Author’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series, analyzing the female characters on Mad Men throughout season 6.
A lot of people disliked last night’s episode of Mad Men, an episode which included one of the pivotal events of 1968, Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.
The show does a good job of showing how life events continue to happen during a national tragedy (think of Roger’s daughter’s wedding after JFK’s assassination.)
(Another theory about this season is its framed by Dante’s Inferno, which Don was reading on the beach in Hawaii. Each episode represents a new level of Hell. Although there will be more episodes (13) than levels of Hell (nine). This week was supposed to be Greed, but it might be Violence?)
At the beginning of the episode, Peggy is considering buying an apartment on the Upper East Side. Despite her job working for “the man”, Peggy lives outside gender norms the most. Her relationship with Abe is quite progressive. They live together and aren’t married and now she’s considering buying a place without his financial assistance, but in which they would live together. “I’m more a trusted advisor,” Abe tells the real estate agent, who assumes he was the one paying for the place.
Over the last few episodes, Peggy’s boss, Ted, seems to take a particular interest in her, but it wasn’t clear until this episode that his interest is not in the same mentor-ly way as Don’s. At the advertising awards, Ted arrives with his wife, and then sits next to Peggy to assure her she will win many ad awards working for them. Ted’s awkwardly taken the seat of her boyfriend, Abe. Abe isn’t territorial about it, and Peggy doesn’t seem interested, but it’ll be something to keep an eye on as the season continues.
Peggy and Don play out interesting parallels with their secretaries after Martin Luther King’s death. When Peggy arrives at work, her secretary Phyllis is in her office, emotional. Peggy gives her a hug and tells to go home. “None of us should be working today.” Phyllis takes her up on her offer and leaves, thanking her.
Don’s secretary, Dawn, is late coming into work. When she arrives, he expresses his worry for her, from both him and Joan. Joan announces the office is closing early and Don agrees with the decision, telling Dawn she can go home. “I’d really rather be here today,” she tells him. “If you’re staying, I’ll stay.”
When Peggy’s offer on the apartment falls through, she expects a little sympathy from Abe. She asks him for his input on the apartment, despite not contributing financially. “Honestly, I saw us raising our kids in a place with more different kinds of people.” Peggy’s delight and surprise at him mentioning having children with her is an interesting development. Peggy’s never really discussed how she feels about children, not even after giving birth to Pete’s child.
Megan Draper (vs. Sylvia)
As Megan and Don are leaving for the Andy Awards (advertising awards), they run into their neighbors, Sylvia and Arnold, who are leaving for D.C. for the weekend.
When Megan mentions she’s nominated for an award, Arnold assumes it’s for acting, but Megan tells them it’s for an advertising campaign she worked on. “My goodness, you’re really good at everything,” Sylvia replies.
And in that moment, Don Draper made a bit more sense. When he was with Betty, his paramours consisted of strong women with careers. Now he’s married to Megan, a strong woman with many talents and a career, he’s bedding housewives. Is it a coincidence or is Don a grass is greener guy?
Megan is also bigger than Don when it comes to Peggy, going to greet her and chat at the Andy Awards, while Don avoids her. (Until he can’t. Martin Luther King’s assassination overrules whatever petty jealousy Don is feeling towards Peggy and he says they can take Peggy home after Abe leaves the ceremony early to cover the riots in Harlem.)
Megan wins the award, but it’s barely a thought after the events of the evening. Merely something forgotten on the couch amidst the news.
Megan also represents a rather thankless role when it comes to Don’s kids. As someone who started off as their nanny on a trip to Disneyland, it seems weird to think Megan is officially the kids stepmother now. She’s none too pleased when Betty asks Don to come pick up the kids in the middle of the unrest after MLK’s assassination. “She’s a piece of work.”
Megan takes Sally and Gene to a vigil in the park, while Don and Bobby escape to the movies. Later, Megan voices her concern for Don’s penchant for drink, asking why he can’t be there for his children. Don unloads on her his feelings and shortcomings as a parent, an unusual open moment for him, and it seems to signal he can tell Megan things he would have never told Betty. Not as much is hidden from Megan. But it also seems a cruel confession to someone who, only a few months earlier, suffered a miscarriage and who might want to have kids with Don someday.
The emotional confession from Don seems to signify he still feels something for Megan, but it’s unclear if it was a product of the upheaval caused by MLK’s assassination.