The first four seasons of Mad Men have done a good job of mixing both the changing worlds for men and women, but this season has focused almost exclusively on women and their problems. No, not womyn problems just yet, but the small, personal problems that a lot of different women are dealing with that lead up to the women’s movement of the 1970s. Remember “the personal is political”? This episode (Season 5, Episode 4: “Mystery Date”) was all about the personal.
First, we need to start with a correction. We initially thought that this season began in the summer of 1967 but after several key references from this episode we have realized that we are actually in the summer of 1966. Unlike the past three episodes, this episode is dominated with three key events looming over all of the sub-plots: the Chicago race riots, the airline mechanic strike, and the Chicago Student Nurse Massacre carried out by Richard Speck. Of the three, the latter is the one that is explored the most.
But, let’s get back to the women. We first open with a sickly Don with his cute young wife Megan as they ride the elevator to work. The pair encounter a woman who is turns out used to be one of the millions of women who used to bone Don when he was still with Betty. Let’s just say that Megan isn’t super thrilled about this. "There are some parts of town where we can run into people that I've worked with,” she tells him, and she definitely isn’t talking about work-work. Once again, this is another thing that separates Megan from Betty. While the Ice Queen of Westchester would sit in her house alone, cold, and proud, Megan can’t help but dangle in front of Don that she is a sexual being with possible desires for other people. After all, she is a young hot woman and Don is coughing into his ginger ale. Either way, this former side piece whose name we have already forgotten comes back, so more on her later.
Then there’s Joan. This is really Joan’s episode more than any other character. Her husband, the rape-y military doctor, is home from Vietnam and he can’t stay in the apartment for 2 seconds without burying his face into her gigantic, pillowy breasts. (Duh.) After he’s done motorboating Joan, he tells her that he has to go back to Vietnam for another year, which she isn’t super thrilled about, but she takes it. Well, she takes it until she finds out that he isn’t being forced to go back, he volunteered to go back, and was perfectly content to not only leave his wife and new baby but to also lie to his wife about why he was going back. See, Dr. Rape-y says that the army needs him, and maybe they do! But that still isn’t a good excuse to ditch your newborn son and wife without even talking it over first. And yes, the son isn’t really his, but he doesn’t know that.
I have my degree in armchair psychology so I can say with some non-authority that Dr. Rape-y is a narcissist. He longs to be “needed,” and he’s willing to ruin every personal relationship (with his parents, with Joan) in order to feel important. He even goes off on a waiter at a nice restaurant because the waiter wasn’t kneeling down before Dr. Rape-y’s Power when some kid soldier gives him a salute. I’m not saying that soldiers don’t deserve respect, but Dr. Rape-y isn’t interested in serving his country or doing the honorable thing. He is only interested in what makes him feel good, no matter how many people he hurts.
But enough about Dr. Rape-y for now! Let’s move on to Peggy, who had her own personal victory when she weaseled a whopping $410 from Roger after he revealed that he needs her to cook up a winning campaign for Mohawk Airlines behind Pete’s back. “Dazzle me,” Peggy tells Roger when he tries to convince her to do the work. Oh, that Peggy! But Roger got some good lines in too: “Watch it Trotsky, you’re in advertising.” (Note to Matthew Weiner: More Roger-Peggy scenes please!)
Anyway, Peggy stays late to do Roger’s campaign when she hears a sound, and with the Student Nurse murders looming in her mind, she is scared. She wanders around the floor and discovers that Dawn was sleeping in an office. Apparently Dawn was afraid to leave the office because of the Chicago race riots and she has no real means of getting home. Peggy offers to take her to her house, which is clearly an exciting idea to little revolutionary journalist-dating Peggy.
Dawn and Peggy go to her house, drink a couple of beers, and then Peggy just gets embarrassing. She tells Dawn that she “understands” what she is going through, and makes a big deal of showing off how “down” she is with the struggles of black Americans. Yes, it is a funny-awkward scene, but it isn’t exactly out of character for Peggy. Most young, white urban-living people in the mid-1960s probably felt and acted the same as Peggy. Their hearts were in the right place, but all they want is to be congratulated for the pity they could show to minorities. Peggy isn’t 100% sincere about wanting Dawn to be comfortable, otherwise she wouldn’t keep bringing up Dawn’s race when she’s just trying to have a conversation with Pegs. And then Peggy looked at her purse.
As Peggy was bringing Dawn some sheets and pillows to sleep in for the night, Peggy looked at her purse (or “pocketbook,” as she and Ginsberg would probably call it in their “regional accents”) as if to hint that she should remove it from the room lest the minority steal it and Dawn saw. Dawn totally saw. And it destroyed any feelings of good will that Peggy tried to show Dawn. In the end, Peggy couldn’t erase underlying feelings of racism with just a couple of beers. She quickly realized this, was appropriately embarrassed, and Dawn was polite.
Let’s move on to Sally, who is just trying to enjoy her summer vacation in peace if her new grandmother didn’t have to waltz in and cramp her style. After a boring day spent staring at the TV (how did people waste whole days in front of the TV before Kardashian marathons?) Sally overhears her grandmother talking about the nurse murders. The murders have been referenced all throughout the episode, but they play the biggest role in Sally’s story. The grandmother refuses to tell Sally about the news, knowing that it will probably scare her. However, Sally is starting to grow up, and it isn’t easy to hide stuff from her. More than that, she wants to know. There is a big adult secret being talked about and Sally, like most tween girls, fancies herself an adult. (Or at least, an almost-adult.) She can handle big girl stuff like senseless mass murdrers, right?
Wrong. It doesn’t matter how old you are, the news can still scare you. Sally can’t sleep after stealing a newspaper to read about the murders and goes downstairs to seek comfort with her grandma. And it turns out that grandma is up and scared too, and keeping a big ol’ kitchen knife by her side to feel safe. You can’t blame grandma, everyone is scared, especially when faced with such a gruesome example of just completely senseless violence.
Speaking of violence, Don killed that random woman he used to sleep with! Well, in a fever dream. Don went home early after coughing over everything in the office and then started to have a series of intense dreams about this woman. She wouldn’t leave him alone, and even though he couldn’t resist her sexually, he also knew he had to get rid of her. So he strangled her on his bedroom floor, only to wake up and realize that it was all a terrible dream.
I don’t think I need to tell you that the woman-dream was Don dealing with his previous philandering ways. The connections and feelings it conjured up were pretty obvious. However, this was notable because it’s the first time that we’ve heard Don’s cheating feelings come back up since he was married to Megan. Could this be a sign that the old Don is coming back? Or maybe an example that Don is done with his cheating? After all, Megan isn’t Betty, and this isn’t like his quiet days back in the suburbs. His hot young wife could easily leave him for someone richer and hotter. More importantly, she doesn’t really need him for anything.
On the not-needing-their-husband note, Joan finally tells Dr. Rape-y what’s up after finding out that he volunteered to go back to Nam. Joan tells him, in no uncertain terms, that she doesn’t need him. "You're not a good man, you never were." And, of course, Joan is right. Dr. Rape-y is called Dr. Rape-y for a reason, and she doesn’t need him for anything. She can support herself, she can support her son, she’ll find a way. Joan always finds a way and that is why she is such a fan favorite. And Joanie is always alone, always willing to get things done by herself when the going gets tough. This is why Joan has been so successful and why the prospect of losing her job made her more upset than the prospect of losing her husband.
The episode ends rather cruelly with The Crystals’ 1962 hit “He Hit Me.” The credit music is so important to this show, so I can’t really chalk up this choice to silly irony. The song represents a beaten woman’s deluded POV and her attitude towards why her loved one hits her (because he loves her, according to the song). Joan cuts out the abusive tumor in her life. Playing the song after Joan coldly kicks Dr. Rape-y out just shows the change in attitude amongst many women over the course of a few years. The early ‘60s Mad Men had only women living in the world of men. Now, in the mid-ish ‘60s Mad Men, we have women claiming out their own space, making their own rules. Don’t cheat on me, don’t beat me, don’t hide things from me, don’t make decisions about this family without me. Mostly, the new attitude is that these women don’t need men financially, and thus have the freedom to make rules. Joan and Megan are free to do what they want, and they can fix or break their marriages as they see fit.
Other things that need to be discussed.
- Is Ginsberg the smartest guy or the dumbest guy at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce? The way he sold his Cinderella idea over the Don-approved cute girl idea to the shoe company was either brilliantly stupid or stupidly brilliant.
- Joyce is back, and she’s already got a nickname for Ginsberg! Maybe the two of them can talk about patterned jackets in the elevator or something.
- Was the liquid that Don drank in the office with his aspirin ginger ale or … brown tap water?
- I’m so glad that we are all in agreement about Betty’s new house being creepy. Don calls it the “haunted mansion” and Henry’s mother is clearly scared of it.
- Is it weird that we kind of covet Sally’s nightgown? It is weird? Oh ok.
Watch the next episode of Mad Men on Sunday, April 15 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.
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