Mad Men Season 2 Episode 5: The New Girl
If anyone had any complaints that “nothing happens” in this show, last night’s episode was a big ol’ “Oh YEAH?” from the writers. This season has been a slow burn (although no more so than last season) but they cranked it up to a rolling boil last night. More was revealed about several characters in this one episode than any other in the show’s short history. It’s as if we accidentally dropped a book that we were skimming through and it flipped open to the one page with all the big revelations on it.
Of course, this being Mad Men, the revelations were both jaw-dropping and somewhat illusory. They didn‘t reveal all. In fact, we have more questions than ever before. THAT’S how you do serialized fiction correctly. Move forward, but keep adding things along the way.
So, Don let the tiger out of his pants and it doesn’t look like he’s even thinking about putting it back in at the moment. He’s so disaffected and removed from his own emotions that he’s allowing himself to be dragged along in the formerly execrable Bobbie Barrett’s wake, even though he gives no indication whatsoever that he’s interested in her. “I feel nothing,” he says flatly to her, and we believe him.
He’s apparently not feeling the alarm bells that should be going off whenever he’s near her because these two are an explosively bad combination. Don doesn’t know how to feel anything after all the years constructing a role for himself that he doesn’t seem to enjoy anymore (if he ever really did) and Bobbie would literally go to any length to feel something after constructing a role for herself that she apparently loves. “This is America. Pick a job and become the person who does it,” she says to Don and he sees…not so much a soul mate but a fox hole buddy. They’re both complete constructs and dangerously detached from the rest of the world. That combination gets you stuck in a ditch at 2 o’clock in the morning with your tires spinning above your bloodied head.
And we say “formerly execrable” regarding Mrs. Barrett because never have we seen a character make such a violently rapid 180 and go from nails-on-a-chalkboard to someone we were actually ready to cheer and applaud – and make it completely, 100% believable. From her passing reference to how she learned how to cover up a bruise to her hard-earned advice to Peggy, she’s apparently been there and done that and we tend to feel a lot more sympathy and admiration for her. She’s doing what she thinks she has to and that’s true of almost every character on the show. Suddenly, she fits in perfectly.
And it’s Peggy who provided the biggest revelations of all. That scene earlier in the season where she and Don bounced ideas off each other over the Mohawk Airlines account (“What did you get me, Daddy?”) suddenly makes a lot more sense. These two have a bond and a mutual respect for each other that no one else knows about or would understand if they did. Don’s speech to Peggy when she was laid up in the psych ward post-surprise pregnancy was riveting.”This never happened,” he bores into her, veins popping in his forehead. “It will shock you how much it never happened.” Taking his advice, she apparently did as Dick Whitman once did and got herself out of that hospital bed by creating a fiction that became her escape from an unbearable reality.
It could be said that Peggy is trying to be the female Don Draper, but she seemed stunned to learn that the female Don Draper already existed and was standing in her living room giving her the advice of her life. “Be a woman,” Bobbie says to her. “It’s powerful business when done correctly.” We’ll see where this eye-opening advice takes her, but that moment when she looked her boss in the eye and called him “Don” was electric. The new girl of the episode wasn’t just Don’s new bouffant’d secretary, it was Peggy too.
There was some disagreement last night in our viewing circle regarding Peggy. Some thought that her character was hard to read and a little unbelievable; you can’t be wide-eyed and shrewd at the same time and you can’t walk away from a psychotic break by pretending it away. On the other hand, we think Peggy’s shrewdness is born out of her experiences. She’s learning as she’s going and her quiet way of approaching the world allows her to take a lot in and retain it. When she tells Don that she won’t have a problem forgetting the events of the night because she doesn’t want him resenting her for knowing it, that’s a shrewdness and incisiveness that came directly from the fact that he knows something about her she’d rather forget. She learns from her mistakes and applies what she’s learned. That’s what makes her so smart and so fascinating.
Of course we don’t argue that Peggy is seriously damaged goods. As we said, you can’t wish away psychotic breaks and she’s as dangerously emotionally detached as Don is. And Bobbie, apparently. We really can’t wait to see where the character’s going, though. And we really want an explanation as to why Anita was very pregnant when Peggy was in the psych ward but there’s only one baby in that household. Whose baby is that and what happened to the other one? The only explanation that makes sense is Peggy gave her baby up for adoption and the kid we’ve been assuming was hers is in fact Anita’s own. If that’s true, that makes Anita’s confession of last week a lot bitchier than we thought at the time.
In other Sterling Cooper news, we got to see much more of the fabulous Joan Holloway, for which we are grateful. There can never be enough Joan, for our money. She got her engagement ring from her little-seen doctor boyfriend and she paraded that thing all over the office. Her scene with Roger (and his paddle) crackled with wit, brutally honest appraisements, and not a small amount of sexual energy. These two are on fire when they have a scene together. We don’t know what this engagement means for the show. We can’t imaging Joan leaving her job but Roger sure seemed to think she would.
Joan brought in a younger version of herself, Jane, to be Don’s new secretary. It says something about Joan’s wedding bell euphoria that she didn’t seem remotely threatened by the younger girl. Even when she reprimanded her for exposing her “décolletage,” she did it with a smile and a wink. She’s fabulous and we want drag queens the world over to pay tribute to her.
Also, Pete and Trudy Campbell are still horrible people that we wouldn’t want to be stuck in an elevator with. Pete has all the charm of a bratty 5-year-old and Trudy is a neurotic mess. We’re not sure what the deal is with this fertility subplot, but we thought Pete’s complete apathy regarding the situation tells us the Campbells won’t be buying any bassinets any time soon.
Oh, and Rachel got married to a sweet guy that probably doesn’t get her engine running nearly as well as Don did. She saw that situation with Bobbie for what it was instantly and the disgust washed over her face for just a split second.
And finally, Betty finds another way to exert control over the largely uncontrollable Don by taking the salt off the kitchen table. When Sally asks why, she says “Because we love him,” and we can’t tell what Don is feeling from the look on his face. Is he ashamed of his lies or his he realizing that the love from his family binds and restricts him more and more?
[Photos: Courtesy of amctv.com]