Mad Men, Season 5
Why this episode was a dud.
Dawn and Peggy
If this episode had been my first date with Mad Men, I’m not sure I’d be eager for a second—I found the latest installment to be an all-around dud. I’ll describe my grievances pair by pair:
—Don and his Hallucinated Libido: I thought it was clear from the start that these were dream sequences, and it seemed to me like a very obvious (and not particularly enlightening) way to depict Don wrestling with his infidelity issues. My appreciation of his fever dreams has been enriched by your decoding of them, Patrick, but it still feels like a waste of valuable screen time to me. I’d rather watch Don fight off his baser instincts in waking life.
—Peggy and Dawn: I was glad that we got to spend more time with Dawn this week, and in theory I liked the idea of pairing her off with Peggy, who successfully advanced in an unwelcoming workplace. But their slumber party fell flat, in large part because Dawn still feels more like an idea than a character to me. She offered some exposition about the transportation predicament of the uptown-residing black woman in the summer of ‘66, but other than that, we don’t really know what her experience at SCDP has been like, or whether it’s been similar or different than Peggy’s was back in 1960. (Dawn was on the wrong end of an awkward comment from Harry Crane last week, but you don’t need to be black to attract one of those.) I appreciate that Dawn would naturally be reserved in this situation—in Peggy’s home, unsure whether to treat her as confidante or management—but I was disappointed that the sleepover failed to bring her into three dimensions.
As for the fraught moment with the purse: I get that the point was to show that even open-minded Peggy isn’t free of the reflexive prejudice we’ve already seen Lane exhibit earlier this season. And, as commenter Vincent points out, this was also an opportunity for Peggy to make a show of resisting that racist impulse: “She would have taken her purse to her bedside if her houseguest was any other person. She had a fortune in it, after all. She did not take it because she knew that taking would have been perceived as racist.” But again, the moment was all about Peggy, not Dawn. It’s too early to get overly pessimistic about the role Dawn has to play in this unfolding story, but it would be a shame if, like Hollis the elevator operator, she were limited to provoking responses from the white people she works for.
—Sally and Grandma Pauline: I tried, but I couldn’t bring myself to care all that much about Sally’s weekend with the elder Mrs. Francis. I didn’t really learn anything about Sally that I didn’t already know: She’s strong-willed and curious about the adult world, if not entirely ready for all of its complexity. Yep, got it. As for Grandma Pauline, I was tickled to see that she, too, has a weakness for Bugles—who doesn’t?— but I just don’t have an investment in her relationship with Sally. There are so many other dynamics I’d rather see Mad Men explore. Like Roger and Pete’s. Or:
—Don and Ginsberg: As you noted, Patrick, the series seems to be setting Ginsberg up as SCDP’s next great creative—someone to rival Peggy and even Don himself. But it’s all happening so quickly: We’ve barely met this kid, and we’re already supposed to believe he’s The One? Wasn’t Ginsberg just hired, the week after the 4th of July, to write copy for Mohawk? Now he’s leading a pitch meeting with Baxter only a few weeks later? (The Speck murders took place on July 13th.)
OK, maybe he’s just that good. But the whole Baxter plot felt rushed to me, unconvincing. All of a sudden, with almost no prompting from the client, Ginsberg gets a faraway look in his eye and belts out his dark take on the Cinderella fairy tale. I sensed I was supposed to be impressed, but the whole thing just sounded daft to me. Sure, the pitch fits nicely into the themes of sex and violence that were threaded through this episode. But does that make it a good idea for an ad campaign? Suburban women are walking around their houses with carving knives at the ready—the idea is to sell them shoes by reminding them of how scary the world is, and how vulnerable they are? And we’re supposed to believe that the same guys who just called Ginsberg a genius for coming up with a staid campaign that boiled down to a tagline of “where’d you get those?” now wants to go all gothic? The whole scene felt contrived to establish Ginsberg as an advertising idiot savant. I’d have preferred to spend less time in the haunted mansion with Sally and Pauline, and more time understanding where Ginsberg’s dark vision of Cinderella’s castle came from, and why it worked on the boys from Baxter.
Enough of my kvetching—I’m sure next week’s episode will hold the relish, just the way I like it. Julia, were you as surprised as I was that Joan raised the specter of the rape from Season 2? I went back and rewatched that awful scene (it’s in episode 212, which is currently streaming on Netflix), and I was reminded that, as difficult as it is to watch the actual assault, the scene right after it might be even worse: Joan straightens her hair and skirt, takes Greg’s arm, and they proceed to dinner. She’s already buried that horrible moment away very deeply, and while it was cathartic for me as a viewer to see her finally call Greg out, I was shocked to hear her speak of the rape, even at the moment when her marriage is coming apart. Did it startle you as well?