Mad Men: Ladies Room (S01E02)

Ladies Room

After six and a half season, I’m pretty sure Mad Men has become my favorite show of all time. I knew I was going to revisit the entire series before the back half of the last season airs next spring, and thus, decided that if I was going to watch the entire series again, I might as well put a little more thought into it and write about it on the blog. These will not be as much recaps as little essays on the many thoughts I’ll have as I make my way through the show. In any case, from now until the spring of 2015, I’ll be writing about two episodes of Mad Men every week, with reviews going up, hopefully on time, each Monday and Wednesday night.

Because Mad Men‘s pilot, officially known as “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes“, has Don going home to his wife as a last minute reveal, it doesn’t have time to properly introduce us to the Draper’s home life and marriage, which is going to be a big part of the series going forwards. Thus, the second episode of the series, “Ladies Room”, becomes somewhat of a second pilot. As we are introduced to Betty Draper (January Jones), and what life is like in the Draper household, we begin to get the full picture of what Don’s inner life is like. It’s as if “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” was the setup, and we are just now starting to dig deep into what the show will be exploring in its first season.

The key moment in the episode comes pretty early, after Don and Betty come home from having dinner in the city. A dinner in which a lot is spoken about all of the diner’s childhoods. All except Don, of course. On the ride home Betty tries to get Don to open up a little bit about his past, but is unsuccessful. Finally, as she’s ready to go to bed, Betty looks at a sleeping Don and asks: “Who’s in there?”. A lot of the first season of the show will concern itself with putting a human face on the idealized man that is Don Draper. He’s the guy you see in an advertisement. Everybody says they want to be him, but they really mean they want to be the image of the man, the idea. Nobody really knows what lies beneath.

It’s only been two episodes into the show, so we don’t really know much about the history behind Don Draper, and we won’t until at least a couple of episodes. But the question Betty asks as she sees her husband sleeping introduces us to the second big storyline of Mad Men’s first season: the Draper marriage, and the emotional void that lies within it. We learn very early in the episode that Betty is been having trouble with her hands. Every now and then they start shaking and she loses control. I don’t know what the exact name for this kind of narrative device is, but Betty’s shaking hands are clearly a physical way of showing the emotional toll the marriage is taking on her. She is married to a man that she doesn’t really know, and that is making her unhappy. She is also scared. She’s been raised at a time where women’s biggest goal in life is to have a happy, loving, family. That’s why she has such a particular reaction (between curiosity, pity, and fear) when she hears about Helen Bishop, the divorced woman that just moved into the neighborhood. This is made clear when Betty loses control of her hands and crashes her car after seeing Helen moving into her new house.

“Ladies Room” might not be the best episode of the series (it’s a lot of exposition and setup for later episodes), but it does a terrific job of introducing us to Betty, and what makes her tick (like when she says getting a scar is worse than dying). I had kind of forgotten what an interesting character Betty was in the show’s first couple of seasons, and how intriguing she was in the first one. Through the introduction of Betty, the show also introduces us to yet another theme that it will be exploring throughout its run: the role and struggle of women in the sixties. The episode’s interest in this theme becomes obvious when Betty asks Don to see a therapist about her problem and Don refuses. He eventually accepts, but even then, he feels the need to call the therapist up at the end of the day so he can learn everything his wife said during her session.

The developments of this episode tell us a lot about Betty, Don, and, of course, their marriage. Don can’t open up to Betty about his past, which makes Betty feel like she’s failing at being a wife (and, as extension, a woman). That is why she has problems with her hands. Meanwhile Don needs to always be in control (that’s why he call the therapist), but with her wife having to seek mental health for her problems, he feels like he doesn’t have any, and feels unhappy. It’s not hard to see there is a problem in the Draper marriage, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

Also in this Episode:
Continuing with the theme of women’s lives in the sixties, we get a storyline in which Peggy is dismayed to learn that the only thing the men in the office want from her is sex. A development that is made all the more sad (and infuriating) by the multiple scenes in this episode in which we see women crying in the office bathroom. She is particularly sad after Paul Kinsey, who gave her a pretty nice tour of the office earlier, kisses her. Even if all these men in the office are pigs, it doesn’t seem healthy that Peggy is apparently saving all her love for Pete Campbell, who is still in his honeymoon, but sends a postcard that Peggy steals and keeps in her desk.

Some Random Thoughts:

  • So far Joan has been a pretty unlikable character. I mean, she does take Peggy out for lunch, but she also tells her stuff like: “you’re the new girl and you’re not much, so you might enjoy it while it lasts”. Not to worry, though, we will get to know and love Joan pretty soon.
  • Robert Morse makes his debut as notable sock-wearer Bert Cooper in the scene where he talks to Don about working on the Nixon presidential campaign.
  • We are also introduced to Betty’s gossipy friend Francine (Anne Dudek), and although we don’t really see them, we hear about the Bishops, who will play a bigger role later in the season.
  • Crazy Sixties: Silly jokes about how things were different back then continue as we see Sally playing with a plastic bag over her head. Betty yells at her, of course, because she better not have ruined the clothes that were on that bag.
  • When Paul asks Peggy if she watches The Twilight Zone. Peggy: “I don’t think so. I don’t like science fiction” Paul: “I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that” (this is even funnier knowing how Paul’s love of science fiction television will pay off years later)
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