Mad Men: “Maidenform”

All the Internet pundits out there just gushed over this episode, calling it “the best of the season” and “the best episode ever”. On the other hand, while I feel that the episode had some great moments, there was just something that I didn’t like about it. Like last week’s episode, it felt “off” for some reason (this episode even more so). That doesn’t mean that Mad Men isn’t still the best show on TV right now. Let’s hop right in to the recap:

This episode begins with Betty, Joan and Peggy getting dressed. In the background, “The Infanta” from The Decemberists’ 2005 album Picaresque plays. I did not like the modern music playing during the opening, and that has nothing to do with my like or dislike of The Decemberists – any modern music would put me off. Although I don’t want to paint Mad Men’s producers into a “you must use music from 1962″ corner, I hope they don’t do that again.

Anyway, at the office, Don meets with everyone over the Playtex account. It seems that the Playtex people – whose advertising has always plainly advertised the merits of their bras – are interested in possibly changing their campaign to mimic the dreamy, fantasy world of their main competitor, Maidenform. As was the case with American Airlines, Duck is all for giving Playtex a new look, while Don is unconvinced that change would be good for Playtex. Once again, the two openly disagree.

As Duck leaves the meeting, his secretary rushes up to him to tell him that his ex-wife, children and dog are waiting for him:

It seems that Duck’s former mother-in-law is sick, and his ex-wife needs to spend some time with her; thus, she dumps the kids (and dog) with Duck. Duck takes it in stride, though, telling the kids that he has a great hotel room lined up, and has awesome tickets to a play.

While all this is going on, Pete, Peggy and Sal discuss the direction of the Clearasil account. Pete thinks up his own tagline (“Thanks Clearasil”) over the muted objections of Peggy, who has her own ideas for the campaign.

On Memorial Day, we see the Drapers at a country club party. Don runs in to a guy that “did some work” for the CIA in Cuba, while Betty runs bumps to Arthur Case. The two have an enlightening conversation (“Lets be friends!”). As soon as the Draper children rush up and hug their mother’s waist, Arthur seems to instantly lose interest in Betty. It’s hard to tell what will happen from that. Betty previously pushed Arthur away when he tried to kiss her, but as we know from previous episodes, Betty is a sexual time bomb waiting to go off. Although she appears to value her marriage more than anything, I wonder if she’ll be strong enough to avoid infidelity in the future.

The highlight of the Memorial Day scene was when a poobah of the country club gives a little speech about what Memorial Day means. At the end of the speech, he asks all the veterans to stand up for the crowd. All the members and guests that served did so, including Don… who looks more and more uncomfortable as the applause goes on. A few minutes after the speech, Don tells Betty that he has to go in to the office. He leaves and calls Bobbie from a payphone at the club. Bobbie says that she has to cancel their plans for the day, as she has to take her hitherto unmentioned 18 year-old son to the beach. However, she says that Jimmy will be at the Beverly Hills Supper Club “somewhere in Kentucky” for the next four days, so there will be plenty of time to “play”.

By the way, the Beverly Hills Supper Club was a real club in Southgate, Kentucky. Located 6 miles outside of Cincinnati, the club burned down over the Memorial Day weekend in 1977, killing 165 people and injuring 200 more. It was the third worst nightclub fire in US history. Read more about the Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire over at Wikipedia.

The next day, Pete waltzes in the office and triumphantly tells Peggy that his father-in-law, a top salesman at Vicks Chemical (and the reason Sterling Cooper got the account in the first place) loved his “Thanks Clearasil!” tagline. Rather than take it as the insult Pete intended, Peggy simply says that she knows that they all need to do what they can to make Clearasil happy. She further says that “I do my job, you do yours”. When Pete asks what she means by this, Peggy simply says “Nothing”.

Roger stops by Don’s office, to basically order him to have lunch with Duck and work out their differences. The scene begins with a hilarious line: Don’s new “hot” secretary walks out, just as Roger walks in. He closes the door and asks Don “if [his] wife has seen that yet”.

While Roger and Don are talking, Duck entertains his kids in his office while they wait for their mother to pick them up. When Duck starts to leave for a meeting, he offers the kids some money so they can buy something off the food cart. His son says that they don’t need any money… because mom’s new boyfriend gave him $150. When Duck asks how he got the money – around $1000 in 2007 dollars – his daughter admits that their mom’s “new boyfriend” is about to become her “new husband”. Duck is visibly shaken by the news, but does everything he can to remain calm and collected. The kids even tell Duck that they’re supposed to leave the dog with him, because their “new father” is allergic to dogs.

Paul then drops a surprise on Don: last night “the boys” had gone out for a few drinks, when he noticed that every female in the bar apparently wanted to look like either Jackie Kennedy or Marilyn Monroe. He points out all the “Jackies” and “Marilyns” in the office to Don. Don likes the idea. Peggy isn’t sold on it. She asks the boys who she is. Ken, in all his sensitivity, blurts out “Gertrude Stein”, while a much more diplomatic Don tells her she’s an “Irene Dunn”. Peggy, miffed that she was left out of the loop on this, tells Fred that she wants to be included on these “outings”.

Instead of going to lunch with Duck, Don stops by Duck’s office. Don tells Duck that he feels that Duck is selling the client’s ideas to Don instead of selling Don’s ideas to clients. Duck says that going after American was a good thing, because it made people think differently about the agency. Duck says that he knows that he screwed up on the American account, and that Don has an “I Told You So” over him, but further asks Don if they can just put it past them. Don agrees.

Back at the office, Peggy finds out that she has once again been left out of the loop: the guys are running a casting call for bra models, and no one has told her anything about it. Pete runs in to one of the models as he’s leaving the office. The two of them end up back at “her place” (her Mom’s place, apparently). The two have hot monkeysex (well, as hot as sex with Pete can get). What a jerk!

The next morning, Don is shocked to see this in his kitchen:

Yes, it’s his wife in a bikini she purchased at a charity auction at the country club after Don left. Look, I know I say this almost every time Betty’s name comes up in these posts, but I’ll say it again: “Jesus Christ, Don Draper! What the hell is wrong with you?”. Don will barely even touch his wife… and she’s every kind of beautiful there is! For God’s sake… just look at her! I understand Don being kind of freaked out by the bikini – after all, they were still controversial in 1962. But damn man! If I were Don and I saw that in the morning… I’d give the kids $20 to go to the movies and call in sick to work… for the rest of the week!

Back at the office, Peggy talks to Joan about why she’s being ignored. Joan basically tells her to “walk the walk and talk the talk”. Oh, and to “stop dressing like a little girl”.

The Playtex executives show up a little while later, and Don pitches the new campaign to them. Unfortunately, they decided to stick with their current campaign in the cab on the way to Sterling Cooper. It’s another disaster for Duck! Just to show that there’s no hard feelings, the Playtex guys offer to take the Sterling Cooper guys out to a strip club later that evening. Peggy isn’t told this, but overhears the men making plans.

Duck’s in a bad way that night. He walks into someone’s office and asks for some artwork that he was supposed to approve before it was sent to the printer. They guy snaps to and runs out of his office to find it. Then, in the second most poignant scene in this episode, Duck walks over to the man’s credenza and picks up a bottle of Scotch. Duck, the recovering alcoholic, opens the bottle a takes a deep whiff of the whisky. He looks over at his dog, then back at the bottle. Then at the dog, then the bottle again. You can almost see him crack. Instead of taking a drink, Duck takes his dog to the lobby… where he removes the leash and abandons the poor thing:

While all this is going on, Don and Bobbie are having a tryst. Despite Don’s repeated pleas for her to stop talking, Bobbie keeps up with the dirty talk. Don starts to tie Bobbie up, yet she keeps talking. She tells Don that other women have been talking about his “reputation”, and that he has lots of “fans”. Don, in a quiet rage, ties Bobbie’s other wrist to the bed and leaves.

Peggy later shows up unannounced at the strip club… and she doesn’t look like a little girl any more:

A lot was going on in this scene: everyone’s shock at Peggy showing up, the fact that she actually looks like a woman now, Pete’s disapproving look, and Sal’s ability to blend in with the straight guys. I told you that Elizabeth Moss could look hot if she wanted to!

The final scene was what really made this episode. Don is in his bathroom starting his morning shave when little Sally comes in. She greets him with a cheery “Hey Daddy!”. As he starts to stares at himself in the mirror to begin shaving, Sally says “I won’t talk” (meaning that she won’t talk so he won’t cut himself). Don looks at her, slightly confused or taken aback by what she’d said: the opposite of what Bobbie said the night before. He looks at Sally, who is giving him the sweet look only a daughter that loooooovvess her Daddy can. Don looks back at himself in the mirror:

He starts to look a bit freaked out. Were this any other man on the show, you’d think he was having a relapse of shell shock or something. Don simply can’t stand to look at himself any more. He tries to remain calm while he tells Sally that she ought to leave him alone. He’s almost shaky, like he’s having a bad dream. After Sally leaves, he wipes the shaving cream off his face and sits on the toilet deep in thought.

Deep in thought indeed. If this episode had a theme, it’d absolutely be “mirrors”, and the way people look at themselves versus what other people see when they look at them. Both Don and Pete don’t like looking at themselves in a mirror (or, in Pete’s case, a window). The aborted Playtex campaign was about the mirror images women see of themselves – Jackie during the day and Marilyn at night. Speaking of, Don sees his women in the same light: virginal and pure Betty as his Jackie, and slutty Bobbie as his Marilyn. Don knows that Duck is falling apart, even though everything looks fine from the outside. Peggy is also experiencing a duality – a young girl on the inside that’s now going to be a raging woman on the outside (and let’s not forget her “professional” side, and the side of her that had the baby). Everywhere you looked in this episode, you could see people looking into a mirror, either a literal or figurative one. Especially the closing shot… as the camera pulls back, we see Don… in a mirror.

I can’t wait until next week!

2 thoughts on “Mad Men: “Maidenform”

  1. Steve M

    Great recap of the show. I agree, the Decemberists song seemed way out of place in a show that seems to pride itself in the small details of historical accuracy. But that was the only thing (well, that and the heartbreaking dog scene) that bothered me. I thought it was great and finally got up to pace with Season One again. It’s very addictive.

  2. ben

    I just saw this episode on DVD –so sorry for being a year late. The DVD has some good insight about the feminist movement and how women were treated during this time period.

    I have read feminist critiques of the stifling “Madonna/whore” dichotomy imposed on women and thought that this episode offers an interesting counterpoint (“dad/cad”) in Don Draper’s character.

    He is threatened by Bobbie’s speaking the truth and that she may think of him is a male version of herself; he is also shamed by his daughter’s applause for his supposed military service.

    His daughter’s innocent words, “I’m not going to talk; I don’t want you to cut yourself” mirrors his encounter with Bobbie. His false sense of himself and the world, which he keeps together by keeping them separate and compartmentalized, is threatened in both scenes, but especially by his daughter to whom he is “daddy.” Ironically, her words actually “cut” him and he is forced to see the “cad” and “dad” sides of himself at the same time–nicely suggested by the dual-mirror shot that ends the episode.

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