Blogging Mad Men: Season 4, Ep. 9 “The Beautiful Girls.”

I have a hard time when television shows throw in a death to serve as the episode’s conflict. On a show like Lost — before it got horrible — death served to keep the show honest: you couldn’t be terrified of the island as a viewer without the consequences feeling real for the characters. (That, incidentally, is one of the reasons the show became terrible. They removed the high-stakes feel.)

But in this week’s Mad Men, the death of Mrs. LaRusso Ida Blakenship, felt dropped in just to make the wacky goings on at SterlingCooperDraperPrice seem even wackier. That makes Blakenship’s whole tenure seemed dropped in solely for the purpose of whipping Don into shape and letting go great one-liners. The post-death contemplations on how to memorialize her felt trite, even though it meant we got to see more of Bert Cooper.

The sex scene between Joan and Roger felt contrived, as well (Really, they’ve had this much sexual tension for so long and it takes a mugging to get them to cave?) Drinks alone probably would have done it. I’m not really for Roger and Joan getting together. Whatever “real” feelings he has for her now are certainly convenient, given that they’re both unavailable and her husband’s gone (we got a roundabout news delivery this episode that he’s being sent to Vietnam). And the fact that Roger seems to be slowly falling apart as much as Don is — even though the focus has been much more on Don — doesn’t bode well for his future.

Meanwhile, Abe, the writer Peggy smooched in a closet a few episodes ago, pisses her off by being progressive, Peggy starts playing an early version of Oppression Olympics, and later raises a half-hearted attempt at protest racism while working on the account for a company that refuses to hire African Americans. Peggy’s lesbian friend, who arranged for Abe to accidentally run into Peggy, then serves us this horrible soup metaphor about how women are the bowls, the containers that keep men together. That’s not a particularly feminist message, nor one that really seems to fit well with what we’ve seen in the show. For an episode that was meant to be an ode to beautiful women, none of the women were framed in a good light, and none of them really get to shine.

But Sally was really the focus. I watched the show with Nicole and G.D., who both noted that Sally’s behavior in Don’s apartment was especially unnerving, even more so than the temper tantrum she threw at the end. As they said, she has clearly noticed that Don spends more time paying attention to adult women than he does to anything else, and she was practicing being an adult to try to get more attention from him. What’s going on with Sally is particularly horrible and of-the-time. After a bunch of life-changing events in quick succession, none of the adults consider actually having a talk with Sally and, instead, foist her off on a psychiatrist when she becomes a problem. This also was, incidentally, a good episode for Kiernan Shipka, who was a much better actress than she has been in seasons past.

But enough about what I took away from the episode. Thoughts?

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18 comments to Blogging Mad Men: Season 4, Ep. 9 “The Beautiful Girls.”

  • Lemu

    My GF was saying also saying that Don needs to have a serious chat with Sally about her behaviour and whats going on with the family. I tried to tell her that Don doesn’t have the capacity to deal with adverse situations outside of work. Looking back to his brother and Mrs. Draper as examples, Don’s way of dealing with an issue is pushing it away. This is why when he asked the research lady to talk to her, it was a clear moment when Don was completely helpless and needed someone who could articulate what he wish he could.

  • Nicole

    That scene at the end with Betty and Sally broke my heart a little. A fall like that had to leave a mark, and I think the Jetson’s robot was more comforting than Betty. As I said last night, Betty hates Sally more that she hates herself.

    Can we also talk about Faye’s complete breakdown over dealing with Sally? I think Don was just panicked and wanted someone he at least sort of trusted to deal with Sally when he couldn’t, Faye’s insecurities about her career path came ROARING to the surface. It makes me wonder if (unlike Peggy) she’s not as okay with the life she’s made for herself as she’d like everyone to think.

    Is it me, or are the women on this show much more compelling than the men?

  • Scipio Africanus

    I think the main purpose of Ms. Blankenship was to show that Bert Cooper wasn’t gay.

    And I’m getting a little tired of despising Betty. I want her to be a human being again.

    Don’s new secretary is *so* going to get the dills (and I’ don’t mean Vlasic’s) soon. It’s all over the wall.

  • Temi

    Sally in Don’s apartment was very uncomfortable.

    I like Faye breakdown. Everyone on the show is at least a little tragic, i didn’t like her being the exception.

    I like the tension between Joan and Roger. Joan is the most tragic character on the show to me. She has no luck whatsover

    “red” didn’t have to do them like that though…lol

  • Also, I forgot to comment on Don asking Faye to step in. I wanted her to break up with him over it. It seemed like, “Well, I need a woman to do this for me.” The annoying thing for me, in this episode, was that the women’s quiet suffering was portrayed in a sort of angelic light.

    • Leigh

      I agree w/you re: Faye. Felt like Don thought vagina = babysitter, not PhD in psychology = qualified child analyst. I also was disappointed in her breakdown at the end over it, how he might not love her for being childless and successful. I wanted her to be pissed that he kept trying to foist his kid onto her.

      Other than that, I feel like your interpretation of all the plot twists is so cynical! Death is weak, Joan and Roger are fake, Peggy hating a progressive… The “Oppression Olympics,” while deplorable, are real, and their entire conversation was a classic play on all the women are white, all the blacks are men. I also thought it was quite a real reaction for a character like Peggy to have, in her context, and her attempt at challenging the racist Mass company (did you all notice the Boston = “same difference” as the South in the ep?) was her attempt at trying on what Abe was saying, i.e., a learning process…

      I don’t know what I think about Blankenship dying, I did find it funny, and I liked Bert’s “astronaut” remark. I love the chemistry b/w Joan and Roger, even if I found the whole mugging-sex thing kind of bizarre. I really enjoyed this episode.

  • Darth Paul

    “Lost — before it got horrible — death served to keep the show honest: you couldn’t be terrified of the island as a viewer without the consequences feeling real for the characters. (That, incidentally, is one of the reasons the show became terrible. They removed the high-stakes feel.)”

    I’m sincerely grateful for that. I’ve been trying to articulate why I hated it after season 3 beyond “It’s stupid!” and now I know how.

  • Overall, I thought this was a great episode. Such explicit examples of how women are the pots that warm and hold the vegetable soup that is men. Ha! They managed Sally, rolled Mrs. Blankenship to Glory, etc. Soup, meet pot.

    Peggy has become my favorite character. She totally was participating in the Opression Olympics during her convo with (oblivious) Abe at the bar. However, she clearly thought about what he said as she suggested that SCDP use Harry Belafonte in the Fillmore ads. Peggy is going to go far because she’s not afraid to (re)consider the world around her and act, even if it’s not something that was her purview previously.

    The Sally situation was just sad. Her parents aren’t able to provide the love/guidance/support she needs; she’ll continue to suffer because of that. And, most likely, will make them suffer when she’s a teenager/young adult. Also, as mentioned on Gawker, Sally totes looked like one of Don’s one night stands in a t-shirt and rumpled hair (and making French toast!). That was awk-ward.

    I will also say that Weiner was uber-predictable and tacky by having Joan and Roger get held up by a “Negro” two seconds after Joan mentioned that the neighborhood the diner was in had “gone down.” Boo, Matthew Weiner. Just boo. I’m going need him to do better in regard to Black folk.

    @Scipio: I thought it was dilz nilz, and I hope gets neither the dills or the nilz.

  • Jackson

    @Temi

    You are right about “everyone on the show is at least a little tragic.”

    But I think it adds some flavor to the show so I don’t know if I agree with, “‘Red’ didn’t have to do them like that though.”

    *lol*

  • LJ

    tmaismb, totally agree on the mugging thing. Especially considering that the mugger had more lines at one moment than any other black person in the entire season, maybe even the whole show ever. Epic faili.

    And though Peggy with her “oh those negroes could work hard like me and get my job” expresses a pretty typical white frame of reference (for then and now) it was disappointing. What also killed me about what she said about “clawing her way in” or however she phrased it, was it was so false. I’ve been re-watching season 1 on Netflix and she got her job b/c she was already there at SC as secretary (something no black female could do b/c they didn’t hire black women as secretaries and they certainly wouldn’t have hired a male of any color as a secretary) when she got her break, and it wasn’t even that she expressed an interest and used her position as a stepping stone, she made an off-hand comment about a “basket of kisses” it was recognized as good, and rather than steal her idea, Freddy Rumson saw some talent there and asked to start using her to write copy part-time in addition to being a secretary. Once her talent was really recognized she went up-up from there but it isn’t like she went in there gunning to be a copywriter; she sort of fell into it b/c she showed an aptidude. If not for that, I don’t think she’d have been a copy-writer in 1965, That doesn’t take away from her skill and talent or for hanging in there and dealing with all the sexism but it was such a moment of not seeing her white privilege.

    • Scipio Africanus

      A reviewer at Salon yesterday commented that Peggy’s cluelessness about the advantages she enjoyed early on based on the fact that she’s white, which you bring up here, was a statement/indictment of the white middle-class nature of 2nd wave feminism, which Peggy’s character is supposed to represent. The reviewer actually resented that implication, but I do see it as well.

      • April

        And feminists still haven’t learned. Peggy’s remark totally reminded me of Gloria Steinem’s wack op-ed on why the presidential race was sooo much easier for Obama than Clinton. It sounds like the Salon reviewer needs to look in the mirror.

    • April

      Especially considering that the mugger had more lines at one moment than any other black person in the entire season, maybe even the whole show ever. Epic faili.

      Wow, you are probably right. This is pitiful.

    • quadmoniker

      yeah, that was particularly horrible. i meant to say something about that.

  • ed

    If Sally doesn’t go on to “get intimate” with Ravi Shankar, Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix, the majority of the members of Mountain, the Family Stone, and/or Sha Na Na at Woodstock, I’ll eat my hat.

  • quadmoniker

    Really good post by Tamara Winfrey Harris on the racism not in the show, but in the response to it.

  • Danielle

    Okay, am I the only one who was turned off by the mugging done by a black man shrouded in darkness. I stopped watching the show b/c the blatant propaganda and racism almost gave me a heart attack, am I the only one who was absolutely, positively appalled?

  • [...] Quadmoniker didn’t like Ida Blankenship’s death, suggesting it was a cheap shot to serve as the show’s conflict.  I suppose it’s going to surprise no one to say that I disagree.  Not with the general principle, of course, but I don’t think the death really served as a conflict point.  If anything, it was like the vending machine bit in last week’s episode—a comic subplot that, as comic subplots are supposed to do, echoed the larger themes of the episode and the season while providing laughs.  I know it was a dark piece of comedy, but it was nonetheless played for laughs.  Ida Blankenship died how she lived (on the show): as comic relief.  Sadly, I fear that the end of Blankenship will become a pivot for the show, like the birth episode last season was: an idle moment of life happening before shit hits the fan.  We’ll see. [...]

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