Joan may have gotten the big office, and a swell paybump, but her success is often tolerated by those around her instead of encouraged. She had to do some regrettable things to get what she wanted, and now she’s wondering if it was even worth it. Mad Men’s calculated pacing is often a byproduct of the show being a study of social and personal change -or lack thereof. Because those things move at a snail’s pace, no one’s going to pat Joan on the shoulder and give her a “you’ve come a long way, baby,” speech about how this was all worth it. All Joan gets is Dawn telling her, “I don’t care if everybody around here hates me, as long as you don’t.” That used to mean someone feared Joan’s power within the office, but this time, it’s a moving admission of respect. It’s not much in the grand scheme of things, but for now, it’s enough for Joan to know that who she is as a person can inspire others just the same as any title might.
Peggy, of course, owes plenty to Joan’s example of defying what people think of you based on gender, but as Don’s squire-turned-protégé, he’s still her biggest role model. Lately though, it looks like she’s gunning for his crown, not his friendship. There was a lot of concern last week about how absent-mindedly Peggy revealed the troubled relationship SCDP had with Heinz, but when you see her giving her pitch to Timmy, and how much better it is than Don’s, you can tell that her slip of the tongue was very Machiavellian, even if subconsciously. Sure, neither she nor Don wind up winning the hand of the lovely Heinz account, but now she’s redrawn the battle lines on her own terms. She and Don can still respect each other, they can still even like each other underneath it all, but when there’s only one piece of pie on the table, and people are starving, it’s everyone for themselves. That’s just business.
So, where does that leave Don? He gave so much to Peggy, and now it’s coming back to haunt him. Nurturing was never an adjective you could apply to Don Draper, but he helped Peggy, believed in her, and it’s bitten him in the ass. So, in typical Don Draper fashion, he takes his professional frustration out on his family. Meghan bears the brunt of it, as Don’s betrayal coincides with her latest arc on To Have and to Hold, a torrid, and “steamy” romance. It’s laughably tame by modern standards and the daily horrors from Vietnam being broadcast on the nightly news, but sex tends to complicate things (to bring in Martin’s opinion on the matter: “I can describe an axe entering a human skull in great explicit detail and no one will blink twice at it. I provide a similar description, just as detailed, of a penis entering a vagina, and I get letters about it and people swearing off”). Don’s never been particularly supportive of Meghan’s career, so she’s right to fear the worst.
Yet, surprisingly, he begrudgingly signs off on the idea. After all, who is he to turn down Meghan’s make-believe affair, when he’s having a real one on the side? Don’s so checked out from his relationship with Meghan at this point that he can be propositioned by the show’s headwriter and star into a four-way, only to treat the whole thing like a big joke. “How long have they been married?” he asks Meghan. “Eighteen years,” she replies, in the night’s biggest punchline. But after the Heinz fiasco, Don’s given a nasty taste of how badly he can be hurt by the people he helps. The Don who watches Meghan film the tawdry scene on the lot is far more recognizable than the laidback, pot-smoking Don we’ve been seeing lately, and when he tears into her and the “progressive” people she associates herself with, he’s taking a great leap backwards.
That, of course, means landing at Sylvia’s door, and while there’s just a hint of Showing the Tooth by having her straight-up tell Don she prays he’ll “find peace,” it cinches up that feeling of never-ending struggle, of endless repeating cycles, that seems so familiar. Like Game of Thrones, Mad Men launched itself with a conflict that seemed new to the characters, and their world. But once you spend enough time with the show’s people, and learn more about their world, you start to realize that all of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.
- Stray Thoughts
-Okay, yes, that last line was from Battlestar Galactica, but if the genre show is good enough, its themes can be perfectly relatable to a hardcore period drama.
-Dawn is finally getting her own sidestory. Can’t say I know where it’s heading just yet, but it’s great the show is finally following up on her as an individual character. Her few scenes from last year, including the gut-churning overnight with Peggy, were fantastic.
-I will admit to being mildly hurt that Alison Brie was in the opening credits, yet did not appear this week. I want to see what Pete does, now that he’s woken the dragon that is Trudy Campbell.
-More football this week, this time courtesy Harry pitching “Broadway” Joe Namath in a straw-hat.
-Don claims to be against the war. He’s also right to doubt Meghan’s acting abilities: you’d barely notice her in the soap’s love scene were it not for the maid outfit.
-“I hope you left us something.” Ted may be all smiles and sunshine with Peggy, but when an account’s on the line, he can be one hell of a dick.
-Between Stan Rizzo putting on the frayed pig leather jacket, the neon trippiness of the Electric Circus club scene, and all the discussion of entertainment censorship standards, this week had a strong Midnight Cowboy connection.
-And come to think of it, Pete’s been modeling himself off of Jack Lemmon, offering his love-pad to Don as a place to crash. Don’s elevator flirtation with Sylvia adds to the The Apartment semblance.
-Pre-mature correction: I’m aware that calling any suit from the show Armani is anachronistic, but alliteration takes precedence.
-Very little Roger this week, but again, he proves his tongue is as sharp as Valyrian steel.
-In case you can’t tell, I really like Game of Thrones.