Monday, February 24, 2014

Mad Men Season 1, Episode 2: Ladies Room

Season 1, Episode 2, "Ladies Room" raises the question the show wants us to be asking, "Who is Don Draper?"  From the dinner with the Sterlings, to the late night questioning by Betty, we are clobbered over the head by the fact that Don does not talk about his past. And we realize that Betty has not pushed the issue as she went through an engagement, a wedding, and two children without needing to get any details on Don's side of the family.  Was it her passivity, and perhaps fear of learning hard truths, that caused her to be so content not to know?  "Who is in there," she asks as he sleeps.  He's her husband, the father of her children, and she doesn't know the answer to that simple question.  That says more about her than it does Don.

But the title of this episode is "Ladies Room" and it is in those rooms we learn about the women of Mad Men.  Roger Sterling's wife, Mona, marvels at Betty's beauty which she believes will keep Don faithful, as if men only cheat on or leave their wives because of some physical failing on the wives' part.  Betty, so poised and charming at dinner, is a huge ball of nerves in the bathroom, fumbling with her lipstick and still misty over her mother's recent death.  Yet she gets no comfort, just help reapplying her makeup and a request to move along.  At the office ladies' room, Peggy sees one of the other secretaries in tears and while she starts to offer help, Joan signals to leave the poor girl alone.  You may go into the ladies room to cry or break down or try and pull yourself together, but you won't find any solace there.

Outside of the literal ladies room, we see the spectrum of issues facing women in 1960. There's Peggy receiving unwanted attention from Ken Cosgrove, while Joan trades on their sexuality to get their lunches bought for them.  Paul Kinsey flirts in a more restrained way and even suggests that Peggy look at the work he's submitting to Don (and mentions that there are women copywriters). His comments are the first hints that women have an option of becoming anything other than someone's wife or have anything to offer beyond their looks.  Back in the suburbs, Betty and her friend Francine are gossiping about the new neighbor, Helen Bishop - a divorcee no less! - and they shudder to think what it must be like to be a single mother.  But rather than feeling sorry for Helen, they seem almost offended - how dare she be divorced with two young children.  There goes the neighborhood!

Betty passes by the new neighbor during her move in, driving with the kids (mostly) in the backseat and suddenly she loses control and crashes the car (albeit at a leisurely 25 MPH).  What has her so riled that she's losing feeling in her hands, can't concentrate enough to maneuver down her own street?  What was so unsettling about what she saw?  Betty is a wreck, but how can this be?  Her life is perfect.

And what is her loving husband doing while this is going on?  Visiting his girlfriend Midge for a little afternoon romp.  Their fun is interrupted when Don starts grilling her about the new TV in her apartment, accusing her both of hypocrisy and alluding to her getting it in trade.  She doesn't take to his accusatory tone and quickly launches the set out the window, without even checking to see if anyone is lingering on the street below.  The set goes crash, you hear a woman scream in outrage (though, thankfully, not in pain), Midge chuckles and Don says that is better.  It's very disconcerting scene - these hedonistic, bourgeois dilettantes who don't care about whether they hurt anyone else by their actions. The TV out the window is just a metaphor for what Don is doing to his marriage, after all.

Don comes home to an idyllic scene, his beautiful wife and children around the kitchen table.  He makes up some story about why he couldn't be reached about the car accident (he attributed it to a besotted Freddy Rumsen, our first mention of that character). He looks a bit chagrined; while an agile liar he at least seems somewhat troubled by it (the nervous cough).  The conversation turns back to Betty's hands and her anxiousness and she says the doctor suggested she see a psychiatrist.  During the earlier dinner with the Sterlings, Roger mentioned his daughter was the last girl in her group to go to a shrink, so we know that's become more socially acceptable.  Yet Don doesn't understand why she should need it.  How can she not be happy?  She's beautiful, married, has a nice home, two children. 

The next day, in the brainstorming session on the new aerosol Right Guard, Don may not realize that Betty's unhappiness is on his mind.  Yet he asks, what do women want?  He's given it some thought.  We think they want the cowboy, bringing the cattle home safely.  But "what if they want something else?" he asks.  Inside, perhaps, "some mysterious wish that we're ignoring."  Yes, Don, just imagine that.  Do you know what Betty's wish is (other than a husband who comes home every night)?

Like the pilot, I am surprised to see a fairly emasculated Don Draper, at least in the office.  He can't push around senior partner Bertram Cooper the way he can the mid- and lower-level execs at the office and his opinion is completely ignored when he tries to weigh in on Bert's desire to go after the Nixon campaign.  When he finally agrees - as if there were another choice - Cooper dismisses him with a patronizing "Goodie" and then lopes off, shoeless, back to his office.  Did Don catch Cooper's message?  Cooper says that he knows better than the client what the client wants - a theme repeated in the show whether it's the number of times pitches are made contrary to what the client asked for or, more potently, by someone sexually asserting themselves despite resistance or objection.  Why ask what a woman (or anyone) wants - you know best.

Meanwhile, Paul Kinsey tries again with Peggy and this time he's successful at getting a lunch date.  She gets a sandwich with him then he shows her around the office, describing what each department does.  He even mentions to Peggy that there are women copywriters, which she seems surprised to hear. Paul is nouveau-hip - he says "dig" and talks about another agency where everyone smokes "Mary Jane." You get the impression that he's more evolved than some of the other guys in the office (like Don who refers to Peggy as "Honey").

Don is still hounded by the "what do women want" question, enough to ask Roger.  His response?  A Sterling-esque, "who cares?"  Roger dodges the question about his daughter seeing a psychiatrist - that conversation never happened, mind you - but does give Don some advice - "I think it behooves any man to toss all female troubles into the hands of a stranger."  Don doesn't think much of shrinks; the one he knew in the army was a gossip, he says.  Roger sees them as necessary, but Don questions why anyone would be unhappy with all they have.  Don, are you happy?  Is that why you drink so much and sleep around on your wife?

Don actually comes home after work this time.  He's a bit pickled, having started drinking with Roger.  He has a surprise for Betty, a new white gold watch.  Now she has everything - more happiness!  Only...she's still upset about the accident and how much worse it could have been and she's just really out of sorts.  She still wants to see someone, she's not happy and she doesn't know what's wrong with  her.  But she needs Don's blessing.  He seems to waver.  The next day, he agrees to take her into the city to see a psychiatrist.  What a good husband.

While Betty's with the doctor, Don goes to see Midge.  He mentions his wife, and she asks him not to - it makes her feel cruel.  But it doesn't seem to bother Don at all.  There's a compartment over here for the girlfriend, a compartment over there for the wife.  Simple.  He tries, unsuccessfully, to figure Midge out.  Is she happy?  Does she have everything?  She says, "nothing is everything."  They're perfect for each other.  It's one thing to lie to other people, but to be able to lie to yourself that well.  That's a special kind of skill.

By the end of the episode, we discover that Paul is really no different than Ken or any of the other boorish guys at the office - Paul just hid it behind the aura of hipness.  He takes Peggy's agreeing to have lunch as a sign, as she later puts it to Joan, that she is the dessert.  She rebuffs Paul (and how telling is it that he won't accept that she's saying no unless there's another man), then Peggy gets an earful from Joan about how her work is suffering.  Peggy is tired of being treated like a piece of meat and complains to Joan who is so sympathetic.  "You're the new girl, and you're not much, so you might as well enjoy it while it lasts."  But Peggy did enjoy some of it, because in her desk we see the postcard that Pete sent to Ken from his honeymoon.  She runs to cry in the ladies' room, but seeing another broken-hearted secretary stops her in her tracks.  She's not going to be like that girl.  Peggy composes herself and walks back out, determined.

Betty is on the couch, talking with her psychiatrist.  She's nervous, anxious, she has trouble sleeping.  At first she's reluctant to talk, but soon she's mentioning her mother's recent death.  She's mentioned it to Mona and now to the doctor, and when she brings it up she acknowledges that she's already talked about it.  It's so obvious that this has unhinged something inside her, yet no one asks her about it.  It's sad.  Whatever you think of Betty, she's clearly hurting and she's being fairly open about what's bothering her, yet no one seems to hear her.  So she shuts down, takes off the watch that Don just gave her and lights up a cigarette, offering randomly that "we're all so lucky to be here." 

Don and Betty have a lovely dinner and they're gorgeous and perfect and Betty has regained control of her hands - one agilely squeezing a lemon, the other holding Don's.  It's all so sweet, if you didn't remember that Don just came from seeing his mistress or if you skip the scene afterward where Don calls Betty's therapist.  He gets the lowdown on what Betty talked to her psychiatrist about.  Don's betrayal of his wife know no bounds.

Season 1, Episode 2 

Don: I can't tell you about my childhood.  It would ruin the first half of my novel.

Don:  Just think of me as Moses.  I was a baby in a basket.

Betty: When you're with strangers you know exactly what you want.
Don: Well, I'd like to think I always know what I want. 

Don: I was raised to see it as a sin of pride to go on like that about yourself.

Joan (to Peggy): You'd never know you were the very bottom of the food chain. 

Bert Cooper: I always thought it was Sterling who was responsible for the Navy attitude around this place.

Bert: So much yarn, so little time.

Don (to Betty):  I always thought people saw psychiatrists when they were unhappy. But I look at you and this, and them, and that and I think, are you unhappy?

Don: whar do women want?  ...  What if they want something else? Inside, some mysterious wish that we're ignoring.

Paul:  Creative is just window dressing.

Paul: I mean, you can always tell when a woman's writing copy, but sometimes she just might be the right man for the job, you know?

Paul:  Account management. Where prep schoolers skip arm-in-arm, "Wizard of Oz" style, joined together by their lack of skill and their love of mirrors.

Roger (to Don):  I can never get used to the fact that most of the time it looks like you're doing nothing. 

Don: What do women want?
Roger: Who cares?

Roger: I think it behooves any man to toss all female troubles into the hands of a stranger.

Don:  Who could not be happy with all this. 

Roger: Psychiatry is just this year's candy-pink stove.  It's just more happiness.

Don: I can't decide if you have everything or nothing.

Joan: You're the new girl and you're not much so you might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

Betty: My mother always told me that it wasn't polite to talk about yourself. 

Don: What do women want?
Midge:  Well, one of the things has to be not being asked something like that.

Psychiatrist: I had a very interesting hour with your wife this afternoon. She's a very anxious young woman.  I think you're doing the right thing.


We don't know how long has been working at Sterling Cooper but it seems that he's well respected and important.  Paul tells Peggy that he's the Creative Director.  Still, even with this title, he makes the quip that dinner at Toots Shorr means Roger likes him, Four Seasons means he trusts him. 

After just one session with the psychiatrist Betty has the manual dexterity to squeeze a lemon wedge one handed. He's a miracle worker. 

Roger's wife Mona is played by his real-life wife Talia Balsam (daughter of a wonderful character actor Martin Balsam and ex-wife of George Clooney)

After Betty mentions her mother's recent death, Mona says nothing but we hear what she should have said, "Sorry."  Only the sorry comes from one of the attendants who is asking the ladies to move along so others can use the mirror.

This is our first introduction to Bert "the sock man" Cooper.  He's an odd duck, but smart.  He knows that what's best for Wall Street is what's best for his company on Madison Avenue and so he's backing the Republican candidate for president, Richard Nixon.  The only problem is Nixon doesn't want to hire an ad agency for his campaign, though the Ted Rogers they refer to was not only a former TV producer, but had worked in an ad agency.  The disastrous debate between Nixon and Kennedy was, actually, in large part due to Rogers being kept from Nixon before the debate and not due to his lack of understanding about how politics and TV could work together.    

Betty imagines the worst after her car accident - not that she could have killed the kids, but that Sally might have had a scar that would have left her miserable and lonely for the rest of her life.  Betty was raised that a woman should be beautiful so she can find a husband and live happily ever after.  Only, she did that and she's decidedly unhappy.  That is a huge theme for the show - how you can conceivably have "everything" and yet not be happy; that happiness comes not from material possessions but from something else, whether family, or fulfillment, or making a contribution.  Betty, the pretty prized possession, is not happy despite seemingly having it all.

This theme continues with Don's mistress, about whom he wonders whether she has everything or nothing.  "What do women want?" is the consistent question, but no one knows the answer.  Don thinks Betty must be happy with her perfect face, her handsome husband, her big house, her cute kids.  When Roger throws out the line "We live in troubling times," Don responds, "We do?  Who could not be happy with all this?"  It confounds him that Betty could "have it all" and not be happy.

Don tries to placate her with more "things" - baubles, bright and shiny to scare away the bad feelings.  But Betty has troubles that even a new watch can't solve and he finally gives in to letting her go to a psychiatrist (and let's think about that sentence in today's world when a husband would not be asked his permission for something like that!).  

Lack of subtlety: Pregnant Francine smoking
Lack of subtlety runner up: Sally being scolded for wearing a plastic bag over her head...because the clothes that came in the bag may be wrinkled.

Oh, life was so quaint back then: Most restaurants wouldn't serve your raw eggs these days as they'd worry about the lawsuits if someone suffered salmonella poisoning.  The aerosol revolution, now just an ozone layer-puncturing memory.

WHORE COUNT: (2 for the series)
Paul: "My favorite aging whore, radio."

"There's even a third option, paying you."

Paul is late because someone threw themselves in front of a train.
He later says he'd kill himself if CBS cancelled the Twilight Zone.


First mention of Freddy Rumsen - Don mentions him, and his alcohol problem, by using him as an excuse for why he was unreachable when Betty and the kids went to the hospital.  Freddy is finally of real help to Don in Season 7, when he gives him a symbolic kick in the ass with the instruction to "Do the work."

Don was very judgmental about this Bohemian girlfriend having a TV.  Years later, he surprised his wife (who was trying to live a Bohemian lifestyle in the hills of California) with a brand new color TV.

Fans were surprised by Bert Cooper's somewhat hostile turn in Season 7, but you can see in his first scene that he wants things his way and has little patience with his underlings.  Same with Joan.  She could be quite bitchy with Peggy and was set up early to be someone not to be crossed.

Paul Kinsey talks about another agency that is much cooler than theirs - "all they do is smoke Mary Jane and play darts, and honestly, I think they're the best store on the street."  He doesn't stick around to the late-60's when that's pretty much the same atmosphere at Sterling Cooper, with their own, even more dangerous, form of darts.

In Season 7, Sally busts her nose and and Betty still freaks out how she could potentially ruin her whole life by risking her looks.  Yet, there is part of Betty that thinks she may have an idea that sitting around being pretty isn't all there is to life and she in later seasons wants to be heard, not just seen.

When Midge sees Don at her doorway at 11:00 am, she asks if he'd been fired.  That's probably too random to be foreshadowing, but what the heck.   

They hammer home that Betty knows nothing about the man she married and had two kids with and he uses a line he uses again in Ep. 4.1 - how he was taught not to go on about himself.  We realize now that's a lie, that Don was intentionally mysterious lest anyone discover the truth about him. 

Peggy complains to Joan about all the unwanted looks and advances she gets from the men at the office and Joan is not exactly sympathetic. In Ep. 7.8 Joan complains to Peggy about the sexist treatment by the men at their workplace and this time it's Peggy who lacks sympathy, blaming how Joan dresses for her problems. 

There are two mentions of divorce in this episode - Betty mentioning that the food and drink from the dinner with the Sterlings (currently fighting in her stomach) should get a divorce and the mention of a divorcee moving into a house down the street. Foreshadowing to their divorce?

Don that about the sin of pride.  We later learn he was raised by a very stern, religious woman who had strong opinions about sin. 

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