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Posted at 10:05 AM ET, 04/09/2012

‘Mad Men’: A salute to this week’s five heroines

In this week’s episode of “Mad Men,” no woman was safe.


Peggy Olson, asking on behalf of women everywhere: “How much you got?” (Michael Yarish)

Certainly not those nurses who were so brutally murdered in Chicago by the very real Richard Speck. Not Joan, whose husband Greg finally came home long enough to announce that he was being redeployed to Vietnam and lie about the circumstances that prompted it. Not Megan, who, unbeknownst to her, is being cheated on in her husband’s weird, murderous fever dreams about Shelly Johnson from “Twin Peaks.” Not Sally Draper, who, as a young girl forced to eat tuna sandwiches in their entirety and curb her TV viewing habits (“I’m on vacation”), is clearly the true victim here. Not even Cinder-friggin’-rella, who, based on the Michael Ginsberg version of her story, is a hobbling, helpless female stalked by a shadowy foot fetishist named Prince Charming. Which sounds kind of like the plot of “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

But like Cora Amurao, the ninth Chicago nursing student who managed to escape death and torture by hiding under a bed, our women of “Mad Men” are resourceful. They, too, are finding ways to assert themselves despite men who, to borrow the words of shoe client Mr. Butler, think they can get inside their heads.

Before I say a few words about the five key heroines in this week’s “Mad Men” episode, “Mystery Date,” let me provide an extremely quick summary of the key male contributions to this week’s installment.*

*Celebritology’s Monday morning “Mad Men” posts are an equal-opportunity source for TV show analysis.

The men of “Mad Men” summary:

Don Draper remains old, a fact that was hammered home in yet another season five episode by his slow but sure ceding of genius status to Ginsberg, as well as his frequent cough. (Did anyone else immediately think lung cancer? Just me?)

Michael Ginsberg is proving himself to be both a very smart copywriter and, arguably, the most sterotypically Jewish character on television since Uncle Leo. (Hel-lo.) Also, given his response to the Chicago murders, his twisted view of fairy tales and the fact that, based on last week’s episode, he lives alone with his father, I would like to publicly hypothesize that Ginsberg has some mother issues that will eventually spill over in an awkward, work-related situation.

Roger Sterling continued to do absolutely no work and further establish his status as a Walking ATM Machine of Hush-Hush Money.

Which brings us to Peggy Olson, the first of my five “Mad Men” heroines of the week.

I was so proud of our Peggy, sitting in her office with her stocking-sheathed legs propped up on her desk (were those Topaz pantyhose she was wearing?), demanding that Roger pay her an appropriate amount in bribery fees.

“How much do you want?” Roger asked after giving Ms. Olson a measly $10. “How much you got?” she responded. And that’s how you turn $10 into $400. Even now, more than 45 years after this “Mad Men” episode took place, most women still don’t have the guts to demand money when they deserve it. Bless Peggy for showing us the way, although clearly she may have some doubts about her cock-of-the-walk behavior.

“Do you think I act like a man?” she asked Dawn after a few beers. “I try but I don’t know if I have it in me. I don’t know if I want to.”

Wait, so Peggy wants to succeed on her own terms without having to coopt the behavior of the hard-drinking boys at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce? Is that possible in 1966? Is it possible at all?

I don’t know. What I do know is that Dawn is heroine No. 2 because she doesn’t share Peggy’s ambitions and seems totally fine with that. Despite Peggy’s attempts to suggest they are practically the same person, Dawn, as a black woman in 1966, is leading a very different life and is trying to do so with quiet dignity. She just wants to mind her own business, collect her paycheck, occasionally sleep on her boss’s sofa so she doesn’t have to venture into a scary city alone and, ideally, not be viewed as the kind of person who will steal cash out of a white friend’s purse in the middle of the night. Clearly, per Peggy’s suspicious behavior, she can’t have it all.

But who needs it all when you can just hold on to a butcher knife and take a solid dose of acamol? That’s the attutude of Pauline Francis, Sally Draper’s appointed babysitter and a woman who will not tolerate complaints about her tuna salad or excessive viewing of the show “Mystery Date.” Our third “Mad Men” heroine didn’t exactly have the rosiest childhood, based on the heartwarming story she shared about her father. (After kicking her across the room with no provocation, Daddy told young Pauline, “That’s for nothing, so look out.” Yeah, I’m pretty sure the “Mad Men” writers stole that moment from that episode of “Little House” when Pa got really ticked at Carrie.) Sure, her childcare choices are questionable, what with the drugging of Sally Draper and all. But you have to admire her commitment to discipline. Would Pauline Francis let a little girl just walk around with a dry cleaning bag on her head? Oh, hell no.

Speaking of no tolerance policies, Megan Draper (heroine No. 4) is getting to be quite talented at calling out Don on his crap. She’s getting tired of running into his past conquests and is determined not to be made a fool of. “That kind of careless appetite — you can’t blame that on Betty,” she rightly told her husband. She also feels very strongly that Don shouldn’t smoke while he has a wicked cough. And I agree with that. I wonder what she would say if she knew he was choking former lovers in his sleep?

But really, the biggest heroine of all of this week’s “Mad Men” heroines is ... yes, the ever-fiery and fascinating new mother, Joan, who dumped her husband after finding out he volunteered for another Vietnam tour of duty.

This was, admittedly, a quick turnaround for Joan. One minute she seemed excited to welcome Greg home, with cakes and steaks and nightgowns that looked like elegant formalwear. But as soon as she realized Greg had signed up to abandon his wife and son and lied to her about it, she was immediately done with the marriage.

In many ways, this wasn’t a surprise. It never seemed like Joan fully loved or respected Greg. Plus, and forgive me for quoting “Billie Jean,” the kid is not his son. If she’s going to be a single mom for another year, she figured she may as well make the break now rather than spend 365 days worrying about whether he was killed in the war.

Also, it gave Joan the opportunity to deliver this choice bit of dialogue.

“I’m glad the Army makes you feel like a man because I’m sick of trying to do it ... you’re not a good man,” she snarled. “You never were. Even before we were married. And you know what I’m talking about.”

In an episode in which the rape of eight women was a running thread, Joan finally found the strength to ditch the man who raped her three seasons ago. After metaphorically hiding under the bed, the soon-to-be-former-Mrs.-Harris wiggled out from underneath it, stopped being afraid and made it clear to her husband that she will never be his victim again.

By  |  10:05 AM ET, 04/09/2012

Tags:  Mad Men

 
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