Mad Men Mondays: I can explain

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.
Roger Sterling and Annabelle Mathis.
It was kind of nice to see Roger flirting with a woman his own age. I also love that we’re getting some backstory on him. -Ann
I think this turned out to be so interesting, since Roger ultimately “rejects” her advances and normally his weakspot is teh ladies. It is almost cute that he is obviously doing it for some kind of broken-hearted revenge. -Samhita
Ugh. I hated seeing Annabelle’s character portrayed as ultimately “humiliated” because of her failed sexual advances on Roger, even if that portrayal rings true with the social norms of the time (and today’s). I don’t think it was a coincidence that she was also stubborn and “couldn’t move on” in business as well- that she had already “soiled the value of her good name” but was hesitant to look for another- it was just painful for me to watch her character as a casualty of Roger’s newfound strength/willpower. Women don’t have to take such a hard L every time a man decides to take “the high road”- if that’s what Roger was even doing. -Lori
Oh, yeah…and what Lori said. -Samhita
Q: When does Roger say “no” to sex with a drunk woman? A: When he wants to be cruel in an attempt to make himself feel better and win the upper hand. -Jos
I’m with you, Jos. For a moment, I really thought Roger had grown a conscience. So much for that. -Chloe
This whole thing gave me second-hand embarrassment. -Jessica
Don and Suzanne Farrell.
Don’s behavior with Suzanne, was now clearly foreshadowing for the facade of the Don “the Man” to break to him being a human. The tension of her waiting in the car along with Betts confronting him about his past was basically unbearable. What I still don’t understand about her character is that she is supposed to be the super independent bleeding heart liberal, but it almost reproduces this woman who is just blindly supportive of the actions of a man. It is almost what women are taught to fear about feminists…women that want/get all the love of a man, without the expectations or the attachments. -Samhita
Yeah I don’t know what it means for feminism and the show that she ended up getting hurt and sort of cast to the side. Was this meant to be a critique of the “liberated woman” model you mention, Samhita? I also thought it was interesting that of all the things Suzanne didn’t get to say in their brief “breakup” conversation, one thing she did ask Don about was her job. Damn. It just made me realize how perfectly aware she was that her affair with Don threatened virtually every element of the life she had set up for herself, and how much she had to lose, and yet she was still willing to jump into it head first. I just don’t know if the writers were trying to depict this, and her, as brave, romantic, foolish, or all of the above. -Lori
Ugh. Her waiting in the car was horrible. Her walking away with her suitcase into the darkness, looking so tiny was the worst. But Don basically forgetting about her and ending it so easily was a good reminder that no matter how independent or feminist or smart – he simply doesn’t have relationships with women that are based on equal footing ever. -Jessica
We’ve been building towards the big character shifts in this episode all season. We started off with everyone wandering aimlessly – things weren’t turning out how anyone wanted and there was a loss of stability, a shifting of the ground following the Cuban missile crisis, but no one knew where to land yet. In this episode Joan, Don, Roger, and Betty all took important steps in terms of recognizing or responding to their emotional realities, which is a huge change for a show that’s been defined by repression. Makes Suzanne’s character make a lot more sense to me, actually – she’s already taken that step but is surrounded by characters who haven’t so she comes off as strange, out of place. She’s not just an early suburban feminist, a manic pixie dream girl (thanks to commenter Tara K. for pointing out this aspect of the character), or clueless – she’s a complex character like the show’s leads, but we haven’t been given an in to understand her because our leads haven’t, either. At the end of the episode Don calls Suzanne by her given name for I think the first time – in fact I can’t remember anyone referring to her by any name besides Miss Farrell before this moment. Suddenly they’re closer to the same plain. The affair with Suzanne was a growing experience for Don, but even his self improvement work hurts women, in this case Suzanne and Betty. -Jos

Joan and Greg. “You don’t know what it’s like to want something your whole life and plan for it and count on it and not get it, OK?”

If I Had a Vase I’d Smash the Patriarchy
I don’t condone violence, but how satisfying was it to see her smash that vase? This is Joan grappling with how what she’s supposed to want (a surgeon husband, life as a happy homemaker) doesn’t line up with what she actually wants (a career, a challenging partner who respects her and isn’t a fucking rapist). Seeing her give Greg job-interview advice only drove home just how savvy Joan is about navigating the work world — something I’d managed to forget after a few episodes of not seeing her in action. I swear, the next time I need to muster a little courage at work, I am going to tell myself to “Joan up!” -Ann
Joan smashing that vase was uncanny and so out of character that it was refreshing. -Samhita
I couldn’t suppress my shocked but gleeful reaction watching this! It reminded me of Jill Scott smashing the bottle over her cheating husband’s head in Why Did I Get Married. So wrong, yet so satisfying. -Lori
I love how this season is really making Joan a more focal character in the show than ever before. And yes, I hate to also agree the vase-smashing was pretty bad-ass. I literally laughed out loud when she did that. -Vanessa
Greg raped Joan. Rape is an act of violence. And the rape itself was certainly physically violent, with Greg forcing Joan to the ground, pushing her into the Sterling Cooper office carpet. Is violence ever a good thing? No. But I have absolutely no problem with Joan hitting Greg over the head with a vase. I think it was freaking awesome! So great to see her reach that point of total exasperation with Greg’s whining while she’s in this marriage with an emotionally unstable rapist who hasn’t given her anything she wanted and expected from him. Also, check out this interview with Christina Hendricks on the vase scene and some other elements of Joan’s storyline. Hendricks consistently gives great, smart, nuanced interview. -Jos
Joan = the awesomeness. And I’m with what others have said. I don’t condone violence, but vase-smashing a rapist doesn’t strike me as all that problematic. -Jessica
Greg joins the army.
Flash forward to Mad Men season 6: Greg is killed in Vietnam. And then Joan becomes a bad-ass businesswoman. -Ann
Or Roger Sterling’s wife! -Samhita
Aww. Let me have my fantasy, Sami. -Ann
Well, Dr. Rapey is definitely going to die. They can’t possibly continue to make us watch her live with her rapist. -Samhita
I wonder if Joan’s thinking this is her out, with Greg going off to Vietnam. Pretty awful way to get out of an abusive marriage, but it’s not like she has a lot of other options. -Jos
Joan calls Roger.
Near the end of the episode, when Anabelle tells Roger he was “the one” and then we later see Roger making phone calls on Joan’s behalf, I can’t help but wonder if the writers are trying to tell us Joan is “the one” for Roger. In any case, I can’t wait to see what sort of awesome job he rustles up for her. I hope he doesn’t disappoint. -Ann
Yes, I thought the same thing in regards to Roger and “the one.” It also looked like in the previews for next week that Jane will be freaking out about him helping Joan. -Vanessa
Again, I am appreciating this sensitive side of Roger, even though it is complicated by his misogyny. -Samhita
I had the same thought, Ann and Vanessa. It was hard for me to watch Roger reject Annabelle so cruelly to build himself up and there’s no way I can believe Jane is his “soul mate.” But when Joan called Roger’s reaction was similar to seeing Annabelle in Cooper’s office but without the negative feelings connected to that relationship. -Jos
Betty gets advice from her family’s lawyer. “Are you afraid of him? … Is he a good provider? … You have three small children together. At least go home, give it a try.”
This was super depressing. That is all. -Ann
Ditto. -Samhita
I agree- super depressing- but was also a relief to see her physically (head in hands) and vocally acknowledging the desperation and frustration of her situation instead of just being this stone-faced woman who keeps her misery to herself. -Lori
The lawyer was an ass hat, but I loved that Betty didn’t just accept his words without question. I think this is demonstrative of a major shift that clicked into place for Betty and a number of other characters in this episode – no longer willing to accept the status quo they’ve been living in where social mores are considered much more important than acknowledging and dealing with their actual feelings. This was Betty’s Suzanne moment – lawyer guy was explaining how things are, what you do in these situations, what makes sense. But that’s no longer what makes sense to Betty. They’re functioning from very different frameworks. -Jos
You know, this sucked – but it was real and was a stark reminder of how few options women had if they wanted to leave a marriage. Way depressing, but I loved how Betty chose to take action any way and confront Don. The difference in her from last episode to this one was just awesome. -Jessica

Divorce laws in New York State.

New York is currently the only state in the U.S. without no-fault divorce. So the reality Betty’s family lawyer explained isn’t too far off from the situation today. This seemed like a pretty clear example of the show’s writers pointing to a problem that we think about existing in the 60s that hasn’t gone away. Getting out of a terrible marriage is still incredibly difficult for a woman in Betty’s position. -Jos
When her lawyer asked Betty, “Can you prove adultery?” it just about broke my heart, because we’ve watched him commit adultery a hundred bloody times – he spends practically every night at Suzanne’s house! And all this time I’ve been thinking that Betty must know, but that her capacity for denial, or her acceptance that this is simply the way marriage works, kept her from confronting Don (with the end of last season being the rare exception). But surely she could prove it if she had to? -Chloe
Betty confronts Don. Don: “I can explain.” Betty: “I know you can. You’re a very very gifted storyteller.”
Go, Betty, GO. -Samhita
Don repeating that he could explain and Betty acknowledging that’s what he’s best at defined how I understood this whole conversation. I don’t think there’s any denying Don exhibited real emotions – his whole being seemed to collapse when he finally had to acknowledge his secret was out. But Don still used his masterful communication skills to try to make this conversation go as well as possible, and showing so much genuine emotion was no doubt the most savvy choice for him. And again, Betty wasn’t going to take it. Yes, she was very understanding, very appreciative of Don’s emotional reality. But she still put her own needs first, a huge step that can’t be overstated. I felt drawn in by Don’s words, felt an understanding for his pain even after watching him be such a terrible person to his wife for three seasons. I’m so impressed by Betty’s resolve, by her ability to keep her own needs front and center. -Jos
I thought this was such a well-acted scene. And it was incredibly riveting to see Don falling apart like that. Though the morning after, when he was composed again, made me wonder if his brief glimpse of honesty would last. -Jessica
I’ll admit it: there are moments when I think that Jon Hamm was cast for how good he looks in a suit with a ton of Brillo cream in his hair. This was not one of those moments. This was a really powerful piece of acting, from both of them. -Chloe
Don cries about Adam.
This is the first time we’ve seen Don cry, right? He was upset right after Adam killed himself, but not to the point of letting it show with tears. We can probably assume this is the first time Betty’s seen him cry, too. -Ann
That moment was so complex and I hate/love when writers complicate a villain in that way. Don is a product of his time, but as of last week, I kept thinking he is a genius villain in a story of feminist uncovering. I think it shows us the harrowing affect that gender roles have on men as well and how we would all benefit from dropping the facade. But in the back of my head, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a geniuse-ly manipulative move on his part to make Betty put down her gun. -Samhita
From the moment Don fumbled and dropped his cigarette to the point where he broke down, it made me feel like the writers were more exposing this vulnerable side of Don. Not only does his partner know his real identity, but he knows she has the power to rip his world apart with his secret. It was like the box transformed him back into that defenseless boy. I also found it interesting how Betty reacted to him crying, considering what Ann said that this might be the first time she saw him cry – but Jos also makes a good point that I’m also sure Don was using his skills to get Betty’s sympathy (she says, “Am I supposed to feel sorry for you?”) so she wasn’t just going to cradle him in her arms and tell him it was going to be okay. She’s too smart for that. -Vanessa

The Gypsy and the Hobo.

What’s sadder is that not much has changed. -Vanessa

The whole Draper family goes trick or treating.

Betty knowing Don’s whole story could go one of two ways, I think. It could bring them closer together, because she is now one of the only people who knows who he really is. Or it could drive them further apart — because what does Don hate more than people who understand his vulnerabilities? -Ann
Good point, Ann. A part of me feels that the writers are suggesting it will bring them closer together, at least knowing that he ends things with Suzanne (yet perhaps only temporarily). But the betrayal may also drive Betty further away, perhaps to Henry Francis? -Vanessa
Totally agreed, Ann. Watching how the conversation played out, how Don shaped the revelations, was the first time I thought Betty knowing the truth might actually lead to her staying in the marriage. I think there would have to be a major shift in how the relationship works, though. Might some of Don’s interactions with Suzanne form his model for how to interact with Betty in the future? The power dynamic will certainly never be the same. The role of money should not be ignored, but Betty has a real opportunity to shape the future of this relationship on her own terms. -Jos
I’m with Ann and Jos. As the family prepared to go out together, I got the sense that the playing field between Don and Betty has been leveled in a very dramatic way. The way Betty looked at him, the way they interacted when deciding whether or not to bring the baby with them – even just for that brief moment – looked and felt suspiciously like the beginnings of an equal partnership. Betty, despite the fact that she’s been living a lie and probably can’t leave him (thanks, outdated divorce laws), now has the power to make Don’s apparently perfect life fall apart. And she knows it; he revealed to her when he told her about Adam the lengths to which he’s willing to go to preserve the lie he’s built. In many respects, it’s a lie he built for both of them and now that it’s in danger, they’re really in this together. -Chloe
I said to Andrew as we were watching them walk out the door…how apt it was that the kids were in costume – because really they’re all “dressed up” in one way or another. Dick as Don, Betty as a mindless housewife when we know she’s so much smarter, etc. -Jessica

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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