As we have in the past, during the fifth season of Mad Men Feministing writers will offer some of our thoughts on feminist moments, scenes, and themes in the new episodes in order to start a discussion about these topics in our community. *WARNING: Lots of spoilers follow.
And now, our thoughts on the season premiere!
Opening scene: Y&R ad men drop water bombs on civil rights protesters
It’s clear, this entire season will be framed with the civil rights movement which is awesome for two reasons a) there will be black people on the show now and b) the producers have been intentional about the way the race narrative has panned out, allaying any fears that the purpose of Mad Men was more nostalgia than critique. Also, as Tim Rice mentioned on MHP’s show last week–white people at that time, many of them, really had no idea why the civil rights movement was such a big deal–so the ambivalence to it is historically accurate. -Samhita
Sally waking up and looking for the bathroom
A lot of folks, myself included, have been thinking this season would have a major focus on Sally. I was very happy to see the second scene of the premiere, which went from none of our leads to Sally before bringing us back to Don. I’m a big Sally fan, and I’m excited about where her storyline might go. Her father is starting to represent the past now, and Sally’s the future. The scene in the car where Don talked about when Bobby will be 40 was meant to remind us of how old these characters would be now – who Sally and Bobby might become. I bet Sally is the character Matt Weiner identifies with the most. -Jos
NEW BOBBY?!?! -Lori
Hopefully, this means we are going to see Sally’s “feminist” awakening. -Samhita
“He’s not looking at your tits, he’s looking at my schedule!”
But he’s also looking at your tits. -Vanessa
Lol @ Vanessa. So let me get this straight, fictional character Pete. You’re angry at your secretary’s flirtations with Roger, and yell at her and shame her about it, but then turn around and capitalize on said flirtations when you realize she could be useful in helping to set up your send-Roger-to-Staten-Island-at-6-in-the-morning prank. Sadly, I feel like this is an area where not much has changed. Women are still frequently shamed for being sexy or attractive to men, unless it serves the purposes of another man. -Lori
Roger is getting sloppy, out of control and even more douch-ey. Pete is becoming a grown baby man business man and has got his eyes on the prize and will not stop until he gets there…he doesn’t feel like a real man, what’s a little slut-shaming in the service of bolstering his man-ego? -Samhita
Introduction of Joan’s mom and her child-rearing skills
I love seeing how important work is to Joan. She feels stuck at home, like she only gets to exist for her baby and her husband, who’s not even there. She knows she needs to be valued, and needs the social interaction. It’s great to see Lane take a break from being a creepster to take Joan’s concerns seriously, and I enjoy how both Lane and Don so clearly value Joan’s work. Joan gets respect from peers at SCDP, something she certainly doesn’t get at home. -Jos
My god, could Lane be any more of a creepster? But yes, that was a great moment. It made me feel panicked just watching Joan talk about her life and her fears. That feeling that the walls are closing in on you and the world you love–the world you fucking owned–is going merrily on without you…Well, that’s actually not a feeling I’ve had but I can imagine that’s how I’d feel if I were Joanie on maternity leave! I can’t wait for this storyline. - Maya
I agree — while it’s consistent with her character and obvious love for SCDP, her love of work has never been nearly as evident than in this episode. But over the past seasons, it’s become more and more apparent that Joan has less interest in a life in the private sphere; she needs to contribute to something more than just a family. -Vanessa
Yeah the contrast her mother provides gives us more sense about Joan’s desires then we have ever seen concretely. Also, babies ruin everything–just ask Peggy. Best scene in whole show, when someone gives the baby to Peggy and she’s like, “um, wut?” -Samhita
Megan’s birthday present to Don:
Gillian Hills was 16 when she recorded Zou Bisou Bisou. Don and Megan both probably just saw Hills in a threesome in Antonioni’s Blow-Up.
Which I mention because Don’s got a thing for women who he sees as childish, while also innocently maternal. It’s an eroticized purity – it has to do with Dick’s Mommy issues. Think Betty, Sally’s school teacher, and now Megan, who’s trying desperately to fit what she thinks is Don’s fantasy. Of course, both of them are just “trying to make the other one happy” – it’s like they’re not even in a relationship with each other, just with their fantasies of what the other one wants. But Don’s a master manipulator – that’s his job, we’ve seen him use it with Betty, and he’s already being pretty emotionally manipulative with Megan. Seems to me Don’s pushing Megan to fulfill his impossible fantasy.
Oh and by the way, what the hell was with that sex scene, Mad Men? Do we really need to see the tired old trope of she says no, he forces it, then she wants it on this show? - Jos
It’s interesting because in their new Mad Men web series, Amanda and Marc contend the roles are actually switched when it comes to Don and Megan’s relationship — that Megan is the manipulator, and has Don wrapped around her finger as she’s playing the role of perfect wife and mistress, while getting to live the luxurious and fun life she desires. Though I wouldn’t say Megan is totally happy or has the absolute upper hand in the relationship, but she obviously has some control over him, which I think is why he makes these comments like, “I can make you go home right now. You know I have that power,” after she turns him away from a quickie in the office. -Vanessa
Yeah, I really don’t know what to make of the sex scene. Or of Megan and Don in general, honestly. I do kinda agree with Amanda and Marc that Megan seems to be a master manipulator–and there seemed to be more going on in that sex scene than just “she says no, he forces it, then she wants it.” This is what actress Jessica Pare said about it:
Is there really any problem that can’t be solved that way? The way I saw it is that Megan is Don’s equal in a lot of ways. One of the ways that she has some kind of power over him is that they are such a great match sexually and physically. I think that this is sort of her trying to regain her upper hand in that sense.
Is there any problem that can’t be solved through sex? Well, I’d say yes–one of them perhaps being that you’re upset because your husband was an ungrateful, uncommunicative child after you threw him a surprise birthday party that he didn’t want because you don’t actually know him that well at all since you got married after a hot second…Uh, clearly I still have a lot of baggage when it comes to their relationship. But the broader point–that Megan uses her sexuality to regain the upper hand after he’s dismissive or hurtful–seems right. I certainly agree, Jos, that she’s been trying very hard to fulfill Don’s ultimately impossible fantasy–but she also seems to be doing a really good job thus far. It will be interesting to see what happens if/when she drop the roles and becomes a real person. Pare warns of “some friction.” Let’s hope. -Maya
I think Megan is a master manipulator and agree with Marc and Amanda–and even though that sex scene was gross and questionable, they both seemed really happy and it was clear they had done this kind of role-play before. Megan is now both his innocent, young, wife and sexy midday side-ass. -Samhita
Race storyline coming to the fore: Waterbombing protesters, the joke ad, the Negro-filled waiting room
“Where are all the Black people on Mad Men?” In the lobby! Matt Weiner certainly made a clear statement with the premiere, which speaks to why we saw less Black people in the show’s first four seasons than in these two episodes. The Civil Rights Act was being debated in Congress around when this season takes place. As the opening scene showed us, Madison Avenue wasn’t exactly engaged in the civil rights movement – the waterbombing and Trudy’s comment about the police make it pretty clear these rich white folks are happy with their segregation. Our leads aren’t likely to have many meaningful relationships with Black people if they can’t trust a cab driver with a wallet that was in his own cab.
Things are changing, though. There was a time when there was almost no way a Black person would enter the SCDP offices unless he was cleaning. Now the civil rights movement has progressed to the point where Black folks will enter the lobby, and white folks are forced to confront them. West Wing also used this lobby metaphor, by the way, to talk about the injustice done to American Indians. Of course, there is still a ceiling on what roles Black characters can play in this world – cleaning crews, secretaries, and queer musicians. This is the real problem of representation when practically every TV show and movie is focused on a white world. No, of course a show about Madison Avenue in the 60s won’t have a lot of Black characters. Oh, and we got to see a generational divide in racism at the party – Megan will interact with and be entertained by a queer Black musician, while I think Don and Roger would prefer a blackface performance. -Jos
Yeah, that moment at the party with Don and Roger looking over at the cool, young kids semi-wistfully and sooo awkwardly really said a lot. Same with when they were nervously deliberating about what to do with the “lobby full of Negros.” Despite Roger’s always-casual joking, it’s clear these older execs are see that the world is changing–in ways that they aren’t really equipped to deal with. There’s a mixture of discomfort laced with a certain resignation. -Maya
Hey, black people! I for one have never been critical of there being no black people on Mad Men. The goal according to Matthew Weiner was to keep the experiences of these ad men authentic and the Dons and Rogers of that time were not exactly the types to be a part of the freedom rides of ‘64. In fact, I’m pretty certain they would have no idea who the freedom riders even were. So I was happy that right on time with the summer of 1966 black people made a big splash on Mad Men because I think it symbolizes the shift that actually happened in the United States at that time. It will be interesting to see how the white characters who up to this point were in the world of ignorance is bliss when it comes to the issue of race, react to the infusion of blackness that is sure to come out of one of those resumes Lane collected in the final scene of the episode. I don’t want Mad Men to put black faces in the mix unless that is realistic for that time period and situation. I’m very happy that the show chose to wait until the right moment despite a lot of criticism for the lack of color over the first 4 four seasons. - Zerlina