Mad Men, Season 3

Week 4: Joan's Dazzling Ad Copy
Talking television.
Sept. 7 2009 10:17 AM

Mad Men, Season 3

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Week 4: Joan's Dazzling Ad Copy

Poor Sally Draper! She loses her beloved Grandpa; her frigid mom won't even give her a hug; her cries of mourning are cruelly dismissed; and on top of all that, John doesn't like her acting?

I actually think Kiernan Shipka has been fantastic as Sally. I love her lisp and her expressive eyes. She was particularly strong this episode in the scene where Sally and Grandpa Gene bond over ice cream; with well-modulated wriggles and smiles, Shipka shows how a watchful, wary girl can feel warm, safe, and bright when blessed with a little attention. True, her final outburst about Grandpa Gene was a bit strained, but what bugged me most about that scene was not the speech but the news segment she caught afterward. The footage of Thich Quang Duc writhing in flames felt heavy-handed to me: The Vietnam War has now entered the living room! The episode had already made plain that Sally will be in therapy for years discussing her repressed parents and their disregard for her feelings; did it also need to sound the deep gongs of history and remind us that it's Sally's peers who will be protesting at Kent State? The beautiful shot of her lying on the floor of the darkened living room as the grownups clustered around the bright kitchen table beyond captured that generational alienation eloquently enough.

Julia Turner Julia Turner

Julia Turner is the editor in chief of Slate and a regular on Slate's Culture Gabfest podcast

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My favorite moments this week deepened our understanding of the women at the show's core: Betty, Peggy, and Joan. Betty's scene at the kitchen table with her father was particularly revealing. Why is she such a terrible mother? Because she thinks she's still a child. When Gene explains how he'd like his affairs handled in the event of his death—a well-timed chat, as it turns out—Betty squirms and says, "I don't understand why you like talking about this when you can see so clearly that it upsets me. It's selfish and morbid. I'm your little girl." At this point the camera pulls out, revealing Betty's ginormous turquoise muumuu, underscoring that this grown woman, wife, and mother is anything but little. Betty is fast becoming one of Mad Men's most interesting commentaries on feminism. She's a woman who increasingly seems to relish the limited role society prescribes for her. She's not just content to be cosseted and without responsibility; she insists on it.

Meanwhile, Joan and Peggy are ensconced at the office, capably handling their various responsibilities. Did you catch the smug smile Peggy gives Don when the Patio ad fails? My name is Peggy Olson, and I told you so. And then, of course, there's Joan, who helps Peggy improve her "unfortunate" roommate-wanted notice. (The episode's best insult? Joan's "It reads like stage directions from an Ibsen play.") Joan helps Peggy, the supposedly brilliant copywriter, improve her insipid copy, tossing off a few great lines—"responsible sometimes"; "no dull moments or dull men tolerated"—as Peggy scrambles to take notes. I particularly loved her Don Draper-worthy reframing of the pitch: "This is about two young girls in Manhattan. This is about an adventure. Am I wrong?" Once again, we have proof that Joan's got a head for business but was born just a few years too soon; she's a hair too old to dream of a Peggy-esque career. Instead, she's left once again to clean up after the boys in the office, spraying insecticide on the ants escaping from the ant farm—and holding her nose.

As for Sal's scene: I didn't love it, either, but let me try to muster a defense. Sal has many interests—Broadway shows, home decor, sketching his neighbor's torso—that might read as "gay" to the modern Will & Grace fan, but that might not have seemed to amount to anything back when there was less awareness of homosexuality. So why not have it be the experience of seeing her husband impersonate a woman that triggers alarm bells for poor Kitty? (Plus, "I do need tending" is such a sweet way to say "Please have sex with me.")

Patrick, I'll leave it to you to dissect Peggy's fight with her batty mom and weigh in on her new roommate, who seems a shade too dizzy to make a good pal for Pegs.

Julia