"The Beautiful Girls" of "Mad Men" On the Brink of Social Change

7 years ago

In the last three weeks, Mad Men has once again shown that when it comes to quality television, the show shines far above almost anything else TV has to offer.

"The Beautiful Girls," "The Summer Man" and "The Suitcase"  were all episodes that gave us more about  Don Draper, helping answer the question first posed at the beginning of the season, but also showcased the women of Mad Men on the brink of one of the most stunning social changes this country has ever seen.

Here's a rundown of what's been happening with "The Beautiful Girls," but beware, there are spoilers a plenty.

Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss):  Peggy used to annoy the heck out of me, but this season she's finally turned into a character I can sympathize with and root for.  She's also seen the most action in the last three weeks and been in the middle of several key, socially relevant plots.

For example in "The Summer Man," Peggy and Joan have a conversation that in just a few words summed up the enormous challenges facing women in the workplace at that time. 

It takes place after Peggy gets up the gumption, on Don's advice, to fire her obnoxious assistant for basically calling Joan a glorified office whore and then posting a crude picture of her having sex with Lane Pryce.

The problem?  When Peggy tells Joan how she defended her by getting rid of the worm, Joan is royally pissed.  Instead of the thank you Peggy was expecting, Joan reams her out for making herself look like a bitchy big shot and Joan like a lowly secretary who needed protecting.

See Joan had already handled the situation sufficiently, she felt, by telling the men on Peggy's team, including the worm, that when they all ended up dying horrible, agonizing deaths in Vietnam, she wouldn't lose a wink of sleep.

Peggy's first lesson in 60s Feminism 101?  No matter what you do, you can never win.

Peggy has another eye opening discussion in "The Beautiful Girls" when Abe Drexler (Charlie Hofheimer), a socially conscious firebrand she's met at a party tries to tell her the sexism she faces in the workplace is nothing to the racism Negroes face everywhere.  After all, one of her clients, Fillmore Auto Parts, doesn't even hire Negroes in the south.

At first Peggy doesn't believe him because the guys from Fillmore are so nice, but Abe says, "I'm sure they're perfectly nice for racists."

Further into the conversation and on the defensive, Peggy says, "Most of the things Negroes can't do, I can't do either and nobody seems to care."  Adding that if Negroes wanted to work in advertising, "I'm sure they could fight their way in like I did."

After joking that they should then have a civil rights march for women, Abe points out, "they're not shooting women to keep them from voting."

Peggy's highly offended and pretty much dumps poor Abe on the spot.

Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the white women vs. black people victimization sweepstakes.  There are no winners and no prizes, just plenty of misunderstandings and defensiveness to go around.

Oh, and in "The Suitcase" Peggy consoles a devastated, vomit covered Don after he finds out the Real Mrs. Don Draper (see below) has died of cancer.  There are some lovely moments in this episode between Don and Peggy that never descend into the trite or sappy.

Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks):  Thank you Matthew Weiner and company for bringing Joanie back front and center this season.  That tough office manager with the can't be cracked facade has come under terrible strain this season, what with her hubby about to be shipped off to Vietnam, her office authority being challenged like it has never been before, (see Peggy above) and Roger Sterling pining for her like a lost, gray-haired puppy.

In "The Beautiful Girls" her office managing skills have to go into overdrive when Don's over the hill secretary, Miss Blankenship drops dead.  Then she and Roger do the nasty, on the street no less, after they're mugged.  The next day, she tells Roger she doesn't regret the fling, but since they're both married, fill in the blanks.

See, after the husband dies in Vietnam, as we all know he's going to, Roger should dump his drippy ex-secretary and just marry Joanie like he should have in the first place.

Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka):  Okay, so raise your hand if you think little Sally Draper is a future bra burner in the making? This week she pulled the ultimate rebellion by taking a powder from Mommie Dearest and escaping to what she hoped would be Daddy Don's open, loving arms. 

That doesn't happen, and poor Sally eventually has to be dragged kicking and screaming back to the ice cold arms of Momma Bets.  We all know, however, that spark of rebellion will hit full flower right around the time little Sally organizes her first college sit-in.

How far that creepy little TV hypnotized child of a couple of seasons ago has come!  She's grown into a wonderful kid who reads Nancy Drew and can make a mean french toast with brandy.  She's like a 60s version of a young Lorelai Gilmore.  I love her! 

Also hats off to Kiernan for doing a bravura job.

Dr. Faye Miller (Cara Buono):   Though Dr. Faye's role is growing -- having slept with Don last week, that's inevitable -- I still haven't quite warmed up to her character.  I like her and think she brings a welcome maturity as far as the women of Mad Men go, but I don't know nearly enough about her. 

Sure she had that meltdown in Don's office after she had to babysit Sally, but who knew she even felt that close to Don that she would be upset by how she and his daughter were introduced?  I thought it was jumping the gun a bit, but I'm willing to give her more time.

The Real Mrs. Draper (Melinda Page Hamilton):   Poor Anna Draper.  As Don said in "The Suitcase" after he found out she died, she was the only woman who really knew him.   And he was never even married to her.

The most telling thing about Anna's appearance this season was how her sister, niece and doctor decided not to tell her she was dying of cancer!

RIP Mrs. Draper.

Mrs. Betty Francis (January Jones):  What can I say about the new Mrs. Francis?  Got no sympathy for her privileged little life?  Think she's an icy bitch of a mother?  Can't stand her?  Yep, all of the above.  Sally, get the heck out of there as soon as you possibly can.

Joyce Ramsay (Zosia Mamet):  The resident Mad Men lesbian, Joyce is Peggy's "walk on the wild side" friend who works in the same building at Life Magazine.  If Peggy's going to break out of that "I'm not political" ice box she's in, Joyce is going to rip open the door.  I can't wait 'til she takes Peggy to her first Black Panther meeting.

Megan (Jessica Pare):  Office receptionist Megan didn't have much to do the last couple of weeks, but  I included her because I like her name, and because she's the only one in the entire Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce office who gave little Sally the barest measure of compassion and care.

Miss. Ida Blankenship (Randee Heller):   Of course I saved the best for last.  Oh Ida, Ida!  

Rumor had it via Burt Cooper that Ida was quite the sexual hottie in her day, but of course by the time we meet her this season, she's brought in by Joanie to be the anti-sexpot secretary that will keep Don's zipper up.  Along with her came the dotty demeanor, the awful wig and the comic relief.

But this week poor Ida as a morbid Roger Sterling says later, "died like she lived:  surrounded by the people she answered phones for."

She's found behind her desk by Peggy just as Don and company are in the conference room trying to close the deal with the racist Fillmore Auto Parts.

If you didn't laugh as Joan, Pete and Megan tried to unobtrusively wheel a still seated Ida out of the office while an appalled Don watches through the glass walls of the conference room, then your funny bone is severely in need of repair.

As with so much symbolism in the series and this episode in particular, Miss Blankenship's death was the end of yet another era.

RIP Miss Blankenship.

Here's a clip, Inside "Mad Men" 409:  "The Beautiful Girls" were creator Matthew Weiner and members of the cast talk about the episode:

One final note, the end of "The Beautiful Girls" is full of marvelous symbolism.   It's the end of the day and Joan, Peggy and Faye all leave via the elevator.  The final shot of the three women, prim, proper and still cocooned in their disintegrating world as the doors close is amazing.

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Megan Smith is the BlogHer Contributing Editor covering Television/Online Video.. Her other blogs are Megan's Minute, quirky commentary around the clock and Meg's Rad Reviews.

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