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.
I feel so conflicted. Season three of Mad Men has been a genre roller coaster ride (we’ve even had a musical episode and a screwball comedy, not to mention the many horror subgenre references including depiction of Betty giving birth and Don’s sorta abduction this week). Even though “Seven Twenty Three” started with flash forwards it still felt to me like a classic episode, a reminder of why I fell for this show in the first place. So much happened and the show engaged with so many fascinating topics, but can I really love an episode with no Joan? And I didn’t see her in the preview for next week either. -Jos
No Joan freaks me out. It’s like peanut butter with no jelly. Or something. Though I can’t imagine the show would do without her for too long. (Also, random weird Joan fact that I certainly did not find out while reading InStyle Weddings – Christina Hendricks is marrying the Super Troopers Snozzberries kid. Seriously. -Jessica
Don’s one on one interactions with other men: Roger Sterling, Conrad Hilton, Pete Campbell, Carlton, Bert Cooper.
A strong reminder that Matthew Weiner wrote for The Sopranos, a show focused on fragile masculinity. This week gave us a number of comparisons of performance of power between Don and other men. Don and Roger used to be like a buddy comedy, but I think Don also saw Roger as a father figure. In an episode so filled with daddy issues it felt positively Freudian, Don had to kill his father – metaphorically, of course. I was reminded that both Roger Sterling and Archie Whitman went about affairs in very public ways that Don disapproves of (a major source of his own self-loathing – he hates his birth so much he’s been running from it for years). Don finished the slow work begun at the end of last season of pushing Roger Sterling out, at least in relationship to creative. Don’s interactions with Connie Holton and Mr. Cooper both contained telegraphed visual cues that they are more powerful than him – both men took Don’s chair. Connie feels a connection with Don, but he presents a hypocritical “family values” image that will probably become an issue. Remember, this man who told Don his office needs a Bible and family pictures was a notorious womanizer who cut his heirs out of his estate. Cooper finally played the card he’s had since season one: “After all, when it comes down to it, who’s really signing this contract anyway?” Cooper’s pretty eccentric, but he showed us in this scene why he is so successful. Meanwhile Pete and Carlton provided the contrast, men to whom Don can easily feel superior. I mean, Carlton stares at the sun (yes, I get looking at the eclipse was symbolically rich, including representing characters approaches to change. But it was also a source of much funny). -Jos
Betty gets involved in local politics in her living room.
I’m glad to see Betty doing something else than sulking and riding horses (though her shooting was pretty cool that one episode) but I kind of hate that her fellow Junior Leaguers were pretty blatant about wanting Betty to use her looks to get shit done. -Jessica
Betty’s fellow members of the Junior League, upon discussing the consequences of a water tank and endeavoring to talk to the governor’s office, say “Real estate- that’s scary.” Uh oh, ladies– property ownership. Run away. -Ariel
Also, Betty says to Don “all you do at work all day is evaluate objects. I would like the benefit of your eye,” in reference to interior decorating choices it felt like the writers’ comment on the constant objectification of women in the workplace. -Ariel
Betty and Henry Francis.
I like the moment of Betty checking Don’s locked desk drawer after speaking with Henry, a reminder to herself how much Don hides. It’s fascinating to see Betty as the educated, independent woman flirting with a man whose moves are very similar to Don’s (that is, when Don is hitting on a woman who’s not his wife). -Jos
Agreed, Jos. I’m still trying to figure out what that whole “fainting couch” business was about though. -Jessica
I thought the fainting couch was about Betty feeling trapped like Victorian women whose breathing was constricted by their corsets. -Jos
If Betty Draper stopped falling asleep in beautiful dresses, maybe she wouldn’t need a fainting couch. - Ariel
Duck and Peggy.
On the surface Peggy and Duck sleeping together falls into a classic trope of sleeping with a father figure. Duck even says, “You are Don’s girl, aren’t you.” Some commenters online have already taken the surface as the deeper meaning, reading this sequence as Duck seducing Peggy, who is looking for a Don replacement. This reading, I think, is very wrong and misses everything happening just below the spoken words, where Mad Men really takes place. Peggy intentionally shows up to the hotel room late, knowing Duck will be there alone. The writers already made it clear (as if we needed a reminder of her sharp eye for lousy copy) that Peggy doesn’t fall for Duck’s corny lines (“I wonder who wrote that for him”). I don’t for a second think Duck seduced poor clueless Peggy (seriously, how could anyone believe this about her character?). -Jos
I completely agree. Peggy likes to get her rocks off, and Duck provided an opportunity. So she took it. I’m definitely curious to see how this relationship will play out. – Vanessa
Peggy to Pete: “Stop barging in here and infecting me with your anxiety.” Regarding the Hermes scarf: “I hope yours is a different color.”
I think it’s interesting that Peggy’s digs at Pete are specifically gendered. Being anxious is often considered a female trait, as we saw in Betty’s season one storyline. The Hermes joke needs no unpacking. -Jos
I love the way that Peggy speaks to Pete. It seems that ever since she told him about having his child and that she “could have had him” if she really wanted him, the power dynamic has been quite different. -Jessica
Betty: “I was an anthropology major, imagine that.”
I liked this line because it IS so hard to imagine Betty as anything else than her current wife/mother role. Even the quick glimpse we got into her life as a model didn’t really get into the depths of her character – but this was a reminder that before Don she had interests that went beyond what her life is now. -Jessica
Miss Farrell calls Don out.
Okay, I thought it was cool that she called Don out – but she did drunk dial him so it’s not like she wasn’t doing a little flirting herself. -Jessica
I think every television show needs a scene where children are walking around with boxes on their heads. -Ariel
Betty puts a fainting couch on the hearth, “the soul of the home.”
Wow. Betty claims her space and then some. Guess she’s moved on from the laundry machines. -Jos
But claims her space for what?! Resting? The shot of her initially on the couch seemed sexual, but then reminded me of her seeing a therapist…I’m still working this one out in my head. -Jessica
Roger Sterling: “Ben Michaelson can rape us later.”
This made me cringe, but it also served as a reminder of how folks use “rape” as a saying now, as well. (Shows how out of touch I am – my students at Rutgers tell me that people will often say things like “That test raped me.” Ew.) -Jessica
Don and Peggy. “Every time I turn around you’ve got a hand in my pocket. What do I have to do for you, Peggy, tell me? You were my secretary and now you have an office and a job that a lot of full grown men would kill for.”
Don’s disdain for Roger clouded everything he did this episode, especially this scene where he took a lot of that frustration out on Peggy. She is an easier target, after all. Not that hard for Don to say he’s already given her more than a woman deserves and she should be grateful for what she has. Jerk. And then Roger goes and does basically the same thing as Peggy, calling Betty under false pretenses, this time to tell on Don. -Jos
Dear Don, thank you for preventing all future generations of women in the workplace from valuing themselves, being assertive, and asking for raises. -Ariel
I’m pretty much over Don. He was always a misogynist, obviously, but this just irritated the hell out of me. -Jessica
Don and Betty on his history of disappearances, secrets, and infidelity. “Let me explain something to you about business since as usual you’re turning this into something about yourself. No contract means I have all the power. They want me but they can’t have me.” “You’re right, why would I think that has anything to do with me? It’s three years Don. What’s the matter, you don’t know where you’re going to be in three years?”
Is Don really so clueless about how he treats Betty that he can basically say, “I have all the power. [You] want me but [you] can’t have me” and not understand his own words? Way to call him out, Betty! Then the baby cries and Betty is reminded how trapped she feels in that house, again. -Jos
I think he is that clueless because he’s too wrapped up in his own narcissistic, self-hating bullshit. (Not to mention the fact that he doesn’t seem to respect Betty as a person, but sees her as a child.) But I was thrilled to see her call him out on that – she exerted a lot of power and independence in this episode, we’ll see how that pans out over the course of the season. - Vanessa
I love that he accuses her of being self-centered, and then whines about needing power. I think the recurring “Betty pauses, sighs, and looks forlorn while you hear a baby cry” will be a recurring scene. - Ariel
Don and the hitchhiking draft dodgers.
The use of horror genre devices this season has been building a sense of nervous anticipation. Characters are trying to find direction, trying to carry out their end games or make new plans after surviving an apocalypse (fear of a nuclear attack was a defining feature of season two). References to Vietnam, a conflict without a clear endgame that is looked on as one of the U.S.’s greatest failures, are starting to color all the storylines. The suspense is building as we barrel toward the Kennedy assassination, which has me wondering how the show will actually handle the event. I doubt Mad Men will treat it as a simplistic ending and beginning, but all the foreshadowing (see Amanda Marcotte’s take on the tractor fiasco) has me really curious about what the overall shape of season three will be looking back. -Jos
I like the trend of the show’s 2nd interaction with drugs. It was empowering for Peggy a few episodes back, but it made Don vulnerable. Also, when Don entered his office the next morning and said “Fender bender,” I thought he said “Gender bender.” -Ariel