Julia Turner chats with readers about a thoroughly satisfying episode of Mad Men.
Joan effected an emancipation of sorts on last night's Mad Men
Julia Turner was on Slate’s Facebook page on Monday to chat with readers about this week’s Mad Men. The following transcript of the discussion has been edited for length and clarity. To see the full conversation, click on this link.
Julia Turner: Hello everyone! I'm Julia Turner, Slate's Deputy Editor and one of our official Mad Men correspondents. Crank up your accordions: What did you think of last night's episode? (My take is here.)
Jamie Harding: Loved Joan kicking her jerk husband to the curb, and the scene between Peggy and Roger was brilliant. Great episode.
Jamie Hood: First “great” episode of the season—Mad Men's strength usually seems to be in showing how humor and horror are only millimeters apart. With the Speck-murders tie-in and the recurring thread of sexual violence in the episode, alongside the morbid hilarity of Betty's mother-in-law, it seemed Mad Men was really back on its game. Also, Joan! And Peggy! Sally! The leading ladies were all fantastic.
Julia Turner: I agree, Jamie. Peggy’s witty negotiation with Roger—in which she made it clear that she had all the power, and knew just how to wield it—was great to watch. She seemed completely confident, which made it all the cuter when she counted the bills with girlish delight after Roger left the room. I thought back to that scene, though, later in the episode when Peggy confessed to Dawn that she's not always sure she wants to "act like a man."
Amy Meacham: Yay Joan!
Julia Turner: If I were Matthew Weiner, I would have named this episode "Yay Joan!" Watching her kick Dr. Rape to the curb was incredibly satisfying.
June Thomas: Mad Men (and most other quality TV shows) are mad for symmetry, and I loved the symmetry between Peggy's growing confidence and Greg's new maturity. I've not forgiven Greg for his horrible behavior (to say the least), but is it really so horrible to volunteer for another year in Vietnam? (He's a doctor, after all—he's really going to be helping people who desperately need it.) Going there is a chance to start over—to be a good man.
Kate Andrews: June, I'd say yes, but jeez! What about asking your wife first? Or at least not lying about the means by which the government is sending you back.
Julia Turner: June, you're mad! Greg's volunteering was an utterly selfish maneuver, something that massages his own ego. To do it—without consulting Joan—was inexcusable.
Holly Allen: I don't think it’s so horrible to volunteer, but given his circumstances—brand new baby—you'd think he'd want to stay home. When Greg said, "They need me," I’m sure all Joan could think was, "So do we."
Jesse Lansner: Remember, Greg originally joined the army without consulting Joan. (I assume Joan never told her mother about that, hence mom's comment about Joan having to bear the burden of being a military spouse.) I was starting to admire Greg a bit at the start of the dinner (he was a jerk to the waiter, but it was in defense of his institution, rather than just in defense of his own ego), but when we learned that he volunteered to go back to Vietnam, it reminded us that he will always put himself before his family. I say goodbye and good riddance.
June Thomas: Yes, indeed, he should've asked/told/consulted Joan. That really was unforgivable, but still.
Rachel Larris: I actually thought Joan mentioning "You know what I'm talking about" was something for the audience and not something Joan, or a woman in 1966, would have done. It felt like it was for an audience that was mystified by Greg's date rape and then subsequent ignoring of it for a season. I felt like Weiner actually really misunderstood the psychology of a guy who would date rape his fiancée. He wouldn't have stood for Joan hitting him on the head with a vase later. How MM handled the date rape afterward (as if there wasn't any) always felt like a misstep. This felt like it was trying to correct that, but then it felt out of place.
Julia Turner: I thought the treatment worked. It showed Joan's awakening understanding of her priorities—she misses work more than she expected—and her own strength. She thought she wanted what every girl was supposed to want (marriage to a doctor? what could be better!), so she ignored her ill-treatment for a while. But Greg's continued disregard for her brought her back to that initial humiliation. It's another example of the repressed coming out into the open.
Jamie Hood: I also didn't believe Joan's behavior to be out of line with her character. In fact, it was sort of funny hearing Peggy question whether or not she "acts like a man"—because it's always seemed to me that Joan is the one who knowingly plays into feminine ideals to her advantage (while not really believing in them), whereas Peggy may actually desire some of those possibilities but displaces those desires for her career. In other words, Joan can take charge of a situation without a second thought when she needs to (which isn't to say this is really masculinity, but that it's something like "acting like a man" in the show's understanding of it), whereas Peggy always seems to be thrown off her game a bit when compelled to do something like that (as in her firing of Joey). And I never really felt that Joan put up with Greg's b.s.—she may not have called him on the date-rape originally, but she didn't let anything else slide.
Brett Strand: Can that really be it for Greg? He was our only real connection to Vietnam, which is obviously heating up. As much as I loved seeing Joan break the mold (and now become a single mother with no reason to hide the fact that she is raising Roger's baby), I am concerned that we now have no real reason to care about ’Nam.
Julia Turner: I am sure Vietnam will remain a theme. We have yet to hear much about people being drafted, which could well happen. And there's always Stan's cousin.
Jamie Hood: Greg was a connection in Vietnam, but not a particularly interesting/dramatic one—as everyone kept remarking in the episode, he wasn't in combat and wasn't really seeing or doing anything there he wouldn't be doing in Manhattan. I think we'll be seeing more of him, but that Vietnam will have to heat up closer to home. With Pete, Ken, Stan, and now Ginsburg around, we have plenty of boys to be invested in—and I think in more complex ways than with Greg, who really only had his dreaminess going for him. Which was undercut by his treatment of Joan. (Also, thank god she called him on the rape! That was a scene that was very strangely swept under the rug—or under the couch, a la Sally Draper—by the show prior to now.)
June Thomas: I agree that his connection is too tenuous to be dramatically interesting. But if his disappearance allows us to avoid the equivalent of a Downton Abbey trenches scene, I'll be OK with that. Mad Men has often dealt with the big events of the day by showing them on TV or in the news headlines.
Jamie Hood: Good point! I think MM's sideways-handling of the Big News Stories has always worked to its favor (Marilyn Monroe, Kennedy, Bay of Pigs, etc), and I'm likewise unsure that I really need to see hand-to-hand combat derail the show's usual aesthetic and tone.
Jake Howell: Pete Campbell seems like a good choice for the draft.
Julia Turner: I think Pete may be too old. But how about wunderkind Ginsberg? Someone who knows more about the mechanics of the draft should chime in here!
BJ Fischer: That's what I was thinking, Ginsberg could be drafted.
Daisy Cusick: I don't think Pete would be likely to be drafted. He's married with a child and by now he's in his late 20s. Unmarried, young, and childless were the likely draft picks.
Charlie Harrison: Roger seems like a bit of sad case who's lost his touch as of late—do you think this will last?
Julia Turner: Charlie, I do think Roger's downward spiral will only continue. He's the old guard, lazy, put out, continually waiting for things to get "back to normal," even though there is no normal any more.
Julia Turner: How did you guys feel about Don's nightmare date? Did you think it was really happening?
Kate Andrews: I figured Don was dreaming, but it may have some basis in (recent) reality.
Jamie Harding: I was not totally sure whether it was real or not. It took me back to the end of last season and his sudden proposal to Megan, which at the time I thought had to be some kind of weird dream. But that marriage turned out to be real, so that's why I was uncertain about the nightmare last night. It was just a really dark episode—especially Granny Pauline and her knife and Seconal in that creepy house. Poor Sally doesn't have a single mentally healthy adult in her life.
Brett Strand: I was waiting for Don to wake up, roll over, and find Medgar Evers lying next to him. Alas, no.
Marc Naimark: I have heard some questions about whether Andrea's first visit to Don's apartment was part of the dream or not. For me it clearly wasn't. What do you think? (As to finding him, wasn't everybody in the phone book back then? And she could always use her doorman-charming ways to find out where he lived from someone at SCDP.)
Julia Turner: Marc, that's an interesting theory, that Andrea's first visit to the apartment was real, and the rest just figments of Don's fevered brain. She did say something interesting about the decor on that first visit—that Megan probably thought the design choices were her idea, but that they were all Don's. That line is more telling—of what, I'm not sure—if it's coming from Don's psyche than Andrea's mouth.
Marc Naimark: At the restaurant scene, the soldier saluted Greg, presumably just because of the uniform. But did they know each other? Greg spoke of the soldier being from Fort Hood. How would Greg have known that?
Michael Clementine-Everest Dominguez: The soldier at the restaurant saluted him because he was of a higher rank. And he knew he was from Fort Hood by the division patches on his uniform.
Deborah Gobble: Julia, no one has yet mentioned "everyone under the bed.” What a fascinating trope. And as one who was in Chicago during that period, I can attest to the sick fascination the story held.
Julia Turner: You're right, there was a lot of hiding under beds. I saw it as a metaphor. Usually, we cower from the monster under the bed—but the monster generally has the decency to stay down there, glaring out and spooking us, without doing too much damage. In the '50s and early '60s, that's where the monsters—violence, unrest, rapes like Joan's—lived. Out of sight, and mostly out of mind.
With the focus on the Speck murders in this episode, though, we see an inversion: Malice is loosed and running through the streets, and under the bed is where people find safety alongside the dustbunnies.
Brett Strand: Anyone else find significance to the overhead shots of lying in bed, between Don and Joan? There must be something there, but I haven't yet put my finger on it.
Calla Windsor: And what is to become of Sally Draper?
Kate Andrews: I don't think that the Sally storyline is all bad. Grandma Pauline is the only adult in her life that didn't shy away from telling her some hard truths (albeit from a completely f'ed up viewpoint!).
Julia Turner: Agreed. I am ready for the Sally/Pauline buddy comedy. They should go on a road-trip, Thelma and Louise-style!
Kate Andrews: All I can say is that I couldn't get to sleep very well after reading the Wikipedia entry on the Speck murders!
Julia Turner: Me neither, Kate! I'm afraid that's all we have time for this week. Sweet dreams until next Sunday.