Mad Men – A Tale of Four Secretaries

mad men don and meganSunday nights are the best. Last night’s episode of Game of Thrones was one of my all-time favorites and Mad Men delivered another fantastic episode as well. I didn’t love the season premiere, but I adore this show and the past two episodes are great examples of why. Just fantastic writing, interesting character studies and all around great drama.

Joan

This was a Joan heavy episode, which always makes me happy. The Joan plot development last season was very controversial, but I was one viewer who thought it was – though totally heinous – and interesting plot point. I can’t even say that I think less of Joan for what she did. She did what she thought she had to do, and that’s that. It has created a fascinating ripple effect, and the character remains one of my favorites.

I was completely enthralled this week by Joan’s story, and the juxtaposition of people who marvel at her for her achievements, and people who sneer at her for knowing how she got there. Harry, fuming about Joan firing his idiot secretary, made a series of rude and selfish remarks about how Joan had his seat at the partner’s table. Obviously, Harry knows what Joan did to get the company the Jaguar deal. But he obviously doesn’t know how Joan earned that partnership through merit as well, that she was the key person brought in when SCDP was formed. He also doesn’t realize that he isn’t a partner because he didn’t ask for it when the time was right. Harry has done important work in the TV department, and he should have recognized that when the company was formed and demanded partnership. Instead, he whines. I used to love Harry Crane, but the man who was once an insecure doofus has now been revealed to be an insecure, sexist pig.

I did love how Harry stormed into the private meeting, assuming that Joan was ratting him out, when of course more important business was being discussed. He didn’t embarrass Joan nearly as much as he humiliated himself.

Then, we saw Joan at home being visited by an old friend. Joan’s friend was envious of Joan’s position, and even Joan’s mother had to admit how proud she is of her daughter. It was hard to watch Joan try and counter their praise with comments about how she’s still treated like a secretary, because we all knew she was thinking that none of them would ever know what she really had to give up to achieve that partnership. Joan basically does Lane Pryce’s job now, she deserves to be a partner. But that achievement will always be tied to that horrendous, shameful thing.

I’m not sure what to make of Joan and her friend’s visit to East Village, other than it was an interesting reminder of how Joan is getting older and left behind by youth culture. She is still very beautiful and desirable, but she couldn’t have been more out of place at the Electric Circus.

Dawn

I loved Dawn’s storyline this week – her first, really, since last time she was this featured as a character it was more about Peggy. I, and the rest of the Internet, have wondered if Matthew Weiner would ever delve further into the racial tensions going on in the 1960s. I kind of get why he might hesitate. After all, it’s one thing to write a very contained storyline about particular characters at an ad agency on Madison Avenue in the 1960s. But to bring civil rights and an African American perspective into that, well, Matthew Weiner might be a little out of his depth there. I did worry that if he wrote for Dawn, if it would not feel authentic enough coming from a white man. I think he did achieve that same level of authenticity with Dawn and her friend that he has with the other characters we’ve gotten to know over the past six seasons.

Dawn is letting down her friend by being too busy with work to fulfill her various maid-of-honor duties. It’s fascinating to see Dawn try and explain to her friend what life is like for her at an agency, with so many factors at play. Dawn wants to consider the other secretaries her friends, but they’re not. She has sympathy for whatever must have caused Lane Pryce to hang himself in his office, yet these people are all from an entirely different world of privilege. Dawn is trapped between two worlds – one where she has a good job, but understands and is understood by no one, and one where she is comfortable, but her friends don’t understand the pressures of her peculiar job. It’s a very interesting dynamic, and I really hope we get to see more of Dawn’s life outside SCDP. Inside the agency walls, she resolved to be more like Joan after another secretary almost got her fired. I love that she’s taken that approach, even if Joan did give her a look that said “You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.”

Peggy

This week we saw the payoff of Peggy’s accidental betrayal last week. Dawn, Stan and Pete went to pitch to Heinz ketchup. (I loved the hilarity of the secretive “Project K” back at the office.) The work was good – the art and Don’s pitch focused on the power of imagination. While it was good work, it wasn’t what the client wanted – no ketchup bottle.

The tense moment when the two teams met outside the hotel room was fantastic. So much was said without speaking. Don stayed behind to eavesdrop on Peggy, who quoted her mentor in her pitch – “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” The art was good – a giant, sideways ketchup bottle that really would look good as a giant billboard – and Peggy’s pitch was flattering. It gave the client what they wanted and praised the product as “the only ketchup”.

Of course, both teams lost out to a bigger agency. It was worth it for that scene in the bar. Poor Peggy, just lost her only friend.

Megan

Then there’s Megan. I have never really liked or disliked Megan, I’ve just accepted her as a character on the show that isn’t as interesting as all the other characters on the show. But I did like this storyline, and sympathized with her.

First of all, the whole sequence of events when Don and Megan had dinner with her swinger coworkers was hilarious. I love when Jon Hamm gets to be funny. Second of all, seeing Megan at work did a little to flesh out her character, but not much. There just isn’t much to Megan.

But I think Don did the worst thing he’s done yet to her, and I really do pity Megan. Her role on the soap opera is growing, and she got a love scene. Not only did Don make his first ever trip to visit her on set just so he could watch in disgust, but he compared her to a prostitute. Then he went home and slept with Sylvia. Don is full of contradictions, and can at once judge someone else’s behavior and secretly loathe himself for his. Was Don even really that jealous, or was he just telling himself that he should be jealous and that acted accordingly? I’m not sure, but ruining Megan’s excitement about her acting career while all the while betraying their marriage was really low.

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One Response to Mad Men – A Tale of Four Secretaries

  1. Dana says:

    So far, season 6 is not disappointing! A fabulous episode.

    Like you, when Mad Men started I liked Harry Crane, he seemed of all the execs, the only one with a conscience, but I despise him now because he is such a worm. Although truth be told, he is one of the people contributing directly to the firm’s success and if being a good guy was a requirement of partnership, none of them would be partners. He did miss his opportunity at the end of season 3 but I don’t think he was nearly as big a contributor as he is now. He really should be a partner, despite the fact that I want to slap him for being such a bastard. I always think of that scene with Don last season in the car after the concert, where he ate all those burgers. “Eat first” – that’s Harry Crane, that’s the whole of his world view. But honestly, the rest of them are bastards too, Don and Roger are just more charming and likable and have a little more tact. What Don is doing to Megan is no better than what Harry’s done to Joan.

    One thing I love, is that even though this is a partnership and there are meetings and votings, etc., when it comes down to the real power in the agency, it’s still Bert and Roger pulling the strings that matter. I loved their scene with Harry on so many levels.

    I really feel badly for Joan as she is learning the hard way yet again that nothing is what it appears to be from the outside. First her marriage to a surgeon is a total disappointment and now she is a partner in a Madison Avenue ad agency and they still treat her like a secretary, when in fact she is doing the same work Lane did, although one could argue the partners didn’t really respect what he did either. Harry would have never dared slam Pete publicly for his pimping of the situation. At the same time, although Joan was painted very sympathetically in this episode, she can be just as big a bitch. Remember when she humiliated Paul Kinsey’s girlfriend at that party or told Paul in front of the whole office that he had been removed from the trip to California? Perhaps it is not on the same level but public humiliations are right at the top of Joan’s bag of tricks. Still though, of all the characters in the show, I think I am most invested in Joan getting some kind of happy ending.

    Don is on a very bad downward spiral, but I’ve rattled on long enough.

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