For what it’s worth, the lives of the women on Mad Men tend to be more nuanced and interesting than the men on the show, and that’s especially noticeable when the powers that be do things like dedicate more time in each episode to them. We know Don is messed up in the head, we know Pete is a worm, and we know Roger has a lot of being honest with himself he has to do. Joan and Peggy are the two most interesting characters of the bunch; Joan, who was brassy and assertive in the early seasons, is now a partner, and still can’t get the respect she wants and deserves. Meanwhile Peggy, who worked under Joan when she started in the typing pool, has figured out a way to at least try and put a crack in the glass ceiling in the late 1960s; and in tonight’s episode we see Peggy’s “That’s business” attitude help her new agency steal Heinz away from Don and Co., while Joan has a random fling at the Electric Circus that seems to be more about helping her friend who is trying to get a better job to get some confidence, than it is getting any sort of pleasure while Serge Gainsbourg and Bridget Bardot plays in the background. (Also, Alex Ross has put together a great post about the Electric Circus I highly suggest checking it out.)
But the most interesting Peggy/Joan synergy is their parental figures kvelling over them; Joan, when her mom tells Joan’s friend about how proud she is that her daughter is a partner in a Madison Ave. firm, before Joan goes back to yet another day of being the most stepped on partner at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce; while Peggy gets to steal away Heinz ketchup (not catsup), as the man that taught her how to do it listens on.
This episode highlighted another of the show’s female characters we don’t get to see enough of, Dawn, Don’s African-American secretary. I wasn’t exactly sure where they were going with Dawn’s storyline of her talking with her friend about an upcoming wedding, and barely keeping her job after Joan catches her punching out for other secretaries that leave early, but the amount of time dedicated to her makes me think her role is going to expand as the season goes on.
One of the most amazing things about last night’s episode was the way Harry went from smug douche with his “perfect cup of coffee and a Danish,” to just all out asshole by going over Joan’s head to un-fire his secretary, after Joan rightfully dispatched of her like she was an assassin. “I’m sorry my accomplishments happen in broad daylight and I can’t be given the same rewards,” he screamed at the partners after barging into their meeting, pulling what was either his power play, or his Waterloo.
But of course, this is Don Draper’s show, and we see our antihero still coasting through life, seeming even number than he was in previous seasons. Smoking weed with Stan on the job (Stan looks great in wearing a cowboy jacket, by the way), and talking with his stoner art guy about how a “hot dog cries out for mustard,” to which Stan thinks it cries out for ketchup. As a Chicagoan, I’m Team Don on this. You don’t put ketchup on a hot dog.
Meanwhile, Don’s home life is slowly going to ruins; Megan has a love affair on camera, and is nervous to tell her husband. When she finally gets around to it, Don, who cheats on Megan in real life while she’s worried about telling him about a fictional tryst, plays the jealous asshole husband before going back downstairs to his mistress who leaves a penny under the mat to let her lover know her doctor husband is away. But the best Draper family moment was when television big shots Arlene and Mel offer Don and Megan to “Go back to our pad, smoke some grass, see what happens,” leading Don and Megan to wiggle out of dinner, into a cab, and a whole lot of laughs about what probably would have been the most sex the couple has had since their relaxing trip to Hawaii.
Lives are always falling apart on Mad Men, that’s sort of a theme of this show. We’ve been able to watch the party end for a certain generation of people, and a new age slowly unfolds as they try and just keep it together. What we’re getting this season is a slower, but more concentrated drip. Don seeming even more distant with his mistress than he has in seasons past, Megan taking up smoking on a more constant basis, Roger not wisecracking as much, and Kenneth Cosgrove is no longer the happy go lucky guy he was in the earlier seasons, maybe unhappy he didn’t get to follow his dreams of being a writer. Harry is a douche, but at least he’s sticking up for himself; meanwhile Joan seems to be running out of fight trying to balance work and the baby at home. The only person that seems to be moving ahead is Peggy. Her station, while hitting plenty of bumps in the early seasons, seems to be moving on up, while everybody else continues the slow descent into the Inferno that was alluded to in the first episode of the season.