Mad Men – 4.09: The Beautiful Girls

“Dammit, I don’t want to die in this office.  I almost have twice.” – Roger

Mad Men is a very methodical and deliberate show that builds storylines and character arcs subtly and somewhat discreetly, but every now and then, it likes to throw us a WTF moment, almost as if it’s asking us “You’re still paying attention, right?”  And in an episode that’s already jam-packed with many many interweaving threads (Don and Faye’s blossoming relationship, the trials and tribulations of Sally Draper, Peggy’s romantic life, the further adventures of Joan and Roger), the show delivers another WTF moment at us: the very abrupt death of Don’s latest secretary, Miss Blankenship, who dies sitting at her desk.  No cause of death is given in the episode, but everything surrounding the death, from discovery (Peggy is unsuccessful at flagging down someone to help, and finds, of all people, Don Draper’s daughter sitting at Don’s desk) to trying to clear the scene (the body is carefully sneaked past an open-window room where a very important meeting is taking place), plays out like a very dark and hilarious comedy.  Reactions run the gamut: some are surprised but relatively unfazed, some take it pretty hard, but the consent seems to be that business must continue uninterrupted in the workplace, even in the wake of a death.  There is certainly some commentary on the cold and callous nature of the office (jokes about the death are already being made by the end of the episode), but honestly, I was too busy cracking up at the entire scene and aftermath to think about it any more than that.  For such a classy and intelligent show, it sometimes pulls some really base and morbid moves.  What’s impressive though is that it manages to get away with it almost every time.

There’s a lot going on in this episode, but I’ll focus this post on one more aspect: Sally Draper, who is quickly becoming one of the most complicated characters on the show; an impressive feat for a 10 year old girl.  This season she’s already cut her own hair, been caught touching herself down there at a friend’s house, and is seeing a psychologist, so why not add running away after a psychologist appointment on her own to her dad’s office?  What’s equally surprising (and somewhat disturbing) is her divorced (and current custody owning) mother’s relative lack of interest in her well-being, essentially telling Don “whatever, I don’t have time for this, you take of this until I have time to come pick her up.”  Sally claims to hate it at her mother’s place and wants to be with her father, and it’s not hard to see why.  Even when picking her up again, Betty’s “I was worried about you” sounds robotic and forced (although that may be due to January Jones’ terrible acting).  The domestic situation here deserves the label “cluster-fuck”.  It’s essentially Don’s fault they’re all in this mess, yet he’s the one that Sally wants to be with.  It’s certainly unfair and I want to sympathize with Betty, given the circumstances, and yet, I can’t shake the feeling that she’s not the lesser parent in this situation (it doesn’t help that the show has done almost all it can to make Betty very very unlikeable).  Meanwhile, Sally is really learning how to manipulate Don into getting what she wants.  Getting away with a half-hearted apology and promise not to do it again and a trip to the zoo?  This kid could murder someone and she’d probably find a way to get Don to look the other way.  In the end, though, she doesn’t get her way and is returned to her legal custodian.  I very much look forward to what becomes of this; who knew divorce could be so much fun?

The topic of women’s rights and attitudes toward women in society has been brought up a lot in recent episodes.  I’d talk about it, but I feel like this is going to be brought up again and in a much bigger context, so I’ll save my thoughts until then.

One last superficial fashion note: Peggy had a couple of really cute outfits this episode, and I squealed at Joan’s pajamas, thick-framed-hipster glasses with a ponytail look.  So adorable!  The Beautiful Girls indeed!

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