MAD MEN: Season 1 Episode 6 – “Babylon”
Viewed at home on my increasingly uncomfortable couch, with a friend, late at night.
Holy creepy flashback, this episode starts with Don Draper attempting to make breakfast in bed for his wife on Mother’s Day, but instead Draper takes a literal trip on the stairs and amid the shattered dishes he flashes back to a fall down the stairs when he was a kid and his baby brother Adam (brother from another mother) was born. The important fact we take from this? Draper had a very unfortunate and creepy haircut as a child.
Back from creepy haircut land, Don and Betty are getting home from a nice Mother’s Day out with the kids and they begin to talk about Joan Crawford, the star of the movie they saw that afternoon.
Betty Draper starts comparing Joan Crawford in her younger years to how she’s beginning to age. This conversation morphs into Betty voicing her own fears about her looks fading as she gets older. I think it is important to note that at this point, I’m about to get hooked on this show. This scene puts something on display almost every single woman has worried about – in fact, it’s so dead on I’d venture to say that this scene had to be written by a woman (Are You There, Tina Fey? It’s Me, Couch Commando).
Of course getting older is scary for everyone, but Betty’s concern can still be easily passed off as superficial. But Betty – perhaps without knowing it – is giving a voice to a concept that transcends international borders, class, and race. In almost all societies a woman’s social value is intertwined with her physical appearance. Betty may not have a Women’s Studies class to help her verbalize this unfortunate concept – but deep down she already knows that her social value to men, and therefore her economic security, is almost entirely dependent on how she looks.
(Side note: We cannot talk about Joan Crawford without watching Faye Dunaway have a psychotic break as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest.)
Speaking of looks, this episode gives us a whole new look at Joan Holloway – the office femme fatale who is steadily leaving a stream of chewed up man-boys in her wake. Following a visit of partner Roger Sterling’s wife and daughter, Margaret (played by the amazing Elizabeth Rice) we find Sterling in a hotel room bemoaning his problematic daughter to Joan Holloway who is getting dressed.
Can you say hook, line, sinker? I am so on this Mad Men wagon it’s not even funny.
Back at the ad agency, the Old Boy’s Club plus Salvatore Romano, the art director, is wrestling with a lipstick account (I’m placing my gay bet now – I’ve known Romano was gay since the first episode. He’s so gay I want to bake him a coming out cake in the shape of a butterfly). Out of ideas, the guys agree to “throw it to the chickens.” All the secretaries, led by Holloway (back from her midday romp) are brought into a room with a two-way mirror used for consumer testing. The women settle in to try out the lipstick and this scene takes place:
Oh, and this after the men ask each other “Do you speak moron?” as a way of saying, “Can you speak so women understand you?” Charmers.
Right after the consumer testing, one of the ad guys, Fred, starts speaking with Peggy Olson, who verbalizes some nice phrases that would translate well to ad copy. Later, Fred goes to Draper to talk about the lipstick account and mentions Olson’s way with words. Fred is so shocked at the thought of a smart woman with ad talent he says, “It was like watching a dog play the piano!” Towards the end of the episode, Holloway tells Olson that the ad guys have requested that she help write some copy for the lipstick account. On top of her work as Draper’s secretary, of course.
This episode definitely stepped it up. I tend to like the episodes that focus on the women of Mad Men because I find their story lines more conflicted and dynamic. The male characters of this show have few redeeming qualities and the women are saddled with the same curse – yet I am most interested in the female story lines because these women are usually in such a precarious position. While the position of men in our society have changed considerably, the role of women in our society has changed drastically in comparison. Seeing women function in a time period that planted the seeds for the women’s rights movement makes me reflect on how much things have changed and how much things have stayed the same. I’m looking forward to watching the next episode now that things are getting thick and complicated. Consider me hooked.
Bonus round: 10 points to the sad sap that identifies the offensively bad Judy Blume joke in this post.