Monday, September 1, 2008

'Mad Men' Monday: Maidenform

Okay. We get it. This episode of Mad Men was about the "maiden" form via a man's perspective. The Jackie Kennedy, wholesome, non-threatening mother and wife versus the vampy, sexy, exciting Marilyn Monroe. The title of the episode represented the way in which men see women, even if women don't see themselves as an either-or proposition.

Although I thought this episode had intriguing elements, I hated the way in which this notion of the Madonna-whore view of women was seen almost entirely through men's eyes, with the exception of Peggy Olson, who, while trying to be a respected professional, found herself unsure as to how to gain equal footing with the men in the workplace, by acting like a man or by acting like a man's view of how a woman should be.

I would've loved to have seen more attention, for example, paid to the Betty Draper angle, how Betty sees herself as attractive and young, and how being a mother doesn't automatically render her undesirable . . . despite the step-away-from-the-mommy reaction of the young male equestrian who had a crush on her after he saw her children. But instead of exploring Betty's point of view, her story was reduced to how her husband Don saw her, as she was standing, unthreateningly in her kitchen wearing a cute yellow bikini which he hypocritically decried as "desperate," as he came back home from yet another liaison with a woman who is not his wife. (Did you notice, by the way, Don's recoil upon learning that the odious Bobbie Barrett has not one, but two children? As far as we've seen, Don's lovers have been single, non-mothers thus far.)

While we're on the subject of Don, I hate the darkness that's descending upon him like a storm cloud, following him everywhere, in every venue, not just in his personal, quiet contemplative moments. Now he can't even look at his daughter -- who got yet another week off from bartending -- when she applauded his military service on Memorial Day or as she watched him shave in that way that only a daughter can watch her Daddy, with a mixture of awe and mystery.

Remember last season when Don quipped that he was blinded by Peggy's earnestness? As Don spirals evermore downward (his transgression of the week was leaving Bobbie bound to the bed after she told him she'd been talking about him and his womanizing reputation), the unquestioned earnestness of his daughter Sally's love now shames him and he grows smaller in his daughter's gaze each week.

The once urbane, suave man is now a pathetic drunk driver who had to ask a junior copy writer to bail him out of jail and nurse his latest mistress to health, and had an infantile temper tantrum when he learned his lover has been gushing to others about his prowess. Don Draper is becoming a shadow of the season one Don who seemed, at least in the season finale, to recognize that family is a fragile thing.

Meanwhile his acolyte, the wormy Pete Campbell topped off his fertile gloat-a-thon from last week by trying to become a mini-Don, sleeping with a would-be bra model. (Betty was a once model who Don met while she was working for one of Don's clients.) The only reason I completely despise Pete's character and don't (yet!) despise Don is because I know that Don is damaged and has a heart, deep down under all that Brylcreem and overactive libido. Pete, as far as I know, has no heart and would exploit his dead dad for a business deal.

Don's descent into darkness aside, Peggy's story continues to be vivid as she struggles as a woman in a line of work dominated by men who leer, make obscenely sexist remarks and exclude her from key meetings. Both last week and this week, Peggy received career advice. The odious Bobbie, who manages her successful comic husband's career (when she's not busy screwing Don), told Peggy not to try to be a man and to instead use her womanhood to her advantage. Then Sterling Cooper's sexy office manager, Joan Holloway, told Peggy to start dressing like a woman, not a girl, adding, "You're in their [the men's] country; learn to speak the language."

What do you think about how Peggy handled her boys' club exclusion -- going to the strip club -- to prove she's one of them? And, on the Don front, last week a commenter suggested he's on the verge of becoming an unlikeable character. Is that a real risk, particularly after this week's episode, when he doesn't even like himself?

Image credit: AMC.


Karen W. said...

I watched as Peggy tries to compete in the "mens business world" and am stunned by the barriers she faces. The rules (or lack of any) are stacked against her. I don't know what she can do to break in, but I hate the idea of watching her try to become "Bobbi" to succeed. It was so unfair and watching this, you know why we neeed all the laws we have today.

Juanita's Journal said...

Why is Bobbie Barrett so odious to you? She is no better or worse than the other characters.