Mad Men, “The Beautiful Girls”

The world of ’50s and ’60s advertising is certainly a boys club, and although things have been changing, particularly for Peggy, “The Beautiful Girls” goes a long way in suggesting that despite the advancements out in the world, the women of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce are still being held down, either professionally or personally. A number of woman face difficult journeys in the episode.

Unfortunately for Ida Blankenship, her fate is the worst: she dies at her desk, head up in the air. Her death spins off one of the series’ most farcical and hilarious sequences ever, as Joan, Pete and Peggy attempts to cover her body with Harry’s big blanket and wheel her down the hallway so that the Fillmore people don’t see what’s up. And then, the tone changes and Blankenship’s death provides a number of heartfelt moments. Though typically useless, Bert takes charge in hopes of honoring his former employee, but struggles with writing the perfect obit. Roger, who once shared a romantic/physical with Ida, not so eloquently mentions that she lived just as she died and though kind of tactless, he’s correct. Bert finally has a moment of inspiration, saying that “She was born in a barn in the 19th century and died on the 37th floor of a skyscraper. She was an astronaut.” Cheesy, heartfelt and disappointingly true for the times: In 1965, there were not female astronauts, so this is perhaps the best they can do.

Peggy, meanwhile, has been looking for man who can keep up with her progressive attitude and actions and there were hints that she thought activist reporter Abe Drexler could be that man. But on their second meeting, she realizes that even the most progressive of men still can’t recognize what it means to be a woman in 1965 and how to treat them. Abe and Peggy get into an argument (or discourse, as Abe smugly notes) when he lambastes her for working with a racist company like Fillmore and then fails to acknowledge that it sucks just as much to be a woman as it does to be black. And then to make up for it, Abe shows up at SCDP the next, with a written rant about how corporate America is the new religion and Peggy’s just a trapped little girl who cannot be held responsible for her actions. Oh no, Abe, wrong move. Disappointed, Peggy sends him packing. She knows that some of what Abe says is true (enough so that she brings up Fillmore’s racial injustices in a meeting with Don), but at this point, she has enough to fight for personally in the workplace that she can’t deal with larger issues or men who can’t respect her beliefs.

Joan is also having personal problems, as her husband Greg has been called up for a tour of duty as soon as basic training ends, leaving Joan at home, alone. She feels especially powerless because she wasn’t consulted on the decision at all, and combined with the death of Ms. Blankenship, Joan is an emotional wreck. That state convinces her to take Roger up on his sincere offer for dinner and companionship, but after their robbed on the way home, that companionship turns into an in-the-moment sexual encounter. The next day, Roger’s willing to apologize for his actions, but Joan is not. In one sense, going out with Roger is a way for Joan to connect to a past that while not completely open, was still better. In another sense, her tryst with Roger is a situation that Joan can control, and she needs to feel that right now.

Faye, who starts the episode in a great place with her seemingly happy, normal relationship with Don, finds herself at something of a crossroads by the time it ends. Don asks her to watch a rebelling Sally (more on this in a moment), which kind of works out, but doesn’t go exceptionally well and then asks her on the spot to calm Sally down the next day, which definitely doesn’t work out. Faye is a working woman, and wants to make sure Don knows that is all by choice. She sacrificed a more domestic life for her position, but when faced with the possibilities of a serious relationship, her past decisions are now haunting her a bit. She’s scared that she can’t handle being a mother to Don’s children or be domestic in any way. Though I think she shouldn’t worry too much, because I don’t think that’s what Don’s looking for anyway.

And finally, Sally Draper. Poor Sally Draper. She’s tired of the awful situation in the Francis household, so she decides to escape, hop on the train and meet up with her father. She feels like she should be able to live with her father with no problems, and even the two Draper boys should come and join in. However, despite her wise-beyond-her-years front, Sally can’t understand that Betty would never let that happen because she couldn’t deal with the social circumstances of letting her supposed dead-beat ex raise her daughter in the city. And more importantly, as cool as it seems to live with dear old dad in NYC, Don doesn’t really want Sally around either. In that sense, she’s caught between two parents that don’t really or can’t really raise her in the way she needs to be raised. But she’s too young. She can run, just as she does down the SCDP hallway, but she’ll continue to fall down until she gets old enough to recognize the grass is always greener and as a child of divorce, she’ll have to pick her battles.

Other thoughts:

  • Don takes a drink at the end of the episode, which suggests he’s still battling his demons in the bottle. He does, however, seem much more put-together throughout the episode, even when dealing with Sally.
  • I’m interested in what’s to come for the other main lady in this episode, tall Megan. She’s the one who helps calm Sally down at the episode’s end and seems personally invested in Don’s life a little more than she should. I’m not sure where she’s going to fit in, but I have to bet something big is coming for her.
  • Still little Pete in this episode, though just like last week, he gets to be a part of the big comedic moment. I have to imagine that the series is interested in telling more Pete-Ken stories, but thus far, Ken’s been given more to do and actually fits in the same way he did at Sterling Cooper. I hoped for more exploration of that story, and obviously the season’s not done, but I’m pessimistic.
  • How awesome was Sally’s rum-infused French Toast? Very, very awesome.

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