Mad Men recap: Who Am I?
- TV Show
We’ve been spoiled the last two weeks by humdinger episodes, and this was a slower, moodier night of TV. But it opened with a bang, as our Mad women prepared for battle as a modern-day Decemberists song blared in the background. The tension of the entire evening was laid out in that first scene as Betty armed herself in white lingerie and Joan swathed herself in blue and black. They are the archetypal Jackie and Marilyn women that the Sterling Cooper team would later pitch to Playtex. (Though, as was deliciously pointed out, “Marilyn is really a Joan, not the other way around.”)
The evening was all about self-image; who we hope to see in the mirror and who, in the end really, looks back at us. So it was no surprise then that Betty and Joan dressed in front of a mirror, winking shrewdly at their own best assets. Cut to Peggy, who doesn’t dress in front of a mirror, pulling on her nylons with the surreptitiousness of a shy junior high school girl trying to show the least amount of skin possible when changing for gym class. Betty and Joan know who they are, or at least who the world expects them to be. Peggy’s identity is still up in the air. “Which one am I?” she demanded of her crass colleagues, who were bent on reducing women to either Madonnas or whores. “You’re Gertrude Stein,” cracked that weasel Ken. Don, with such genuine affection and admiration, told Peggy that she was more of an Irene Dunne. God bless him for that — though it was the only time he really shone all night.
Poor Peggy was getting the shaft every time she turned around. Pete oozed into her office after the long Memorial Day weekend and sneered, “So the libraries were closed yesterday, what did you do?” She’d worked on the pitch for your father-in-law’s account, you dope, the one that you keep trying to dumb down with the tagline of, duh, “Thanks, Clearasil.” Then she got nudged over to the edge of the Playtex account because she hadn’t been out carousing with the boys after hours when they stumbled onto the lunkhead idea that women don’t dress for themselves or each other, but rather for their husbands and friends’ husbands. She wasn’t getting the memos; she wasn’t included in plans to join the clients at the Tom Tom Club. Finally, she sought out Joan, who was weary herself of the men in the office bothering her about her lingerie habit, she sought out Joan and pleaded with her to remind the girls to keep Peggy in the loop. Joan looked down at Peggy with her familiar mixture of scorn and pity and just a smidge of awe. “You’re in their country now,” she told Peggy. “Learn to speak their language….You want to be taken seriously? Stop dressing like a little girl.”
NEXT: Peggy’s transformationMaybe they’re right — the Bobbies and the Joans, who can’t understand why a woman in a man’s world wouldn’t work her curves if she wants to be noticed by her colleagues. They think Peggy ought to ditch the Joanie Loves Chachi wardrobe and hit ’em where it hurts. A woman in a low-cut dress and the secret for the next Clearasil campaign would climb the ladder rung by rung at Sterling Cooper — the men below her looking up her skirt be damned. But Joan was right when she said, “I’ve never had your job and I never wanted it.” I wish Peggy had taken that away as the headline.
Alas, instead Peggy swanned into the Tom Tom Club in a low cut gown and ruby red lipstick, her colleagues welcoming her warmly enough. On a different show, we might have cut to a scene of her buying the next round or smartly sidestepping Ken on Eighth Avenue as he vomited up that last glass of scotch. But in the real world of Mad Men, it wasn’t long before the client devolved into a dirty old man and pulled Peggy onto his lap, asking her what she wanted Santa to bring her for Christmas. She may have a wardrobe fit for a teenager off to a sock hop, but this was the first time we’ve ever seen her truly infantilized.
It’d be nice to think Pete was glowering at her at the Tom Tom because he was depressed that she had to lose the white gloves and create an inner Marilyn if she wanted to hang with the big boys. But he was shooting her that same sour look of judgment that he gave her when she was joyfully dancing the twist last season. I hate it when he gets that angry pug face! And, to add to this depressing night, right next to Peggy was poor Sal. He tried to hoot and holler at the girl on stage, but he came off less like a man looking to get his his rocks off than like Michael Kors cheering on the winner of a burlesque challenge. You can tell your model feels fabulous in those adorable pasties, and isn’t that what fashion is all about?
Pete said that what Sterling Cooper really needed was a dog around the office. Well, there’s always Don, who couldn’t shake off his family fast enough once the bathing-suit fashion show started up. Begging off with the work excuse — “Really,” Betty hissed, “I wouldn’t think you’d want to leave this”— he made a beeline for Bobbie. It turns out his lady friend has a son in town. His image of Bobbie as this tough talking, steel-toed broad didn’t allow for her having a son and a daughter. Because if a mother of two could sleep around on her husband…Hey, wait a second. Who is that man showing interest in Betty at the country club? Back at home, Betty prepared breakfast for her own two kids in a new itsy-bitsy yellow bikini and robe. Don did not approve and yanked her out into the hallway away from the children’s innocent eyes. “You wanna be ogled?” he said with a self-righteous sneer. “It’s desperate.” He wants her in Oscar de la Renta gowns and white gauzy bathrobes that look like christening wear.
NEXT: Don’s man in the mirror Of course Sumbitch ended up back in bed with Bobbie. “It’s flattering to be able to keep you interested,” she purred. “Stop talking,” he said, proving that he in fact wasn’t curious about anything above her neckline. They were doing their rough version of power foreplay when Bobbie gloated to herself that she was getting the “full Don Draper treatment.” That scarf got a little tighter around her wrist as Don snapped to attention. “Have no fear,” she said. “You’re known as a connoisseur. You have lots of fans.” It turns out that Don has made the rounds of Manhattan’s professional women, and you know how us gals will talk. He looked stunned to learn that women were gossiping about him; that he had a reputation in both the boardroom and the bedroom, shook him to his very core. Suddenly, he was the tramp being traded around town and the knowledge of said fact unleashed something ugly and primal in him. He made as if to choke her and tied her other wrist to the bed. He looked on the verge of raping Bobbie, but left her instead with a lame parting shot. “Does it make you feel better to think that I’m like you?” he spat in her face. Don, you are exactly like her. You just tell yourself otherwise.
“It’s a very flattering mirror,” Don told the Playtex people earlier in the episode. That’s what advertising is, right? The business provides buyers with access to a new and improved vision of themselves. And yet everyone in this episode was dodging mirrors, scared of who or what they might see. (Except for Pete, that is, who liked the look in his hallway mirror of a man sweaty from a late-night conquest with an undergarments model. Never mind the icky detail that her mother was in the next room.) Duck went so far as to kick poor Chauncey out onto the streets when he couldn’t handle his once-beloved dog bearing witness to his headfirst tumble off the wagon. (I hated, hated, hated that scene, and the shot of the dog looking back at his broken master through the locked door made me want to punch something.) But it was that final split image, of Don crestfallen on the toilet seat while his crueler, baser self peered back at him from the door mirror, that neatly encapsulated his fractured self. It’s becoming harder and harder for Don to keep his two selves distinct — the hero his daughter was clapping for at the country club and the cold man who could angrily squeeze his mistress’ neck. Those sides are beginning to merge, and he’s no longer able to pretend that he’s an honorable man worthy of his little girl’s respect. No wonder he can’t stand the sight of himself.
Best line of the night: “It’s Memorial Day — all I have is German vocabulary,” said Duck’s loaf of a daughter after her father told her to do her homework.
For a second there, did you too worry that Don was going to rape Bobbie? Is this the end of Peggy’s ponytails and Peter Pan dress collars? (I’ll miss them!) Can you ever forgive Duck for abandoning that poor dog? (While noting the irony that of all these men’s trespasses, it’s what Duck did to his pet that stings most.) And, finally, for all the ladies: If forced to pick a type, wouldn’t you opt to be an Irene Dunne over a Jackie or Marilyn any day of the week?