OK, let’s get our bearings. The more things stay the same, the more they change – on the surface at least. Peggy Lee sings “Is That All There Is?” while Peggy Olsen’s midriff expands; hem lines are going up and these boots were made for walking; the tension between Peggy and Joan gets more intense; the transformation of Ken Cosgrove from nice guy with level head to one-eyed sourpuss continues apace; and the guys usher in the dawn of the worst decade of male fashion with ugly mustaches – Roger’s white stache in the Rollie Fingers mode; even worse, perhaps, Ted’s big brown concession to the Zeitgeist.
The trio of oversexed McCann ad men who can’t get enough of Joan’s panties, hose, and bra: did we (men) really behave that crudely back then? (Don’t answer.) And if, onomastically, Harry Crane echoes Hart Crane, and Dick Whitman evokes Walt, and Michael Ginsberg recalls Allen, then meek John Mathis in the flesh, who reports to Peggy and matches her up with his brother-in-law, will disappoint all of us who made out to Johnny Mathis singing “Chances Are” and “It’s Not for Me to Say” in suburban cellars prepping for the high school prom in 1966. I have never before used the word onomastically in a sentence.
Things have changed on the Semitism front at least. The dark-haired waitress waiting on Don, Roger, and three female accomplices in a diner – the waitress named Di – reminds our boy of Rachel Katz, nee Menken, and the first of the last episodes of “Mad Men” go right back to episode one of season one when the heiress of Menken’s department stores gets treated rudely by Don and company in the then-judenrein firm of Sterling and Cooper. In a dream Rachel is one of the models auditioning for the chinchilla ad that the agency is planning. In the most memorable dialogue of the week, she tells Don “I’m supposed to tell you you missed your flight” and he replies with the over-sincerity of a commercial: “Rachel, you’re not just smooth, you’re Wilkinson smooth.”
Rachel Menken has died of leukemia. It happened just a week ago. Don is stunned; he pays a shiva visit to Rachel’s sister Barbara, who needs not explain what this seven-day period of mourning entails. Don knows. He has, he says, lived in New York for a long time. Barbara’s husband: “We need one more for a minyan.” Don: “I’ll be glad to help.” Barbara: “He can’t. He’s not Jewish.” The men doven while he stands in the vestibule looking on. You think of the Jews we have met since Nixon and Kennedy faced off in series one: Jane Siegel, who marries Roger; Jane’s pint-sized cousin, butt of jokes, mocked incessantly by Roger until he deftly aims a punch at Roger’s solar plexus; Abe who loves Peggy; Ginsberg, crazy as a loon but right up there with Don and Peggy in the copywriting department; foul-mouthed comedian Jimmy Barrett and his wife, Bobbie. Don has slept with Bobbie, he has slept with Rachel, and it could be that the antidote to anti-Semitism is good sex. As Ava Gardner put it, when accounting for why she and Sinatra fought constantly yet played their romance through to its end, “If a man’s good in the feathers, you can forgive a lot.”
Meanwhile, Don remains the Lothario de ses jours, shtupping the waitress in an alley and topping a midnight visitor on a wine-stained carpet. In the immortal words of every TV critic in America, Does he know who he is? Will he ever find out? And how will it end? Will he jump? Will he fall? The last two questions reveal too literal a reading of the opening credits and should be disregarded. To the first two questions: Sure. He’s the guy who radiates confidence when he sells you a Mercedes. “The best – or nothing.”
As many thumbs up as I can muster in agreement with your observation about the utter hideousness of mustaches of the period. Oh, horrid ornaments of facial hair, marring the visages of two perfectly good-looking male characters! I gasped when I saw Roger re-enter the Edward Hopper-esque coffee shop from the john. Good god, he’s turned into a catfish! Or has pigeon wings glued to his upper lip! It’s impossible to look at him or Ted now without laughing.
The scene in which Peggy and Joan try to get the trio of McCann Erikson male creeps to agree to OK a deal in which Marshall Fields Dept. store lends its elevating name to Topaz panty hose is indeed chilling. Those guys torture them, clearly showing off for each other and competing to be named winner of the Lowlife Misogynist Slime award (except the poor guy on the end who has no lines!). The interchange between Peggy and Joan in the elevator immediately following is maybe my favorite scene in the episode. Trapped literally and metaphorically in a tiny claustrophobic space, the two begin decompressing from their harassment in a way that starts off sounding like commiseration, but quickly degenerates. Peggy, continuing her understandable and common but misbegotten conflation of longing to be taken seriously and having to take on the oppressor’s mind set, ends up telling Joan that she is partly responsible for the harassment because “you can’t dress the way you do” and not expect to incite this kind of behavior from men in a professional setting, or out in the world. They end up attacking each other, yet also paradoxically giving each other permission to bust a move that may or may not be to each woman’s benefit. When Joan retaliates, telling Peggy that of course Peggy doesn’t dress the way she (Joan) does, because (by implication) Peggy is more Plain Jane than Bombshell--Peggy doesn’t have the looks to carry off the stunning, figure-hugging clothes Joan wears, Peggy is devastated. Later, she reverses her decision not to allow herself to be set up on a blind date by Mathis, almost to prove Joan wrong, to challenge the idea that she’s unattractive, or that she isn’t as attractive as Joan. When Peggy insults Joan back, saying, “You’re filthy rich, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to,” (because Joan, unlike Peggy, is now a partner in the firm) Joan thinks about it hard. When one of the McCann Erikson creeps calls later in the day, she tells her secretary to say she’s unavailable, in a meeting. Then she flees work and indulges in a high end shopping spree: evening dresses, shoes, boots, the works. (More wardrobe designs straight out of my old barbie doll’s cardboard closet. Sigh.)