During the third season of Mad Men Feministing writers will offer some of our thoughts on feminist moments, scenes, and themes in the new episodes in order to start a discussion about these topics in our community. *WARNING: Lots of spoilers follow.
Derby Day and “going back in time.”
Change was once again central to this episode, but this time the focus was on class in a way it hasn’t been on Mad Men before. We got to see old money performing class in a way that is quickly becoming antiquated and the complexities of living as an upwardly mobile person uncomfortable in a world one wasn’t born into. All of this while perched precariously at the end of the American dream that defined the 1950s. I think this will quickly become one of my favorite Mad Men episodes, an hour of television so layered I’ll be able to return to it again for new ideas and insights. -Jos
I spent this whole episode jotting stuff down like “Peggy is tough” and “Pete and his wife scare me”, so I’m definitely going to have to watch it again! - Jessica
Joan and Jane’s subtext confrontation.
Did anyone else find Jane’s attempt to one up Joan a little too on the nose? There was just no subtlety to anything she said, like she was trying too hard. And then ending the conversation with an attempt at a classic Joan walk away? No one can do that better than Joan. To me this conversation hinted at Jane’s inability to play the class role she’s been thrown into, something that became incredibly clear later in the episode. -Jos
You know, I think you’re right – that it was meant to display how uncomfortable she is in her new rich wife role. And of course that awkwardness was only exacerbated by her drunkenness towards the end of the show. It made me even more aware of how young she is, as well – she seemed like a little kid to me. Also, Joan rocks. - Jessica
Peggy and her secretary Olive.
This episode was full of character pairings I found absolutely fascinating. Olive represents what Peggy should have become – she dresses in a way reminiscent of season 1 Peggy, has been a secretary all her life, and feels strongly about the divide between secretaries and their bosses… or more accurately the divide between women and men, and she needs to be reminded that she works for Peggy. Olive thinks she needs to protect this young woman, but Peggy really does seem to be on top of things. -Jos
When Peggy says to Olive, “you are scared aren’t you???” she is touching on the fear of Peggy becoming like the men and the level of discomfort and confusion Olive is feeling with a woman in a position of power. -Samhita
I really loved the exchange between Olive and Peggy – highness aside, it really was a sweet moment. And I just can’t get over how much more I love Peggy with each passing episode. From her disdain for the sexism of dudes in her office to her calling them out on only asking her about “brassieres, body odor and make up,” she is just kicking ass lately. And hey, she says it: “I’m in a very good place right now.” Couldn’t agree more. – Jessica
“Fashion was the only law, pleasure was the only pursuit, and the splendor of dress and furniture was the only distinction of the citizens of Antioch.” – The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Mad Men seldom feels this on the nose with its literary references. Then there were very direct lines about money and happiness, a reference to the end of Camelot in the mention of Jackie Kennedy’s pregnancy (which would end in tragedy), and quoting The Hollow Men. I have to assume this was a deliberate choice to telegraph clearly that everyone feels they are in a transitional moment. -Jos
Joan and Greg.
I am really hoping this episode was setting up the fact that Joan is going to divorce her rapist husband. From the argument over place-settings to her conversation with the other wives in the kitchen to Greg making her perform like a dancing bear, the entire dinner-party sequence made it seem like their relationship is not going to last. -Ann
The potential for violence was palpable during their first scene together, with Greg yanking the vacuum cord out of the wall and doubting Joan’s ability to have an original thought (“Who told you that?”). I am glad the writers will not let us see the two of them together, or even hear them talked about as a couple, without the fact that Greg raped Joan at the front of our minds. It felt like Joan has learned to manage Greg’s temper through too much experience. I enjoyed watching him shrink to the pathetic fraction of a person he is throughout the course of the party. I just hope Joan acts on the knowledge that he’s not going to give her access to the status (and probably family) she wants and gets him the hell out of her life. -Jos
Ann, I literally emailed “dancing bear” to myself as I was watching the accordion moment. So ridic. I’m not as optimistic that this is a set-up to her leaving him (though that certainly would be lovely). It feels more to me a kind of reality check from all of the pseudo-dreamy stuff going on with the rich folks in the show. I think that the older woman who came to dinner – can’t remember her name – embodied that as well, especially when she straight up tells her not to have a baby. – Jessica
Sally steals Gene’s five dollars.
I was really intrigued by the dynamic between Carla and Gene in this storyline. There was a constant racial tension, and Gene certainly showed himself to be an ignorant white man. But there seemed to be a connection between the two of them, I think because they are both given less credit than they deserve and are both in vulnerable positions. Gene showed he’s more aware than he is given credit for by figuring out quickly that Sally stole his money and that her guilt was punishment enough. Carla probably knows more about the dynamics of the Draper household than anyone else and knows how to manage them, too. She really could have been in danger here – I doubt anyone would blink about firing a black maid. But she handled the situation perfectly. The two of them seemed to connect during this process, both knowing what was happening and at some point seeming to silently agree on the best course of action. -Jos
“I’m Peggy Olson and I want to smoke some marijuana.”
Best. Line. Ever. – Jessica
“How do you know what I’ll like. You never ask me how I feel about anything except braziers and body odor and makeup.”
Go Peggy! While last season explored the trials and tribulations of trying to get formal recognition for her work (the new job, the new title, the new office, her own secretary), this season we get to see Peggy navigate the boy’s club in more complex ways. While it might be possible to watch last season and declare that women no longer face those barriers in the workplace (i.e. they are not automatically shunted to the secretary pool), Peggy’s workplace storyline this season rings true for women in male-dominated workplaces even today. She obviously recognizes that, when it comes to being successful at work, out-of-office bonding is just as important as your in-office performance. (I think about female Wall Street employees who filed lawsuits about their male colleagues taking clients out to strip clubs, and exclusionary work-related social scenes like the Augusta golf club.) Still, like so many women who succeed in male-dominated work environments, Peggy prides herself on being able to hang with the boys. A woman doing drugs? Very transgressive. She’s also the only one who manages to think up a great ad campaign after an afternoon of smoking pot. It’s great seeing her in “a really good place,” exuding so much confidence and kicking ass at her job. -Ann
I worry when I see some of the parallels between Peggy and Don, and experimenting with pot was an obvious reference to Don doing the same in season 1. But Peggy is “in a very good place right now” and it’s great to watch her starting to claim her own power. She’s putting up less and less with her coworker’s sexist expectations – yes, she went to get the blender, but she protested and that is a big step. She rolled her eyes at Jeffrey’s “sweetheart” before clearly stating what she wanted in one of the most awesome lines ever. Peggy is claiming her own voice, claiming her own space, and coming up with great ad ideas while high. She rocks. -Jos
I have nothing to add but never-ending love for Peggy and the writers who are making her so bad-ass. – Jessica
Roger Sterling performs “My Old Kentucky Home” in blackface.
The first of three performances in an episode about class performance. Making us watch this whole long blackface routine was painful, and I can definitely understand why the writers made that choice. Roger is a throwback to an older generation of money, and this number served both to show that his time is ending (though blackface has by no means gone away) and to underline the racism that supports his wealth. -Jos
Roger is indeed a throwback, and his blatant racism is echoed in this episode by Betty’s father, who suspects Carla has stolen his $5. Both men are relics of another era whose time is ending. I took the exchange between Roger and Don at the end of the episode (where Don tells Roger that people think he’s a fool) to not only be a reference to his very young wife, but also his straightforward racism. -Ann
I suppose the scene in blackface was supposed to make us uncomfortable, but frankly I thought it was overkill and lacked any real context. I hate when racial signifiers are thrown in for shock value and never addressed, especially when they are super fucked up. -Samhita
This gave the impression that Betty is still very much not over Don’s cheating. It’s also clear she is feeling insecure about her looks now that she is pregnant, and is hungry for the flattery. -Ann
I kind of love Betty’s random flirty (and previously sexifying) relationships with men. It’s clear that she needs the flattery to be sure – but she also strikes me as refreshingly honest and, well…almost more herself when she’s talking to a stranger than when she’s talking to Don. – Jessica
“Code pink” at Greg’s hospital.
I had no idea this was a meaning of the term! Made me wonder if the antiwar group was named as a tongue-in-cheek reference. -Ann
Ann, I was wondering the same thing! Hey audience, just in case you hadn’t noticed, Greg doesn’t care about women’s consent. -Jos
Pete and Trudy’s dance routine.
Just when you thought Pete couldn’t possibly look any more like Pee-Wee Herman! Seriously, though. Pete cares so deeply about earning Don’s respect, and this dance sequence will probably not go over well with Don. I don’t think his concept of “successful head of client services” includes jazz hands. -Ann
Performance number two. Again Pete and Trudy are performing a certain class role through their dance – they both know how to do this and do it well. But watching the over-rehearsed routine I got more and more uncomfortable – feels like they’re trying too hard, feels too rigid and put on. -Jos
But they are doing the Charleston!!! -Samhita
Kinsey: “We almost died.” Smitty: “But we didn’t.”
What this episode was all about, in my opinion. Last season our characters went through the Cuban missile crisis. They really thought the world was going to end. It didn’t go out with a bang, and now everyone is navigating how to be in a post-armageddon world. -Jos
Joan plays the accordion and sings “C’est Magnifique.”
Can we pause for a sec and note how awesome it is that Joan plays the accordion? Wowza. -Ann
The third performance of the night, and a very different one from the previous two. The situation is incredibly uncomfortable – Joan has just realized that she brings Greg’s status up, not the other way around, and that he is desperate and pathetic. When the conversation really takes a sour turn Greg panics and practically begs Joan to distract everyone. Though it should be a really embarrassing situation, Joan pulls it off beautifully. -Jos
Again, the first thing I thought of was a dancing bear in this scene. She’s wonderful, no doubt, but her ability to perform – whether through setting the table correctly or entertaining the guests – makes me really sad for all women, because it was (and is) so necessary. – Jessica