I haven’t been sure about this season of Mad Men, so far. I don’t like the ten PM timeslot, which puts it past my bedtime, not to mention the fact that it actually ends not at eleven but five minutes past the hour. I personally enjoy the storylines about the women characters, and though I don’t begrudge the men having their chance, too, as it seems they have in at least two of the first few episodes, to me those episodes felt slow and single-stranded, focusing too much on one aspect of plot for almost the entire hour. The characters’ personalities are shifting around a little, but that’s par for the course with this show. I’m also not that crazy about Megan: at least, her scenes seem a little too frequently cringeworthy.
We may be seeing a little more autobiography this season. Last week we saw what it might be like to be Sally Draper’s little brother: getting blamed for her misbehavior, and putting up with what looks like her increasing snottiness. She was just a little girl up to now, but last week she might have been shaping up to be one of those suburban girls whose sense of superiority manifests as making sure everyone knows she thinks sex is “dirty,” and who’s too good to take the train to the city where she’ll see people who are “dirty,” too.
And now Megan has left advertising, and the office, as far as Don is concerned, has largely gone back to where it was before. That she even tried to be a copywriter was a surprise. We thought Don wanted a wife, not an Eliza Doolittle. We thought he was auditioning replacement wives, with all those secretaries and short-term girlfriends—not replacement Dons. It turns out, maybe, he isn’t sure what the difference is supposed to be.
After the episode ended, my husband and I spent some time discussing the significance of the empty elevator shaft. He thinks the elevator is obviously seriously broken, and eventually someone is going to fall down it. His candidate is Pete Campbell, who did talk an awful lot about suicide and depression in last night’s episode. That might be so. I thought it was a symbol, for Don, of the abyss. Why was he going downstairs? He couldn’t hope to catch Megan before she walked out of the lobby. Was he going to visit the ex-lover he dreamed about earlier in the season? He caught a glimpse of his own mortality, instead, and he turned around and went straight back to work (and there he poured himself a drink, and then was reminded of his advancing age once again, as he failed for the umpteenth time to “get” the latest music).
But most of all it reminded us both of the notorious scene in L.A. Law when Rosalind Shays, played by Diana Muldaur, stepped into an open elevator shaft and fell to her death. She had been talking with Leland McKenzie, whose role on L.A. Law was similar to that of Bert Cooper in Mad Men, and with whom she was romantically involved. She stepped into the elevator without looking, but the elevator wasn’t there. Muldaur’s character was the Wicked Witch of the law firm, a senior partner fairly recently hired. Her subordinates hated her and so did the audience. When she stepped into the elevator shaft, watchers (mostly male) laughed hysterically. (This was the comic juxtaposition of the absurd with the ultra-serious that marked David E. Kelley out, at first, as clever, but eventually snowballed into an annoying tic.)
Maybe someday Peggy will be a Rosalind Shays to the workers at her firm, or maybe Joan will be. It’s pretty certain that Megan will not. For one thing, she finds the whole idea of working in the commercial world to be revolting. In fact, this is something she has in common with her new husband. Don has had, as subordinates, secretaries, who are all female, and copywriters, who with one exception are male. Even though he’s a copywriter himself—he started out as one, although we, the audience, haven’t seen a lot from that part of his career—he despises most of them. He can’t rely on them the way he does the secretaries, and he thinks of them almost as if they were children. He thinks that he is—and he may actually be—so much better than the other copywriters that he is practically not even a copywriter at all. It’s been difficult to see this because there’s been so much emphasis from the beginning on Don’s creative skills (though almost as much on his brand of salesmanship), but maybe he is happier as a manager: not one of the boys.
But in the show, Don Draper remains the copywriter par excellence. And in any event, it seems that Don can’t really see Peggy as an epigone. Maybe he can only really respect someone who is, as Peggy says in regard to Megan, “good at everything”—or, at least, who looks and behaves the way he thinks a woman ought, and despises the commercial world the same way he does, whether or not he shows it. So it wouldn’t have been surprising if Megan had moved into the same kind of life he made for Betty. But it turns out that he wanted a woman who could be both. At least, when Megan said she wanted him to teach her how to do his job, he jumped at the opportunity. He wanted Joan, Peggy, and Betty combined; but there was only Megan, and she went down the first elevator, leaving the other empty.
Just as Don leaves his mod, freshly decorated apartment empty, uninterested in the new Beatles album his young wife picked out especially for him to hear. He’s revealed as the old fogy he was all along. Will he be able to leave his position to anybody, if he can’t leave it to his “perfect” new wife?
Roger Sterling, full of the insights he acquired by dropping acid with a younger woman who unlike him is in therapy, is trying, finally, to leave his position to Pete. But Pete still sees Roger as he was before his transformation, and Pete is miserable. As is Peggy: they do more and more of the work, but don’t seem able to step into their aging mentors’ shoes. Why not?