Mad Men, Season 3

Week 8: Coercive Sex, a Sterling Cooper Tradition
Talking television.
Oct. 6 2009 10:18 AM

Mad Men, Season 3

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Week 8: Coercive Sex, a Sterling Cooper Tradition

Mad Men.
Christopher Stanley, January Jones, and Anne Dudek in Mad Men

She was totally asking for it—Francine, I mean. At the end of Sunday night's episode, Betty tells Don that she hates her friends, and given that she's just been chatting with her meddlesome neighbor, it's pretty clear who she's talking about. Francine was at her busybody worst last night, trying desperately to catch a glimpse of Betty and Henry as she drove off from the town meeting, imposing Ernie on Carla, suggesting that the town's water tower reversal would be an excuse for Betty to cozy up to the governor's office again. But I hope that Betty doesn't start giving Francine the cold shoulder at the A&P. The more I watch Mad Men, the more I pine for the action to be set at the offices of Sterling Cooper, not in the colonials of Ossining. Visits from Francine, however, are an exception—she's always causing trouble, in a good way. She's Mad Men's Gladys Kravitz, the nosy neighbor from that other great television series about advertising, Bewitched.

As for the au pair, I've been taking it on the chin from Fraysters for not describing the incident between her and Pete as rape in my initial post. For the record, I thought the scene was ambiguous, for the reasons Patrick enumerated. Was Pete coercive? Absolutely. But I've grown accustomed to witnessing coercive sex in this series. As Patrick noted, a drunken Pete talked his way into Peggy's bedroom in the pilot. The men of Sterling Cooper have also routinely raided the casting couch. The Cartwright double-sided aluminum twins may have been more game than the Lawrences' au pair, but Roger was clearly preying on their desire to get work—as was Pete when he bedded a would-be Maidenform model in Season 2. None of this makes Pete's actions last night any less disgusting, just less shocking to me than it seems to have been for some viewers.

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I fully admit that my moral outrage may have been slow to trigger because I didn't much care about this subplot or about this baby sitter. But I like to think this is less a failure of empathy on my part than a failure of the episode to engage me. We've barely met this woman before Pete's in her bedroom coercing her, and I doubt we're any more likely to see her again than we are Dennis Hobart, another character who felt more like a means to an end than a three-dimensional person. I didn't want to see the poor fräulein date raped, raped raped, or even forced to let Pete buy her an innocent stein of Beck's. But when I heard Pete tell Trudy that Paul Kinsey had invented a contraption for lobbing water balloons across the office, I did wish that we'd have been treated to that story line instead of this one.

And people say New Yorkers aren't friendly,
John

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.

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