Mad Women: Struggles for Power and Female Wrath

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Sunday's Mad Men brought us three main plot lines. They all had to do with angry women. 

The episode hinged on a decision, and flipped back in time repeatedly to be run through from our various characters' points of view. That decision—let's call it the "hinge moment"—comes at the beginning of the episode, when Don decides to take Megan with him to check out a potential client, Howard Johnson's, a decision wrought by Roger Sterling, who says (and we see this at least twice), "It was a dumb idea." Though it's not quite clear what he means, exactly, much of our characters' decisions in this episode could fit the bill.

But before that moment happens, we see Peggy with her boyfriend, in her apartment, getting ready for work. There is trouble in this relationship; Peggy is preparing for an important presentation, and Abe doesn't get it, feeling like an afterthought, feeling like she puts her career before him. "You want to take me to work with you and put me in a drawer and pull me out when you're bored," he says, and when she responds, "I need a second when I walk in the door," to his charges that half the time she doesn't want to have sex, he says, "Most men wouldn't even have this problem," meaning not sex, but her.  Yes, this is a career-woman problem, and Peggy has it with Abe because she has chosen her career, he thinks, above him. (Which, to be fair, she probably has—and that makes her all the more angry when it doesn't go well.) 

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Inevitably after this sort of morning, the meeting with Heinz that Peggy is so concerned about fails royally, ending with Peggy telling her middle-aged male client that her work is beautiful and if he doesn't like it, (the implication is) he can go to hell. The client's response is perfectly paternalistic and awful, making you wonder what he'd say to a man telling him the same thing: "Can you believe this girl?" he asks. "Miss, you’re lucky I have a daughter, or I wouldn’t be this understanding." 

As ever perfectly understanding (i.e., not at all), Pete tells her she's off the business, and Peggy leaves work to see a movie -- The Naked Prey, the very same one Abe wanted her to go see with him. [Correction: Peggy sees Born Free.] She ends up on a sort of anti-romantic date with a stranger: he offers her some pot and she offers him a handjob. It's the antithesis to the beautiful innocent Heinz kids by the campfire, though "smoke" ("the fire is primal") plays into both scenes. The subtext, which is not very "sub": Peggy has offended the male advertising world by being an angry woman. The theater scene is a weird way to subvert that again; instead of submitting to the guy, Peggy is in control—sort of. Later she calls Abe and tells him she needs him, to come over. "I always need you," she says...and he submits.

Next up in relationship power struggles we have Jane and Roger. This plot line, wow, it was rather amazing, at different points sad, poignant, hilarious, "true." Jane and Roger of course have been troubled perhaps since they married, certainly all of this season, and there's no difference here. Until they do LSD together at a friend's house, at Jane's behest. She thinks it will be good for them. And it is...but isn't. Roger of course doesn't even want to go to the party. But after he takes the LSD, a series of bizarre, dream-sequence-like things occur. Don at one point appears in a mirror telling Roger to "be with his wife." Bert Cooper appears on dollar bills. Roger and Jane lie together on the floor, heads wrapped in pink turbans, talking—perhaps talking more than they ever talked, at least about their relationship after it began. Jane confesses, upon being asked, that she'd never cheated on Roger: "There was a kiss and I stopped it and then I was mad at you that you didn't appreciate it even though you didn't know about it." (This is what men say they don't understand about women, right?) But it's a truth, an LSD truth that comes out and changes everything: In the drug-infused state, they realize (if temporarily) that they need to split. Why? "You don't like me," says Jane. "I did," says Roger, perpetual man-child, "I really did." Thus, Roger is released: The next day he leaves her. We see a woman scorned, essentially, because while maybe she wanted that, she also doesn't. "It's going to be very expensive," she says—along with denying him a final kiss, that's one of her only powers of retaliation.

The loop begins again. "It was a dumb idea," says Roger. And Megan and Don are driving to Howard Johnson's. The power struggle between Megan and Don has been simmering, at some points boiling over, all season. This episode brought it to new levels. A main point of contention is one of career, one of man's place and woman's place in marriage. Don tells Megan, after Roger's "dumb idea," that he wants her to come with him to the motel, even though she's on the Heinz presentation. She aquiesces, but somewhat unhappily so. "I'm the boss," says Don, and she says, "It's an hour and a half from my parents." For Megan, that's one reason to go, though they never get there. 

At the Howard Johnson's things get worse, with Don ordering Megan orange sherbert (when she'd wanted pie). And then there's this scene (a counterpoint to Betty eating Sally's leftover sundae in a previous episode, perhaps?) in which Megan says she doesn't like it—"it tastes like perfume"—Don making his "Oh really?" face, and Megan then choking it down, not to make him happy but to make a point: If you're going to try to own me, I'll make you miserable, it's not going to go the way you intended. "You like to work, but I can't like to work," she complains. "Maybe you could make up a schedule for when I'm working and when I'm your wife....Get in the car / eat ice cream / take off your dress / yes master."  

The fight continues in the parking lot, and Don—Don—makes the awful mistake of driving away, leaving her there. Oh Don. So Megan gets him back, disappearing completely, after being seen talking to some guys in the parking lot. Don waits, Don gets sweaty, Don calls Peggy, Don calls even Megan's mother, and finally Don turns around and drives home, imagining Megan with him and the kids in the car, another version of reality that's as much an LSD trip as the one Roger and Jane are on. When he gets home, Megan is there, the chain on the door, and there's a chase around the apartment, God knows what would really happen if anyone's caught. But in the end, "It was a fight," says Don. "It's over." Megan, her faith in their relationship breaking a bit more each time, says, "Every time we fight it just diminishes us." 

Back in the office, then, Don is taken to task by Bert Cooper for his newlywed lack of focus on the agency, and the episode ends with Roger coming in, on the tails of his split with Jane. "I have an announcement to make," he says. "It's going to be a beautiful day!" For Roger, at least, that much is true. It was a dumb idea. 

Image via Jordin Althaus/AMC.

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