St. Sebastian. He was tied to a tree and pierced by the pricks of a thousand arrows, but didn’t die until he’d performed some miracles, been nursed back to health, and then was beaten to death and thrown into a latrine. Plus all that homoerotic stuff going on in all those paintings of him. Here’s your next term paper project: Is Pete attracted to this magazine because he likes seeing powerless women or because he too feels the stings of a thousand pricks? You decide!

I have again been all antsy this whole blog just waiting to get to the Peggy stuff, and now I feel too tired to really delve into it. The New Peggy is the real new girl of the title, don’t you think? I’ve got to pick up a theme I noticed a few episodes ago (again, I am too lazy to go back and check): Generations of women succeeding. If Joan has been watching how women like Bobbie get ahead in the business world, then she’s riding on being young and beautiful, which is classy but stalls. Joan is getting older, and she’s in a dead end job, and young and beautiful are accidents. Joan has risen to the top of the career she ended up in, but has not created any opportunities for herself. Bobbie has perhaps gone down a more unsavory path, but when she tells Peggy to act like an equal and act like a woman, she is giving her excellent advice. Female and equal are not something that any woman has to leave behind. I don’t get that Bobbie was telling Peggy to sleep up, and I don’t expect Peggy to hear that she should be sleeping up. Bobbie reminded Peggy that she is the person who made herself a copywriter. Peggy owes Don a lot for snapping her back into reality and out of the psych ward, and she may be eternally grateful for being recognized and promoted, and she may know all about favors and resentment from her own life, but if Joan was her role model for success, then she was going to top out, too.

ASIDE Peggy was deliberately not participating in psychology because she did not want to admit to the baby. Or the Peter part. Or the promotion. That’s what was holding her back in treatment. I think Don’s advice was spot on, frankly. Not the avoiding treatment part, but the facing up part. Just get it over with. Who cares about all the Catholic stuff. This is probably when she dropped the church, too. Purposefully, I mean, instead of just paying lip service and confessing afterwards. END ASIDE

I know Peggy hated missing work and was probably gossiped about for being absent (and then Don slammed her for it in front of her coworkers), but that day or two away set her so much further ahead than working hard and impressing people (if they noticed) would have. Go, Bobbie! I forgive you for being such an intolerable presence in that canceled show that I liked!

And did Peggy’s outfit say notice me or what? Before she even called Don by his first name, she dressed herself in a gray skirt evocative of the men’s suits, and a power blouse in vivid jewel tones. Remember those Peter Pan collars? Edged cardigans? Puffy skirts? Gone. Pointy collars and vertical pleats project height and attitude, and the row of buttons between her breasts emphasizes them and screams to be unbuttoned. And that’s about all the clothing analysis I am qualified to do. Mostly I just thought that shiny teal was gorgeous. Maybe Joan will learn something from Peggy about ditching young and beautiful for female and capable. She’s obviously female and capable, and not young has been established as an issue already. Furthermore, she’s expressed a desire to keep working, but Roger predicts that she’s going to “move on.” He means to motherhood, but it could be a promotion. Somewhere else, perhaps. Here’s to Peggy and Joan forming some kind of alliance, even if it’s an unspoken one.

RANDOM THOUGHTS Love that Don fell down the stairs when he’s talking to his subordinates but has an old football injury when he doesn’t know what Jimmy Barrett wants. I like Bobbie Barrett, but this last scene sort of seemed like a send-off in a way… a passing the torch to Peggy and passing with Jimmy to a show of his own. Mongoloid is a terrible term that just sounds so funny. It’s terrible how much delight I took in hearing the word. I had put out of my mind entirely that meatloaf has ketchup baked on it. I hate ketchup. I hated meatloaf because it was served with hot, gooey ketchup. I made it out of desperation one day and put barbecue sauce on it instead. Why was ketchup the default? Was barbecue sauce so exotic, or rare, or expensive? The cop lecturing Don reminded me of the Malibu cop from The Big Lebowski. Stay out of his beach community, Don! And stop treating objects like women.

Sorry this took so long. I kept getting interrupted all frikkin’ day. My thoughts were a lot more coherent and concise at breakfast. And I think I hate the stupid black shoes that Heidi Klum’s legs wear during the promos to Project Runway. They look bad from the side and the front. Says the girl who knows nothing about couture anyway.

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