Mad Men, Season 6

Where Are You on the Existential Hierarchy of Mad Men?
Talking television.
May 7 2013 12:00 PM

Mad Men, Season 6

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Where are you on the existential hierarchy of Mad Men?

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Michael Yarish/AMC

Hanna, Seth,

Hanna: Not only do the impulsive acts of men completely rearrange the social order of the show, while the women stay home or at the office, but: As much as last week was about fathers and sons (and apes), this one takes pains to remind us that it’s Mother’s Day. Just to grind it in a little further. Roger whimpers about his own mother’s death to draw Daisy, the pliant stewardess, back into bed. Pete slides into bed beside Trudy, who rebuffs him. “We’ll maintain every other aspect of this marriage,” he pouts, “except the one that matters.” Oh, Pete. Megan’s mother drinks, complains, and tells her daughter to please her man. Don’s mother, of course, is not just dead but a prostitute, and therefore very low in the existential hierarchy of this show.

For reference, here is that existential hierarchy, in order from “things it is good to be” to “things it is bad to be” on Mad Men:

1. Don
2. Wealthy client
3. Wealthy person
4. Overweight client
5. White male at SCDP
6. White male
7. Catholic male
8. Jewish male
9. Sexually available white female
10. Secretary
11. Fertile wife
12. Professional woman
13. Sexually unavailable white female
14. Black woman
15. Dead person
16. Prostitute
17. Black prostitute
18. Dead prostitute

No. 17 is a sad new addition, revealed when Pete Campbell, who previously has demonstrated if not racial sensitivity a sort of moderate disgust at overt racism, retreated into some sort of atavistic racist freakout over his father-in-law’s sexual preferences. While it was too bad that the nice-looking lady with the pleasant smile was henceforth referred to as “the biggest, blackest prostitute you’ve ever seen,” Pete’s punishment was swift. Pete’s two-level freakout (1. racist; 2. angry at his father-in-law) truly blew up in his face. Or to put it in terms of the above: Trudy, as an 11, didn’t want to know these things about her father, a 2, and the prostitute, a 17, from her husband, a 5. Trudy is very conscious of her elevenhood in this situation, and by the logic of the show even if she’s not racist herself, finding out that her father is paying a human being 15 full levels below his station for sex must be shocking. She’d been working out her relationship with Pete; she has been adored by her father her entire life. With one swift prick he has ruined everything, reminding her of how vulnerable she truly is. Happy Mother’s Day.

I don’t want to speculate about Bob Benson, but he’s made himself unavoidable. He requires speculation. He’s either going to end up giving Pete a handjob or moving in with Trudy, or maybe both. Exactly what kind of gun is he, and when will he go off? Or, more relevantly: Where does he sit in the hierarchy?

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Hanna, I had a different read on Daisy’s portrayal. Sure, she’s pliant and servile, giving Roger anything he wants, but this is a new relationship and she’s a stewardess, a professional caretaker. And she is very sneaky. If she sticks around she might rob someone, or turn into a copywriter. Also, her name is Daisy. Which feels like another, more literary, gun ready to go off. I’m hopeful.

Seth, I’ve been thinking about this Vega campaign. If ever there were a car less like Don than the Vega, I can’t imagine it. It’s small, boxy, and awkward—a little like Peggy in her polyester dress. It personifies the 1970s, the rise of a kind of homely angularity that supplants the curved and sinuous ‘60s. Draper will of course sell the hell out of the thing; that’s his job. But compare the Vega to the Kodak Carousel, or even the Jaguar. This is not a product that Don would ever willingly use. He will need to deceive himself into believing in it.

And yet perhaps we’ll be blessed with shots of Don getting in and out of a forest-green Vega for a test drive.

I loved the ending of this episode. Not for the drama, or the relentless pressure of the plot coming to a head with the news of the merger. But for the letterhead atop the paper that Peggy inserted into her typewriter—such a perfect detail. The design of things, the symbolic communication of values through advertising, is the reason for this tribe of humans to be assembled. If every story is ultimately about family, this is the family of brands. No matter where the show goes, it’s advertising that got us here in the first place. And so when the details of advertising, like the letterhead, are celebrated, I find it particularly wonderful. I could imagine the slight depression in the paper as I ran my fingers across the stock. Props to the people in props.

Those are the things that you remember when you leave a company, years later. Logos are powerful; the best ones are still there when you close your eyes. So after all the fighting, or Pete flopping down the stairs, the elegance of the logo and the sound of the typewriter felt like a welcome reminder: That’s why they’re all there. And Peggy is a mother too, of course.

My office, all of you,

Paul

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