October 27, 2008
Mad Men gets feminist
The last two episodes of Mad Men were great. The second to last one was some of the best TV I've ever seen-- there are some scenes I never want to watch again, but it was still good television. Even though the season finale last night wasn't quite as ambitious or as creatively structured, it was still pretty amazing.
The show's creator Matthew Weiner, has been clear about his feminist aspirations for the show, but in these last two episodes he shows us what he means: the show seems to have become a kind of morality play where the female characters who stand up for themselves are rewarded, and the ones who don't get raped on the floor of their boss's office.
Let's look at the main characters:
Peggy. The show is as much about her as it is about Don Draper, and it's been structured around her experience from the very first episode. She's now the new superstar of the ad agency, and when she asks for her own office, she gets it (and graciously accepts Roger Sterling's comment about how aggressive women are "cute".) In the finale, she tells Pete Campbell the painful truth about giving away his baby, and in doing so appears to get some kind of spiritual absolution, while Pete is left bewildered and destroyed.
Joan. The scene in the second to last episode where Peggy and Joan talk about Peggy's new office and Joan's upcoming marriage was just awesome. For a moment, the all-powerful Joan looks small and weak as she realizes that she has to rely on the accomplishments of her doctor fiance/rapist to give her status, while Peggy has her own accomplishments to be proud of. For once, Joan is respectful of Peggy and not snotty and dismissive.
But the overall feel of the scene was sad. It was as heartbreaking as watching Joan get passed over for the script reading job without putting up a fight. The show seems to have established an especially unforgiving moral structure for women, just like in teen slasher movies, except in Mad Men it's not the slutty girl who gets punished. It's women like Joan who miss opportunities to stand up for themselves.
Betty. Last night's episode belonged to her. It's been frustrating watching her spiral into the depressive funk she's been in for the last few weeks, but finally last night, her refusal to let her philandering husband come home paid off. Don initially goes off to California to screw around, but instead he ends up spiritually cleansed, and remembers how to be respectful to women through his old friend Anna. He comes home to apologize for being such a dick and does some groveling. Betty lets him back in.
Betty's end of the deal with Don isn't exactly a feminist utopia, but she does get to have a night of freedom, be assured by everybody that she can get an abortion if she needs one, fuck a hot stranger in a men's room, and still get her repentant and now fabulously rich husband back. A lot better than moping around and crying on the shoulder of the 8 year-old boy next door.
The Men. Meanwhile, life is not so great for the menfolk. The last few episodes show them grasping desperately, sometimes pathetically, at their slowly dwindling power over the women in their lives. Don is the only one who seems able to readjust himself and come out, maybe, a sort of decent person. The owners of the agency, meanwhile, had to literally sell themselves out in order to accommodate women's demands--Mona, Jane, and Cooper's hilariously bitchy sister.
Next season: Peggy gets a personal assistant/boy toy, and the secretary pool starts a series of consciousness-raising brown-bag lunches about overly restrictive undergarments.
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