Last night's episode, "The Beautiful Girls," is all about Mad Men's ladies. The men and the business fall into the background, as we focus on women in the work place, dealing with issues other than work. The episode centers around Faye, Sally, Miss Blankenship, Peggy and Joan -- all in different stages of life, dealing with their own roles as women as well as their roles with the men that rely on them.
We see how much better Don's doing with Faye in his life. Since his rehabilitation last week, he's very much improved. He's drinking, but within reason and under control, he's back in shape and finally looks hot again. Faye's bringing him back from the dead, rattling the bed posts and almost breaking a lamp. Last week dropping her at her door was all Don could offer, but things have progressed. As they lay in bed together, it's clear they've established a close, intimate relationship. For a change, it's Faye that's setting boundaries, not Don. He wants her closer but she says it's too hot, "can I offer you a leg?" She's not quite ready to give herself to him completely but she's easing into it, one leg at a time. She won't tell him about her other work and is trying to keep things separate, "Do you know what a Chinese wall is?" It's good for him to be with someone that exerts a level of control over him. He leaves her in his apartment alone, signaling trust, but tells her "I'm taking everything interesting with me," as he zips up his pants (his timing is so on in this episode). It looks like he's finally got things under control. Enter Sally.
During the meeting for the (masculine) Fillmore Auto Parts, there are two major interruptions -- Sally's entrance and Miss Blankenship's exit. Business is pushed aside to deal with what's more important. As the Fillmore exec stutters to get something out, Don screams "WHAT?" but not talking to him, to Megan who comes bearing news.
Sally runs away from home, gets on the train by herself, and is luckily found by a nice old lady who brings her to Don, and accentuates even more the lack of parenting in her life. The woman says, "Men never know what's going on," a theme in this woman-centric episode. Sally just wants to be with her father and away from her evil mother. Betty tells Don it isn't easy is it and leaves Sally with him over night with a bitchy, "Enjoy!"
At first Don doesn't know what to do, yelling at her and confused, and turns to Faye for help. Sally's presence makes Don answer questions about their relationship. When he asks Faye to take her, she says "Are you going to introduce me? What should I say?" This is not what he intended, answering "do we have to discuss this now, you're Faye." And tells her, "I'd have my secretary do it, but she's dead" (HA! Who said Don's never funny...). When he gets home, he has Sally to answer to. Who is she? Are you going to marry Faye? Is she your girlfriend? The poor girl thinks every woman he introduces her to is his girlfriend (she's not that far off), but it's different this time. She's attuned to little clues, the keys, "she knew you had peanut butter." He admits, "I do like her but we just work together and I talk about you a lot." Sally gives some measure of approval, saying "she seems nice," but with a disappointed, "Oh," when he says she'll see her again.
After a fair share of yelling and making her promise never to run away again, Don and Sally actually have a nice time together. Don orders pizza, tucks her in, and takes off the morning to take her to either the zoo or the museum of natural history -- with a cute little wave goodbye from both of them when he drops her in his office. Sally's looking adorable, and she's (mostly) sweet in this episode, trying to convince Don to let her live with him. She tries to act grown up and show him that she could take care of him (what she thinks a woman's role is). She says she would take care of her brothers, and wakes up early to make Don breakfast (Carla taught her). She makes him French toast, mistaking rum for Mrs. Butterworths. She asks Don nervously, "is it bad?" "Not really," Don replies obviously loving the taste in his breakfast. Very grown up and Betty-like (in the put together sense not the angry sense) she walks out, "you finish your breakfast, I'll go get ready."
When she throws a fit that she won't leave, hysterically screaming "I hate it there!" Don's at a loss once again and turns to Faye. Faye doesn't really know how to handle kids, she doesn't have any of her own and speaks to Sally like a five year old. Sally talks back to Faye, telling her to shut up and "we don't want your help!" She runs through the office, and falls on her face, as all the women gather around. There's something special about the composition of this scene, as each of the women, dressed in a different color, line up against the white walls to watch -- you're very aware of their presence. Megan picks Sally up and she hugs her tightly (she seems to like Megan, probably because she's pretty?). Megan says, "It's gonna be alright," the same thing they're all saying to each other, what Roger's saying to Joan, but only the child is honest enough to respond, "No, it's not." As she hugs Megan, Joan, Peggy, Faye and two other secretaries look on intently, concerned for Sally, and for Don he watches his daughter. "I fall all the time," Megan says to make her feel better -- everyone falls and gets back up again. They all feel her pain while they watch her -- the familiar pain of a little girl growing up.
Megan, Faye, Peggy and Joan all follow Don and Sally out to watch him hand her off to Betty. They hover over, almost protectively, until Joan realizes it's inappropriate and tells them to go. After all the protest, Sally obeys Betty without a word, saying goodbye to her father and leaving. Betty and Sally walk through the door at the same time as Joyce, which felt significant. They're walking one way and Joyce is walking the other. Joyce is what Sally will be able to become when she finally breaks free of Betty. She'll be joining her own movement, doing her own thing, like Joyce does, but maybe not exactly like Joyce does.
Faye's sensitive about her inability to deal with Sally because she's insecure about not having kids of her own. When Don asks her for a drink, she says, "I can't do anything for you." She was awkward with Sally, and felt like he put her in an uncomfortable situation. "It feels like there was a test and I failed." She wants to be able to fill a role for Don, to be everything he needs, and she's nervous that she lacks in this area. "I chose to be where I am, I don't view it as a failure." Faye is a career woman who chose not to have kids. Don comforts her and holds her, telling her it doesn't matter. And it doesn't. Don already has three kids, he doesn't want any more, so child-less Faye may actually be perfect for him. He seems like he's good at dealing with her, calming her down. I feel good about their relationship, it definitely has some staying power, but Faye has trouble opening up as well, so it may take a little longer. I'm just hoping he doesn't screw it up too soon.
The other major interruption of the Fillmore meeting -- Miss Blankenship drops dead on her desk, literally -- casting a shadow of death over the episode. Just moments earlier she had been doing the crossword puzzle with Cooper, loudly asking Don if he's off to the bathroom, and giving Peggy some final advice, "it's a business of sadists and masochists and you know which one you are," from the S&M "queen of perversions," commenting on women's role in the office. The scene with Cooper is hilarious and aligns them in her old age. Both Sterling and Cooper feel their mortality in her death. Cooper doesn't even "have an office in which to ruminate," he's become insignificant. Our ever slapstick comic relief, Blankenship goes out in the same fashion, barely moving at all. Dropping dead on her desk is literally the realization of everyone's fear, of dying in this office, with no life outside of it -- and because of that, very funny. The episode is filled with harbingers of death -- Greg is off to war, Joan and Roger get held up at gunpoint -- and Ida just throws in our face, showing the randomness and possibility of death that's constant and ubiquitous. Joan instructs Megan, "go get a man and we'll need a blanket" to cover her up and get her out of there without the clients from Fillmore Auto parts getting a whiff of what's going on. They hilariously wheel her out in her chair, which we and Don watch through the glass as he finishes up his meeting. Just like he wasn't addressing the stutter when he said "What?" he's not talking to, listening or looking at anyone in the meeting -- what's important is what's going on outside the glass, as Pete and Joan are wheeling Ida out of the office, and Harry yells about the blanket, "my mother made that!" (another nod to the ladies).
As the "queen of perversions" might've liked, it's Miss Blankenship's death that really brings Joan and Roger together -- finally! Joan's been having a tough time in general, between Joey's drawing and her husband going away, she's been a little off kilter. After a rude interaction in the morning, Caroline comes in to inform Roger (and us) that Greg's been called in and is shipping off to Vietnam right after basic training. But of course, we knew that was coming. As Don saw last week with Faye, Roger sees this vulnerability as an opportunity to swoop in and get his girl. To loosen her up, he gets her an at-home spa treatment, cleverly punning, "I knew I was rubbing you the wrong way so thought why not have someone rub you the right way." When she thanks him, he offers her dinner, to take her mind off things. She rejects him, annoyed, "Of course, I forgot for a second that you're incapable of doing something nice without expecting something nicer in return," the way their relationship used to function, as we saw with the mink stole. But when Ida dies, it hits Roger hard and Joan can tell how upset he is and follows him into his office. Roger feels him own death looming, "Damnit, I don't want to die in this office, I almost have twice." He tells her, "if it looks like I'm going, open a window, I'd rather flatten the top of the cab," alluding to the image from the opening credits of the man falling from the building. They could all fall out and tumble at any minute. "She died like she lived, surrounded by the people she answered phones for." For most of these characters, their work is their life and they're searching for something more, they don't want to die at their desk before they find it. Roger lures Joan to dinner, telling her he'll kill himself if she doesn't come, and they go back to "their" old place and reminisce. He picked the place because he knew they wouldn't run into anyone (how sweet). Joan mocks Jane, "she's the woman behind the man," what she would've been for him -- what she kind of was for him -- and what Jane so is not. As they talk about how the neighborhood has changed -- what was once their spot is now in a run down bad neighborhood, (they need to save it?) -- they get held up and mugged at gunpoint! In this moment, Roger takes control, very much protecting her and handling the situation. With her wedding ring off, Joan falls right into Roger's arms -- and lips, kissing him first, and not stopping as they have sex under a stairwell on the street. We knew it would happen in a moment of extreme vulnerability, and the mugging pushed her over the edge -- she needed to feel protected and safe, not home alone with a husband at war. It was kind of great. She tells him the next day at the office, ""I'm not sorry, but I'm married and so are you." He says he feels something and he knows she does too. She won't say it outloud, but she gives him a long, meaningful look before leaving the room. With that look, and her husband off at war, it doesn't look like she'll really stay away - -and I hope she doesn't. But could they just pick back up? If they continue, they may just be holding on to what they once had -- but that would be better than where they are now. It'd be nice if they could finally be together, out in the open, once and for all. Maybe if Greg dies, he'll leave Jane? I just don't think Matthew Weiner has something so simple in store.
Now lastly, we have Peggy. Her new counter-culture friends are back. Joyce comes to the office and asks to meet her for drinks in a setup for Abe to find Peggy. "Your boyfriend is here," Stan tells Peggy, and Joyce replies, "Satisfaction guaranteed." Peggy flirts back with Joyce, giggling as Joyce licks her face (again! Last time she bit her) Now single, Peggy's excited to see Abe again and not bothered by the set up until things go awry. Socially conscious Abe is preaching about the horror of big corporations and tells Peggy about the boycotts of her client Fillmore Auto because their southern stores "don't hire negroes." Peggy didn't know about the boycott and is upset about what's going on, but tries to level with Abe, explaining her job in the ad biz--they don't judge, they would have to try to help them out of this. Ahead of her time, Peggy compares the Civil Rights movement to women's rights, saying, "most of the things negroes can't do, I can't do either and no one seems to care." He says there are no black copywriters and she tells him, "I'm sure they could fight their way in like I did, nobody wanted me there." Peggy's more forward-seeing (plus a little self-absorbed) and understands the connection, but Abe who's so in the moment, into the rights of humanity, mocks her and says alright we'll have a civil rights march for women. She gets offended and leaves. He says he's better on paper, then shows up in her office with an article, Nuremberg on Madison--what he was trying to say. She's horrified by his article, and having an opinionated friend just went from annoying to dangerous. He could get SCDP in trouble and she demands he destroy it immediately (do you think he really will?). He's telling her she's part of the corruption, a waste of an artist's gifts. "I'm not a political person. I don't have to defend myself." Peggy realizes that she's not quite like these people. She wants to be socially aware, and is on her own level of women in the work place, but she isn't quite there. She didn't know about the boycotts and while she cares about injustices in theory, she's very much directed and focused on her own struggle. She is caught up in the advertising bubble, rejecting these people who will get in her way.
Joyce, an appropriate addition for the episode about the women explains to Peggy that men are like vegetable soup: "men are this vegeteble soup and you can't put em on a plate or eat em on the counter, so women are the pot. They heat em up, they hold em, contain em, who wants to be a pot? Who the hell said we're not soup?" A hopeful Peggy replies, "I don't think that's true," more optimistic of the possibility of an equal relationship. She plays in a boy's world and she believes she can have it all.
As the episode closes, Joan, Faye and Peggy get into the elevator. Where last Peggy and Joan debated women's roles, we see three women in very different roles. Joan is the traditional women role (though no kids and a husband off to war), Faye is the career woman with no kids and Peggy, standing in the middle, is the young hopeful that wants both, she wants to have it all. Perfect ending.
I loved this episode, it was like a portal back to Season 1 where Don was on top and Roger and Joan were in full swing. Except it's different because for the first time ever, Don's in a happy relationship (and not married to Betty)! And it was great to see him capable of being a father. Sally needs Don, Don needs Faye, Roger needs Joan and Joan needs Roger. Peggy doesn't need anyone, especially not some guy who doesn't support her career.
I'm sad about Ida though. R.I.P.