Hosted by Tami Winfrey Harris and Andrea Plaid
Does Mad Men love L.A.? If their annual trips out there right about this time are any indication, the answer is sunny, sunglasses-wearing “yes.” However, does the Retrolicious Roundtable love Mad Men in L.A.? Weeeelllllll…
Tami, Renee Martin from Womanist Musings and Fangs For The Fantasy, and I debate the merits of these westerly jaunts, the naturalness of Joan’s and Peggy’s alliance, and the existence of moderate Republicans, complete with a bunch of spoilers.
Tami: I am usually the person who gets the conversation started on these roundtables. And my tablemates can attest that this week it took me several days. This episode of Mad Men felt like filler–the weakest of the season for me. I hate it when they go to Los Angeles!
Renee: I didn’t necessarily consider it filler this time because of everything that happened at the office while Roger and Don were gone. Seeing Joan assert herself was worth quite a bit to me, and I am so tired of them overlooking everything she does and treating her like a glorified secretary.
Andrea: I thought the episode felt off, but not because it was the series’ yearly field trip to L.A. At least, with this trip to the sunny city, Don didn’t do something eye-rollingly symbolic, like baptising himself in the Pacific Ocean. I think it felt off because Don, Roger, and Harry felt off being there this time around : stiffly suited-up Don and Roger’s yachting outfit looking out of place amidst the dashikis (!!!!) and the hippie beads, and Harry looking out of place in his usual nebbishly trying-too-hard way. His outfit matched his office decor, not the party he boasted he had the hook-up to.
And I agree with you, Renee, that I was happy to see Joan stepping ahead and getting a client. Not only do I get tired of the rest of the staff treating her like the queen of the secretaries instead of the partner they cajoled her into fucking her way to get, but their reminding her of that very fact, as if she didn’t do it to help their asses land a major client.
Tami: Roger Sterling, I love ya, but you deserved that shot to the grapes. Both Roger and Don have a hard time in places where being The Man doesn’t automatically give them privilege. Roger walked into that California party dressed like Thurston Howell III and acting like the cock of the walk. It killed him that nebbishy Danny Siegel was The Man in that setting.
Renee: I was actually really happy to see Roger get punched. He had it coming, and I didn’t think that he would actually get a consequence for his behaviour. At times like this, it’s so clear how behind the times Roger actually is, though he thinks that he is with it and someone to be admired at all times. For all of his antics, Roger is a dinosaur, and he simply does not realise it yet.
Andrea: Wait…we’re going to talk about this like Roger’s ex-brother-in-law wasn’t wearing a dashiki?!? Yes, I looooooove me some John Slattery, and, yes, the ex-BIL gave Roger his comeuppance, but…Danny was wearing a dashiki! And now that piece of West African clothing–and an afro wig–is seen a “hippie” costume, no thanks to that appropriation back then.
Tami: Don should stick to the bottle and lay off the drugs. His trips never go well. Are we surprised that in his subconscious, Don wants Megan pregnant and unemployed? He is so ambivalent about strong women. He is drawn to them. (Think of most of his mistresses.) But he is made uncomfortable by them. I suspect because as a Depression-era orphan he dreamed of being a Captain of Industry and that sort of man doesn’t have an equal wife–an actress wife or a bohemian wife or a psychologist wife or a wife who runs her family department store.
Renee: An unemployed pregnant Megan would only justify his continuing desire to cheat on her and possibly eventually leave. Even though Megan is working, if we’re honest, she really isn’t strong and really isn’t independent. She has thrown a few temper tantrums, but Don can basically run roughshod over her anytime he chose to. I do however find it interesting that he is trying to be more attentive now that they have agreed their relationship isn’t working. Don wants the freedom of a single man but at the end of the day, he wants a wife at home.
Andrea: But let’s be real here. Don cheated on Betty, and she was a stay-at-home mom with three of his children. Don cheated on Megan, and she’s a working wife. The only reason Don stopped cheating wasn’t because he wants a wife, but that he either got caught, confronted, and/or other kicked out of the marriage or was dumped by a mistress. Don likes to cheat, full stop. Honestly, I suspect he thinks that’s the way a marriage is supposed to go. I think that, if his latest mistress didn’t dump him, he would’ve pulled on Megan what he pulled on Betty if he impregnated the former. Hate to sound cynical, but Don is attentive because he hasn’t found another other woman yet.
Tami: I find the relationship between Peggy and Joan so fascinating. They aren’t a generation apart, but I feel like they might as well be. Opportunities for women evolved a lot in the years between each of them coming to Sterling Cooper. I think Joan is every bit as smart as Peggy, but I don’t think it ever occurred to her that she could be an accounts woman or that she could build a career not based on her body and sexuality. Avon would be good for Joan. It would prove to the office (and Pete’s smarmy ass) that no matter how she got to her position, she deserves to be there.
I think Peggy and Joan respect each other, but don’t quite understand each other. They are very different women.
Renee: Peggy and Joan should be natural allies, but they cannot understand each other, and I think that there is a large degree of resentment in their interactions. I was glad to see Joan push for more from the company. Considering that they are headed straight for the women’s right’s movement, if Joan and Peggy were to team up, they would be a very powerful team.
I agree with you when you say that Joan is every bit as smart as Peggy. She knows that she has no one to fall back on and makes strategic moves to benefit her. The problem for Joan is that though she has worked incredibly hard, the fact that she slept with the Jaguar guy, is always going to be hung over her head. Pete pushed her to do this because he desperately wanted the account, and now that he has gotten what he wanted, he feels free to look down is smarmy nose at her.
Andrea: No, Peggy and Joan aren’t “natural” allies–I think that’s a huge fallacy that seems to hang over progressive thinking that the almost cyclical fallouts with marginalized groups of folks who’d have a common purpose to work together to help end different oppressions have proven again and again precisely because we don’t “get” the nuances of each others’ struggles. That’s the contention behind, for example, the pushback about “Gay Is The New Black” slogan or the fallout regarding the naming of SlutWalk.
The same holds true with Joan and Peggy. Though they’re both women dealing with the rank sexism at Sterling Cooper & Partners, they each maneuvered within and around it differently. Joan uses her Girl Friday/Bombshell approach to get around and even enforce the company’s anti-woman attitudes and structures to maintain the power she had as office manager and to get the partnership she has. Peggy took a more straightforward approach to getting to her current job, even as she’s dealt with fellow copy editors grabbing her ass or the men she’s dealt with at the company–including clients–coming at her sideways for daring to be a copy editor in a female-presenting body. And let’s not forget that even Joan came at Peggy sideways as she climbed the proverbial ladder.
The men at the company never reached out to Joan to even ask her if she wanted to learn the business–she learned what she knows by observation, which was apparent in how she conducted the meeting with the Avon rep and Peggy. One of the men–namely Don–mentored Peggy, which is why she flipped out at Joan about not understanding the mechanics of how such meetings are supposed to go. But I do think that Peggy understood the reasons for Joan stepping ahead and taking responsibility for the Avon account, which is why I think Peggy helped her out by episode’s end, even if she did it with a held nose.
Tami: What’s Cutler’s angle? Hell, what’s Bob Benson’s angle? What’s up with Ginsberg? That whole deal with Manischewitz…I’m not sure what went on there. Cutler is one to watch. And it’s good to see Harry Hamlin on screen again.
Andrea: Y’all leave Benson alone. He gets along to go along, and it seems like–whatever his official duty was at Cutler Gleason and Chaough–he’s performed the Diva Babysitter function at the former firm, if the way Cutler called on him to do it with Ginsberg is any indication.
And Ginsberg…I think Cutler perfectly called out his not-walking-his-blustery-talk persona. Ginsberg, unlike Peggy’s ex-boyfriend Abe, is an unfocused radical: he just mouths off vague leftist rhetoric about the general unease about the societal situation that is the late 60s as a form of venting, not as a basis of a structured worldview or point of political action. That’s why his attacking Cutler didn’t make any sort of sense, and it devolved as Cutler successfully gave his counterpoints.
Cutler’s angle is that he’s not feeling the general sloppiness of the merger, along with the old-fashioned notion of not feeling someone attacking his character, especially as unnecessarily as Ginsberg did. He feels that, as a partner–and Ginsberg’s boss–he has the right to fire Ginsberg for gross insubordination, but the merger left his job duties as nebulous. So, as underhanded as he’s being about Ginsberg, I think that Cutler will be the person to bring the necessary order out of the merger’s chaos.
Tami: So, Andrea and I were debating: Is Don a Republican or a Democrat? I had argued that he is a Republican (50s/60s-era, not Tea Party), but on second thought, he strikes me as apolitical. Don cares about nothing more than Don. He’s unmoved by the violence at the 1968 Democratic National Convention not necessarily because he’s on the side of the “pigs,” but because he’s only on his own side and couldn’t care less.
Renee: The show has shown him supporting Republican candidates and mocking the Democrats. I think as it relates to business Don is a Republican but on a personal level, I would have to agree with you Tami that he doesn’t really care. If he didn’t have business interests to concern himself with, Don is far too self involved to care about politics.
Andrea: I think that, no thanks to the Tea Party and the GOP’s march toward the cliff of extremism–which started with Nixon–we forget there’s such a thing as a moderate Republican, which is what Don just may be. A moderate Republican may be pro-business, but they may not be so hardline about, say, hiring a white woman as a copy editor or having a Black woman placed as an executive secretary. But, having talked about it with other folks, Don’s actions regarding Peggy and Dawn–and his telling Joan his opposition to her having sex with the Jaguar representative just to get the partnership–suggests that he may, even with his ambivalence regarding women, he’s somewhat supportive of women having some professional advancement at Sterling Cooper & Partners or, at least, in being able to advance by their intelligence and not their bodies.
So, yeah, Don is a major cad, but there may be a nugget of professional gold in his otherwise callous heart. Maybe.