Author’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series, analyzing the female characters on Mad Men throughout season 6.
After last week’s episode revealed Don to be back to his old ways, this time carrying on an affair with Sylvia, half of a couple in the building who Megan and Don have befriended, this week’s episode was all about the parallels (and not so parallels) between Don and Pete’s handling of their affairs.
Pete and Trudy host an evening for two couples in the neighborhood. Pete tells one of the girls he can get tickets to Hair, if she’s interested. She says she is and a few days later, Pete is bringing her to his apartment in the city.
The next evening, when Pete is at home with Trudy, there’s screaming and crying at their door. The same girl has been beaten by her husband, who yells, “She’s your problem now, Campbell.” Trudy cares for the girl and arranges for her to stay in a hotel nearby.
The next morning, Trudy confronts Pete about his infidelity. She says she thought if she agreed to letting him have an apartment in the city, he would at least be discreet, but instead he had to choose someone from their block. In other words, Trudy is not oblivious to Pete sleeping with other women. Pete expects her to ask for a divorce, but Trudy refuses to be a failure. “This is how it’s going to work. You will be here only when I tell you to be here. I’m drawing a fifty mile radius around this house and if you so much as open your fly to urinate, I will destroy you.”
Meanwhile, when Sylvia, Don’s paramour, starts having doubts and feeling guilty about their relationship, Don is suave with his words and convinces her it’s what she wants.
Don and Pete’s storylines were to show the parallels between the male characters and they worked in that sense, but they didn’t do any favors for the female characters, except maybe Trudy. Don’s paramours, at least, used to be better developed and had identities of their own (Midge Daniels, Rachel Menken). As Don sleeps with more women, they’ve become less distinct. Maybe that is Weiner’s point, the more physical relationships he has, the less meaning Don finds in them.
But back to the ladies.
In the premiere, Peggy seemed to be doing well in her new job, but this week she displayed some naivete not seen since the early seasons of the show.
Her (female) secretary mentions maybe she should be as encouraging to the copy writers working under her—notably all male—as Peggy is to her. Peggy tries to take her advice and pep up her team, but it’s not very effective. When she returns from lunch, she finds a feminine deodorant on her desk, and takes it to her boss, thinking it’s a new account. Her boss, and he gets credit for not being as sneering as some at SCDP would have been, informs her it’s a practical joke.
“Everyone hates me here,” Peggy says when she calls Stan. Peggy’s storyline really rings true. As someone who freelances for a living, it’s always a little difficult stepping into a new workplace and remembering you have to forge new relationships all over again. While Peggy was never much of an office socialite, over time at Sterling Cooper, she grew to have a supportive group of co-workers around her, and now she’s having to start the process over again. Notice it in the details of her slightly awkward relationship with her new boss. They definitely do not have the same ease and understanding between them which she and Don shared.
Peggy also makes her most rookie mistake yet, relaying the story of Heinz beans vs. Heinz ketchup to her new boss, who of course sees it as an advertising opportunity. Peggy sees it as betraying the trust of a friend. While Don certainly has tried to sway accounts away from other agencies, he also has a rather moral code when it comes to advertising. Roger and Pete do not have the same morals when it comes to their work, but since Peggy seems to have picked up so much from Don, it makes sense she would struggle with having to betray someone’s trust for the sake of an account.
Once again, Joan is used minimally in the episode, but to rather great effect. Her brief scenes occur when Herb, the man she slept with last season in order to obtain his business for the agency, shows up at the offices unannounced. He laments the fact she hasn’t come by the Jaguar lot. “I know there’s a part of you that’s glad to see me,” he says.
“And I know there’s a part of you you haven’t seen in years,” Joan retorts.
She then breezes into Don’s office, preceding his secretary’s announcement of her, heading for his drink cart and telling him Herb is there. (Don was the only partner who objected to Joan sleeping with Herb, but by the time he expressed this to Joan, the deed was already done.) Don barely takes his eyes off her as he pulls on his jacket and heads out for the meeting.
Since many have characterized Don as having a Madonna-whore complex, it’s curious to note his continued respect for Joan. Men who characterize women as either Madonnas, women they respect but do not or cannot desire, or whores, women they desire but do not respect. From their interactions, it’s clear Don has the utmost respect for Joan, even though he is aware she has ‘whored’ herself out.
Megan’s storyline was an interesting 180 from last week. Megan’s started to make great strides as an actress, landing as a recurring character on a soap, and getting recognized by a fan during her island vacation with Don.
This week, her storyline had a quite modern parallel. Megan disclosed she’d had a miscarriage to her neighbor, Sylvia (coincidentally, the same woman Don is sleeping with.) She hadn’t told Don yet and her conversation with Sylvia was mostly Megan trying to assuage her religious guilt for not having to choose whether to have an abortion or not. Megan references she and Sylvia were both raised Catholic, so Megan felt guilty for questioning whether this was the right time for her to be pregnant.
Later, when Megan tells Don, she said she was hesitant to tell him because she wasn’t sure what he would want. Don assures her he would want what she wants. “Is that what you want?” Megan admits she wants kids, but she didn’t know if it was the right time to have a conversation about it. It’s implied that Megan being pregnant would have been a hindrance to her career and in this way, she seems faced with a fairly modern problem (and debate.) Whether it’s possible for women to “have it all”: a successful career, marriage, and family.
Since the question was resolved by nature in the form of a miscarriage, for now it’s answered for Megan, but it’ll be interesting to see if having children or having a career seem to be at the forefront of Megan’s mind for the rest of the season.