Well, I am mostly unenthusiastic about this lastest episode of Mad Men. Given the material, this should have been a mind-blowing installment: it appears that the writers attempted to thematize the issue of violence against women. We had it in almost every plotline: the horrible Chicago rapes and murders in the news; Don’s fevered “Fatal Attraction”-style dream; Sally’s fears and Grandma’s fond reminiscences of child abuse; Ginsberg’s Cinderella pitch for the shoe company; and Joan and husband’s (I forgot his name—he is that memorable) relationship . And yet it all mostly fell flat to me: the only storyline that really moved me was Grandma Pauline’s warrior-woman turn, her authoritarian ways being exactly the thing Sally needed to know that she was truly protected, sleeping under the couch that held her Grandmother and her butcher knife. But here are the things that went wrong, in my opinion:
1. 123 Exposition Street: Peggy and Dawn “bond.” Ok, we finally have a black character working at SCDP. We finally have the chance to follow her after work. And where does she go? Peggy’s, where she can tell us about what her life is like in her apartment in Harlem, how worried her family is for her that she needs to make her way through the riots, how she can’t get a cab to take her home. Um, Mad Men: you’re a tv show! Why couldn’t we have seen any of this? We’ve gone home to the outer boroughs with Ginsberg and with Peggy in earlier seasons, to the suburbs with Don, Roger and Pete, and to various Manhattan locations with Lane, Peggy and others. The fact we don’t get to actually see Dawn’s neighborhood and family is feeling just a little bit…y’know…racist.
Now let’s add to that the fact that we get Peggy talking about how she feels like she might act too much like a man, and how she struggles with that. Again, MM, isn’t this stuff you used to let us figure out for ourselves? This whole scene between Peggy and Dawn would have felt so much more real if they had continued to bond over mundane things, or dished more dirt about the office, and if we had been allowed to see even a fraction of Dawn’s life not refracted through the eyes of a white person.
2. Every night, I dream about…choking women to death. Readers: what do you make of these scenes? I have very mixed feelings. For the most part, I feel that they were attempting to “bring home,” in a sense, the story of the Chicago killings. Grandma Pauline described the killer as a “handsome man [who] knocks on your door.” I think we’re supposed to see Don as this “handsome man,” who wants “what they all want,” but when he starts to feel cornered and ashamed, takes out his anger on the woman who “provoked” him to these misdeeds. I think this is a good thing—in theory. As carried out, though, I don’t think it worked. First of all, the fact that it was a dream undercut the message—we get left with a feeling of relief: ”oh, Don wouldnever do this in real life.” Then (pardon me while I pause to vomit), we get Megan emerging from the white light of heaven itself, a guardian angel to rescue Don from his demons. Is this some kind of depiction of Don’s “madonna / whore” complex? Was it actually trying to indicate that Megan is oh-so-good for him? Are we supposed to be thinking that Don has this real, horrific capacity for violence lurking just beneath the surface which puts Megan at risk? Do we imagine that only her goodness keeps it at bay? (Repeat mantra after me: Please don’t let Don be redeemed by the love of a good woman. Please don’t let Don be redeemed by the love of a good woman. Please don’t…).
Overall, I think the scene would have been much more effective had they allowed Don to be violent in ‘real life’. No, I don’t want him to kill someone. But had they shown some woman—or—gasp!—even Megan being a bit too pushy with him, and him pushing her to the ground, that might have shown a capacity for violence and left us disturbed, rather than relieved. But perhaps that may have been too much of a retread of the other major storyline in this episode…
3. Joanie dumps Chachi. As cathartic as this story was, none of it rang true to me. What finally raised Joan’s consciousness to the point that she realizes how wrong it is that her husband raped her? Why is she completely not conflicted about his decision to return to war, given the fact that many people at the time would have viewed his decision as ‘heroic’? Joan’s character has always been fascinating to me because she has always displayed some of the most ‘retro’ ideologies on the show: laughing off sexual harassment, wanting to quit her job and be a wife and mother, wanting to be appealing to men and embracing her role as a sex object. I would have liked for her to be at least conflicted over her decision to get rid of her husband because he was going back to war. Everything she said could have been uttered by a woman today, which is why it seemed like the writers didn’t do enough place her voice squarely in her time rather than ours.
At the same time, the parting shot of Joan, her baby, and her mother lying together on the bed was a heartbreaking tableau, a testament to the fortitude of generations of women who have had to tirelessly hold down the homefront when men have been absent.
Originally posted here