Monday, September 29, 2008

'Mad Men' Monday: Six Month Leave

This episode spurred a great deal of debate in the Suburban Mom household, or should I say, my analysis of the episode did. I thought that, by framing "Six Month Leave" with the death of Marilyn Monroe, the show's writers were suggesting that Don Draper is as tragic as Marilyn. (Marilyn had been featured in several other episodes, notably "Maidenform.") My husband, though, thought I was forcing my analogy. Let's see what you think:

Marilyn Monroe took on a new, more glamorous name, shedding her modest, Norma Jeane background. She didn't know her father. She was placed in foster care and an orphanage after her mother was placed in a mental institution. She had a number of liaisons and husbands (including a baseball hero of a husband) and yet, according to all pop culture lore, was unhappy. And alone. She was roughly around Don's age when she died.

Don was the product of a sex-for-money situation, raised by his drunk john of a father after his prostitute mother died in childbirth, then, after his father died, raised by his step-mother and step-father. He's had a number of liaisons, an unhappy marriage and is always saying he feels nothing, feels numb, feels alone even in the company of others. The only person with whom he seemed to thrive and actually reveal bits of actual self was Rachel Menken, with whom he had a brief affair that she ended.

Both Marilyn and Don seemed to have everything, looks, sex appeal (people always wanted their attention, wanted to bed them). They had spouses whom others coveted. They were successful in their careers. A few examples from "Six Month Leave" solidified this comparison in my mind:

The exchange in the elevator between the elevator operator, Peggy and Don: Peggy lamented Marilyn's death saying, "You just don't imagine her ever being alone, she was so famous." To which the elevator operator replied, "Some people just hide in plain sight." Don shifted uncomfortably.

Roger Sterling and Joan Holloway's exchange when Joan was mourning Marilyn's death: Roger couldn't understand Joan's grief, saying, "That woman was a stranger." Joan said, "A lot of people felt like they knew her." Like a lot of people, including Roger, think they know Don.

After Joan said that the world destroyed Marilyn, Roger said, "She was a movie star who had everything and everybody, and she threw it away." Similar to the way in which some folks perceive Don as throwing away his marriage and family, though Don seemed very choked up about the idea of throwing away Freddy Rumsen, more upset than he seemed over his marital estrangement.

In other storylines:

Peggy got Freddy Rumsen's job -- will score a big office too -- by working and dressing as she saw fit, not as other, older women had advised her to do so in order to succeed in business. Peggy, however, would've clearly liked to have received this promotion in another way and have been seen as profiting from Freddy's downfall.
Betty has never looked worse. She's in a deep depression with her life unraveling in ways she never wanted to contemplate before, when she turned a blind eye to Don's infidelities. I kept wondering -- or maybe it was the Marilyn story that got me thinking this way -- if she was going to try to hurt herself to get attention. It seemed that when Don brought the kids back to the house, Betty wanted him to fight for her, to show passion, to try to talk her into letting him back into the house. But he just let it go, later telling Roger he felt "relieved" about the situation.

It was a nice touch that Don's secretary bought him shirts from Menken's.
And, big shocker: If Roger was going to leave his wife for anyone, I was convinced it would've been for Joan, not Jane, the new secretary. I didn't see that one coming.

So, what do you think about the Don-Marilyn connection? Is there one? Were you surprised about Roger's bold move and Peggy's new promotion?

Image credit: AMC.

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