Mad Men Season 4-09 ‘The Beautiful Girls’ Recap

Very much a companion piece to last week’s episode, it is the height of the summer we now focus on the romantic relationships of the main women of the show and how they fall apart. Primarily Joan and Peggy. Joan once again falls into the lap of Roger who begins again to fall for her and her for him. Peggy is also reunited with a lover from an earlier episode who she had a brief moment of lust in a closet at a party. However they soon realise, as Don did in the previous episode, that all the relationships are essentially doomed. Peggy initially inspired by her new beau’s radical views on society but turns out he isn’t who she initially saw and Joan gets pregnant only not in the way she wanted. The female Dr Miller who originally shook Don off, is now actively seeking him for a relationship so he now has two women on the go.

It is a rather sexually charged episode, capturing the same kind of steaminess and raw sexuality in the Tennessee Williams play Streetcar Named Desire. The end of the summer period just seems to bring it out in people, the comparison in terms of structure isn’t that far away from Streetcar. There is a similarity between the frictions between male and female which are perfectly pitched on writing terms and although it isn’t as intense or explosive as the play, it’s representations of gender are similar. There is the weaker but icy femme fatale in the style of Joan, who is very much a Blanche DuBois character in that she is desparately on a knife edge. Joan’s husband is definitely being drafted to Vietnam and this puts her position in work and with other people strained, in order she seeks salvation in Sterling, who she did have an affair with in early series.

Against the backdrop of this, there is a small surprise in SCDP as Don’s daughter, Sally turns up in the office, having run away from her mother. In blind rage on hearing where she is, Betty refuses to collect her and Don must put up with her stubborness while at work. Things get worse when Don’s new, elderly cantankerous secretary dies and is rather artfully removed from the office, while the ever witty Sterling observes: “She died how she lived, surrounded by people she answered phones for”. The death despite being humourous, (the head slamming on the typewriter is just funny) this is more likely to be a bad omen for them at the company. With this unusually low key melodrama small events, which when they happen seem to be off the cuff, either have massive effects further down the line or are symbolic for something bad about to happen.

There are also political issues brought to the fore, Peggy’s romantic entanglement leads to her questioning the rights of the racially diverse population and how they are mistreated. Obviously this was very much in the ether, at that time  the issues of black soldiers and racism within the forces going to Vietnam, which coincidentally Muhammad Ali spoke out against. Of course it does oddly turn the tables back to stereotype, when coming out of a swanky restaurant, Roger and Joan are mugged by a homeless African American. Roger and Joan also meet a tumbling block when in a romantic burst, Joan ends up being pregnant. In the last moment the three main women shaare an elevator presenting their perfect selves despite whatever is going on personally.

Things are still going rapidly downhill for all the characters and the company. Sally finally admits she hates her home life, Don is juggling women, Joan is pregnant for a third time and Peggy is once again alone. Good episode, but admittedly a holding pattern to the next one.