Mad Men Tuesdays: Consider That Fan Completely Covered Edition
SFCararmia noted on the “Mad Men” blog Basket of Kisses that Don’s hat is a prominent symbol of his backsliding, his inability to get with the times.* Don and Roger both prominently and repeatedly wore hats in this episode, and there was a lot hat-oriented business going on. This is bad news.
So, wow, a lot happened. Before I get into this, let me pose this week’s discussion questions, just so I can get everything straight: Is SCDP going under completely? Is Pete going to bail early? Are Faye and Don finally done for? Is it a good thing that Peggy has decided to give Abe a chance—and appears to be falling in love? What’s going to happen to Roger? Do you still think Joan didn’t get an abortion? Is there a light at the end of this tunnel? Is Don just backsliding, or is he blowing his chance at becoming a better version of himself?
On the last question, I think the door is open to believe that Don backslid but isn’t permanently done for. He backslid on the three major behaviors he’s trying to get better at: tomcatting, alcohol abuse, and using a female partner instead of just loving her. The last was probably the most traumatic for the audience at the end of the day. When Don treated Faye the same way he treated Betty—your needs always come second to mine, you should abandon everything that’s important to you to serve me—Faye didn’t put up with it. And then she quite realistically gave in. Matt Zoller Seitz said, “Between the psychology of the character and the politically delicate position of working women in the mid-’60s, this turnabout felt believable to me.” The ugly truth is not much has changed in that department—most women still keenly feel the expectation that they put their male partners first at all times, which is one major reason there’s still a sizeable wage gap between men and women (and one that gets worse when women marry).
But the infidelity was probably the most viscerally shocking. Megan’s pushiness in that scene was really driving a lot of the Facebook chatter about it—so completely different than most of the women we see who let men take the lead. My sense is that her pushiness represents how much temptation it really is taking for Don to backslide. He only drank too much, pushed Faye around, and slept with a secretary when he literally sees the ship he built going down. Which doesn’t excuse him in any way. As Faye notes, he actually has no reason to panic. He won’t be unemployed for long. (It’s up in the air if he’s still independently wealthy, or if he just sunk all his cash into SCDP.) The huge difference between what this means for the characters onscreen in the 60s and what this would mean to people nowadays was keenly felt. Peggy seemed relaxed, even through much of the chaos. In part, this is because she’s in love and it’s making her happy. But another part of it is that she lives in a world where there are still jobs, and she’ll get one—something we’re reminded of when Stan notes he was at an agency that went down (but he’s still working and is just fine).
The situation with Peggy and Abe was the one bright spot in the whole debacle. I joked that Peggy should snatch him up, because in 1965, a guy whose main flaw is a tendency to mansplain but who is genuinely good at heart is probably the best bet going. But it was even better than that. We earlier saw Peggy actually absorb what he was saying that was absolutely true in their conflict, even as she correctly resisted the way he was treating her like a prop in the Story of Abe. And now we see that he actually thought about things and is learning. In my mind, a willingness to learn and change is even more important than being someone who is right all the time. I have a good feeling about these kooky kids. I appreciated the way the whole business with Stan went. On one hand, it was another way the show drives home the routine cruelties that men could dish out to women without ever facing any consequences. But the way it resolved was actually kind of funny, and you get the feeling that Peggy is going to let her new love affair give her strength to deal with the assholes at work. Which makes sense—any feminist can tell you that the good guys are the ones that give you hope when the assholes got you down.
Marc and I debated what Peggy’s little laugh meant. I thought she was genuinely laughing it off, and he thought it was more horrified and painful. Now that I’ve thought it over, I’ve decided that the lipstick on her teeth was just a playful symbol of how she’s wearing her new infatuation on her sleeve. And the only thing you can do when you’re caught being so silly in love is to laugh over it.
Obviously, not so much the Joan and Roger trainwreck. I’m increasingly of the opinion repeatedly expressed a couple weeks ago that Joan only told Roger she’s pregnant before she got that abortion because it was a test. Sure, the help in procuring the abortion was welcome, but Joan is a resourceful woman and probably could have handled this on her own. She’s had two before, and let’s face it, Roger was probably (and unknowingly) the cause of at least one. When she told him this time, it was a test to see if he’d finally, after all these years, stop seeing her as his piece on the side. He failed. I really liked that he bitched about the fact that she sits around her house in PJs when he dropped in on her, as if she has an obligation to lounge around in uncomfortable lingerie in case her sexual services are needed at a moment’s notice. I think Roger has flickers of love for Joan, but he’s incapable of really loving a woman. He just sees them as props in his life, and if that wasn’t clear, seeing Jane at home being every inch the trophy wife drove it home. For better or worse, Greg leaving the house means that Joan can be alone at home and not always being called upon to serve a man, and she has every right to put her PJs on and enjoy it. As for Roger, seeing that book was like looking at his gravestone. Everything that ever mattered about him—and it’s a slender volume, so it wasn’t much—has been written and is done. He may die, or he may just keep living a life that is beside the point.
This season, Roger has functioned as a warning sign of what Don could become if he doesn’t change now: a useless drunk, a man incapable of loving a woman instead of just using a woman, and a has-been. Plus, Don’s not quick with the quip.
It’s interesting to note that the one person in the entire firm that is being heavily head-hunted is Pete, which made his instructions not to send out resumes all the more funny. Projection much? Let’s face it; there’s no reason to say no. His desire to be a partner is being attended to and his reputation is likely only to grow in this more stable environment. The only thing SCDP offers him is the belief that he built the place with his own hands—which would have probably been true if they could have coasted on Lucky Strike for another year. The numbers told the story, which is that Pete was about to eclipse with his new acquisitions everything that they brought in with them when they started the company. But now he has a family, which is something else to build entirely.
This is why the funeral scene was probably the most important in an episode stuffed with important scenes. Ironic, because it felt most like a throwaway that didn’t advance the plot at all. But what you had was a series of men that the deceased worked with getting up and talking about the deceased as a loving husband and father above all things, but the look on his wife and daughter’s faces told a different story. Suddenly, you find yourself not caring what accounts were won and lost, but hating the guy for ignoring the importance of love.
And this decision, whether or not to throw away love, is what the characters are faced with as the ship goes down. Roger throws love away and stares at what will be his legacy: a book full of lies that no one is interested in reading. Don is in great danger of throwing love away (and worse, with a woman who actually broke some ethical rules because love matters to her). Pete is at a crossroads, and I’ll bet he chooses love. Peggy, the most straightforward and hopeful character on the show, doesn’t even have to choose. She’s got it all set up so that she’s not creating choices between love and ambition, but instead letting the two things complement each other. The only other character who we’ve had a hint has been able to manage such a thing has been Bert Cooper, whose quietly unconventional love life worked quite well with his career ambitions.
*She also suggested that Obama’s tendency to go tie-less might be the death knell for ties, like Kennedy and LBJ’s routine hatlessness was the end of hats in the 60s. She’s got a point, but it’s also worth noting that there’s a fashion trend—inspired in part by “Mad Men”—for men to actually get a little more formal. You see a lot of hats and ties on fashionable men in NYC, and I imagine that’s going on elsewhere.