I’m really excited that Mad Men is coming back. Tonight. In less than 8 hours. I began watching Season 4 backwards and then started to skip around when I couldn’t take the emotional roller-coaster known as The Suitcase. But I made it through the whole thing out of order, eventually (and I’m embarrassed to admit I’m on repeats).
I used to do Mad Men retrospectives on this blog (can they be called recaps if you’re taking the whole series into account?) but I stopped. (I reread them and I think they could be better; I wrote them in a daily ritual I had that I called “the whiskey sour power hour” in August 2010.) I had a moment where I had plans to put all the episodes in the order that I liked them, but it became too complicated. But perhaps one way I can discuss the series by distilling it down to the women who become series regulars and then disappear from Don’s life—or, basically, everyone Don boinks but Betty. Mad Men is of course, a complex show, so I’m leaving a lot of good territory uncovered, but I am tired of doing work for my paying job. And so, I bring you my thoughts on a handful of Draper’s numerous women, beginning with Season One.
Have opinions? Leave a comment.
Le spoiler alert (also, I don’t have cool pictures):
Season One: Midge
I liked Midge just fine. She was funny, she was edgy, she was like the City Mouse to Betty’s Suburb Mouse. Her beatnik pals were really annoying, sure, but I think she realized that to some extent. Bonus points for saying what she thinks, such as one of my #1 favorite Midge line: “Do you two want to go to the men’s room and poke it out?” Things just weren’t a big deal to Midge; she seemed like she liked Don, but she could take him or leave him.
Season 4 Midge, who appears in “Blowing Smoke” (4×12) is just sad. But the scene between her and Don is just heart-wrenching as she tries to keep her brave face while begging Don for money to support her heroin addiction (and then telling him she can’t take a check).
Season One: Rachel Menken
“The Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” is kind of an annoying episode in retrospect because the show’s first episode relies too heavily on “Racism! Sexism! Alcoholism! Anti-Semitism! WOW THE SIXTIES WERE SO DIFFERENT!” But it does bring us Rachel Menken, who I think is my favorite of Don Draper’s Women of Significant Screen Time (girlfriends? mistresses? I feel like my feminist training sometimes conflicts with my Mad Men obsession).
I like Rachel Menken so much more than Season 4’s Dr. Faye Miller. Maybe it’s because Rachel doesn’t have a PhD. in Psychobabble (of course, in Season 1, Don reacts aversely to psychology playing into advertising, but that must be the way that the industry changes), but she’s smart and savvy. I think it’s a fair to compare Rachel Menken with Dr. Faye because they both seem the most like Don. I don’t want to use the term “intellectual equal” because there is no lack of witty repartee between Don and Midge or even Don and Bobbie. But both Rachel and Dr. Faye are professionals who work with Don in his business setting, women who are successful and smart, and who I think relate to Don the most outside the bedroom because they understand advertising the best. Furthermore, I think Don trusts them both; he reveals significant information about his Super Secret Past to both of them—I don’t think he tells either Bobbie Barrett or Suzanne Farrell any weighty details about himself, but I could be mistaken.
I haven’t re-watched Season 1 for quite some time, but if memory serves, Rachel doesn’t back down like Dr. Faye. I’m thinking specifically in Season 4 when Dr. Faye gets mad at Don for asking for her to breach business ethics—she caves because he’s more important to her. Rachel Menken caves once: she is upset to learn that Don is married with kids, but continues an affair with Don anyway. But at the end of the first season, however, when Don wants to run away, Rachel calls him a coward and stands her ground, a move that ends her relationship with Don.
Of course, the stakes are different because in Season 1 Don is married and in Season 4 he is not—he and Rachel could never have an open relationship and Don has to be careful to keep these spheres of his life from intersecting. By the time Dr. Faye comes along, of course, Don can’t parade their relationship around the office because they are co-workers, but clearly some of them know about it. She meets Sally. But even so, Rachel isn’t as insecure as Dr. Faye. She can be vulnerable, but she doesn’t crack jokes when she’s uncomfortable and she doesn’t do things like have a public breakup in the office—as much as we all enjoyed Dr. Faye tell her boyfriend “Go shit in the ocean!” In Season 1, Rachel seems almost content to never be married, but in Season 4, Dr. Faye’s single status clearly eats away at her. I guess I would say in conclusion that I feel for Dr. Faye, but I like Rachel Menken.
Season 2: Bobbie Barrett
I really don’t know how to analyze Bobbie Barrett. She always seemed like a self-parody of the show’s take on the suave early 60s. I didn’t get Bobbie and Don at all as a couple; it seemed like her appeal to Don was that she gave the best bj’s in all 1960s Manhattan. (This seems likely in light of Jimmy Barrett’s comment that she’s like the village bicycle.) I’m not trying to slut-shame Bobbie; I just found her incredibly obnoxious as a character. It sort of makes sense in light of the show: a lot of Season 2 had to do with extending the excess of Don Draper’s lifestyle, and Bobbie’s unending discussion of the sensual delights of being with Don fits in with this well. I agreed with Draper by the end of her run on the show: she talked too much. She was easily my least favorite part of Season 2—at least the Europeans provided a change of pace.
Season 2: Anna Draper
Possibly the most important woman in Draper’s life, which he admits over and over again. Whenever he’s around Anna, Debonair Draper kind of disappears and he’s back to Dick Whitman again. It’s hard to tell if he loves casting off the charade or if he just does it. I’m not sure how I feel about Dick Whitman so I’m not sure how I feel about Anna. Dick Whitman is goofy and full of dreams and smiles all the time. It’s almost like the show didn’t know what to do with their relationship and Don’s transformation into a total sap around Anna always throws me. He’s rarely that sappy elsewhere; no other instances come to mind where he behaves like he does except maybe when he proposes to Megan in “Tomorrowland.” Engagement-Afterglow Don seems to scare his co-workers. I mean, imagine being Peggy in Season 4: you put up with Don being a mean old drunk, then you see him throw up on himself, almost get taken out by Duck Phillips, and cry his eyes out….and then he marries his secretary and congratulates you on your great work. Sybil, can Don Draper come out now?
Also, Don seeing Anna’s ghost in “The Suitcase” was so dumb so she loses points for that and for thinking she saw a UFO.
Season 3: Suzanne Farrell
In Season 3, Don re-dedicates himself to his family and spends much more time with Betty. So he starts sleeping around closer to home, with his daughter’s third grade teacher. It’s certainly a 180 from the sophisticated, cosmopolitan city women Don often goes for. Man, and I thought Bobbie Barrett was bad. Suzanne is un-fucking-bearable. I appreciate her idealism and sensitivity to Civil Rights, but their pillow-talk and relationship in general make me want to gouge my eyes out. Maybe I’ll have to watch Season 3 again, even though I disliked a lot of it. Between Miss Farrell and Conrad Hilton, I just didn’t like a lot of what went on.
Season 4: Bethany van Nuys
I was glad to see this one go. I think Don realized when he and Bethany ran into Betty at a restaurant that he was essentially dating Betty, Jr. and he put her on the done-zo list.
Season 4: Allison
I don’t think I’ve ever felt as bad about Don spurning a woman as I felt about how Don treated Allison in Season 4. For someone who is so good at being in tune with the feelings of the masses, I sat in disbelief watching him just fucking blow it with Allison. She had every right to be upset, and the fact that she caused a scene was just so hard to watch and also incredibly well done.
Season 4: Dr. Faye Miller
I think I used my best arguments up above in the Rachel Menken section. Dr. Faye is really insecure and it bothers me. I feel for her up until the point where she gets Draper a meeting with Heinz after SCDP loses Lucky Strike. Unlike Rachel Menken, she does not seem as confident hanging around the old boys club, but maybe that’s because she works in advertising rather than retail and has to put up with more bullshit—not unlike the mistreatment and sometimes harassment of Peggy and Joan.
I also think, though, that her dedication to her career may have been what cost her a further relationship with Don. And I’m not saying she should have become a trophy wife because I admire Dr. Faye’s type: that is, the single, educated career woman high up in her field. But I think it was over between them when Don saw her inability to calm Sally down in “The Beautiful Girls.” I was glad she called him on it, but when Don took Megan to California and stared at her taking care of his kids, I couldn’t help but think of poor Dr. Faye failing to make Sally like her. I think Don could have let Dr. Faye slide if he never saw his kids, or at least she might have lasted a little bit longer.
Season 4: Megan Calvet
Something about California makes Don really sappy. My most recent re-watch of Season 4 began backwards and if you watch the show that way you can see it really setting up Megan and Don, even as Don dates and sleeps around more in this season than in others. Megan promises not to make a big deal out of their initial one-night stand, and shows interest in Don’s work in a way that partly shows her not to be as dumb as a box of hammers (LOIS SADLER) but also very “ooh, show me, big strong ad man.” Megan is sophisticated but also good with kids, a more interesting version of Betty. Before Don confesses his love for her, it’s obvious he’s in love with how she makes his family complete and look good and she is good at sitting on her emotions, unlike Betty, Dr. Faye, and Allison. I think she’s another trophy—before they sleep together at the office, the most Don ever does is just stare at Megan putting on lipstick or hugging Sally or something. I feel like Megan acts shy, but the gears are turning in her head more than she lets on. I can’t tell if Don also sees this in Megan or not. Even though I don’t really like “Don and Megan,” I’m excited to see what the show does with it later tonight.
Honorable Mention Guest Stars:
- Los Angeles Lolita Joy the Jet-Setter: pretentious as all get-out with a family set-up that’s a little too intimate for my taste.
- Toothy Flight Attendant: forgettable.
- Phoebe from the Village: never sleeps with Don, but has annoying Southern accent.
- The hooker who slaps Don: she’s like Midge without the beatnik boyfriend. I liked her. And she got Lane some poon-tang (by the way, Lane’s date was none other than Elaine Carroll, of the hilarious web series Very Mary Kate.)