I’m reviewing all the episodes of Mad Men before the last seven episodes premiere in the Spring of 2015. If you want to see an overview of the episodes I’ve written about so far, click HERE.
“Maidenform” is not a subtle episode of television. It is one of those Mad Men episodes in which the theme seems to come first, and whatever happens to the characters second. These episodes can be a little annoying for certain viewers who prefer either shows that are heavier on plot, or shows that are lighter on their symbolism. They are, however, usually very well constructed episodes, and while not entirely elegant, they tend to be very powerful. I, for instance, can see how the on-the-nose symbolism could bring someone out of “Maidenform”, yet still regard it as a very powerful episode of television.
The episode presents us with its recurrent visual motif right away, as it opens to a montage of its three main female characters -Betty, Joan, and Peggy- going through their daily morning ritual. They all are dressing up for the day ahead, and they all look in the mirror. In case it weren’t obvious after watching the episode, the main motif in “Maidenform” is mirrors. Most importantly, reflections. This is an episode all about how people see you, and how you see yourself. Almost all of the characters that have an arc in the episode look themselves in the mirror at one point or another*. The question is, what do they see?
*Joan is the only character that looks in the mirror, but doesn’t have an arc. Duck the only one that has an arc, but doesn’t look in the mirror.
Pete, whom we know doesn’t really want to have a child despite his wife’s strong desire to the contrary, has an incredibly awkward conversation in which he tries to interact with Peggy. After all that happened between these two in season one (and the fact that Peggy secretly gave birth to Pete’s baby), there really is no way that this conversation could have gone well. During the episode, Pete has sex in the living room of a young blonde woman (while her mother sits in the next room), and when he gets home, he looks at himself in the mirror. The next day, when he sees Peggy hanging out at the strip-club with the guys and the clients, we realize that he was actually trying to get to her. I don’t know if actually being able to escape his current life, and go on to be with Peggy would put an end to Pete being so unhappy, but Peggy is undoubtedly what he wants right now.
Peggy, of course, doesn’t want Pete. Or at least she tells herself that she doesn’t want him anymore. Season one Peggy would probably have done anything to get Pete on her side (she almost did), but the new Peggy has her eye on bigger things. She is now a copywriter, she is making it in the business, or at least she wants to make it, if everybody didn’t look down on her. The boys talk about clients and have ideas when they go out at night. Peggy is not invited to these outings, but she wants to be part of the boys’s club. She asks Joan for advice. “You want o be taken seriously? Stop dressing like a little girl”, she says. We end with Peggy wearing a sexy blue dress, and with her silky hair down, at a strip-club, sitting on the lap of one of her clients. Is this how she wants people to see her? Is this something that was meant to empower her? Is this was Bobbie Barrett was talking about when she gave advice to Peggy last episode? Part of Bobbie’s advice was telling Peggy that she should try to be a man, but should embrace being a woman. Still, this doesn’t seem like what she was supposed to take away from it.
Talking about Bobbie Barrett, there is a moment at which she and Don, either right before or right after having sex in her house, look at themselves at the mirror. What are they doing? I’ve been saying that this relationship brings out very dark feelings in Don, but he seems to be unable to resist to Bobbie. Something pretty bad happens this time around, though, when Bobbie mentions, in the middle of having sex, that there is such a thing like “the Don Draper experience”. What does she mean? “You have a reputation” she tells Don. Yep, Don has been sleeping around enough as to have started a little rumor about how good he is in bed. “That’s not the worst thing in the world”, you might be thinking, but is something that makes Don feel incredibly guilty, especially at a point when he has been lying to his family and wife so often.
The next morning he is shaving when Sally walks into the bathroom. “I’m not gonna talk. I don’t want you to cut yourself”, she says as she sits to watch her father. Don looks at the mirror, and can’t take it anymore. He needs to be left alone. That’s how the episode ends. Don sitting alone on a toilet, being unable to look at his own reflection. Don Draper, strictly speaking, was supposed to be Don’s escape. An opportunity to be the person he wanted to be, and not the person that he was born as, and now, what has he made out of Don Draper? Not that he has a family, can he really afford to start again? How can he make this right? How can he live with the consequences? He might have gotten to reinvent himself once, but that was an extraordinary circumstance. Change, in the real world, isn’t quite that simple.
Is that what the other characters are also thinking? Pete is certainly unhappy in his current marriage, and wants some sort of escape. Peggy is trying to be the person she wants to be, even if countless obstacles are constantly presenting themselves. Betty, we know, has basically based her whole existence on what people see of her (this is exemplified, in this episode, by her buying a bikini). Even Duck Phillips can’t really live with himself. He is the new, important, guy at Sterling Cooper, the one that will bring new business, and take the company to places it has never gone to, but he is actually a drunk that has ruined his first marriage, and can’t stand being himself. Duck doesn’t look in a mirror, but he can’t facing the glance of his dog Chauncey, cold-heartedly abandoning him in the street. All these people look themselves in the mirror and don’t like what they see. I don’t thing anything too good can come out of that, except, of course, great television.
- The opening montage is scored to The Decemberists’s “The Infanta“. That’s not the first time the show has used anachronistic music (it used The Cardigans’s “The Great Divide” to close a season one episode), but it’s one of the most memorable instances. It’s also a choice that was criticized by a bunch of people, who I’m assuming are all the idiots that don’t like Sofia Coopola’s Marie Antoinette.
- The summer of ’62 is apparently “as hot as that summer they executed the Rosenbergs“. Referring, of course, to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. If you are like me, then you mostly associate this with the latter being a character in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.
- I was just thinking how Alison Brie and whatever actress plays the wife of Pete’s brother looked alike, when they mentioned that the character was named Judy. Now, two women that look alike and are named Judy and Trudy? Seems like these Campbell boys have a type.
- “You’ll miss the sparklers” “Call me from the emergency room”
- “You saved me 50 cents” says Peggy when Pete spoils The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. I wish I lived in a time when going to the movies costed only 50 cents (which in 2014 money, would still be $3.95).
- Jane spent Memorial Day at the beach, and her ridiculous sunburn was especially painful to me because I went to the beach this weekend, and like her, am also looking very red.
- “Marilyn is really a Joan, not the other way around”
- Who does Peggy look like? Gertrude Stein, a classical, Helenistic type, and Irene Dunne. Freddy, by the way, loves Irene Dunne.
- Pete’s idea of having a dog in the office has to be something that advertising agencies started doing in the nineties at the very least, right?
- Everyone is kind of frustrated when the Playtex people pass on the Jackie/Marilyn campaign, but considering Marilyn Monroe would tragically die later that year, maybe they made the right choice?
- Yes, readers, I must sadly inform you that, up to this point in the show’s run, this is the first and last time that we have seen Chauncey the dog. I’m still crossing my fingers for him to make an appearance in the last seven episodes of season seven.
- This is the first time we see Jane and Roger interact, and he seems to like her, but have resigned to the fact that Don is probably going to be the one to sleep with her.