Sad Men

Mad Men made me kind of sad last night for the first time in a long time, if ever in fact. It was a little thing I guess, but seeing Peggy be an asshole to her secretary hurt a little. I use the word asshole because it’s not a sexually loaded word like bitch or that other one that starts with a C. It’s not Peggy’s femininity that made it hurt – Roger would also be an asshole in the same situation – it hurt because Peggy has always been my “in” to a show I didn’t much care for at first. She’s had to be prickly at times with her equals and those above her on her way up, but that was justified and necessary. Last night was the first time I can think of where she was mean to someone below her and it was not at all called for. I didn’t like seeing it.

That’s not to say I blame her for it. The truth is, I can easily relate to the feelings that inspired her to snap. She’d already been not-so-subtly demeaned by male underlings Michael and Stan in the elevator over her lack of Valentine’s Day action, but then her day is quickly brightened when she mistakes the roses on her secretary Shirley’s desk as hers. As soon as you see Shirley’s reaction to the situation, however, you know the truth of it. Peggy of course assumes the roses are from her colleague and former lover Ted, which just adds to her humiliation later in the episode when Shirley finally admits the roses were for her and not Peggy after all. Peggy feels stupid and weak and exposed and she lashes out at the nearest source of her misery even though Shirley’s hesitance about being honest in the first place is tangential to all of Peggy’s other problems.


Like I said. It’s a pretty small moment in one character’s overall progression and it certainly felt like a real one, but it stung a little bit. I’ve invested a lot in the character over the years and I’d hate it if she turns into just another jerk.

Not surprisingly since Don and Peggy’s arcs have always been connected even as they move in opposite directions, Don’s actions so far this season point to him becoming more human even as Peggy becomes less so. I have to admit I did not really care for Mad Men in the first couple of seasons. It felt over-reliant on its admittedly impressive style but ultimately kind of empty. I never bought into the Cult of Don Draper and was kind of appalled at how much leash he was given by other characters and (even worse) by fans because he’s so incredibly handsome and charming. I’m not going to lie. It bugged. But then around the third or fourth season, chinks in Don’s armor started to form into cracks. It’s not been easy for him the last few seasons and I have to admit the more he’s been punished, the more I’ve liked him.

Having essentially lost everything that made him look like a success – his job and his family – this season seems to be hinting at Don maybe emerging from the ashes as a decent human being. 1960s society has radically transformed around him, but Don is still kind of a dinosaur from an era. There have been a couple of signs though that he might actually be evolving and adapting. When the season started, I sort of assumed he was doomed to turn into the animated version of himself falling from a building at the start of every episode since the beginning. But then in the first episode, he rebuffs an obvious advance from Neve Campbell. Since it was Neve and not just some unknown actress, it’s reasonable to expect we haven’t seen the last of her, but the Don Draper of even last season would not have passed up a chance for some hot sex with a beautiful woman. With his marriage to Megan crumbling and with her finding success and contentment completely independent of him, Don for the first time seems completely dejected. He’s failed and he knows it.

Then last night, there was the scene where he gets all dressed up in a suit and jacket in anticipation of his secretary dropping by when in fact he’d spent the entire afternoon in his boxers drinking, eating crackers and watching The Little Rascals. He hasn’t completely given up yet, or isn’t ready to give up the pretense of confidence and success. Then finally he lets down his mask a little bit with his daughter seemingly to the benefit of both of them. It’s been only rarely that Don ever reveals his true self (it slipped out during the Hershey meeting last season with disastrous career consequences) and even more rarely that he’s been honest with his children. It was nice to see, and even nicer that it seemed to finally bring these two characters who have so much in common closer together.

I’m not sure what the end of Mad Men is going to bring for Don, but at this point I’m leaning toward some sort of satisfaction.

A couple of my other favorite moments from last night’s episode include Pete Campbell being literally and figuratively shut out from operations back on the East Coast. “I don’t seem to exist” he complains. Pete is another character I used to hate. He was such a weasely little prick in the early seasons that I just wanted to see bad things happening to him. Even more dramatically than Don, however, Pete has been repeated taken down several notches as the show has gone on. At this point he’s almost been reduced to comic relief.

Another best moment I didn’t even notice the first time I watched it. Don’s secretary Dawn greets Peggy’s secretary Shirley as “Dawn” and Shirley greets her back as “Shirley.” It’s a subtle, almost throwaway jab at white people’s inability to distinguish between two black people. I love that these two black women have this little inside joke between them. This moment along with Bert’s kind of unexpected and unsettling request that Dawn be moved to where she can’t be seen from the elevator is a welcome confrontation of the tensions of a multi-racial office in the 60s when, for a long time after belatedly addressing race in the first place, Mad Men seemed all too happy to drop the subject until the MLK episode. It would be unfair to suggest the show’s creators felt they’d “handled” race by the firm finally hiring a black person and then they just forgot all about it, but that’s kind of how it felt. Even as I write this, I’m reminded the Drapers had a black maid in the early seasons and I seem to remember the issue of race may have come up even then – until I can rewatch for myself, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong – but last night still felt like a subtler and less awkward treatment of race than the show had attempted before.

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  1. Avatar
    Sasha Stone 8 years ago

    Yeah, but I love a show that allows a female character to be a bitch. It made sense to me being that Peggy really got burned by that married dude – she’s unmarried and here’s this engaged secretary. She’ll come out of it. I really liked the stuff with the secretarial pool.

  2. Avatar
    Radich 8 years ago

    I agree with Sasha on this one. I love the fact that it is not all advancement with Peggy. She’s been always messed up when confronted by her romantic ideals, which aren’t always fulfilled.

  3. Avatar
    Craig Kennedy 8 years ago

    The secretarial pool stuff was great.

    I don’t know. I’m not finding any agreement on the Peggy thing. She’s always been flawed and I’m fine with that. I understood why she acted like she did, it just bummed me out to see, especially directed toward someone below her professionally. It doesn’t make her a bad person.

  4. Avatar
    Eoin Daly 8 years ago

    I love Mad Men for how different each of the main four female characters are. Peggy is not in a good place emotionally as we learned from last week and this outburst just continues this arc beautifully. Then we have Joan who has been in some ways the mother figure of the show and seeing her advance is such a nice moment. Even though we haven’t seen Betty this season she is more mentioned then seen because if the impact she makes being quite a monster like women who only infects everyone she comes in contact with. Finally is Sally who is after Don and Peggy my favourite character because of he growth she has experienced since being a young child to or his last episode where we see she has grown so much and has power over her father like no other character. I guess my point is what makes the show sad for me every week is seeing how these four women in Don’s life are the only four who he has never been able to take advantage of as each of them evolves while he falls further into despair. Also the focus on Dawn and Shirley was such a great meta joke and this is what a show like Mad Men can do having earned every moment over the last 7 seasons.

  5. Avatar
    Craig Kennedy 8 years ago

    I’ve been rewatching season 1 and it’s funny because I never would’ve predicted that Sally would actually become a character we care about, but here we are.

    Even without Sally though, Betty, Joan and Peggy are so well-defined and important to the show. I seem to recall so much of the conversation early on focusing on the style and on Don and Roger, but neither of those characters (or any of the other men) are really as interesting.

  6. Avatar
    Radich 8 years ago

    “I’ve been rewatching season 1 and it’s funny because I never would’ve predicted that Sally would actually become a character we care about, but here we are.”

    Very true. I’ve started noticing her during S3 after “The Fog” episode. The scene where Sally and Don chat in the kitchen during the night, about the birth of her brother and eggs, is a thing of beauty for me. There I could see already the deep connection they both would have and how she would be really important in his life. After that scene I fell in love with the Sally character and her relationship with her father. I live for their scenes together. They are for me highlights in the whole series.

  7. Avatar
    Radich 8 years ago

    Sorry Craig, I tried to do the markup quoting you, but I screwed up.

  8. Avatar
    Craig Kennedy 8 years ago

    No biggie. I think it’s a flaw in the theme that doesn’t allow for block quoting in the theme, so I just added quote marks for you.

  9. Avatar
    Craig Kennedy 8 years ago

    Another thing I’m noticing in Season 1 is how Don constantly turns to his kids.

  10. Avatar
    Radich 8 years ago

    Thank you for helping with the quote.

    I’ve always believed Don had a different sensitivity towards his kids. Betty was the one wanting him to “correct” Bobby at some point, but Don didn’t want to lay his hands on him. He could be very cold, distant and neglectful, but still he could manage to have some meaningful and warm conversation, like the one I mentioned with Sally. Something about his kids, since that moment, made me believe that redemption could be a possibility. This last ep gives us hope, but we’ll see.

    He is an asshole, but it is hard not to see how hard it is for him to make deep connections and not sympathize. I understand he is not one of your favorites, but I have to confess his existential crisis is the most compelling aspect of the show to me. Don and Peggy are my guides within this world. I’m in because of them.

  11. Avatar
    Craig Kennedy 8 years ago

    That’s the thing, it’s been several years since I watched the early seasons, and my overriding memory of him was that he was a pure asshole. That sensitivity he shows to his kids early on indeed gives me a bit of hope that me might end up being redeemed.

    Peggy is still my favorite though, and I love seeing her navigate her rise through the ranks in the early going.

  12. Avatar
    Radich 8 years ago

    I love that too. It was a thrill to see her grow so fast within the business and show that it could be done, not only because she was given the opportunity, but because she was smart enough to see and take the opportunity and show her talent.

    On the other hand, I feel that her weak emotional intelligence was always in the way. It looks to me that there is also a lot of guilt for wanting more than what she deserves. I believe a belief that comes from her cultural catholic background (as a woman growing up catholic I can relate). I don’t think she overcame that completely yet. Not to mention that it seems she feels still defined by what men represent in her life. That’s why, although disappointing to see, I was not surprised by what she did this last episode. It made her look stupid and a bitch. I know she can bounce back from it all.

    Thank you for letting me ramble, but I love talking about this show, so when I can I indulge. 🙂

    Good night from Brazil.

  13. Avatar
    Craig Kennedy 8 years ago

    I’m not surprised by Peggy’s harshness last episode, nor do I really blame her, but it still made me sad. Joan has an interesting line in the last episode of Season 1 when she’s showing new Junior Copywriter Peggy to her office:

    “Remember, just because you now have a door, don’t forget that once you didn’t. Think of the other girls or they won’t think of you.”

    Peggy’s forgotten that a little, but I hope she remembers.

    Thanks for chatting, Radich.

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