MAD MEN: Season 1 Episode 2 – “Ladies Room”
Viewed late at night on my couch, with a friend, and with too much snow outside.
In this episode we encountered ladies who lunch, societal taboos like divorce and psychiatry, and the difficulties and rewards of advertising to women. The funny thing about the taboos is how they change – things considered taboo then are no longer, while things we consider taboo now were common place back then. Back to the episode, this one is aptly titled “Ladies Room.” The whole 30 minutes mostly focuses on the women that revolve around the Mad Men.
Ladies who lunch.
At the beginning of “Ladies Room” Joan Holloway gives Peggy Olson a little lesson on wrangling free lunches from the men at the office. As usual, Holloway comes off as the office femme fatale and Olson blushes and brushes off the advances of her coworkers when they make inappropriate comments. We also meet the wife of Don Draper: Betty, who is oddly enough, engaging in things we would now consider taboo but didn’t warrant a second glance back in the early 60’s. Betty is having coffee and cigarettes with a neighbor while the children play. As Betty and her pregnant friend are smoking, Betty’s daughter walks in with a giant plastic dry cleaning bag draped over her head. You know, the kind of bag that now has “Keep away from children” printed all over it. After admonishing her daughter for taking her dry cleaning out of the bag the women continue to gossip about the latest neighbor on the block: a divorced woman.
The powder room.
Of course, ladies that lunch will always end up in the bathroom together. In the short scenes that take place in the women’s bathroom of the ad agency, we almost always see a woman crying or dabbing moisture from her eyes. In a different and much fancier bathroom, we are introduced to Betty’s nervous symptoms – her hands sometimes go numb and she becomes unable to use them. Going doctor to doctor, it’s finally suggested that Betty see a psychiatrist, a taboo the disapproving patriarch doesn’t want to pay for. When they discuss a psychiatrist, Betty goes off on a tangent about her daughter having a bruise on her face and her fear that it could have been a permanent scar on her face. She specifies that for a girl, living with a permanent scar on her face would be worse than death.
In this episode we see more of Midge, one of Don Draper’s regular “extracurricular activities.” Although she is complicit in letting Draper cheat on his wife, she’s quickly becoming one of my favorite characters. She is fiercely independent, ambitious, and completely uninterested in the conventional ideas of marriage and domesticity. In the first episode she says,
“You know the rules: I don’t make plans and I don’t make breakfast.”
as she and Draper are waking up in the morning. She also lives in Greenwich Village – a fact that may account for her beatnik-esque ways.
Advertising to women.
At the ad agency, Draper is coming with ideas to sell a new deodorant that comes in an aerosol can. He mentions that women are the target demographic for their ads because women are the ones who do the household shopping (a fact that still holds true today). It was nice to see this bit of truth come out of the ad agency side of the show – it also helped that he didn’t go straight for the “shrink it and pink it” concept (Thanks, Femme Den).
Lastly, I noticed the humor in this episode. The humor is smart and sly – no one’s cracking a joke, but when you see Betty Draper admonishing her plastic draped child for putting her dry cleaning on the floor, it’s hard not to feel like you found some of the brownie in your Ben & Jerry’s Half-Baked.
Which was, by the way, the food of choice for this viewing session.