Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mad and Not-So Mad Women

Since every episode of Mad Men is so crammed with plot nuance and character information, and this week's penultimate Season 2 episode "The Mountain King" more than usual, and since I'm crunched for time I just want to touch on the striking (SPOILERS AHEAD) pre-feminism female characters.

Peggy's the easiest this time out -- she's learned her lessons from Don Draper well and has ascended to the office next to his, thanks to her hard work, grasp of creative advertising values, and increasing sense of self-worth. What a change from Season 1.

While Peggy is sitting in her darkened late-afternoon office with drink in hand contemplating her next moves, Joan is suffering from her pre-consciousness choice of fiance, a handsome but horrific doctor who handles his gripping feelings of sexual inadequacy by raping Joan in Don's office, violating everything she's all about in that workspace. Joan deals with it the same way she deals with him rejecting her mounting him (can't handle not having the dominant position, fearful that she wasn't a 31-year-old virgin when they met) the night before, by staring off and focusing on something else. In the bedroom it's the late night movie on TV, and in the office it's the end of Don's coffee table. Out of mind = out of sight.

One hopes that Joan will realize her consciousness long before the 1960's are over, and her respectful showing towards Peggy's ascension (while the guys in the office are furiously jealous) bodes well for their potential future partnership. Maybe Peggy will give back to Joan, as Joan helped her understand Cooper Sterling when she first joined.

Betty is a whole other case, learning consciousness by necessity, endorsing Don's paycheck and trying to raise her kids without him. She softens towards her daughter, doing the classic divorced parents move of buying her off while delivering bad marital news. Betty is a witch to the friend she set up for an affair, but maybe the verbal slap she received for it has awakened her a tad. What to make of her sudden bleeding -- miscarriage? Sudden illness? Breakthrough bleeding? The latter two would, with Don absent, put her in the jackpot situation, either threatening to leave her kids as orphans or forcing her into a backalley abortion. That would be quite the feminist capper on the season.

And then there's Anna Draper, wife/widow of the real Don Draper, seen in the present and flashback as Don/Dick returns to San Pedro for rebooting. Anna is the platonic ideal for Dick, the one with whom he can be himself, sharer of his secret and enabler of his better self. She tells him that the only thinking standing between himself and his happiness is the belief that he is alone. He says "People don't change," but as is the rule with characters talking about themselves, I don't believe it true of him. He just needs a partner (an underlying theme of the episode).

Am I the only viewer who found a certain parallel between Anna and Barack Obama's mother? Both are/were women ahead of their times, living with their own strong sense of morality, making their own bold choices at a time when (per the rest of the episode) women weren't encouraged to do so. I'm sure I'm mythologizing Obama's Kansan mom, but she was a contemporary of the fictional Anna, clearly an intellectual (who doesn't wear it on her sleeve) with an open mind and strong sense of self. Even through the pain.

My prediction for next week is that Don makes it home by the time the season tails out, prompted by the Cuban Missile Crisis, his heart open to Betty in a way it wasn't before (and her to him due to the bleeding), maybe helping to scuttle the Sterling Cooper buy-out in alliance with a relieved Bert, screwing Roger financially thanks to his impending divorce. Somewhere along the way he'll be the guy who popularizes hot-rodding to the masses, maybe going to a race or picking up a wrench before the international crisis sends him home, the conquering hero, the artist reborn.


And then: The long, hellish wait for Season Three to begin.


Schickypie said...

I'm nearly 100% with you on this Netter -- but at the end of the episode, when the song played at the end, (I don't of course, remember what the song was, but something along the lines of "I'm never going back") with his free-to-be-you-and-me friendship with Anna, the hot rod prospects, and finally, his walk into the ocean (and inherent, symbolic absolution therein) he warn't never going back to New York City. But, I hope he does. I want him to start his own agency with Peggy and Joan and murder the last vestige of the 1950's.

Anonymous said...

In Season Three maybe Joan will run for VP.

Mark Netter said...

Whoa! Love the idea of Don & Peggy starting an agency...with hot rod colors on the logo!