Spoilers, as usual.
One of the bravest things that “Mad Men” does is small and often subtle, but we saw it in a big way in this episode. The Drapers are shitty parents. Don doesn’t do even close to his share, and Betty was kept an emotional child in so many ways, and therefore she can’t step up and be an adult when her children need her. We only got around to watching the latest episode last night, but boy did you see the Drapers’ blindness to their own children in a big way. Sally didn’t need the world. She just needed a hug and an explanation that just because the adults were laughing doesn’t mean they’re not sad. But Betty’s too locked up in her own grief at being an orphan to notice her responsibilities as a parent. Hard to say what Don’s deal is. Seems to me he started for a second and then decided that sitting with Betty was more important than comforting Sally. Guess he’s still in the doghouse.
Obviously, the theme of last night’s episode was separating from your parents. What was interesting was that it was decidedly ambiguous on the value of this, even though growing up and standing on your own two feet is one of those values that goes unquestioned. We worry about Sally, who has clearly—and for understandable reasons—decided that her parents can fuck off, but obviously, she’s so young and that attitude might end up damaging her badly. Betty is separated from her parents by force, and it’s unlikely that she’s going to come around to seeing herself as a legitimate grown-up like she should, but will probably become more dependent on Don. And of course, you have the new client with his enthusiasm for jai alai. His father is going to have him flush a million dollars down the toilet in order to learn how to be a man who is separate from his parents, a decision that seems fucked up to me, and I was happy to see that Don saw it, too. The gap between him and Pete on this is interesting. Don knows the value of money. He still isn’t sure about the value of parents, though. He looks at the picture of his folks, and you realize that Don was always separate from them.
Peggy had the most clear-cut situation. Her mother sucks, and she needs to get some distance between herself and her mother. Even her sister sees this, and she’s not inclined to be generous to Peggy. That guilt trip Peggy’s mother laid on her made me want to throw things at the TV. Though it’s clear that Peggy is still trying to forge a life for herself with very little in the way of role models, which is why she makes the mistake of leaning on Joan when crafting her ad for a roommate.
Mistake, you ask. Yes. I appreciate the idea that Peggy’s description of herself—with Joan’s advice—is aspirational, but I’m wary of the fact that she’s lying about herself. Of course, lying about yourself is generally rewarded in the world of “Mad Men”, which has interesting things to say about how Americans achieved class mobility by learning to fake it until they make it. But I couldn’t help but think that Peggy was taking a step down the ladder with her ad. The roommate she attracts strikes me as someone who’s hanging out in the secretarial pool until someone marries her and puts her in some suburban home to waste away like Betty’s doing. And Peggy fronts like she’s interested in the same things, and let’s face it, she’s not. All the talk about men and sex wouldn’t be so worrisome if I didn’t get the impression that it’s the absolute center of her new roommate’s world, that all the fun-loving and game-playing is aimed directly at one goal: man-pleasing. The weird insistence that Peggy shouldn’t have privacy bothered me, too.
Not that I don’t think that Peggy shouldn’t chill out and have more fun. This is clearly a goal for her, and maybe what’s going to happen is that she’ll learn to loosen up some and have fun. But it seems like there’s not much room for her to do things her way. Her social choices have so far been limited by her unwillingness to play like she’s dumber or less successful than she is, and I don’t see having a new roommate fixing that. She needs to find people who appreciate her for who she is. But of course, that sort of thing was in short supply in the 60s.
One thing I found interesting was the way the show highlights that Peggy isn’t getting paid what she’s worth, but they do it without hitting you over the head with it. She has enough for nice suits and to buy her mom a TV, but she can’t afford a Manhattan apartment on her own. Which wouldn’t necessarily be such a big deal, except that it seems that Paul, Harry, and Sal—who are all around her professional level—can afford to have Manhattan apartments. Paul has the same job she does, and he’s not as good at it, and we’ve seen his apartment. Do I foresee Peggy getting ballsy enough to demand equal pay for equal work? If she does, what will Don do? Will he dismiss her with the same excuses about how women don’t need as much money, or will he realize that he should pay his best copywriter what she’s worth? One thing I’m more certain of is that Don is going to remember that she was the only one who knew the Patio ad was a bad idea. And that’s why he didn’t hold Sal accountable, because Peggy was the one who pointed out that no matter how well they did it, it would suck. And she was right.
I still cannot fathom how anyone found Ann Margaret singing “Bye Bye Birdie” as anything but horrible and shrill.