Observations of “MAD MEN”: (3.07) “Seven Twenty-Three”

I usually do not write article about an entire episode of ”MAD MEN”. Why, I do not know. But after watching the latest episode, (3.07) “Seven Twenty-Three”, I found myself compelled to post several observations about it. 

Observations of ”MAD MEN”: (3.07) “Seven Twenty-Three”

In ”Seven Twenty-Three”, famous hotelier Conrad Hilton, whom Don Draper had first met in ”(3.03) “My Old Kentucky Home”, paid a visit to Don’s office and revealed his intent to hire Sterling Cooper to handle the promotion of his New York hotels. This piece of good news turned sour when Lane Pryce, Roger Sterling and Bert Cooper revealed that Hilton’s attorneys refused to go ahead with the deal unless Don sign an official contract with his employers. Naturally, Don was reluctant to sign a contract. He had been living under an assumed name for the past thirteen years, when he switched identities with his Army commanding officer (the real Don Draper). Nor did he want to be bound or obliged to anyone without having the power and opportunity to walk away whenever the opportunity might arise. After Don had a confrontation with Betty over his refusal to sign a contract, he left the house to go joyriding in the countryside. There, he picked up a young couple, who claimed they were on their way to get married at Niagara Falls. As it turned out, they were a pair of scam artists who fed Don some pills, took him to a cheap motel, knocked him out and stole his money.

The episode also featured a subplot for Betty Draper. After joining the Tarrytown chapter of Junior League, she received a request to find someone with political ties to prevent the construction of a giant water tank that they feared would ruin the scenic view. Betty contacted Henry Francis, one of Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s aides, whom she had first met in ”My Old Kentucky Home”. The two met at a local bakery in Ossing for drinks and pastries. And although Francis hinted that he might not be able to help the Junior League prevent the water tank’s construction, he made it obvious that he was just as attracted to Betty, as she was to him. Francis had also pointed out a chaise lounge that Betty later purchased for her living room. A chaise lounge that her decorator obviously disliked. By the way, the scene featuring Betty’s telephone call with Henry Francis nearly had me rolling in the aisles. Although I have no children, I have experienced a similar situation in which someone had hung up the telephone before I could pick up the extension. Very frustrating.

Peggy Olson’s storyline in this episode began in (3.05) “The Fog”, in which she was contacted by former Sterling Cooper employee, Duck Phillips. In that episode, he had tried to recruit both Peggy and Pete to the agency he now works for – Gray. Peggy had contemplated his offer, but refused. When Peggy asked Don for a raise in the same episode, the latter refused her request. In Seven Twenty-Three”, Duck continued his wooing of Peggy and Pete with gifts. When Pete pointed out that Duck’s wooing might be an attempt for the older man to get back at Don for snowballing him in the Season Two finale, (2.13) “Mediations in an Emergency”, Peggy became determined to return the gift. Which she did after leaving work. However, her visit to Duck’s hotel suite also led to an evening of some very enjoyable sex for them both.

*Betty Draper

Betty’s story arc did not provide any jaw dropping moments for me. But I did notice a few things. One, she must be seriously attracted to Henry Francis. I found it interesting that not only did she remember him from Roger’s Kentucky Derby garden party, she also seemed to be in a slight state of heat around him. This especially seemed obvious when Henry shielded her eyes from the sun during an eclipse. But more importantly, she went ahead and purchased the Victorian chaise lounge that Henry had earlier pointed out to her when they passed an antique store. Many saw the chaise lounge as an example of Betty’s desire to be some “helpless damsel in distress” that occasionally fainted. I found that image hard to accept. Despite the ladylike persona that Betty tends to project, she never struck me as that kind of woman. However, I had noticed how she caressed her body in a suggestive manner – especially in the very spot where Henry had touched her, when she was still pregnant with Eugene. I also noticed that Betty has become more assertive in her attitude toward Don. After all, audiences had first received a whiff of this trait back in (2.04) “Three Sundays”, when she ordered Don to take Sally to work with him during Bobby’s small medical emergency. Yet, Betty’s assertiveness has become increasingly obvious this past season. This was certainly apparent in her refusal to cave in to Don’s disapproval over their new son’s name in (3.06) “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency”; and in their confrontation over Don’s refusal to sign a contract with Sterling Cooper. I had always suspected that underneath the girlish and shallow exterior lurked a formidable woman. I wonder how Betty would react if she ever discovered the truth about his fake identity.

*Peggy Olson

Peggy may think that she knows a lot about Don Draper. But I rather doubt it. The worst she knows is that he is an adulterer, thanks to her rescue of both him and Bobbie Barrett in Season Two’s (2.05) “The New Girl”. In ”Seven Twenty-Three”, she discovered that he can be incredibly cruel. Season Three has not been particularly kind to Peggy. Following her revelation about their child, Pete Campbell has become hostile toward her. And despite being the first copywriter to acquire a private office following Freddie Rumsen’s departure, Peggy has not been receiving the respect she believes that she deserves. Don had ignored her misgivings about the Patio commercial in (3.02) “Love Among the Ruins”. In (3.05) “The Fog”, Peggy asked for a raise after discovering that she was the firm’s least paid copywriter and Don rejected her request. And when she asked to work on the Hilton account, Don (who was already in a foul mood after learning that Sterling Cooper wants him to sign a contract) rejected her request in the cruelest means possible. He accused Peggy of using his coattails to rise up in Sterling Cooper’s Creative ranks. His accusation and manner left Peggy shocked and speechless.

When Peggy appeared at Duck’s hotel room to return his gift, I doubt that she had any intention of having sex with him. Did Duck plan to sexually seduce Peggy? I do not know. And since I have no idea of Duck’s intention, I am not going to pretend that I do or speculate. I do have to wonder if the prevalent negative attitude toward Duck has led many fans to believe that he had intended to seduce her. I do recall Peggy complimenting Duck’s turtleneck sweater when they first met in ”The Fog”. I also noticed something else. Once Peggy and Duck were in bed together, they seemed turned on by each other.

A good number of viewers have expressed disgust at Peggy’s sexual tryst with Duck. These viewers have claimed their age difference. But Joan Harris and Roger Sterling were (and still are) nearly twenty years apart in age during their affair. Even back then, Joan was slightly older and more experienced during her affair with Roger. But Peggy is not some blushing virgin. She was already sexually experienced and had given birth to Pete’s son in (1.13) “The Wheel”. She even managed to seduce some college kid in ”Love Among the Ruins” as a test of her sexuality. Yet, not only are many fans expressing disgust at her tryst with Duck; they are labeling her as some sexually naïve woman who found herself seduced and manipulated by an older man. I must be honest. I found that perception of Peggy a little insulting. Peggy may be young and probably upset over Don’s outburst; but as I had stated earlier, she was not that naïve. I suspect that Peggy had simply used Duck’s offer of great sex to derive some kind of pleasure following her disastrous meeting with Don. Many fans have also been predicting disastrous consequences from Peggy and Duck’s tryst. Perhaps she might experience a fallout from the affair. Perhaps not. But a nagging part of me fear that Peggy might end up paying the consequences for failing to accept Duck’s offer of a position at Gray’s.

*Don Draper

I never understood this need to divide the series’ main character into two personas. There is only one Dick Whitman, after all. He is both the rural-born offspring of a dead prostitute and a crude farmer . . . and the brilliant creative advertising executive. The reason why Dick (or should I say Don) can emotionally connect with some people and barely at all with others might be due to the fact that he had assumed another man’s name by fraudulent means. It is not surprising that he has only been willing to reveal some of his true nature to those he believe he may never see again . . . or in the case of Rachel Mencken, someone with whom he thought he could connect. It is also natural that Don had never bothered to sign an official contract with Sterling Cooper. No contract had allowed him to be a free agent even though he has decided to remain at Sterling Cooper. It also meant that Don would be able to bolt without any legal redress, if needed. Well, Don’s years as a free agent at Sterling Cooper ended in ”Seven Twenty-Three”.

The odd thing is that Don’s encounter with another self-made man who had risen from poverty had led him to being finally bound to a contract. It led to a final breach (so far) with Roger Sterling. It damaged his close relationship with Peggy. It made him realize (for the second or third time) that his wife might be a lot more formidable than he had probably imagined. Don’s argument with Betty led him to commit one of his more destructive maneuvers when things got rough . . . he took off. Unlike his trip to California last season, Don did not go very far. Instead, he picked up a hitchhiking couple claiming to be on their way to Niagara Falls in order to elope. But instead of eloping, they fed Don some pills and later clocked and robbed him inside a cheap motel. As his dad, Archie Whitman, had indicated in his hallucination, Don has become slightly soft. This seemed even more apparent when Bert Cooper blackmailed him into finally signing a contract. When Cooper had dismissed Pete Campbell’s exposure of Don as a fraud in Season One’s (1.12) “Nixon vs. Kennedy”, I bet Don never thought the old man would eventually use those allegations against him. And yet . . . while signing that contract, Don demanded that Roger Sterling stay away from him. How interesting. Roger tried to use Betty to coerce him into signing the contract. Cooper sunk even lower and used Don’s secrets to blackmail him and succeed. Perhaps Don realized that Roger (given his questionable standing in the firm with the British owners) made an easier target for his wrath than two powerful men like Conrad Hilton and Bert Cooper. If so, it does not say very much about Don.

Some believe that Don’s new contract is a sign of his eventual downfall. I cannot say that I agree with this. In fact, I have no idea what this contract will symbolize for Don. Every time he has faced a personal crisis in the past – Pete Campbell and Bert Cooper’s discovery of his secret in Season One, and his estrangement from Betty and Duck’s takeover plans – Don has managed to survive or come on top.  By the finale, his marriage to Betty finally ended.  But not everything bad happened to Don by the end of Season Three.  His professional career, on the other hand, embarked on a new path.

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“MAD MEN”: Sex and Bobbie Barrett

The fans’ reactions to the character of Bobbie Barrett during Season Two of “MAD MEN” have always intrigued me. In this day and age – namely the early 21st century – I never understood why they had held her in such a low regard. Let me explain:

“MAD MEN”: Sex and Bobbie Barrett

I enjoyed Season Two of “MAD MEN” very much. In fact, I would say that I found it even more interesting than Season One. Many fans have commented that the female characters seemed to have developed a lot more in this past season than they did in the first season. And yet . . . when Season Two aired during the summer of 2008, many fans – both male and female – expressed a great deal of hostility toward one of the new characters – namely Bobbie Barrett. My first question is . . . why?

Why had there been such a great deal of hostility toward Bobbie? What was it about her that made her hated by many of series’ fans? As we all know, Bobbie is the wife and manager of insult comedian, Jimmy Barrett. The Barretts were first introduced in the episode (2.03) “The Benefactor”, when a drunken Jimmy, who had been hired as a spokesperson for Utz Potato Chips, insulted the owner’s wife. Sterling/Cooper’s own Don Draper had to meet with Bobbie to arrange for Jimmy to apologize to the Schillings, the owners of Utz. Don and Bobbie’s meeting eventually resulted in both of them having sex inside somebody’s car. Later, Bobbie tried to get more money from Don (in a hallway of the restaurant they and Schillings are at for the apology) in exchange for the pay-or-play contract of her husband’s. Don manhandled Bobbie and threatened to ruin Jimmy. And Bobbie appeared to enjoy the attention. She later convinced Jimmy to apologize.

Despite this violent encounter, Don and Bobbie’s affair continued in the following episode, (2.04) “Three Sundays”. After meeting at Sardi’s for cocktails in order to celebrate Jimmy’s new television series in (2.05) “The New Girl”, the pair encountered Don’s former mistress, Rachel Mencken, who got married. They eventually left Sardi’s and ended up in a car accident, on their way to the Barretts’ beach house in Stony Brook. The affair finally ended in (2.06) “Maidenform” when Don learned from Bobbie that he had developed a reputation for his sexual prowess amongst Manhattan’s career women . . . before leaving her tied up during another sexual encounter. Bobbie was last seen in (2.07) “The Gold Violin”, during a party held at the Stork Club, celebrating Jimmy’s new show.

I have to ask . . . why was Bobbie hated so much by most of the fans? The owner of one blog continued to call her ”the Odious Bobbie” in reviews for nearly episode in which Bobbie appeared. Others have called her sick, twisted, perverse, a skank, a whore, evil and God knows what else. When Bobbie gave Peggy Olson the ”be a woman” advice in how to deal with Don and other professional colleagues, many fans came to the conclusion that she was advising Peggy to use sex to get ahead professionally. In fact, many assumed that Bobbie also used sex to get ahead as a talent agent. And yet, the series has never hinted that Bobbie actually did this. What crime did Bobbie commit to produce such hatred?

One would point out that Bobbie has engaged in extramarital sex. Her affair with Don lasted at least four episodes – from “The Benefactor” to“Maidenform”. Yet, Bobbie is not the only female on the show guilty of this:

*Peggy Olson – Sterling-Cooper secretary turned copywriter, who had sex with junior executive Pete Campbell after knowing him for less than 24 hours in Season One’s (1.01) “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”. Pete, I might add, had plans to get married the following day and told Peggy before they had sex. Seven episodes later in (1.08) “The Hobo Code”, Peggy and a now married Pete had sex again, inside his office. Peggy gave birth to their son, in the Season One finale, (1.13) “The Wheel”.

*Midge Daniels – an art illustrator who was engaged in an affair with the very married Don Draper between “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” and “The Hobo Code”. In fact, Midge and Don’s affair had been going on for five years by Season One. Don finally ended the affair when he realized that Midge was in love with someone else.

*Joan Holloway – Sterling-Cooper’s office manager who was engaged with the very married Roger Sterling, one of the firm’s owners, during Season One. When the affair began, the series has not yet revealed. Their affair was already on-going when revealed in (1.06) “Babylon”.

*Rachel Mencken – the head of a department store, who hired Sterling-Cooper to revamp her store’s image. Although both she and Don became attracted to one another in “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”, their affair began in(1.10) “Long Weekend” and ended in (1.12) “Nixon vs. Kennedy”, when Don suggested they run off together for the West Coast and Rachel realized that he did not want to run away with her, he just wanted to run away . . . from some problem. She called him a coward and ended the affair. Later, she married a man named Tilden Katz.

*Hildy – Pete Campbell’s secretary who had a one night stand with married Sterling-Cooper junior executive Harry Crane, during an election night party held at the firm’s offices in “Nixon vs. Kennedy”.

*Jane Siegel – introduced as Don’s new secretary in Season Two’s (2.05) “The New Girl”. After Joan threatened to fire her in “The Gold Violin” for encouraging some of the junior executives to take a peek at owner Betram Cooper’s new painting inside his office, she turned to Roger Sterling to intervene on her behalf. They eventually began an affair and Roger eventually left his wife, Mona, for her.

*Betty Draper – Don Draper’s ex-model wife, who eventually learned of his affair with Bobbie. She kicked him out of the house for a while. But after discovering that she was pregnant, she had a one-night stand with a stranger at a bar before reconciling with Don.

Well, apparently Bobbie was not the only female guilty of extramarital sex. Hell, she is not the only character guilty of extramarital sex. So, what was wrong with her? Some have complained about her aggressive nature. Which struck me as irrelevant, considering that she was not the only aggressive character in the series. Bobbie might be the only aggressive female in the series. So was that it? Men were allowed to be aggressive, but not women?

Bobbie was also a sexually aggressive woman who happens to like kinky sex. She had made that quite clear in the way she wrestled with Don inside his car, and when she failed to be put off by Don’s aggressive manhandling of her in“The Benefactor”. She also revealed to Don that when she learned about his sexual prowess, she set out to seduce him in order to have sex with him.  Was it possible that Bobbie’s sexual aggressiveness turned off most fans? Would they have preferred if Bobbie was sexually submissive . . . allowing men to seduce her or make the first move? Would they have preferred if Bobbie had limited her sexual preferences to the Missionary position or bent over, positions considered submissive for women? Or would they have preferred if Bobbie was a man?

Not only did male fans condemned Bobbie’s characters, but so did a good number of women. The blogger who had nicked named Mrs. Barrett – “Odious Bobbie” was a woman. Even Matt Weiner had joined the act in his interview with critic Alan Sepinwall about Season Two:

“People were upset about Bobbie Barrett, that she wasn’t Rachel Menken, and I’m like, she’s not Rachel Menken, and he’s not in love with her, and he says no. But he should never have slept with that woman.”

I am still a little perplexed by Weiner’s statement. One, he had called Bobbie “that woman” – something I do not recall him naming any of the series’ other female characters. And two, he stated that Don should have never slept with her. On one level, I agree with him. After all, both Don and Bobbie were married to other people. But why did he say this about Bobbie? Why not about the other women with whom Don had cuckolded Betty? Why not say the same about Midge Daniels, Rachel Mencken, Joy or any of the other women Don had sex with during his marriage to Betty? Why Bobbie?

Bobbie Barrett’s reputation with “MAD MEN” has improved since Season Two ended nearly two years ago. Many fans have complimented Melinda McGraw for her superb performance of the memorable Bobbie. There have been fans who have finally understood the meaning behind Bobbie’s advice to Peggy in “The New Girl”. And there have been fans who view both Bobbie and Jimmy Barrett as metaphors used to reveal more of Don’s true nature.

But a good number of Bobbie detractors remained. She was also the only one of Don’s known mistresses who had received such a strong level of hostility. And I can only wonder if any of this negativity might be a sign that despite the fact that we are now in the 21st century, society still demands that women adhere to some its ideal view on feminine behavior – in both real life and fiction?

Peggy Olson’s Promotion in (1.13) “The Wheel”

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PEGGY OLSON’S PROMOTION IN (1.13) “THE WHEEL”

Many fans of the show have made a big deal of Peggy Olson’s promotion in the Season One finale, (1.13) “The Wheel”. Actually, many have focused upon Peggy’s upward mobility from the secretarial pool to her new position as one of the firm’s copywriters – a professional. I had just finished watching this episode and another thought came to mind.

It finally occurred to me that Don had given Peggy that promotion in order to spite Pete Campbell. Pete had informed Don that he managed to acquire the Clearsil account due to his father-in-law being an executive of the company. One could say that Pete was simply being an asshole by trying to shove the achievement in Don’s face. But I think that it was simply another tactic of Pete’s to win Don’s approval.

Unfortunately for Pete, the tactic backfired. I suspect that Don – feeling satisfied and perhaps a little smug over winning the Kodak account – had decided to strike back at Pete for the latter’s blackmail attempt in the previous episode, (1.12) “Nixon vs. Kennedy”. He promoted Peggy and handed the Clearisil account over to her in order to embarrass Pete. It was one of the most childish and despicable acts I have ever seen on that show. And yet, because Pete was (and probably still is) unpopular with many fans, a good number of fans failed to notice that Don had used Peggy to get back at Pete.

I find it amazing that both the critics and fans have accused both Betty Draper (Don’s wife) and Pete of being immature characters. Yet, time and again, Don has proven that he could be just as childish or even more so than either of these two or any other character in the series. But so many seemed blinded by his “man’s man” facade and good looks that they have failed to realize how emotionally stunted Don can be.

“MAD MEN” Season Two Quibbles

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Within a few months, I managed to become a big fan of the AMC series, ”MAD MEN”. I became a fan so fast this past summer that after watching two episodes of Season Two, I purchased a copy of the DVD set for Season One. And fell deeper in love. As for Season Two, I thought it was excellent. In fact, I consider it a slight improvement over Season One. But . . . I do have some quibbles about it:

 

“MAD MEN” Season Two Quibbles

1. Duck Phillips – I had once complained on the “Basket of Kisses” site that by the end of Season 2, Duck Phillips (portrayed by the superb Mark Moses) seemed to resemble a minor villain that Don Draper had to defeat. Someone responded that Matt Weiner never intended to portray Duck Phillips as some kind of villain. After reading two interviews that Weiner had given, I now see that I had been right to accuse him of such a thing in the first place. How disappointing.

2. Don’s Approval For Pete – Why did Pete Campbell need Don Draper’s approval? What on earth for? Pete is a grown man in his late 20s. His existence at Sterling Cooper should have meant more to him than acquiring the approval of someone as flawed as Don. He did not need Don’s approval. He did not need anyone’s approval to exist. And the fact that he gave up a promotion to snitch on Duck – all for Don’s approval – makes me realize that Pete has not matured one bit.

3. Bobbie Barrett – Matt Weiner’s comments about Bobbie Barrett made me realize a few things about the show’s fans. Judging from the comments I have read about Bobbie over the past few months, I get this feeling that most fans viewed Bobbie’s sexual desires and aggressive personality in the same manner that Joan’s fiancé, Greg, had viewed Joan’s sexual history. And since these fans certainly could not drag Bobbie to the floor and rape her, they resorted to calling her every bad name in the book and then some.

After 46 years, our society has barely changed. It seems as if even in the early 21st century, we have maintained a whore/Madonna complex about women. Even Weiner labeled Bobbie as ”that woman” in his interviews about Season Two. He also claimed that it had been wrong for Don to sleep with Bobbie. I do not understand this comment. What was Weiner trying to say? That it was it wrong for Don to have sex with Bobbie and not wrong for him to cuckold Betty with women like Rachel Menken, Midge Daniels and Joy?

4. Paul Kinsey and Sheila White – What on earth happened to the storyline featuring Paul Kinsey’s romance with Sheila White? The season’s second episode – (2.02) “Flight 1” – reveals that Paul is involved in a romance with an African-American woman named Sheila White. This revelation causes a rupture in Paul’s friendship with Joan Holloway, when the latter makes racist comments about the romance. Two episodes later, the romance is hinted again when a visiting Sally Draper finds a photo of Sheila on Paul’s desk. In the episode (2.10) “The Inheritance”, Sheila makes another appearance on the show. She and Paul have a fight over his reluctance to join her in Mississippi for a voter’s registration campaign. He eventually joined her after being pushed out of a trip to California by Don Draper. When Paul returned to New York in (2.13) “Mediations in an Emergency”, Paul informed his co-workers that Sheila had dumped him after three days.

All I can say is this – WHAT IN THE HELL HAPPENED? What led Sheila to finally dump Paul? Unfortunately, Weiner never revealed her reason. He simply ended the romance on a vague note. What makes this move even more annoying to me is the fact that many fans did not question the vague manner in which the romance ended. Instead, they crowed that Sheila had dumped Paul because of his pretentiousness.

One aspect of good cinematic storytelling is that one should ”show” what happened and not tell. Weiner ”told” the viewers what happened to Paul and Sheila . . . and he failed to tell the entire story. This makes me wonder if Weiner had decided not to continue exploring Paul’s relationship with Sheila in order to please the fans. If most of them had defended or made excuses over Joan’s racist comments about the pair’s romance, it really is not that hard for me to come up with this possibility.

5. Peggy Olson’s Meteoric Rise – Could someone please explain how a young woman between the ages of 20-22 or 23, managed to rise from a secretarial school graduate/secretary to the senior copywriter for Sterling Cooper in less than two years? I realize that Peggy was a natural talent in the advertising business. Both Freddie Rumsen and Don Draper recognized this. And I had no problem with Don promoting her to junior copywriter in the Season One finale – (1.13) ”TheWheel”. But what on earth made him promote her to senior copywriter around the end of Season Two’s (2.09) “Six Months Leave”?

One, Don was rather peeved that Peggy had failed to inform him about Freddie Rumsen’s drunken “accident”. And two, there were other copywriters at Sterling Cooper who were capable of assuming Freddie’s position as the senior copywriter. Who? Well, there was Paul Kinsey. I realize that Paul’s pretentiousness and romance with Sheila White made him unpopular with many fans. But Season Two also proved in the episode, (2.06) “Maidenform” that he was just as talented as Peggy. He also has more experience than her, which would have made him the perfect candidate to replace Freddie. Personally, I believe that Don had allowed his mentoring of Peggy to get the best of her and promoted her at a time when she did not really deserve it.

* * * *

Aside from the above quibbles, I thought that Season Two of ”MAD MEN” was excellent. I would go as far to say that it was actually an improvement over Season One. I would be very surprised if it ever failed to earn an Emmy nomination for Best Drama, next August.