Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hell Hath No Fury Like the Women of Mad Men

We are well into Season Two for Mad Men and this series has maintained its extraordinary quality through every episode. If anything, it has gotten even stronger, as demonstrated by the fabulously layered episode #8, "A Night To Remember". It pits male against female characters at home, at work, and at church. There are also some wonderful scenes showing the inner machinations of the Ad Biz, as Media Buyer Harry Crane struggles to grow his fledgling Television department at Sterling Cooper.

The entire episode is carefully constructed around the anguish of Betty Draper, the blond suburban ice queen who has discovered (yet again) her husband Don's infidelities. In one memorable scene her rage spills over and she methodically beats a living room chair to smithereens, while her astonished kids watch from the den. Betty's betrayal is mirrored by Joan, the voluptuous office manager who has been temporarily assigned as Harry's assistant in the new TV department, when he becomes overwhelmed by his new responsibilities. Joan helps Harry by reading the episode scripts and alerting him about scenes where their client's spots should (or should not) be positioned. Joan thrives with this new task, she happens to be a natural with an intuitive feel for programming, characters and ad placement. It doesn't hurt that all the clients love to be in meetings with her where they can admire her bosom and skin tight outfits. Just when we think Joan is going to be a better ladder climber than Peggy, she is called in and dismissed suddenly, when Harry gets permission to hire a salaried staff member. Of course he replaces Joan with a man. What's worse, he nonchalantly asks Joan to train the incompetent new jerk, in a job that she's created and perfected. Her reaction was so frosty it could have reversed global warming.

The final battle of the sexes, 60's style, was between Peggy, the young copywriter and family priest, Father Gill. She volunteers to use her considerable advertising skills to help the church ladies promote a CYO dance. The old biddies tear her ideas to shreds and pronounce the whole theme of "A Night to Remember" as too provocative. "It will send the wrong idea to our youth". Father Gill, a weak willy who plays folk guitar in his free time, fails to stick up for Peggy. Instead, he pressures her to "confess", all her secrets and sins.

Don's lies, Harry's betrayal, Father Gill's spineless lack of support. These men aren't mad, they are clueless, and it fuels the women's rage like kerosene on a campfire. It's 1963. The dawn of the feminist revolution is right around the corner. It's amazing that men who are so great at understanding how to communicate to the female consumer, are oblivious when it comes to the real women in their midst.

This program is superb on every level. Mad Men will not air this Sunday due to the Emmy Awards. I predict that MM will win truckloads of the gold statue with wings.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

What a sad episode this was, I thought. I felt so badly after the clueless rejection of Joan for a callow member of the boys' club -- I wonder if she will fight for this or give up. Betty Draper was tragic, so on the verge of a real breakdown, such a suburban sadsack. And Peggy should just get away from that church, I think.

A very complex episode, contemplative...really a good one. What a show. Great write-up, Jane.