Mad (Wo)Men 6x05: "You're really good at everything."

Author’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series, analyzing the female characters on Mad Men throughout season 6. (Crossposted here.)

A lot of people disliked last night's episode of Mad Men, an episode which included one of the pivotal events of 1968, Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination.

The show does a good job of showing how life events continue to happen during a national tragedy (think of Roger's daughter's wedding after JFK's assassination.)

(Another theory about this season is its framed by Dante's Inferno, which Don was reading on the beach in Hawaii. Each episode represents a new level of Hell. Although there will be more episodes (13) than levels of Hell (nine). This week was supposed to be Greed, but it might be Violence?)

At the beginning of the episode, Peggy is considering buying an apartment on the Upper East Side. Despite her job working for "the man", Peggy lives outside gender norms the most. Her relationship with Abe is quite progressive. They live together and aren't married and now she's considering buying a place without his financial assistance, but in which they would live together. "I'm more a trusted advisor," Abe tells the real estate agent, who assumes he was the one paying for the place.

Over the last few episodes, Peggy's boss, Ted, seems to take a particular interest in her, but it wasn't clear until this episode that his interest is not in the same mentor-ly way as Don's. At the advertising awards, Ted arrives with his wife, and then sits next to Peggy to assure her she will win many ad awards working for them. Ted's awkwardly taken the seat of her boyfriend, Abe. Abe isn't territorial about it, and Peggy doesn't seem interested, but it'll be something to keep an eye on as the season continues.

Peggy and Don play out interesting parallels with their secretaries after Martin Luther King's death. When Peggy arrives at work, her secretary Phyllis is in her office, emotional. Peggy gives her a hug and tells to go home. "None of us should be working today." Phyllis takes her up on her offer and leaves, thanking her.

Don's secretary, Dawn, is late coming into work. When she arrives, he expresses his worry for her, from both him and Joan. Joan announces the office is closing early and Don agrees with the decision, telling Dawn she can go home. "I'd really rather be here today," she tells him. "If you're staying, I'll stay."

When Peggy's offer on the apartment falls through, she expects a little sympathy from Abe. She asks him for his input on the apartment, despite not contributing financially. "Honestly, I saw us raising our kids in a place with more different kinds of people." Peggy's delight and surprise at him mentioning having children with her is an interesting development. Peggy's never really discussed how she feels about children, not even after giving birth to Pete's child.

Megan Draper (vs. Sylvia)

As Megan and Don are leaving for the Andy Awards (advertising awards), they run into their neighbors, Sylvia and Arnold, who are leaving for D.C. for the weekend.

When Megan mentions she's nominated for an award, Arnold assumes it's for acting, but Megan tells them it's for an advertising campaign she worked on. "My goodness, you're really good at everything," Sylvia replies.

And in that moment, Don Draper made a bit more sense. When he was with Betty, his paramours consisted of strong women with careers. Now he's married to Megan, a strong woman with many talents and a career, he's bedding housewives. Is it a coincidence or is Don a grass is greener guy?

Megan is also bigger than Don when it comes to Peggy, going to greet her and chat at the Andy Awards, while Don avoids her. (Until he can't. Martin Luther King's assassination overrules whatever petty jealousy Don is feeling towards Peggy and he says they can take Peggy home after Abe leaves the ceremony early to cover the riots in Harlem.)

Megan wins the award, but it's barely a thought after the events of the evening. Merely something forgotten on the couch amidst the news.

Megan also represents a rather thankless role when it comes to Don's kids. As someone who started off as their nanny on a trip to Disneyland, it seems weird to think Megan is officially the kids stepmother now. She's none too pleased when Betty asks Don to come pick up the kids in the middle of the unrest after MLK's assassination. "She's a piece of work."

Megan takes Sally and Gene to a vigil in the park, while Don and Bobby escape to the movies. Later, Megan voices her concern for Don's penchant for drink, asking why he can't be there for his children. Don unloads on her his feelings and shortcomings as a parent, an unusual open moment for him, and it seems to signal he can tell Megan things he would have never told Betty. Not as much is hidden from Megan. But it also seems a cruel confession to someone who, only a few months earlier, suffered a miscarriage and who might want to have kids with Don someday.

The emotional confession from Don seems to signify he still feels something for Megan, but it's unclear if it was a product of the upheaval caused by MLK's assassination.

Age gap isn't root of problem in Hollywood

Last week, Vulture posted some infographics about the growing age gap between leading men and their co-stars/love interests.

There's much to be said for Hollywood's penchant to pair 60 year old men with women who are 20 to 30 years their junior, but Vulture's infographic and informal "study" failed to address the main issue at stake here. The age gap is a symptom of a larger problem in Hollywood. Namely, female characters being thought of as simply "love interests". A continued demand for complex female characters (of all ages) is something Hollywood needs to hear.

There's a long list of 40+ aged actresses, besides Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren, who continue to work, but it's often hard to remember when we're surrounded by damsels in distress or petite ingenues.

Here are a few examples:

Julianne Moore

Coming off an Emmy and Golden Globe winning performance as Sarah Palin in Game Change, Moore has several movies in the pipeline for 2013.

The English Teacher - When a former student returns to town, it causes Linda Sinclair (Moore) to break out of her simple existence.

Carrie - The remake of the 1976 classic will have Chloe Grace Moretz in the title role, with Moore as her mother, Margaret White.

Catherine Keener

Keener, who prefers independent film, didn't achieve a more widespread notoriety until she was cast opposite Steve Carell in The 40 Year Old Virgin

Nailed - David O. Russell's next picture is about a waitress who gets a nailed lodged in her head. She travels to D.C. and meets a young senator who takes up her cause. Keener looks to be in a supporting role and there is no firm release date yet. 

Untitled Nicole Holofcener Project - Keener is also cast in the newest Nicole Holofcener project. Keener & Holofcener have worked together on all of Holofcener's films. The newest project is about a divorced woman who pursues a man who might be her new friend's ex-husband. Toni Collette and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are also slated to star. 

Patricia Clarkson

The East - The film with Brit Marling, Ellen Page, and Alexander Sarsgaard got a lot of early buzz at Sundance. Clarkson most likely will be in a supporting role. It opens May 31.

Last Weekend - Clarkson plays the matriarch of a dysfunctional family. During a weekend at their lake house, things start to fall apart, and she questions her role in the family. 

Allison Janney

Touchy Feely - Director Lynn Shelton's (Your Sister's Sister) latest is about a massage therapist who develops a sudden aversion to touching others. Rosemarie Dewitt and Ellen Page also star. 

The Way, Way Back - The writing team behind The Descendants, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, wrote and directed this film about a teenager who comes into his own over the course of a summer.  

Vera Farmiga

Currently starring as Norman's mother in Bates Motel, you can also catch Farmiga in a variety of independent and studio films.

Middleton - A man and woman meet and fall in love while taking their children on a college tour. Stars Andy Garcia and Farmiga's younger sister, Taissa.

Of course, women playing a bigger role than simply the love interest is going to require a massive change in Hollywood. We need more women in roles at the studios which will then in turn lead to more and meatier female roles. 

Don't believe the trickle down effect is real? Just look at Amy Pascal over at Sony, who came through awards season touting the biggest female driven film of the year, Zero Dark Thirty, starring Jessica Chastain and directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Now she and director Nancy Meyers are teaming up for Meyers' next film. 

Women buy movie tickets, so it only makes sense we see ourselves on the screen more often. 

Mad (Wo)Men 6x04: Having It All?

Author’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series, analyzing the female characters on Mad Men throughout season 6. (Crossposted here.)

This week, the theme for the show's women was certainly: those who and try to “have it all” get knocked down a peg from time to time. Three working women all dealt with awkward, hurtful, or disappointing situations at the workplace.

Megan Draper

Lots of viewers seemed surprised by Don acting like a complete asshole to Megan in this episode. Have they watched the show ever?

As mentioned previously on this blog, Don dealing with a wife who has a career is a new challenge for him. Back in season one, when Betty wanted to get back into modeling, Don objected to the idea at first. Later, he seemed resigned to allow her to do it, but he made clear he was never happy about the decision. Much the same occurred when Megan was pursuing her acting career.

Megan finds out the soap opera gods (the head writer, Mel) like her enough to write her a love affair. It's a big step for Megan, because it means her storyline (on the soap, not Mad Men) is getting more developed and she'll get to stick around for longer. Of course when Megan tells Don, he's skeptical, but doesn't object outright.

Don's also been known to take his frustrations from work into his home life, and perhaps some of his anger at Megan was misplaced because he'd just lost out Heinz to former protege, Peggy.

Megan's mad he's on set, wondering why he would do this to himself. It's the first time Don's been to set and she's been working on the show for months. “I'm sick of tiptoeing around you every time something good happens to me. This is my job. No, my career.”

Don compares her to a prostitute. “You kiss people for money. You know who does that?” Interesting since in last week's episode, Don was having flashbacks about his mother. (A prostitute.)

Megan points out she chose to tell him and not hide it from him, but it doesn't make any difference. Don leaves and Megan cries about what an asshole her husband is.

Joan Holloway

Joan's married friend, Kate, in town from Spokane, looks at Joan and thinks she has everything. “I want what you have.”

Joan tells her, “It's not what you think.”

And it certainly isn't. When Joan attempts to fire Harry's secretary, he makes a big to do about knowing how Joan became a partner in the firm. “I've actually earned it,” he states.

While the partners assure Joan he won't become partner, they do not rise to her defense. Roger deals with the situation the only way he knows how. He won't entertain Harry's push for partnership, instead buying him off. This all occurs behind closed doors and as far as the audience knows, Joan has no knowledge of it.

As Joan states to her friend: “I've been working there for fifteen years and they still treat me like a secretary.”

Meanwhile, in the romance department, married Kate reveals she wants to have a little fun. This is a nice take we haven't seen too much on the show before: adultery from a female perspective. (Yes, Betty cheated on Don with Henry, but part of the cheating felt it was to get back at Don. Not to mention Betty and Henry may be the two squarest people in Ossining.) She and Joan visit an old style soda fountain shop and it's clientele appears to be young college-aged women. From teenage style flirting, they travel downtown with one of the shop's workers to the Electric Circus, a dirty looking lounge style club with blue and green lighting and mod furniture. Joan ends up making out with the shop guy's friend, but she doesn't seem particularly interested.

For someone who is known for her allure, it's curious to note romance seems to have changed for Joan. Is it because of what she was asked to do for the Jaguar account? Or now that she's divorced, has a baby and has taken on more responsibility at work, she doesn't have the energy? Last season, Joan wondered aloud to Don how she was going to forge a new relationship with a baby. It's clear Joan is still smarting from past events, both personally and professionally.

Peggy Olson

After last week's brouhaha over Heinz ketchup, it was expected Don and Stan would find out Peggy was assigned to the account at her new firm, but it surprising the reveal was so soon.

Peggy remained rather stoic throughout her interactions with both Don and Stan, although it's clear Stan is pissed at her. The fall out of their friendship has really yet to be explored and it remains to be seen if Peggy will apologize or stand her ground.

She also seems to be stealing a lot of her tricks of the trade straight out of Don's toolbox. This week she used his “If you don't like what they're saying, change the conversation” line during the Heinz meeting. The beauty of it was Don was standing at the door listening to his protege beat him at his own game.


Dawn got wrapped up in the Joan situation this week. When Harry's secretary, Scarlett, asked Dawn to punch her out at the end of the day, despite the fact she was skipping out of the office early to attend someone's birthday party, Dawn readily agreed.

Her friend warns her the girls in the office aren't her friends. Dawn claims they are and did seem to say yes to Scarlett only because she wanted her approval.

At the end of the episode, she apologizes to Joan and says she should dock her pay. Joan seems to place most of the blame on Scarlett, because she asks Dawn who it's fair to if she does that. “Fair to Scarlett?” To learn her lesson, Joan gives Dawn the task of managing time cards and the supply closet. Dawn tells Joan she doesn't care if everyone else hates her, as long as Joan likes her.

The appearance of a possible storyline for Dawn is a long time coming. Although the demographics of an advertising agency in the 1960s probably weren't too diverse, it's unfathomable it took this long to have a black character appear on screen in a role more important than Playboy bunny or Paul's girlfriend.


Again, it's hard to get a sense of who Sylvia is, beyond her affair with Don and her religious affiliation. This week she told Don she prays for him to have peace. Make of that what you will, dear audience.

Mad (Wo)Men 6x03: The Collaborators

Author's Note: This is part of an ongoing series, analyzing the female characters on Mad Men throughout season 6.

After last week's episode revealed Don to be back to his old ways, this time carrying on an affair with Sylvia, half of a couple in the building who Megan and Don have befriended, this week's episode was all about the parallels (and not so parallels) between Don and Pete's handling of their affairs.

Pete and Trudy host an evening for two couples in the neighborhood. Pete tells one of the girls he can get tickets to Hair, if she's interested. She says she is and a few days later, Pete is bringing her to his apartment in the city.

The next evening, when Pete is at home with Trudy, there's screaming and crying at their door. The same girl has been beaten by her husband, who yells, “She's your problem now, Campbell.” Trudy cares for the girl and arranges for her to stay in a hotel nearby.

The next morning, Trudy confronts Pete about his infidelity. She says she thought if she agreed to letting him have an apartment in the city, he would at least be discreet, but instead he had to choose someone from their block. In other words, Trudy is not oblivious to Pete sleeping with other women. Pete expects her to ask for a divorce, but Trudy refuses to be a failure. “This is how it's going to work. You will be here only when I tell you to be here. I'm drawing a fifty mile radius around this house and if you so much as open your fly to urinate, I will destroy you.”

Meanwhile, when Sylvia, Don's paramour, starts having doubts and feeling guilty about their relationship, Don is suave with his words and convinces her it's what she wants.

Don and Pete's storylines were to show the parallels between the male characters and they worked in that sense, but they didn't do any favors for the female characters, except maybe Trudy. Don's paramours, at least, used to be better developed and had identities of their own (Midge Daniels, Rachel Menken). As Don sleeps with more women, they've become less distinct. Maybe that is Weiner's point, the more physical relationships he has, the less meaning Don finds in them.

But back to the ladies.

In the premiere, Peggy seemed to be doing well in her new job, but this week she displayed some naivete not seen since the early seasons of the show.

Her (female) secretary mentions maybe she should be as encouraging to the copy writers working under her—notably all male—as Peggy is to her. Peggy tries to take her advice and pep up her team, but it's not very effective. When she returns from lunch, she finds a feminine deodorant on her desk, and takes it to her boss, thinking it's a new account. Her boss, and he gets credit for not being as sneering as some at SCDP would have been, informs her it's a practical joke.

“Everyone hates me here,” Peggy says when she calls Stan. Peggy's storyline really rings true. As someone who freelances for a living, it's always a little difficult stepping into a new workplace and remembering you have to forge new relationships all over again. While Peggy was never much of an office socialite, over time at Sterling Cooper, she grew to have a supportive group of co-workers around her, and now she's having to start the process over again. Notice it in the details of her slightly awkward relationship with her new boss. They definitely do not have the same ease and understanding between them which she and Don shared.

Peggy also makes her most rookie mistake yet, relaying the story of Heinz beans vs. Heinz ketchup to her new boss, who of course sees it as an advertising opportunity. Peggy sees it as betraying the trust of a friend. While Don certainly has tried to sway accounts away from other agencies, he also has a rather moral code when it comes to advertising. Roger and Pete do not have the same morals when it comes to their work, but since Peggy seems to have picked up so much from Don, it makes sense she would struggle with having to betray someone's trust for the sake of an account.

Once again, Joan is used minimally in the episode, but to rather great effect. Her brief scenes occur when Herb, the man she slept with last season in order to obtain his business for the agency, shows up at the offices unannounced. He laments the fact she hasn't come by the Jaguar lot. “I know there's a part of you that's glad to see me,” he says.

“And I know there's a part of you you haven't seen in years,” Joan retorts.

She then breezes into Don's office, preceding his secretary's announcement of her, heading for his drink cart and telling him Herb is there. (Don was the only partner who objected to Joan sleeping with Herb, but by the time he expressed this to Joan, the deed was already done.) Don barely takes his eyes off her as he pulls on his jacket and heads out for the meeting.

Since many have characterized Don as having a Madonna-whore complex, it's curious to note his continued respect for Joan. Men who characterize women as either Madonnas, women they respect but do not or cannot desire, or whores, women they desire but do not respect. From their interactions, it's clear Don has the utmost respect for Joan, even though he is aware she has 'whored' herself out.

Megan's storyline was an interesting 180 from last week. Megan's started to make great strides as an actress, landing as a recurring character on a soap, and getting recognized by a fan during her island vacation with Don.

This week, her storyline had a quite modern parallel. Megan disclosed she'd had a miscarriage to her neighbor, Sylvia (coincidentally, the same woman Don is sleeping with.) She hadn't told Don yet and her conversation with Sylvia was mostly Megan trying to assuage her religious guilt for not having to choose whether to have an abortion or not. Megan references she and Sylvia were both raised Catholic, so Megan felt guilty for questioning whether this was the right time for her to be pregnant.

Later, when Megan tells Don, she said she was hesitant to tell him because she wasn't sure what he would want. Don assures her he would want what she wants. “Is that what you want?” Megan admits she wants kids, but she didn't know if it was the right time to have a conversation about it. It's implied that Megan being pregnant would have been a hindrance to her career and in this way, she seems faced with a fairly modern problem (and debate.) Whether it's possible for women to “have it all”: a successful career, marriage, and family.

Since the question was resolved by nature in the form of a miscarriage, for now it's answered for Megan, but it'll be interesting to see if having children or having a career seem to be at the forefront of Megan's mind for the rest of the season.  

Mad (Wo)Men: Season 6 premiere & speculation

The women of Mad Men

As the show progresses into 1968, the backdrop of SDCP and its characters will be the Vietnam War, the rise of feminism and the ERA, as well as the continued civil rights movement, not to mention two assassinations of powerful American figures. Many cite 1968 as a historical turning point from the Baby Boom and suburban life of the 1950s to the turmoil and anti-war movement of the late 1960s and early '70s.

Author's Note: In light of these historical conditions, I plan on writing weekly posts about the show's female characters. Mad Men is a show with a long narrative burn and I thought a weekly discussion of the female-centered storylines would be an interesting endeavor. I'm not going to claim my character speculation will hold up throughout the season, but half the fun is seeing what small steps the characters take every week towards a bigger arc.


While Roger and Don contemplated their looming mortality for most of the two-hour season six opener of Mad Men, the women's storylines were a little more diverse.

Last we left them, Megan was starring as Beauty (as in Beauty and the Beast) in a Butler shoes commercial.

Peggy left Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (SCDP) to take a better position at Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough.

Joan felt pressured to sleep with a client in order for SCDP to secure an account. In return, Joan asked for partnership in the firm, which she was granted.

And Betty was comforting Sally over the arrival of her period.

As the show returns, the characters are celebrating Christmas of 1967 and New Year's of 1968. While the show has made mention of events which informed the civil rights movement, not as much mention has been made of the rise of the second wave of feminism. Perhaps Weiner and company feel the feminism of the era is implicit in the text of the show via the female characters, without citing specific events, but since the show takes place in New York, it seems likely one of the characters would have encountered a feminist demonstration or meeting.

Hawaii. Don is here for work and Megan appears to be living the good life. While they're attending a typical tourist Hawaiian pig roast, the audience discovers she's "made it" as an actress. She gets recognized by another guest and asked for her autograph. Megan seems a little put off by the attention, but she's soon back to her bubbly social ways.

The character of Megan is an interesting amalgamation. Weiner has spoken about being influenced by the books of Helen Gurley Brown when writing the character of Joan and the career ambitions of Peggy seem to categorize her as a someone who would support second wave feminism, but it's unclear what school of thought Megan's character would fall under. Peggy chooses to use her brain to move up the ranks at work, as does Megan. She's capable and intelligent and rises from a secretary to a copywriter, similar to Peggy. Don points this out when he tells Peggy of their engagement: "You know she reminds me of you. She's got the same spark."

On the other hand, by marrying Don, Megan is ensuring financial stability for herself, a goal which Joan states in the pilot episode of the series. "Of course, if you really make the right moves, you'll be out in the country and you won't be going to work at all."

But rather than climb the advertising ranks like Peggy or become a homemaker, Megan pursues her own goal: to become an actress.

Megan's success may make her character more interesting in the long run, but sadly for now, it only makes her interesting in relation to Don. Here's why: Don's never been in a real relationship with a woman who works. Yes, he's slept with many women who had careers (Midge, Rachel Menken, Sally's teacher), but being in a relationship--a marriage--with one is different.

Joan barely appears in the premiere, other than a brief scene where the partners are having pictures taken. She's also mentioned in reference to her relationship with Roger, a not-so-well kept secret at the office, since Peggy and Stan discuss it later in the episode.

Peggy is handling advertising emergency crises at midnight on a Friday, during a holiday weekend. It's clear Peggy isn't afraid to speak her mind to clients or staff who work for her. In fact, it seems Don's style of management has rubbed off on her, maybe more than she would like to acknowledge. She puts in the same long hours Don would have back in the day and ultimately saves the idea. Her boss comments she's "good in a crisis." Since she took a big career step last season by choosing to leave SCDP, it'll be interesting to see what Weiner and Co. have in store for her this year.

One of the more complex storylines in the premiere was Betty's. One of Sally's friends, Sandy, seems to spend a lot of time in the Francis household. Sandy's a talented violinist whose mother recently passed away. Betty seems to feel a close bond with the girl, because as she points out, Betty lost her mother, too.

There's been much discussion over Betty's bizarre rape joke to her husband, Henry, about Sandy. Although the joke seemed out of place, it fits with Betty's sometimes off-color sense of humor. Early on in the series, Betty joked about Sally being a "little lesbian". The rape comment was an odd choice for a joke, to be sure, but it seems to fit in with the characterization of Betty.

When Betty finds out Sandy has left for Juilliard (after Sandy admitted to her she didn't get in), Betty performs an act of kind-heartedness, driving into the city to search for the teenage girl. Sandy's mention of St. Mark's Place leads Betty to the rundown tenements there. While two of the occupants are tolerant of her presence, when their friend returns, he is not as willing to put up with this blonde suburban housewife. The ne'er do well informs her Sandy was trying to get money to go to California. He calls her "Blondie" and says she's a goodie and wants her out of the building.

The encounter gets under Betty's skin. She doesn't want to be perceived as simply a blonde housewife, so she dyes her hair dark black. Henry asks if she was inspired by Elizabeth Taylor, but seems accepting of the change.

The question is if the hair color change will be enough for Betty or if she wants to make other changes in her life. From the beginning of the series, it's clear she has been unhappy, but she has remained the most stagnant character, afraid to step outside of her role as wife, mother, and housewife.