Mad Men–Season 1, Episode 1: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

So I’ll be talking about season 1 of Mad Men from the perspective of someone who has seen all the way through the end of season 2. Not that I really believe anyone who is watching the show fresh right now will ever stumble on this blog (I know I am only likely to be encountered by fans so starved for new material that they’ve clicked through twelve pages of Google to find it), but I did want to point out that I’ll be discussing the show and revealing plot points and generally spoiling it for people who hate to be spoiled.

I didn’t expect to rewatch season 1, but with season 3 starting soon and me with a pile of dishes in the sink, I decided to call it up. I don’t know if I am going to write about every episode of this season, or even most of them, or even if I’ll get through a rewatch, but I might. Anyway, here are some of my thoughts.

First of all, I still like Midge. I got sort of annoyed with her by the end of season 1, especially the way she started treating Don in front of her friends, but then you realize how he was treating her. He was perfectly willing to use her like a whore, but got mad at her when she let other guys give her presents? I think this first extended scene we get with her is very interesting, too. We see a woman who is running her own business (even though she is probably just a contract worker/freelancer), and who is involved in the arts with a lot of autonomy. Plus she’s in a very progressive industry (the greeting card industry) and savvy enough to be aware of how a corporation can mold a national identity, as well as how she specifically is helping. I know she fits her designs to client guidelines, but she’s still the person doing the drawing. It’s a nice glimpse into not only the world behind the scenes of big business, but it’s also a nice contrast to the kind of client services Don and Sterling Cooper provide to big businesses. Also in this episode is the consulting academic German woman (whose name I will not be looking up). Midge isn’t the only woman with influence. People within business may ignore or hire these women as they will, but women are producing and swaying just the same. These two quick biographies are especially important in this episode, I believe, because we also get a lot of secretarial pool, highlighting how the men treat the women, the difference between what women are hired to do and what they end up doing, and what goals women have when they take jobs in NYC. (Marriage or career? We know what Joan’s stated goals are and what she considers lucky, and we know what Peggy ends up doing at Sterling Cooper, but we also see Pete marrying a woman who has no job and we know that Joan has career ambitions, and at least likes coming to work.)

Second–Peggy Olson. Ah, Peggy Olson! I love every shot I can get of her, and I especially love every interaction she has with Pete. I still don’t know if I’m crazy for thinking that she and Pete know each other already, and I’m still looking for clues to fit my theory that they do. So far I’ve got this ride in the elevator, where she is blank rather than anxious about hearing the way the Sterling Cooper guys are talking (Cosgrove and buddies), about women and about Pete. She asks Don on her first day if he minds her NOT going out into the main office to entertain Pete, and I’m sure she knows very well who he is. But then their first conversation is odd: The “you should dress better I’m ogling your body” stuff is obnoxious, and so obnoxious it’s almost a deliberate performance, and she’s playing along in front of Don to maintain the charade. If Peggy knows Pete, she still doesn’t know his role at the company, and we know now she’s been on her way up from day one. She’s not going to play her Pete card to Don unless she has lots of information, which she gets right away when Don wakes up. But the part about “where are you from?” throws me. It seems odd for Pete to ask if he knows her, so I will ignore these facts that mess up my theory.

What struck me the most was that Peggy was identified three different times as “The New Girl.” She refers to herself as that, Don explains to Pete she’s the new girl, and Pete repeats it. We know in season 2 there is an episode called “The New Girl,” which is about Peggy’s secretarial replacement AND Peggy’s promotion. You could tell even in that episode that it was as much about Peggy as the secretary, and this reference in the pilot episode reinforces that even more and impresses me so much with the continuity. I don’t care if it was an accident. It’s awesome.

The Lucky Strike campaign is kinda interesting, too. It shows–ha, ha–how wrong people back then were about smoking and how smart people today are–ha, ha–but it’s interesting to me now because of the conversation with the German She-Doctor Academic Consultant. I love the way Don dismisses the psychologizing that she does. I don’t know that I believe that people who smoke have a death wish, either, and we are all certainly smart enough now–ha, ha, people in the olden days–to basically dismiss much of the Freud that she defends, but all we’ve seen Don do throughout the show is psychologize people. He even sends Betty to a psychologist and analyzes the results (if only to bait and wound her), and every single ad campaign he designs is after he explores people’s feelings about themselves and their products. Just how aware is Don of what he’s doing? Does he reject labels only or is he absolutely delusional? I know at many points in the show so far he really seems to believe his own lies, but he also is a master at using his lies to protect himself. I guess he’s either hiding from his traumatic childhood, still, or he’s a sociopath. I don’t want to think of him as a sociopath, especially after he puts his foot down at home about corporal punishment, but he is so deliberately cruel to people at times.

THESIS ALERT! Maybe someone who knows more about Freud can analyze the contradictions inherent in Don’s rejection of Freudian theories of behavior and his motivations for his own behavior.

(I took a break, and I’m picking up the show again while I wait for some guy to come over and buy my Craigslist microwave, so this is a little scattered.)

I don’t want to go on and on, but I had forgotten all about Rachel Menken and how she’s ANOTHER female business owner. We are really seeing a huge diversity of women right from the start of this show; it’s the men that seem unexceptional and in the background, to a large degree. But Don is an ass, and I still don’t–even after two full seasons–fully understand what ticks him off with Rachel; surely he’s encountered stubborn potential clients before. Is it really that he’s mad she’s female? (He gives Pete quite the talking to about maligning Peggy’s reputation, although not necessarily for Peggy’s benefit.) Is he that overtly anti-Semitic? (I haven’t seen a huge amount of that, even with Jimmy Barrett’s storyline, who I may be misremembering as Jewish.) Is he just struggling to contain himself and his instant attraction for Rachel? Is he really just annoyed to be in the meeting when he knows he should be thinking about Lucky Strikes? Or is Pete sitting next to him enough to put him in a foul mood.

Pete’s an unlikeable guy in many ways, but Don picks on him. Pete’s the most straightfoward person in that office, at least among the men, and perhaps that’s just a bad skill set for an ad agency. But when he stands there and really opens up to Don about how he’d like Don to mentor him and how they aren’t really competitors, Don is terribly rude. Pete sees himself (or senses himself) in Don, and I think that’s why he’s latched onto him. Don probably sees through Pete to sense himself in there, too, and has to avoid it, I guess. By the end of season 2 we’ve learned all the ways that Don is a sham; I have my suspicions about Pete’s family and where he comes from–I have another vague feeling that he’s not his father’s biological son, although that’s mostly utter speculation, but I’m sure he’s marrying his fiancee partly for her connections (rather than her money). Pete is as much a self-made man as Don is, and Pete is not a coward. He looks bad because he has no tact, and he’s also cruel to others in great measures, but I don’t think he ever tries to lie about his intentions or his character.

Should I even try to put into words how much I love him? How much I can’t wait to see what happens to him in 1964? I hope he isn’t broken.

I’ll finish the episode but I’ll probably not write about it further, unless something really shocking happens that I’ve completely forgotten about, but I will speculate about the next season. I’d like to see Salvatore strike out on his own, because of what he has been giving up to keep his professional reputation valuable. I don’t know if we’ll see Don splinter from Sterling Cooper, because I can’t imagine the show where he goes a separate way. I don’t dare speculate about Joan. How could Joan be married and still working? But does Joan really have the guts to break off her wedding, especially with Roger married off and expecting and all the girls in the pool laughing at her already for being 31? I have no theories; two years is a big enough gap in the chronology that anything that happens to any of the characters will be acceptable to me, unless one of them is dead. Even then, well, people weren’t immortal up through 1965, so that wouldn’t bother me too much, either. Except for the part where someone I liked was dead. I wouldn’t wig out over the plot choice is all I’m saying. But don’t die, anyone!

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