Mad Men, Season 4

Week 9: Cape Canaveral on Madison Avenue
Talking television.
Sept. 20 2010 11:03 AM

Mad Men, Season 4

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Week 9: Cape Canaveral on Madison Avenue

Sally Draper. Click image to expand.
Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka) 

The gods of Mad Men smiled kindly on us this week. We asked for Sally to walk the halls of SCDP. We asked for Betty to remain off-screen in Ossining. And we asked for Don to please, please stop writing in that diary. The episode obliged us on all three fronts—although it was a close call, there, when Don briefly opened his journal and picked up his pen.

Julia Turner Julia Turner

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

The show also returned to a theme it started to explore last week: the quiet revolution unfolding as women began to enter the work force in serious numbers. When Abe tells Peggy, "You're political, whether you like it or not," he's righter than he knows. It's not just that Peggy should recommend Harry Belafonte as a tire pitchman (although perhaps she should). It's that she, like Joan, and Faye, and Megan, and perhaps even Sally, are the natural descendents of the original Blankenships: women who were invited into the workplace to "answer phones"—and "be the pot" and call the coroner and hide the corpses and otherwise manage the practicalities, because, as the woman who rescued Sally put it, "men never know what's going on"—and who now find themselves moving on up, not as flightless birds, but as astronauts.

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The question is how far they can go without some larger consciousness of the obstacles that face them, the obstacles they all share. Joan is willing to hold the door for Peggy in the episode's final scene, but just last week she smacked Peggy's ambitions in that same elevator. Miss Blankenship, the original astronaut, objects to Faye's moxie: "She's pushy, that one." And even Faye, the most successful career woman among them, is treated like a baby-sitter by Don: "I would ask my secretary to do it, but she's dead!" How about taking Sally home yourself, Donny?

My mother, who wore white gloves when she started work at the Boston Globe in 1968, wrote me after last week's show to say we spent so much time talking about Harry Crane's furniture and sexuality that we'd missed the whole point: the rampant sexism!

For me, the sexual politics were at the heart of the episode. It was all about the women. Pre-emergent feminism. In the office, they're moving up, but 'boys will be boys,' and it is a truly offensive club. The actionable comments about Joan's appearance. The lewd drawing viewed as a harmless joke. Each would be grounds these days for a sex discrimination suit. They all stirred a very deep and old and experiential anger for me, just like the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. The Globe business editor who would stare at your breasts when he spoke to you. The Yalies promoting the Yalies. The Harvards promoting the Harvards. No Wellesleys to promote the Wellsies. The Animal House comments in editorial meetings. … The scene between Peggy and Joan really was the strongest and it underscored the deep confusion of the times. I do wonder what the characters would say of themselves in the context of the women's movement if they were looking back today on who they were then.

It's a good question. When Peggy begins to test out the idea that women need their own civil rights movement, pointing out fairly persuasively that the only way she could get into some men's clubs is "if I arrived in a cake," Abe scoffs. And although she's sure enough of her beliefs to be angry at him—and enraged by "Nuremburg on Madison Avenue," the supposedly flattering treatise that paints her as a sap and could get her fired—she's also sufficiently intrigued by the idea of a moral plane that extends beyond SCDP to test out her Belafonte idea, and tell Joyce she's not sure whether she's "angry or lovesick." We've had a few hints recently of how narrow Peggy's experience is (she's never been on a plane; doesn't understand the racial politics of the South or of Boston; doesn't read the Voice); I suspect we're about to see her horizons broadened and her consciousness raised.

A few other points to discuss: Michael, I, like you, am leery of the Joan and Roger recoupling. John, want to make a case for it?

After Betty collects Sally (and you're right, Michael, about how weirdly that scene was staged), Faye blows up at Don: "I'm not good with kids. I feel like there was a test and I failed!" She tells him she's chosen not to have children, and Don assures her that that's OK with him. Do you think he means it?

With apologies to my mother, we learned more about Harry Crane's furniture! After the afghan from his couch becomes a shroud for Miss Blankenship, he cries "My mother made that!" Perhaps Harry's snooty wife has banned his family heirlooms from the Crane abode, so they're collecting dust at SCDP?

And, perhaps most important, is Don really a competitive fly fisherman?

This is discourse!

Julia

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