Spoilers for "Mad Men" season two, episode six coming up just as soon as I delete "The Man who Shot Liberty Valance" from my Netflix queue (and thank you very much, Pete)...
"Women want to see themselves the way men see them." -Paul Kinsey
Unsurprisingly for an episode that features so many characters looking into mirrors, "Maidenform" is about how people see themselves and then how hurt they are to realize how the rest of the world sees them.
Don is briefly pleased with Sally's worshipful gaze, particularly during the Memorial Day celebration, but after he realizes that Bobbie Barrett sees him as a reflection of herself -- and that, though he refuses to admit it to her, she's seeing him correctly -- he can't bear to have Sally look at him that way anymore.
Peggy struggles with an issue that still plagues women in business today -- how do you get an edge in business when the boys are doing so much business at the bar, or on the golf course, or other He-Man Woman Hater's Club-type venues? -- and needs Joan to tell her to stop looking like a girl when a woman can probably have more luck in this arena. (Modern businesswoman might suggest that Peggy's new approach -- not just dressing sexier, but sitting on the lap of a male client and giggling about it -- won't do her any favors, either, but least the guys seemed happy to have her around, and might think to invite her to future after-hours events.)
Betty is again flattered by the attention of young Arthur (so long as it doesn't go past attention) and is then embarrassed when he sees his reaction to the arrival of her kids. To feel better about herself, she buys a sexy yellow bikini at auction and is completely humiliated when Don -- who watched her, from afar, flirt with Arthur at the country club -- tells her exactly how he thinks she looks.
Duck Phillips, struggling to stay sober in the wake of personal and professional problems (his appearances late last season strongly implied that he was an alcoholic whose drinking nearly destroyed his career in London), finally succumbs to the temptation to drink. But he can't bear to see his beloved dog Chauncey -- a reflection of the life he threw away the last time he drank -- stare at him with those big brown eyes, and so he sends the poor pooch out into the streets of New York so he can destroy himself in solitude. (And if you have any doubt that Duck went back up for that bottle, it should have been erased by the immediate cut from Duck's haunted face to Bobbie Barrett pouring a glass of champagne.)
Pete, who has never had much of a personality to call his own and who therefore mirrors others -- see his desire to buy an "office dog" after seeing Duck with Chauncey -- preys on the insecurities of a model who just got rejected at a Sterling Cooper casting call. Though he's pleased with his predatory reflection in the mirror after returning home, unnoticed, he's furious when he watches Peggy acting flirty and happy at the strip club. (Pete's "I don't like you like this" to a happy Peggy from "The Hobo Code" was his version of Don's "It's desperate" to Betty here.)
Mirrors -- flattering and unflattering, real images and perceived ones -- are everywhere in this episode. Don has created a (successful) campaign for Playtex that holds up a mirror to the product and shows you why it works. The clients want a campaign that mirrors the one used by Maidenform (which is all about fantasy images of oneself), and so Don comes up with a new one that involves one woman playing two versions of herself, as Jackie and Marilyn.
Jackie and her husband have come up an awful lot this season, and they're also held up to the harsh light of the dressing room mirror. Don's public relations buddy at the Memorial Day barbecue talks about how the image of youthful vigor we all had of Kennedy -- which we all now know was a lie, that he was frail and sickly -- vanished as soon as Kennedy got to the White House and was confronted with the reality that he couldn't get anything done. (Case in point: The Bay of Pigs, which Don's pal was involved in.)
"Maidenform" is a less intense episode than last week's "The New Girl," but it features a number of typically beautiful, haunting "Mad Men" moments. Chief among them is Duck abandoning Chauncey so he can get his drink on in peace. Based on Mark Moses' continued listing as a guest star, I fear Duck's not long for Sterling Cooper. It's one thing to indulge the likes of Freddie Rumsen, who has a middle-tier job and at worst falls asleep on the job; it's clear from the rumors we heard about Duck last season and from the comment from his ex-wife about how he used to act in the afternoon that Duck is a much messier drunk, and the sort that Bert Cooper won't be able to tolerate as his head of accounts.
The shame of it is that Duck's fall off the wagon comes in the same episode where he finally makes peace with Don. He doesn't realize it at first (look how defeated he seems after Don leaves their "lunch" meeting) because Don can be such a cold bastard, but when the Playtex campaign plays out exactly as Don predicted it would, Don declines to play the "Toldja so" and genuinely tries to reassure Duck that this wasn't a bad thing. (Unlike the American fiasco, this didn't cost them any money.) There had been a lot of speculation that Matt Weiner brought Duck in to be this season's Richie Aprile, but after weeks of watching them clash and watching Duck try to lure Pete further into the dark side, Weiner instead shows us a very human and vulnerable side of Duck, and then tosses poor Duck off the wagon. Great work by Moses.
Bobbie Barrett, on the other hand, is becoming more problematic the longer she sticks around. I recognize that she's supposed to reflect (oy, there's that word again) an uglier side of Don, that he's drawn to her out of frustration with the state of his marriage and that both of them get off on the fact that neither likes each other very much. But the unpleasantness of their relationship is starting to flow into the actual scenes. The idea that Don's much more of a himbo than we realized, and in fact has a reputation among a certain circle of professional ladies is an interesting one (not that I ever thought Midge was his first mistress), but there comes a point where I'm tired of seeing Don cast this nasty woman out of his life only to go back to her again.
Then again, the Duck storyline doesn't seem to be traveling in the direction I expected. Maybe my perception of the Bobbie story is going to turn out to be as inaccurate as Sally Draper's view of her perfect daddy.
Some other thoughts on "Maidenform":
• Though the story overall is frustrating, I did get a kick out of Don doing the mental math whenever Bobbie revealed the existence and age of yet another kid. Jon Hamm had a priceless "How old is this broad?" look on his face when she mentioned the daughter at Sarah Lawrence, and the whole thing neatly mirrored (please stop me from beating this metaphor into the ground) Arthur's reaction to the physical reminder of Betty's motherhood.
• I really appreciated the nuance of the guys' behavior around Peggy in her storyline, which reflects (God help us all) her unique standing in the office. She's not a secretary, and they don't treat her like one, but she's also not one of them. Freddie's the one who plucked her from the typing pool by praising her way with words to Don, yet he still slaps her on her ass (albeit with a folder) to dismiss her complaints of being left out of the brainstorming session. And you can tell that Ken does sort of like her -- if nothing else, he recognizes that she's good at what she does, and therefore good for his own business -- but he also doesn't grasp what her complaint is about.
• Also, you can tell how badly Peggy could use that makeover, even if sexing herself up may not be the best way to deal with these guys. Don compares her to Irene Dunne, who was 63 in 1962, and hadn't even appeared in a movie in a decade. Dunne was adorable in her heyday, but it'd be sort of like telling a 22-year-old today, in the midst of a discussion of which Jessica is the hottest, that she reminds you of Diane Keaton. (Hat tip to Matt Seitz for suggesting Keaton; I was on the verge of going with the less age-appropriate Meg Ryan.)
• I loved that Betty's friend casually uses a phrase like "the summer they executed the Rosenbergs" while discussing the weather.
• Lost a little in all the hubbub about Playtex is the tension between Peggy and Pete over the Clearasil campaign. Two things that struck me: 1)Unlike Duck's proposed, unfinished suggestion for the Playtext slogan, Pete's "Thanks, Clearasil!" catchphrase doesn't sound bad (I have a nagging suspicion it was a Clearasil slogan at some point), but Peggy won't admit it because it would suggest he had some talent in her area; and 2)Peggy's TV commercial concept sounds fairly novel for the period, and maybe another thing that could help put Sterling Cooper (and Harry's brand new TV division) on the map.
• Another reason I suspect Duck is on his way out: Roger hasn't had much to do professionally this season. That said, the writers always make sure to give John Slattery one hilariously oily bit of business in every episode. In this case, it was his delight in admiring the curvy (albeit lobster-like) form of Jane and mocking Don about what Betty's eventual reaction to her will be. ("Has your wife seen that yet?")
• Any Stephen King fans immediately start thinking about "Gerald's Game" after Don left Bobbie tied to the bed? A robe sash isn't as hard to get out of as handcuffs, and of course someone would be home before long (either a housekeeper or this college-age daughter), but I did wonder how long she wound up stuck like that.
• For the second episode in a row, Freddie embarrasses a co-worker with something that seems inappropriate, but at least here, his request for a box of bras was actually professional, whereas there was no earthly reason (except comic genius) for him to play Mozart on his zipper last week.
• During the non-lunch peace accord meeting, there's a shot from behind of Don leaning on Duck's couch that looks exactly like the image of him from the main titles.
• Creepier part of Pete's seduction of the model: that her mom is in the next room, or that Pete (who recently lost his dad in a plane crash) has sex while the TV shows an aviation documentary where the narrator reads RAF pilot John Gillespie Magee's poem "High Flight", which is often read at the memorials for people who died in plane crashes? (Reagan quoted it while addressing the nation on the night of the Challenger explosion.)
• For the most part, music supervisor Alex Patsavas sticks with period-appropriate songs, but she's not opposed to an anachronistic tune if it fits right, which The Decemberists' "The Infanta" certainly does over the montage of Betty, Joan and Peggy putting on their underwear in front of the (sorry, but this is a literal use) mirror.
What did everybody else (or, at least, everybody else who was watching a Memorial Day-themed episode of a TV show in the middle of Labor Day weekend) think?