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William Bradley

William Bradley

Posted: September 20, 2010 11:54 AM

A most unsettling episode for the women of Mad Men. From pre-teen Sally Draper to sixty-something Miss Blankenship. As always, there be spoilers ahead.

On the positive side, the show's anti-hero protagonist, Don Draper, continues to not fall apart. There's no big holiday to depress the hell out of him, no big award for him to celebrate in rock star bacchanal mode, no soulmate who has just died. He's just had roof-rattling sex with the fetching Dr. Faye, whom he now feels comfortable enough to invite to stick around his Greenwich Village man cave after he pads back to the office. And he's doing well at that office, in command again as the Draper we know and, well, know.

That doesn't mean that things are exactly under control in the parts of his life that don't directly involve him.

Incidentally, you can see all my Mad Men pieces, from this year and last year, here in The Mad Men File.


The Betty Draper school of parenting is having some devastating effects.

Don's daughter Sally, chafing at his former home, which he nonetheless still owns, under the icy fist of lovely former wife Betty, turns up at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. She's run away under the guise of going to see her shrink, making it to Don's office only because a good Samaritan on the train has taken her there.

Don finds this to be quite inconvenient.

Then Miss Blankenship, the secretary Joan assigned him as his penance for screwing, literally, things up with the very kind and efficient Alison, has the bad judgment to pass away at her desk.

This is most inconvenient.

All this is interrupting Don's terribly important meeting with the representatives of a casually racist auto parts company.

And it doesn't look like Don's going to be taking on the John Forsythe role in his own version of Bachelor Father -- an early '60s TV show -- any time soon.

Sally Draper, Betty Draper Francis, Miss Blankenship, Peggy Olsen, Dr, Faye, Joan Holloway Harris ... all find themselves on shaky ground, each revolving around the men in their lives.

Sally Draper, who is really the only Mad Men character on whom it's appropriate to project 2010 attitudes since she is the only significant baby boomer character on the show, is having the roughest time. Played by the terrific Kiernan Shipka, she's dealing with a mother who deeply resents her and a father who deeply neglects her. She runs away to be with her dad, who does spend some nice time with her, taking off work to take her to the zoo, but ultimately doesn't have time for her.

Poor Sally is being shunted off to a shrink -- and to television, her true parent at this point -- when what she needs is a grown-up family member who will listen to her, talk with her, and help her learn things. Someone like her late Grandpa Gene.

Sally wants to come live with her dad. While that's probably not impossible, it's certainly not happening now. And so Sally, in the most disturbing sequence of the episode, in which, not unlike a character in a prison picture, she makes a poignantly futile run for it, is handed back to her glove-wearing ice queen of a mother.

It's not that Don isn't good with Sally. He is, when he takes the time. But Don, like Peggy Olsen, is a workaholic. Contemplating the prospect of acting as a single parent, Don does precisely what Peggy did with her child. He abandons her.

Incidentally, here is a thought. Why doesn't Don reconnect with the woman with whom he had his best extramarital affair? That would be the idealistic schoolteacher Suzanne Farrell, who happens to be Sally's adored former teacher. Which is how Don came to meet Suzanne in the first place.

Suzanne was never the Fatal Attraction type some imagined her to be. She taught Sally and the rest of her class about the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King, and, as the first proto-hippie character on the show, would help Don understand the emerging currents of the '60s better than any of the other characters we've met.


The women of Mad Men still aren't connecting with the men, even when they do.

So, Don, here's the plan. Reconnect with Suzanne, with whom you were about to go away when Betty confronted you with your secret box of memories towards the end of last season and with whom you have great sexual chemistry. Know that she won't judge you harshly as Betty did, since she's nearly as warm a woman as the sainted Anna Draper. Then evict Betty and Henry Francis from your house. But not Sally, who wants to live with you and wants nothing to do with her ice queen mom and her Republican politician step-father. Invite Bobby to live there, too. And re-hire kindly and efficient Carla, who we've only seen a couple of times this season.

Problems solved.

But let's not get too far ahead of the events of this episode.

Speaking of not getting ahead of the curve brings us back to icy current reality with Betty. With her life revolving around the current man in her life, she can't be bothered to come into the city to collect her runaway daughter until she has to come into Manhattan to meet with her second husband. And when she does, she's irritated that events are making her late to meet Henry.

The one character who will never be late again is, of course, the late Miss Blankenship. As Roger Sterling, who knew her in her salad days as the "Queen of Perversions," put it: "She died like she lived, surrounded by the people she answered phones for."

Roger Sterling is shaken, afraid he'll die at his desk, too.

But at least he had his name on the building. Well, the old building, at least.

Before she shuffles off this mortal coil, Miss Blankenship gets in a last telling line. To Peggy, waiting outside Don's office as he takes his leisure: "It's a business of sadists and masochists, and you know which one you are."

After firing the sexually obnoxious Joey in the last episode, Peggy is sensing that she is on uncertain ground, that she can be eclipsed by a male copywriter if only SCDP can find one that the male powers-that-be like to hang with.


The essential milieu of Mad Men is not especially admirable.

She also finds herself on uncertain romantic ground, to the extent that the deeply careerist Peggy is interested in romance.

After her lesbian friend Joyce, dropping by the office, puts on a little show with a compliant Peggy to get a rise out of risible art director Stan, she finds that she's been lured to a set-up with Abe, the intriguing lefty writer she encountered and made out with a few episodes back.

Abe, like many Mad Men fans, incorrectly assumes that Peggy is a liberal. Why? Because she is young and smart and trying to get ahead as a woman in a man's world. (Not that Abe really gets all the ramifications of the latter point, as we see.)

That doesn't make Peggy a liberal. That makes her a young and smart woman trying to get ahead in a man's world.

She clearly does not understand the plight of black people in the America of 1965, hilariously seeming to think that there could be black copywriters at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Civil rights is a PR problem for business.

Peggy likes corporations and identifies with them, defending them against Abe's view that they are big bureaucracies out to screw the public by noting that many of SCDP's clients are family businesses. Yes, like that wonderful family that owns the big tobacco company that made SCDP possible, and especially that truly wonderful family man, Lee Garner Jr.

She's even regretful that she didn't get to work on Barry Goldwater's famously reactionary presidential campaign.

Peggy finally does seem to get that there's a problem with this civil rights thing, naturally linking it to her own self-interest, suggesting that there might be a civil rights march for women. Which prompts Abe to scoff at the notion, showing he's not much farther along when it comes to feminism, nascent or otherwise, than Stan the art director.


Is this still the most frequently featured television programming in the Don Draper household? No.

By the end of the episode, Peggy has evolved to the point where she suggests that Harry Belafonte could sing the Fillmore Auto Parts jingle. "Maybe it will help them with their image in the South," she says.

Er, maybe not.

Not surprisingly, Don thinks this is a dumb idea. "Our job is to make men like Fillmore Auto, not Fillmore Auto like Negroes," he says.

How are things left with Peggy and would-be beau Abe? Well, he brought an article he wrote -- hilariously entitled "Nuremberg on Madison Avenue" -- by the SCDP offices for her to read. Since it mentions the racism of Fillmore Auto Parts, she worries that it can get her fired. In any event, she doesn't identify in the least with Abe's anti-corporate agenda.

Which is no surprise. Peggy works around the clock to get ahead at an agency that exists for one purpose: To sell stuff for their clients. Stuff that people frequently don't need. Stuff that not infrequently is bad for people, that even kills them. Like the cigarettes that are the foundation of the agency's business. Not once in the five years we have known her have we seen Peggy express any qualms about this.


Peggy has some regrets about not working for this presidential candidate. Here Barry Goldwater explains his vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Dr. Faye has finally made the move to hook up with Don, and it goes quite well. Right up to the point when Sally enters the picture.

Naturally, now that he's having sex with her, he asks her to look after Sally while he attends to his terribly important business of figuring out how to position the auto parts business. As he puts it: "I'd have my secretary do it, but she's dead."

For the first time, I liked Dr. Faye, who in the past has seemed quite manipulative and rather cold. She gives it the college try with Sally, who wonders aloud with her father whether he will marry Dr. Faye, the answer being no, and whether she is his girlfriend, the answer being complicated.

From that platform of uncertainty, she tries to counsel Sally, and fails. She has no touch with kids. But she tries, so there's hope there, even though Sally angrily tells her she doesn't want her help. By the end of the episode, after Sally's unsuccessful dash for freedom, she's glum, feeling she's failed a test with Don.

Joan is not in very good shape, either, and is on even more uncertain ground.

In what must rank as one of the least surprising developments in the history of Mad Men, her beloved husband Dr. Blockhead is set to deploy immediately after he completes basic training. That's deploy as in ship out to the Vietnam War.

Joan's feeling bereft. Notwithstanding the fact that her husband raped her on the floor of Don's office after meeting her longtime beau Roger, the two have evidently formed a real bond. And he has seemed to let her take the lead in their relationship.

Now he's leaving, she's worried sick about him going to war, and she's left with ... Roger. In yet another of the least surprising developments in the history of Mad Men, the two spar a bit before falling into bed together.

Actually, they don't fall into bed. After being mugged following a dinner together, the shaken pair kiss, then duck behind some stairs and have sex. Later on, they don't regret it, but they're both still married.

They know each other well, with great chemistry and a longstanding bond. And Joan is afraid of being alone, as Miss Blankenship was at the end. But with an accident-prone husband heading to Vietnam, and a much older lover who's had two heart attacks and has long been the poster boy for unhealthy living, it doesn't look like Joan is doing anything to avoid that fate.


You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.