After the last few episodes focused on Don and Pete, episode six is another look at the women of "Mad Men": the compromises made, the four very narrow and yet very different routes that Joan, Peggy, Rachel and Midge have chosen to navigate this world they never made.
Joan had been our mystery woman until now, the queen bee vamp who buzzed around the typing pool, handing out advice on matters both personal and professional without revealing anything about herself -- like, for instance, why a woman of her relatively advanced age (Christina Hendricks is 29, which would have made her an old maid in an office like that) still hasn't landed her own husband and got a house up in Westchester. Now we know the answer: Joan doesn't have the house because she doesn't want it. Like Midge, she enjoys being an independent woman, having her pick of multiple men -- notably Sterling/Cooper co-founder Roger Sterling, who, like Don, is both turned on troubled by his mistress's free spirit -- and not being tied down to any one of them. (She can brazenly wiggle her fanny in front of the two-way mirror because any or all of the men on the other side could be hers if she wanted them.) She has her roommate Carol, she has adventures and she doesn't want to be kept in a gilded cage like that stupid canary Roger buys her at episode's end. And yet where Midge lives her entire life outside the system, by day Joan is a keeper of that system, herding the secretaries around like cattle and trying to jump in between Peggy and Fred (the "creative" guy played by Joel Murray) as if she were a Secret Service agent trying to take a bullet for the president. As liberated as Joan is in some areas, she can't wrap her head around the notion of a fellow secretary having something useful to offer the ad guys; I'm sure she had the same dog/piano reaction that Fred had.
And speaking of Peggy, this is an interesting, if not totally unexpected route they're taking the character. The second episode, where Paul gave her a tour of the offices, established that female copywriters do exist, in very small numbers and only for accounts related to lady products, but this has some real potential. (If nothing else, I look forward to the first time she has to work for Don in this capacity instead of as his gal Friday.) And unlike David Duchovny's stupid, cliche-riddled blogging on "Californication," the phrases Peggy came up with ("basket of kisses," "I don't think anyone wants to be one of a hundred colors in a box") actually sounded good. If I was an ad guy in 1960 and I heard someone use those in casual conversation, I'd be intrigued, too.
Rachel Menken comes back into the picture as Don's token Jewish acquaintance, called in to help Don understand how to market a line of cruise ships bound for Israel. And after dismissing him out of hand in episode three because she had no interest in being someone's mistress, it now seems not a horrible idea to her. Being a female chief executive has to be rough on the love life today; in 1960, I imagine what suitors Rachel actually had tended to be guys after her money. The phone call with her sister suggests she's not the first member of her family on a path to old maidhood, and that has to be a scary proposition. The question is, is she prepared to compromise her values in the hopes that Don will leave his wife and marry her, or is she just that starved for companionship that she'll be The Other Woman? And how mad is she going to get when she realizes that she would, in fact, be The Other Other Woman?
Finally, Don visits Midge and gets another reminder of how poorly he fits into her world. Taking him to that coffee house might as well have been a trip to Mars for poor, conservative Don, and try as he did to mock Midge's other "friend" Roy, he's never going to be comfortable in bohemia. So will he attempt to swap Rachel in for Midge, or will he try to have all three women? And how will Midge respond to either scenario?
A few other thoughts:
- Any scene where John Hamm's hair isn't drowning in pomade is a bad idea. The opening scene where his hair was flopping around made him look far too much a modern man.
- Anyone care to analyze Don's dream of Adam's birth for clues about Dick Whitman's deep, dark secret?
- Anvil time: "Some men like eyebrows, and all men like Joan Crawford. Salvatore couldn't stop talking about her." Also, Salvatore's bitchy put-downs of the women on the other side of the mirror. I just can't believe nobody doesn't get it. The prime of Paul Lynde's career wasn't that far away, was it?
- Could have been anvillicious but wasn't: Rachel offering the alternative definition of "Utopia" as "the place that cannot be." Sounds not unlike the romantic space she wishes she could occupy with Don.