Mad Men–Season 2, Episode 8: A Night to Remember

“Chiropractors aren’t doctors.”

No, Peggy. No they are not. How glad am I to hear that on a trendy show! I was all stoked, too, that Peggy was going to make some comment to Father Gil about not believing in God at all, but they backed off of that. I’ll take what I can get, though.

So I am so moved by this past episode that I am taking a big risk and blogging about it right away. Right away, I tell ya! No rewatch, no backup on DVR to help me with lines, no time to let it gel overnight. I haven’t even rewatched the last episode, or written about it. I feel so impulsive and out of control! I just don’t want to turn into Betty or Joan here. So not like any of my other posts on this topic have been masters of organization, but this one is definitely going to be free-associative. You have been warned.

Don is unbelievable to me. He’s getting worse and worse. I mean, it’s one thing to lie, but he’s buying it. This goes way beyond “You’ll be shocked by how easy it is to forget.” What happens to an ad man who starts drinking his own Kool-Aid? Duck has been set up sort of as the guy who’s going to go, but Don’s the one on a precipice. Duck is just a drunk. Don has gone loony. Duck is not disconnected to himself; he’s just disgusted with himself. Don doesn’t even know where pretend starts anymore. So, yeah, how ironic that he’ll remember this night forever even as he is forgetting how he got there. And good for Peggy Betty for not buying into the crazy. She could have. She was sort of being presented as the one who had come unglued (and in such a fabulous dress!), and you really didn’t know what she was going to do. There was this anticipation that she was going to start believing the lies, and she really did seem to have hit rock bottom. But what I think she was doing was fortifying herself against the ultimatum she did not want to give. She even gave Don a chance to avoid it. What I find interesting is that in last week’s episode, we don’t really see her drinking that much but we see her sick. This week she drinks an untallied amount and comes out of it healthy. Sad, very sad, but clear-headed. Maybe it’s not the very next scene, or the next time we see her (because I can’t fact check) but then we see her stripped down of everything, washed free of her angst and confusion, presenting Don with a simple and straightforward choice. She spoke perfectly frankly and without artifice, and she was dressed in a plain white bathrobe with no makeup or hairdo. This is a fresh start for her. She could turn into anything now.

If she and Don get divorced, I don’t think she’ll lose her house or her lifestyle; I do think Don will keep up his family as the honorable thing to do. I could never tell if Helen Bishop, the divorcee from last season was working to keep herself busy or to supplement spousal support/child support–of course, she did get a house on a very nice street.

So Betty has to know just how close she has come to being Helen Bishop. What is an interesting parallel relationship is that Joan knows how close she has come to being Peggy. I know it would have been too much to expect Joan to be offered the job, but it made me sick that she didn’t even fight for it or ask for it. Of course, how could she? It’s not really the new guy’s fault, and she was pleasant enough, but those two men were so oblivious to her reaction that they took her bitterness as helpful participation. When Joan stepped in to read the scripts, the first thing I think she had in mind was competing with Peggy and showing her how a real woman gets ahead in a man’s world. She obviously loved reading the scripts and she was a perfect interpreter of storylines and events. She’d told Roger a few weeks back that she wasn’t going to be quitting her job, and I think she finally had found a way to advance. She was definitely not that interested in her house in the country anymore, and it was telling that she couldn’t be bothered to set the table. I guess Doctor is lucky not to know just how close he came.

What rankles me is that Harry is the one who has a wife who works! And Peggy’s around the office! So it’s not like he can’t see women doing work. Part of the problem is that Joan is an institution. It probably isn’t that unreasonable to so blanketly assume that she loves doing what she’s doing because she’s been there so long doing it. Joan said herself it’s not like she hasn’t had marriage proposals before; she could have bailed on the office a long time ago. And Joan probably had more inside information than Harry knew about the budget for his department and the likeliness of him getting a full-time position to fill. Even today people get passed up internally for jobs they are interested in because no one knows. That Joan was sideswiped by being replaced without consideration and for not explicitly expressing interest is a story that shows up in world literature across the ages. The self-help movement in general has its own business niche, so people today are more aware of the need to speak out on their own behalf than they used to be, even if they don’t ever do so. Too bad that Joan made the job too valuable too fast to work her way sideways into it. It’s probably Pollyannaish to hope that Joan’s absence is felt with dollars and she ends up in the job after all, especially because that’s a rehash of the Peggy storyline and probably not very realistic anyway, but I will. I think, however, that now that we’ve seen her flesh branded by the trappings of femininity, and her reflecting upon said trappings and said femininity, we can only expect that she’s letting this one go.

We really saw some women stripped bare tonight, though. Peggy in the bath is just too symbolic for me to take–I can’t wax philosophical on purifications and cleansing because I don’t really have time and philosophy breaks my brain, but let the record show that I caught it. More interesting is that the priest was also shown undressing. He’s been lumped with these women. There are a lot of literary portrayals of the feminization of priests, none of which I can point to right now, of course. He’s also shown pulling out his guitar and starting up with the hippy dippy folk music (which I adored), and there was that whole worry at the the time about hippy dippy androgyny, so that is more feminization, and then he sings a song with a chorus of black women behind him–not like a gospel choir but like a Motown girl group. I’m not sure what this is pointing to. It has to be relevant in some way that he is only seen on the program in conference with women, but that just could be because women were around to talk to during business hours. Of course, there’s Peggy’s assertion that if the girls go to the dance the boys will follow them. So anyway. That’s there. Provide your own follow-up.

A nice little tidbit is that Anita’s husband is having a career and identity crisis that is manifesting physically. First, it’s nice to see a man rebel against the workplace role he has been put in and for some reason feels like he can’t get out of. (And it’s nice to see that he is probably as ambivalent about just churning out kids and raising them as Anita seems to be.) It is interesting that he is reading books about the sea, and Moby Dick to boot. Again with the literary trope… it’s usually women who act out in sickness when they feel like they have no control in their life but that which they can exert over their physical being (take Richardson’s Clarissa as an example of this). It is interesting that he and Peggy have had a conversation about books that wasn’t superficial, too. Peggy perhaps remarked with too much satisfaction that there is no sequel to Moby Dick but you just don’t get the impression from Anita that Peggy’s family runs in the kind of circles that get into arguments over Great American Novels. Just as I was pleased to see Incidental Character Mrs. Harry Crane in the role of Wife as Business Partner I am pleased to Incidental Character Mr. Anita in the role of Man with Aspirations. Pete has ambition, but his goals are not above his station. It’s not the same.

Now I better quit before I sound more like a snob than I already am.

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  • NikkiB  On September 15, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    “And good for Peggy for not buying into the crazy.”

    I think you mean Betty, don’t you, in your 3rd paragraph.

    Fascinating analysis. I love this show!

  • Karen  On September 15, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Yes. Yes, I did. Thanks for the correction and the compliment.

  • Daoust  On August 7, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    Wow. I didn’t know these existed before today. Now I know what I’ll be busy doing for the next few hours.

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