Re-watching Mad Men, S01E02: “Ladies Room”
Joan Holloway is to advertising what Tom Hanks is to baseball: There is no crying at Sterling-Cooper—or it’s all relegated to the bathroom. As you should know from its very duh title, this episode is all about Mad Men’s ladies and what they do in their most private of spaces, from the ladies’ room attendants to those single steno pool-ers to desperate housewives like Betty, Mona and Francine. Even nouveau-BoHo Midge, assertive as she is, has to answer for her sudden change of heart about the television (and her wigs) and she gets treated like some sort of guinea pig for Right Guard. Not that Don really mistreats or maligns Midge; I think they’re pretty like-minded, and she even gets to push him around a bit. But Midge follows Don’s rules the way that Don follows Midge’s rules. Unlike Betty, she can perform her role without any pesky hysteria.
But of course, there’s also how the men think of and treat the women in their lives. Beyond the shameless passes thrown by the Proto-Bros, the less-odious Kinsey flirtation (does the “Ukranian food” line ever get him laid?), and the lasting stench of Pete Campbell form a Great Triumverate of sexual harassment that has Peggy in fits. This episode isn’t very subtle about the cultural attitudes regarding women’s place in society even when there aren’t any women in the room—specifically the moment where the other guys wrestle down Cosgrove with the line, “just pretend it’s prom night; you can be the girl” or even “brassiere account—turns out we can’t sell them to men.” The men selling products to women think of them as a joke—a trope so common on this show there’s not much to do but point it out.
But Betty’s nerve problem suddenly makes female frivolities Don’s concern. I don’t mean to sound callous; it’s just strange to see Betty’s vulnerability without a façade of ice. This is before her children fear her or even defy her. She’s just lonely, and kind of pathetic. She blurts out that her mother has died to Mona just to tell someone, and it’s pretty obvious that Mona is unsympathetic to her plight. Betty has always struck me as a pretty weak character among a lot of stronger characters. She eventually learns use her pettiness to more manipulative ends, but so far she’s pretty dull.
This episode is just so much better than the first episode. It’s still a little on the nose, especially with Don quizzing his clueless crew about what’s eating him on the home front and in the office. Not a lot happens plot-wise (hence the paltriness of this review), but I still enjoy the setup, especially the way that it sets up the divergent paths of Peggy and Betty. For all her frustrations, Peggy’s life seems open to a bunch of possibilities—and not just the possibility of Kinsey or Cosgrove or even whether she’ll become the office whore, but rather “You mean women can be copy writers?” Meanwhile, Betty’s life where she has “all of this” is more and more closed off, to the point where her neuroses and fixations have translated into disturbing physical manifestations, and that monologue about Sally’s scars. Jon Hamm’s disturbed face is priceless and very believable.
“An ad man who doesn’t like to talk about himself? I think I might cry.” As someone who has seen your future, Roger, I can tell you that you won’t cry but will throw a tantrum about this same issue in Season 4.
“Just think of me as a baby in a basket.” We learn in the Season 3 premiere that this is precisely how Don thinks of himself. Huzzah for consistency.
I love the sight gag of the aerosol blowtorch. It’s a lighter, more carefree Mad Men that I miss sometimes.
“I’ve still got my novel.” Kinsey, you douche.
This hour’s Tao of Draper
“Jesus, Bets, it’s like politics, religion or sex. Why talk about it?”
“Some people think of the future and it upsets them. They see a rocket; they start building a bomb shelter. I don’t think it’s ridiculous to assume we’re looking for other planets because this one will end. Who is this moron flying around space? I mean, he pees in his pants.”