‘Mad’ Women: Megan Draper takes a stand

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Spoiler alert: the new business is cookies! Not that it matters.

Betty sometimes gets a lot of flack from Mad Men fans, especially male Mad Men fans, and especially early on in the series when the show was celebrated more as a hallmark of retro 1960s nostalgia instead of a commentary on the changing face of America. I’ve always loved her, ever since the moment she stood on her front lawn, rifle in hand, cigarette dangling from her lips, taking aim at her neighbour’s pigeons as revenge for threatening her daughter’s puppy. Betty has always been a tragic character, a bit like Joan in that her beauty is reassuring for her but ultimately meaningless and empty, leaving her unable to derive satisfaction from the 2.5 children, home in the ‘burbs’, housewife life. Her bitter coldness was criticized by viewers who didn’t seem to get this, but I loved seeing a confident Betty have no-strings-attached sex with Don at summer camp, unconcerned with societal mores or standing, just a woman who wants what she wants.

Betty and Don seem to be getting along better now, but there’s still weird tension between Don and Henry. It turns out Betty is enrolling in a master’s degree in psychology – remember how “psychology is this year’s candy-pink stove” in season 1?

Don meets an old acquaintance for lunch, and the waitress is the one he had a quickie with last week – evidently he’s still pursuing this pipe dream, and I’m a bit worried he’s going to land her through his insistent Draper charm instead of being rejected like he deserves. At least we know her name – it’s Diana. Diana is evidently running away from an ex husband, and, like Don, moved to New York to start anew.

Mad Men gets so surreal sometimes, that I’m not entirely sure Diana is a real person. After the last episode I assumed Mad Men was breaking down all Don’s destructive walls when it comes to seducing women, and I’m not sure what kind of woman Diana is supposed to represent for him. Don Draper begins affairs with women for purely selfish reasons – they represent a need, a void in his life that needs to be filled. Betty was the perfect housewife Barbie who he cheated on with Midge, the freewheeling Bohemian, and Rachel, the independent businesswoman. Every woman offers something the other does not, and ultimately Don rejects them because they turn out to be more than fantasies.

But at this stage of the game, are there too many voids? Is Diana just supposed to be a female version of Don Draper – a broken alcoholic, a compulsive liar running from failed marriages, a failure at family and emotional intimacy, not sure if she wants the ranch house with the two-car garage after the death of her daughter?

Meanwhile, today on ad agency sexism: Stan is a dick to Pina, the director of a vermouth ad, who bonds with Peggy over being women with power in artistic industries. Upon hearing that Stan is threatened because he’s also a photographer, Pina attempts to bond with Stan by offering to take a look at his work. I immediately like her less when she looks at one photo of Stan’s girlfriend and deems her not worthy of him, then bangs Stan in his darkroom. Later, she not-so-subtly hits on Peggy in her office while Peggy looks taken aback (but not entirely opposed). In no uncertain terms, though, she tells Stan that she’s fired Pina – she doesn’t believe in climbing up the ladder that way, and Stan mistakes Peggy’s hard line with jealousy.

Don is still hesitantly protective of Megan when Roger paints her as a fame-grubbing gold digger – a thought that’s occurred to her family as well, and they’re pretty bad at hiding it. Megan goes back to New York to finalize the divorce and take all of her stuff back from Don’s apartment. Because Mad Men is really great at metaphors, the red wine stain from last week is still on the carpet.

Megan’s sister is judgemental of Megan’s actress lifestyle. Of her beautiful clothes and business lunches, but her mom is more supportive – maybe because she understands being disappointed by men. Megan leaves Marie $200 for the movers, but when the movers want $200 more, Marie calls Don to pay for the rest of the exorbitant moving bill. Don is off with Diana, though, so Marie calls Roger. When Roger gets there with the money, she demands he sleep with her in the empty apartment, and a bemused Roger obliges.

It turns out Megan’s business lunch is with Harry, who she wants to help find her a new agent. Dumb Henry flirts shamelessly with Megan and propositions himself, and I fully expected this to be the third scene in a row that ends with a frantic makeout session. Megan, thankfully, is not interested in Harry’s room upstairs, and Harry, in a manner reminiscent of every Nice Guy who tells you you’d look so pretty if you smiled more, tells Megan that her career is in trouble because she doesn’t sleep with every man who offers to help her. Harry, being The Worst, later goes to Don and insinuates that Megan is an unstable mess who practically demanded he sleep with her.

Megan Draper and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day gets home from lunch and walks in on Marie and Roger post-sex, and is horrified, especially when her mother insists that she of all people has no right to judge her. It’s an especially hurtful thing to say, especially since Marie had seemed so supportive, but sexual shame is so deeply ingrained in this family, no matter how hard both Megan and her mother try to rise above it.

The episode culminates in Megan bitterly confronting Don at their lawyer’s office, and she calls him an “aging, sloppy, selfish liar” with the heat of someone who knows they were in love with an illusion. In response, Don tiredly writes her a cheque for a million dollars.

It’s a silent plea, willing Megan to just go away by passively tossing money at her, because Don, for seven seasons, has been consistently unable to face his problems head-on. Megan, equally tired, gives Don back his wedding ring and asks him to send her the papers – understanding that this money is a payment to not speak to him any more.

Megan goes home to find out that her mother’s gone and run off – with Roger? Either way, she’s torn up her ticket and is staying in New York, and her sister is devastated, accusing Megan of poisoning her with New York. What she really means is Megan’s ideals, Megan’s artistic career that she prioritizes over a husband and family, and her sense of autonomy and sexual freedom. Megan could not care less. Megan is taking a drink to bed. Megan has left the building. I know those feels.

Don buys Diana a NYC guidebook, his romantic fantasy of being a woman’s knight in shining armour shattered when Diana insists she doesn’t want to feel anything anymore, and that being with Don makes her forget her lost daughter. She doesn’t want to forget anymore, while Don’s entire existence hinges on always trying to forget. And now, with his empty apartment, forgetting might be even easier.

Stray observations:

  • Things I will miss about Mad Men: Pete’s dumb goony face. Pete monologues to Don in the car on the way to a golf round with clients (“I can’t believe you’re renting clubs. What will they say?”), echoing back to a time long ago when Don was that sanctimonious to Pete about women.
  • Someone said “fuck”! It was muted, though.
  • I don’t think we’ve ever seen Stan’s girlfriend before, but she is a no-nonsense nurse who clearly has no time for Stan’s “artistic moods”, and consequently I love her.
  • “So what? Do you think Picasso looks at Guernica and goes, ‘forget that, it was a long time ago’?”
  • I love how all the ads during Mad Men are clearly targeted towards people who work in the ad industry. Full disclosure: I do, and that commercial about the Adobe Marketing Cloud and Woo-Woo gave me full body shudders.
  • Arnold and Slyvia take the same elevator as Don and Diana, because evidently all the ghosts of Don’s sexual past are here to haunt him.
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