Mad Men, Season 4

Week 9: Take-Your-Daughter-to-Work Day
Talking television.
Sept. 20 2010 1:35 AM

Mad Men, Season 4

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Week 9: Take-Your-Daughter-to-Work Day

Ida Blankenship. Click image to expand.
Ida Blankenship (Randee Heller)

A moment of silence, please, for Miss Blankenship. She's smiling down upon all of us, laughing at our feeble attempts to do the crossword puzzle.

Roger's remark was the most cutting: "She died like she lived, surrounded by the people she answered phones for." Yet Cooper is genuinely saddened and recognizes that Blankenship was more than an office warhorse: She was born in a barn and died in a skyscraper. This detail suggests that Ida was once just another girl from the farm looking for opportunity in the city. There were some years of high frolic with Roger and Cooper before she became the wizened career secretary we knew and loved. In the office, she accepted her place, which in turn gave her the stark sanity of the condemned. Consider the comment to Peggy outside Don's office: "It's a business of sadists and masochists, and you know which one you are."

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Peggy, the masochist, works through lunch, only to watch Don duck into his office for a nap. Just one of the many ways this episode showed oblivious men expecting women to act subservient and deferential. The most surprising and curious instance of this was Peggy at the bar with Abe. He's fired up about the civil rights struggle, and Peggy replies: "Most of the things Negroes can't do, I can't do, either, and nobody seems to care." Abe finds this ridiculous and suggests, with thick sarcasm, that women should stage their own civil rights march. Of course, we know that civil rights does help lay the foundation for the women's movement, but it's fascinating to consider that a conscious guy like Abe would miss the parallels. I suppose it hasn't been in the Voice yet.

The parting scene with Joyce makes it seem as if Peggy is cutting off her dalliance with the counterculture. (I'll leave it up to the two of you to explain Joyce's chicken-soup-container speech.) I was surprised at how "corporate" Peggy came off as being in this episode but often found myself agreeing with her. Abe rails against corporations in a generic way, while Peggy points out that most of the ones that she, at least, has contact with are family-run entities. He knows them as abstractions, she's seen them as people. But Peggy also doesn't consider the purpose or results of her work. When Abe makes the Goldwater comment, Peggy says, "It would have been wonderful," meaning that it would have been wonderful to work on the Goldwater campaign because that would have meant a workplace coup. Is this an important failing, or is the show merely telling us that Peggy doesn't have the luxury of choosing to do "good" work if she wants to succeed in a boy's world?

Meanwhile, Sally Draper shows up for an unexpected take-your-daughter-to-work day. I liked how Don wasn't really all that mad, springing for pizza and a morning at the zoo, and also how he had to line up womanly help at every turn. What did you think of him asking Faye to talk to Sally? Was Don just desperate and trying to grasp for some of Faye's psychiatric training, or was it really some sort of test of her mothering ability? Don's very good at being a fun "Daddy," but that moment showed that he's not a real authority figure in Sally's life anymore. He doesn't know how to do the hard stuff, to get Sally to do something she doesn't want to do.

Next, there was one of those scenes that divides the Mad Men haters and lovers. Sally stumbles in the hallway and is surrounded by all the perfectly coiffed woman of SCDP. They gather around in sympathy and judgment as Sally declares that things are not all right. Then, they weirdly accompany Don as he goes to meet Betty. The real scene would never unfold this way, but I thought it was moving, conveying the sincere interest older women sometimes take in a younger girl's troubles. Sally is just starting to make tough choices and learning to control or manage her desires, but the secretaries have been at it for years. (We see the range of possible choices in the final sequence, with Peggy, Joan, and Faye riding the elevator down to the lobby.) Finally, Roger, back in the hills again. Is it ever a good sign when a show returns to one of the original relationships?

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Michael Agger is an editor at The New Yorker. Follow him on Twitter.

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