August 25, 2010

Mad Women: This Is A Stop Sign

Filed under: Gender,Mad Women,Media,Recaps — Tags: — Rachel @ 7:50 pm

While most recaps focus on the entire aspect of a show, this one’s going to be a little bit different.  As this is a feminist blog deconstructing images and portrayals of women in pop culture, why spend an entire post rambling on about the men of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Price.  Instead, these recaps will focus on the women of Mad Men – the main ladies: Peggy, Joan, and Betty, and any new additions or guest stars – hence the title “Mad Women.”

Sally was a really big focus of this episode.  She’s hitting adolescence, and it’s obvious neither of her parents are quite sure of how to deal with it properly or appropriately.  She’s exploring appearance, beauty, and her own body (she cut her hair, tried to look like Phoebe, and masturbated at her friends house.)  I can’t help but wonder if Don and Betty’s reaction is due to what we know about their past.  Both of them had parents who weren’t exactly good at dealing with their children growing up, and the changes that happen during the process.  I think if any of Sally’s behavior is a way of her “acting out”, it’s because of Don and Betty’s divorce, and the death of her grandfather – her picture-perfect-on-the-outisde suburban life is crumbling. 

After two weeks of almost no Betty screen time, this week’s episode featured her storyline throughout most of the episode.  I found her reaction to Sally cutting her hair disturbing.  While initially I felt that Henry was getting along better with her because he was listening to her after she slapped Sally, I quickly realized that it wasn’t an equal conversation they were having.  Henry’s tone and choice of words showed him treating Betty as everyone describes her: “a little girl.”  Something about the way he was telling her to go upstairs and apologize to Sally, and everything will be fine, was very…paternal?  Not to excuse Don in any way, because he certainly put her through hell, but it’s as if Betty married someone who would treat her in the way she sees herself – as daddy’s little princess.  While I was big fan of Betty for the first three seasons, rooting for her all the way, waiting for her to realize Don’s lying, cheating ways and to kick his ass to the curb, this season I find myself frequently annoyed by her behavior.

The show approached the topic of therapy once again.  Betty’s aversion to it, I think, is more about the betrayal she experienced the first time she opened up to a supposed confidant.  It seems she’ll be opening up and putting trust into the therapist she found for Sally.  I hope she’s finally able to work through her past – with her parents, her former and current husbands, and her kids.  It’s obvious simply divorcing Don didn’t solve “the problem that has no name” for Betty.  Being married to him wasn’t the source of all of her problems, and I think that in her discussion with the therapist, she may be coming to realize it.

I found it incredibly telling that while “trying” to get Sally help for her “problems” – Betty makes it all about her.  Rather than wondering why Sally would be driven to cut her hair or “play with herself  in public” the conclusion she reaches is that Sally is doing it to punish her.  As demonstrated by the picture I chose for this recap, I am fascinated by the possibility that the person who could help her understand herself, and open up is a child psychologist.

Despite a language barrier, Joan knew immediately that she was being sexually harrassed by the new prospective clients from Honda.  Obviously, sexism has no cultural differences.  While there was some slight flirtation between Roger and Joan in the Christmas episode, Joan has moved on.  Her refusal to listen to Roger complain, and her unwillingness to comfort and console him, was a big step forward for her.

Peggy wasn’t featured much in this episode, but her riding around on the motorcycle on the soundstage was pretty incredible.

Nurse Phoebe, Dr. Faye Miller, and Bethany
Despite the fact that Don seems to be coming to some unspoken self-revelations about why Betty divorced him, and why his life will never go back to being the way it was, his reaction to Phoebe when he came home, showed he still acts the same.  Much like the way he laid the entire 24-7 responsibility of the kids and every minute detail of everything they do in Betty’s hands, he immediately blamed Phoebe and fired her for not being able to control what Sally did in the bathroom while she was getting changed.  I hope he sees the error in his judgement on the issue, and we get to see more of Phoebe in Season 4.

I enjoyed the idea that Dr. Faye Miller has found a way to avoid being harassed by men at work – that simply wearing a wedding ring (despite the fact that she doesn’t so much as have a boyfriend) makes her life much easier.  While Joan is actually married, she is still harassed, something that I feel has more to do with her position in the company, than anything with Joan’s appearance and/or personality.  She’s seen as “just a secretary” so the men feel they can get away  with it (and they do, she holds virtually no power at Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Price.)  Faye’s advice to Don regarding Sally was, I think, both good and bad – I believe it’s incredibly important that Sally and Bobby know that their father loves them, but bad in the sense that simply telling them, or buying them expensive Christmas presents doesn’t really express a deep caring.  He’s been such an absent father throughout the first three seasons, choosing to spend time with mistresses in the city, instead of with his kids and wife.  I hope through what Faye told him, he’ll come to realize this.

Don finally went on another date with Bethany, but I’m not sure he’s truly interested in her.  I think he only asks her out when he needs something – someone to go to Benihana’s with to do research on the new prospective client, etc., and I think she’s beginning to see it.

Also, glad to see Miss Blankenship still working as Don’s secretary.

Leave your thoughts on Betty’s interactions with Henry, Sally’s behavior, and anything else about this episode in the comments.


  1. Miss Blankeship needs to be fired unless she learns to do a better job. Even though it’s unheard of for the time, Don need a male secretary vs. a secretary he won’t take advantage of due to ageism.

    Comment by rick — August 25, 2010 @ 10:59 pm

  2. “Peggy wasn’t featured much in this episode, but her riding around on the motorcycle on the soundstage was pretty incredible.” Me too, I loved that part!

    Poor sally….it is really interesting to think of her in 10 years how she could react to this childhood as very much the hippie chick!

    Comment by Naomi — August 26, 2010 @ 5:47 am

  3. Even though Betty’s behavior was despicable this episode, I still find her character to be very fascinating, especially in terms of what it means to be a privileged housewife in a time when the role is slowly becoming obsolete. She’s like a grown-up child, and a large part of that is due to the expectations placed upon her, that she would always be subservient to either her dad or her husband, that she would have no interests or ambitions of her own, etc. etc.

    Thanks for focusing your recaps on the women of Mad Men. As entertaining as I find the men, it’s the women who hold the most interest for me.

    Comment by Caitlin — August 27, 2010 @ 8:22 am

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