09/01/2010 12:28 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Mad Men Season 4, Episode 6 -- Dissolving Identity and the Female Gaze

Leave it to Mad Men to schedule an awards show during the Emmys. Coincidence? Definitely not.

Identity continues to weave its way through the season. Don, the ultimate charlatan, is imploding under his identity crisis. He's so drunk throughout most of the episode that he becomes unconscious of his actions. After the awards ceremony, he returns to the office for a slobbering pitch to the Life Cereal clients. He improvises alternative slogans and finally blurts, "Life -- the cure for the common breakfast." Oh no he didn't! This is stolen from Danny Siegel's uninspired and unimaginative portfolio, of which Roger remarks "plagiarism -- that's resourceful."

Not only does Don plagiarize someone else's work for Life cereal, the entire series is based on his plagiarizing someone else's life. When the last of his weekend flings wakes up and calls him "Dick," we see that Dick Whitman is encroaching upon his fabricated persona and sneaking into the bedroom. Consciously, he's Don Draper but unconsciously, he's still Dick Whitman.

Don could have incinerated the box of incriminating photographs but alas, he's always clung to his former self, literally locking it away and revisiting as needed. The chthonic Dick Whitman still lurks in the shadows, threatening to resurface when others discover the secret box of relics. But huge consequences haven't resulted from other people discovering his true identity... it's Don that's becoming the accomplice to his own demise.

After his bacchanal weekend, Don awakens to discover that he forgot to pick up his children. Oops. (How will little Sally react to this negligence?)

We also learn the start of Roger and Don's working relationship. In a flashback, Roger, the embodiment of professional luck, shops for a fur coat in Don's shop. "Just call me Don," he says upon first meeting. Roger then inquires about an ad on the wall and Don boasts that he made it. Roger then gives his card to Don, for the fur coat's delivery, of course. And the coat is not for Roger's wife but for a new affair with Joan.

Roger continues to revert back to being a child, a motif that's been sprinkled throughout the first three seasons, now seen when he dictates his memoires to his secretary. As he flushes out the chapter on his childhood, he reflects "that part of the book is getting bigger and bigger." Reacting to Don's Clio award, he pouts about not getting a big shiny trophy of his own. He thinks he's entitled to an award for "hiring guys like [Don]," but it seems he didn't even do that. Later on, Lane is much more blunt when he tells Pete "Roger is a child."

A friend of mine pointed out a strange triangle is forming amongst Don, Roger and Joan. The flashbacks not only illustrate Don and Roger's professional partnership, but also Joan and Roger's budding sexual tryst. As Don is convincing Roger to purchase the lady's mink coat, he wraps it around Roger's shoulders, prompting Roger to regard his drag-draped reflection in the full-length mirror. When Roger gives the gift to Joan, he wraps it around her and the two of them look in the mirror. Also, during the Clio awards, Joan sits between Roger and Don. She holds Roger's hand and then Don grabs hers and upon winning his award, celebrates with a kiss right on her lips. I'm not convinced it's foreshadowing a Joan-Don affair as that just doesn't seem plausible... but rather Don adopting a new personality -- Roger Sterling.

While Roger and Don both sink from their former selves, Pete and Peggy continue to establish themselves as SCDP's business and creative anchors. Pete continues to hold the company together, performing damage control as Don slurs through the Life pitch.

Peggy, the epitome of apollonian focus and creativity, becomes the heroine in this episode. Always one to work overtime, she's both inspiration and perspiration. That Glo Coat campaign that won him recognition and awards? Peggy thought of it! As they discuss the impending awards ceremony, Peggy hints at her creative contribution and Don absent mindedly says "you finish something, you find out everyone loves it right around the time that it feels like someone else did it." It's practically a confession. And in the ultimate day job bitchslap, she's not even invited to the Clio awards ceremony.

Don continues to see Peggy as an extension of himself. And what does he do with his creative side so he can party like a rock star? He sentences her to a hotel room, with the sexist art director, Stan Rizzo, to brainstorm concepts for the Vick's account. "Don't come out until you have something."

While Peggy ponders taglines, Stan directs his attention to his Playboy magazine while belittling Peggy's body. "I know you're ashamed of your body -- or you should be, at least," he chides. Stan is the polar opposite of his gay predecessor at Sterling Coo - Sal. Undeterred, Peggy spits "You gonna work or stare at pictures of women who can't stare back?"

Which brings us to my favorite scene... Peggy, never intimidated or demoralized, brings herself to his level and strips off her clothes, challenging him to do the same. Completely naked, she stares right at Stan, refusing to become the passive ladies in his magazines. Peggy notices his, ahem, aroused reaction. Despite saying "don't flatter yourself, it's involuntary," he's clearly lost control over himself. She's the empowered woman that frightens, not repels, him and she flat out calls him "chickensh*t." The roles reverse as Peggy mocks his body "this pencil's a little dull. Maybe I should dip THAT thing in some ink."

Where have we seen this fear of the female gaze? Ancient Greece, of course! Let's push this into mythology, namely the Gorgon. Beyond the usual notion of hideous monster, the psychosexual interpretation of this mythological beast is men's fear of being devoured by female sexuality. Only men, never women, turn to stone when they stare into Medusa's eyes. Stan's staring contest with Peggy incapacitates his conscious desires to the point that it hardens him. By locking eyes with a nude female, he was stripped of his self-control. Instead of whining about being objectified and powerless, Peggy manipulates his gaze and achieves domination. To further push the devouring fear and sexuality, the scene concludes with Peggy stating that she's hungry.

Now, Stan's behavior is completely unacceptable, especially in the workplace... but this scene is provocative and brilliant!

With her new triumph, she marches to Don's apartment to confront him about pilfering Danny's tagline. Don doesn't remember selling the idiotic idiom or even sending her to a hotel room. Illuminating the truth, she stands before the lamplight and tells him that he'll have to fix it. And by fixing it, Don offers Danny a job.

The episode concludes with a flashback of Don arriving for his first day of work at Sterling Cooper. Roger doesn't remember hiring him, and come to think of it, neither do I. I could be wrong but it seems that Don exploited Roger's drunken state to implant a false job offer. Roger neither had to work to get his foot in the door or even hire Don! They step into the elevator together, the manipulator and manipulated, going up to the Sterling Coo offices and the only place left to go is down.