There’s been a lot of “doubling” in Mad Men, of characters and plot details. Peggy didn’t sleep with Don, but she did sleep with Pete, and she became Don’s professional protégé. Jane, who reminded Don of Rachel, fell in love with him—remember the clean dress shirt she bought for him, unasked, in the box marked “Menken’s”?—but he didn’t want her. She married Roger instead. Joan slept with Roger, too, but didn’t marry him. Allison slept with Don and fell in love with him, but he fired her after she wouldn’t “let it go.” Megan slept with Don, married him, and temporarily became his protégé. Peggy treated her subordinates the way Don treated her and then fell in love with Ted.
Earl Warner, Jr., made sexual favors from Sal a condition of doing business. Jaguar made sexual favors from Joan a condition of doing business. There’s a lot of stuff in there that would count under today’s laws as sexual harassment. But within the office, there has been no overt sexual harassment on Mad Men so far (UPDATE: except for Allison, which meets the legal criteria). That’s one thing that makes the Bob Benson plot in the past couple of weeks so interesting. Take Bob’s dialogue—which he’s spoken to a man with a higher status than his own—and reassign it to a man with high status, spoken to a woman with low status, and it becomes a very familiar scene. (A certain kind of “paranoid” reading might conclude that what “really” happened in those scenes is that Pete harassed Bob, or that somebody else, sometime in the past, harassed Pete, and we’re seeing a displacement of that onto a scene that’s less harrowing and therefore more entertaining—and that in some future episode, we’ll find out for sure. But I don’t think that’s what’s happening.) I think it’s interesting how far the show can go in depicting that kind of thing, without going too far.
Last week on Mad Man, again, Joan failed to lean in. She told Don that she allowed Ted and Peggy to go on with their planning for a complicated and expensive television ad, without interrupting them with thoughts of cost—because, she said, she doesn’t tell him what to do. It isn’t obvious whether she was “leaning out,” discouraged because her attempt two weeks ago to get Ted to do what she wanted had failed, or whether she’s still thinking like someone whose status is much less than Ted’s and (like a secretary) shouldn’t interrupt his train of thought with ideas that occurred to her but not to him, or whether she’s seeing Ted as a child whose mistakes she’s not going to interfere with. Either way, Joan seems to be the most hands-on financially oriented member of senior management (at least she was when she was collaborating frequently with Lane), and she was the obvious person to bring up budget considerations in that meeting. I can see her being unwilling, after years of experience, to do that kind of thing with someone like Don—who’s been proving all this season that he has no boundaries when it comes to trying to control the business side of things to avoid a situation that would annoy him—but we haven’t seen her trying to act as a partner for long enough to have a reason to believe this already happened, especially with Ted.
The way Mad Men tells stories results in a lot of gaps of that kind, and they leave viewers with the responsibility to decide what happened. Maybe it’s still open. Then the causes of what we see, unless we also saw those causes, could have been anything. There might have been no cause at all. Any given event, unless we see its cause or its cause is really absolutely obvious, might have occurred totally randomly. Or, on the contrary,that might be the only way it could possibly have happened, unless maybe there was a miracle or something close to it. If this is true, we could have predicted, at the end of last season, that Joan would never be able to exert any real influence within the firm. That explanation doesn’t satisfy me much; I think if there’s a gap in what we’re shown, then there’s a gap in what we know. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions about things we haven’t observed ourselves.
Also, Don decided to break his agreement with Ted, the one in which they said they’d be equals. He got Ted’s permission to take over, temporarily, in a meeting with Ted’s client, and then he went way further than Ted had expected. He embarrassed Ted (and Peggy), in a way that was completely deniable, in order to prove a point that Ted was going about things the wrong way: not the way Don would have done it. I think he really persuaded himself that he was doing it for the good of the firm. Obviously, interfering with managers at the same level is something a manager shouldn’t really do, especially after two firms have merged. Ted was the senior partner at CGC, and although Don was one of the senior partners at SCDP, I think it’s interesting that we haven’t really seen Don do any senior-partner type things in the show. He withdrew from the hands-on Creative work without really taking on the business side, which was Lane’s area (though this could be in part a reflection of lack of interest, on the part of the writers, and presumably the audience, in that kind of thing). The character still feels like a creative guy who’s at the top of the Creative department but hangs back from identifying himself as a company man. Now, suddenly, he’s interfering with the work of someone who’s supposed to be his peer, and he’s justifying himself on the basis of “what’s good for the firm” (again: defining “what’s good for the firm” as “what Don Draper would do”).
I think what really set Don off was that Peggy took Ted to the movies. That’s Don’s shtick. She might be telling him all Don’s secrets. Notice how he didn’t tell Megan that he goes to the movies in the afternoon all the time: he let her think he agreed that it was a really odd thing to do. Much less that he had given Peggy the idea—that would have let Megan know how intimate he and Peggy were. You’d think she’d already know that. But when Megan and Peggy were working together, Megan was always shown as much closer to Don than Peggy was. And moreover, while “doubling” of secretaries, wives, daughters, and even account men is okay, I wonder whether Don isn’t able to tolerate any “doubling” of himself. If there’s a Don-like thing to do in the office, it’s going to be done by Don, or at least credited to Don, or at least done in the way Don would have done it himself. He doesn’t like sharing the persona called “head creative honcho.” That’s going to be especially difficult if there are big accounts (like Chevy) that he’s said he won’t dirty his hands with.
Moreover, I think he couldn’t see the possibility that Ted was trying to mentor Peggy. Don has never really mentored anybody. Peggy may have thought he did, maybe because her Catholic background predisposed her to see people (especially men in positions of authority) as wishing to help her directly. In effect, she expected to see mentoring, and as a consequence, she saw mentoring that wasn’t actually real. (Her deepest conversations with Don took place when he suddenly loomed up in her apartment and next to her hospital bed, to give her intimate advice that was just what she would have wished for.) But it’s possible to read the arc of the show as having Don choose Peggy as his “protégé” precisely because she didn’t need a lot of handholding or mentoring. She didn’t ask much.
Compare her career with that of the young men who were at Sterling, Cooper at the time she began work. Paul is gone, left behind after the company was acquired. Paul was difficult and demanding and didn’t idolize Don Draper. Eventually, he left the field. Harry is the only guy from Creative who’s still around, because he found a niche, created a position for himself, and filled it more than adequately. They don’t have anyone else who could do what Harry does. From Accounts, there’s Pete Campbell, who took the opportunities that presented themselves and put himself in the position of an equal to Don, on the business side. And there’s Kenny, whose rise parallels Pete’s. They both tried to write short stories, Ken successfully and Pete not. They both tried to fit into the society their families and wives’ families expected them to, again, Ken successfully and Pete not. Ken is more happy-go-lucky than Pete, but also more willing to subordinate his feelings to what’s required by the firm. He doesn’t care as much as Pete does. For him, it’s just a job. (Stan and Ginsberg compare similarly.) But when Chevy started to make real, Big Corporation demands, on top of impending fatherhood, it was too much. Maybe he’s plateaued. It looks like he’s leaning out.
It’s not entirely unfair to suggest that Paul and his peers lost a chance to advance because Peggy came along and was willing to do their job with fewer complaints and less pay. The complaints you hear, here and there, that she shouldn’t be allowed to talk to her boss like that, miss the fact that the men around her were as bad as her, or worse, and that in the end, Peggy always comes through and does what she’s told. She doesn’t gossip or try to undermine Don and Ted (or, for that matter, the other women in the office) in order to get back at them. Don may have kept her around precisely because she didn’t talk back to him. It’s true that there is something scablike in her behavior. (In the same way, her existence is a visible, constant reproach to any secretary who took the job because she assumed it was the only one open to her, since she was a woman.) The firm could have paid her the same wages as a male copywriter, but they probably didn’t, because not paying Peggy more than she “deserved” probably took precedence for them over treating all the copywriters fairly. And Peggy could have behaved in the same way the men did, but she probably didn’t, because she’s a woman, and because she didn’t go to college, and because she’s from a working-class family in the outer boroughs.
In any case, Don didn’t choose any of those men to bring up after him. We’ve seen that he chose Peggy, but we’ve also seen that the choice of Peggy just kind of happened. Don has always told Peggy that nobody is going to give her anything and she’s going to have to work ruthlessly to get what she wants. Now Ted has started going out of his way to try to advance Peggy’s career. And Don doesn’t see why anyone would do that, unless they were misled by sexual desire.
We haven’t seen much of the minor male characters in the past few weeks. Probably the need to work out the issues brought in by the merge, which clearly is going to happen primarily at the management level, has pushed them off the screen. Probably it’s pushed them out of the field of vision of the characters themselves, in the same way. So that’s realistic enough.