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All words: Alan Zilberman and Peter Mergenthaler

Good morning, and welcome to BYT’s weekly MAD MEN hangover! In lieu of a traditional recap, I instead offer a somewhat edited, highly spirited debate between myself and a fellow TV junkie. Joining me is Pete, my old roommate who helped jumpstart my obsession with serialized TV dramas. Without further ado, let’s get into what’s new at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce!

Before we get into the scattershot commentary, let me apologize for missing the past few weeks. I was on vacation and recovering from jet lag, respectively. Now, without further ado, let’s highlight a few important plot points:

  • Sally pays Don an unexpected visit, and Betty refuses to pick her up until the next day (she’s spiteful and a little happy to be Sally free). Don leaves her with Faye, and later Sally tries to move into Don’s apartment. It ends badly – she runs away from Don’s office and falls in a hallway.
  • Peggy has a follow-up date with Abe the reporter. He offends her, and apologizes with an anti-business treatise about a SCDP client. It does not go well, but Peggy tries to introduce progressive ideas into a meeting later.
  • Joan’s husband is shipping off to Vietnam right out of basic training. Upon hearing the news, Roger gets wistful about their relationship. A surprise mugging rekindles their passion, so they fuck under a staircase.
  • Mrs. Blankenship dies at her desk. There’s a meeting as Joan and Pete attempt to wheel her corpse away.

Alan: After a three week hiatus, Pete and I return in earnest to discuss this week’s Mad Men. The episode is called “The Beautiful Girls,” and as the final shot indicates, one where the women of SCDP enter an elevator, this one was all about the ladies.

Pete: Joan, Peggy and Faye. This episode was so full of longing, I almost went out to troll my terrible city’s one gay bar, which I hate.

Alan: This comment reminds me, yet again, how much I miss Sal on the show. But before I digress, your list also serves as an excellent order for tackling the episode’s developments. Let’s start with Joan, who once again finds herself in Roger’s arms.

Pete: Let’s start with her, but only after we’ve summed up Miss Blankenship’s brief stint at SCDP. So, she died.

Alan: And now she’s dead. While I don’t think Mrs. Blankenship’s death holds much thematic significance, I think it’s a testament to the shrewdness of the show’s writers. They used her effectively for some obvious laughs, but got rid of her before her jokes became stale. It’s also interesting that this episode (at least, when she was alive) marks the first time Don’s latest secretary observant about her surroundings.

Pete: You’re right. Just seconds before she croaked (doing in death what she did in life, as Roger observes – “answering phones for the people she worked for,” or something thus), I was going to ask you what the show had planned for her. Then, bam. And it was terrifically dark humor, used to bring out the best of a potentially stale ad pitch (Don distracts the client while the secretaries cover Blankenship’s corpse with an afghan and secret her away) and leaven a lot of otherwise serious plotlines. Joan, for instance.

Alan: Ah, yes, Joan. Despite her confident exterior, her life has been in tumult these past few weeks (moreso than any other character). There seems no way her husband will emerge from Vietnam unscathed. I’m not sure whether Roger manipulated Joan in her moment of vulnerability, but his concern for her seems real. After the surprisingly methodical business of Joan/Roger getting mugged, the tumult reached a breaking point, so Joan turned to what was a familiar and comfortable (ie, Roger’s dick).

Pete: It was methodical, and oddly on the nose for this show. Just one scene after they agree not to reignite their relationship, a gun-wielding thug stops them on the sidewalk and demands their valuables. After Roger surrenders his, said thug explicitly demands Joan’s ring. So here they are, suddenly without their wedding rings and all atwitter about their brush with death. It was like the end of Speed. Romance forged in danger is doomed to fail, yada yada yada.

Alan: And if you recall the following line in Speed, Annie tells Jack that relationships based on shared danger never work out, so the must rely upon sex instead. I’m sure Roger and Joan can relate, but I digress. I agree the scene felt a little tacked on, but I appreciated their vocal unfamiliarity with a changing neighborhood. Their trysts are long-gone, so it makes sense the neighborhood has changed since they last shared strawberry cheesecake.

Pete: All that said, Greg the Surgeon does seem consigned to a hero’s death overseas, right?

Alan: That’d be too on the nose. I think the stronger likelihood is he’ll return with a severed limb (hands, perhaps?) or a severe case of PTSD. Death would help Joan move on, whereas needy Greg would be an interesting way to explore Joan as a character.

Pete: I’m talking odds, yo. Like Roger said when he learned Greg was called up, “that’s not good.” I think the show has explored his dramatic usefulness, and I’m tired of watching Joan struggle with domesticity. And as drama goes, wouldn’t it be more interesting for her to come to terms with the fact that this dude raped her, but she doesn’t get to punish him for it? Christina Hendricks promised that that thread would be dealt with. It hasn’t been yet, as far as I’m aware.

Alan: You raise an interesting point, and I certainly would welcome Joan’s return to the sexpot role. Perhaps the next few episodes will clinch it. I certainly would be pleased to see Joan tell Greg what it’s like before he ships out.

Pete: In the few moments between him finishing basic and deploying? We’ll see. We definitely saw Peggy tell a suitor off tonight, though.

Alan: Yes. Abe the revolutionary/reporter definitely mistook intelligence for left-wing political engagement. When they had their discussion about the racist business practices of Peggy’s client, it was interesting to see the unique place Peggy finds herself in. Her peers have cutting edge ideas, yet she’s paid to think like an ordinary person.

Pete: And she DOES think that way, or at least she’s in danger of doing so. Abe tries to help her see the light — she’s writing copy for a company that doesn’t hire black people — but she’s insulted that he’d even dare, claiming that she’s “not a political person.” Abe tells her that she doesn’t get to decide whether she’s political. I’ve had this debate with a lot of my hometown friends, many of whom treat ignorance of the world like some sort of badge of honor. Where do you come down on it?

Alan: That no one is political, or whether Peggy is political? I think saying “I’m not a political person” means you’re political as fuck, but I also believe Peggy insofar as business comes before ideals. I remember in the first season Cooper joking about how neither he nor Roger votes, and Peggy is echoing that to a certain extent. She tests the waters later when she mentions black people in her meeting with Don, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she gets more political as the 60s revolution continues.

Pete: “Testing the waters” is exactly what she did. To me, civil rights seemed like a coat she tried on. It didn’t fit, so she has her eyes on the prize again. After several consecutive episodes of admiring her, I was kind of turned off tonight. Not that it was out of character or anything — just a surprising comedown after so many episodes of personal progress. If she proved anything, though, it’s that she doesn’t have to take orders from men. Not always, anyway. Faye didn’t do so well on that front.

Alan: Faye is a more complex case. She slept with Don and is not as young as Peggy, but found herself dealing with Sally. Faye’s final scene, in which she expresses frustration over her rapport with children, was interest because it was about her personal choices, not her skill as a psychologist. I think Sally came to represent Faye’s lost opportunities.

Pete: How so?

Alan: Faye said “I’m not good with children!” then talked about the sacrifices she made for her career. In 1965, a childless woman is relatively atypical, and Sally seemed to bring Faye’s insecurities to the surface. She’s unsure of where she stands with Don, and is worried she lacks maternal instincts.

Pete: Oh, yeah. She’s insecure about it, but I don’t think she counts it as a personal weakness. As soon as Don made clear that his babysitting assignment (because that’s what it was, really) was not a test, she falls into his arms, relieved. Or something?

Alan: Or something. That’s a good point, actually. I’ve been in a situation where unforeseen circumstances interrupt the typical flow of a relationship, and the anxiety it creates, justified or not, can be overwhelming. Faye was reading too much into the situation, but I think it’s clear Don saw the babysitting gig as a favor, nothing more.

Pete: He would have been pissed if she said no, though. And he used Ms. Blankenship as a wedge, in the episode’s funniest moment. “I’d have my secretary do it, but she’s dead.”

Alan: Such a great line. Since we’re coming full circle, let’s talk more generally. What did you think of this episode, and how it fit into this season?

Pete: Well, Mad Men has never really been about the season-long arc. Not in the traditional sense, at least. The only thing we can really speculate about is the business end of it, and I still think it ends with SCDP losing Lucky Strike. If only because I insist on guessing. And I think Faye sticks with Don, and that they become a more serious thing.

Alan: I would like that. I still stand by my prediction that Henry will have his second thoughts about Betty, and might even pull the plug on their marriage. As far this episode goes, it’s always interesting to see personal lives spill into professional ones. Still, the episode is little compared to The Suitcase, which would have been so fun to write up. Alas, I was in Madrid.

Pete: The Suitcase really was exceptional. A real fan would have Slingboxed the episode and recapped it at 4 a.m. Spain time.

Alan: Clearly these unpaid 1500+ word write-ups aren’t testatments to our love for this basic cable dramatic series.

Pete: No wai. Also, we completely skated over the Sally thread — she skipped off to Manhattan under Carla’s nose to see her dad, who pretended to be angry but was secretly thrilled that his daughter liked him so much. Holy shit, Betty must make a miserable home.

Alan: True. Betty must be miserable, yes, but I also think Sally is about to hit adolescence, an age where anything against the status quo is preferable. Granted, unlike most kids who lash out, her rebellion seems justified.

Pete: Parting shots? Loved Harry’s insolence about his afghan-cum-corpse-shroud. Completely zoned out during Joyce’s man-soup metaphor.

Alan: Joyce is annoying. Unlike most any non-Betty character on Mad Men, I woudl hate to run into Joyce at a party.

Pete: Me too. She should’ve died.

Alan: Maybe she’ll be next after Mrs. Blankenship. Good night, Pedro!

Pete: Nighty night, man-whose-name-cannot-be-nicknameified!

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