Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mad Men: Babylon (1.6)

Due to their close proximity at the office, there's always been this 'compare and contrast' vibe with Peggy and Joan, something the writers utilize over and over as the series goes on. Babylon is the first episode to truly explore their vastly different mindsets at the very start of the 1960's, Peggy such a forward-thinking woman eager to claw her way into the areas typically reserved for men, and Joan still a little fearful of overstepping her boundaries. The Belle Jolie focus group is such a wonderful depiction of gender differences already, but it's also where both ladies reveal their respective niches.

While the rest of the Sterling Cooper secretaries gaggle around the lipstick samples and gleefully answer questions about their make-up preferences, the copywriters watch in secret via a one-sided mirror into the room -- a literal depiction of the male gaze and the fish bowl that so many women found themselves in around this time. But Peggy immediately strikes a different note to her fellow secretaries, finding herself more interested in the other women and their reactions, instead of being distracted by shiny colors. As a result, she effectively stumbles her way into a new position at work, her insight into how a woman chooses a shade of lipstick becoming this instant lightbulb moment for Freddy Rumsen, one of Sterling Cooper's older ad men.

At the same time, however, Joan isn't too happy that Peggy is moving into new areas of the business. She never yells at her or whatever, but it's a development that only adds additional tension to their already complex relationship. It's understandable, though. There's always been this obvious dichotomy with Joan, in that she's very aware of how women are seen and the position they're supposed to occupy, and willingly plays that character, but there's also a part of her that refuses to entirely become that, keeping her dignity intact even when the situation is problematic. This is also the episode in which we discover that she and Roger are sleeping together. But Joan doesn't occupy a traditional 'mistress' role, at least compared to Peggy's continued pining over Pete. Here Joan is sassy and spirited during their clandestine hook-ups, treating the affair as a casual get-together, acting like a stereotypical male by not allowing herself to get too attached. She also continues to 'own' her sexuality, almost initiating moments in which her colleagues drool all over her, as having objectification alternatively thrust upon her would suddenly make her a victim. And Joan Holloway isn't a victim.

While both women hold importance for so much of the episode, Don still anchors it, this week getting increasingly stuck between a rock and a hard place in regards to his sexual relationships. At home, Betty is possessing a desperately needy quality that could appear romantic to some, but also suffocating to others. She's a character lacking in a ton of self, and it makes it easier for Don to justify escaping for greener pastures with women so in touch with their own minds. So he clumsily calls up Rachel for advice on an Israeli tourism pitch, and the two of them have a brilliantly-written conversation about utopia. Rachel describes the word as both a perfect place and a place that could never truly exist, and it's easy to read into the latter, since it's becoming increasingly clear that he and Rachel are growing as distant from one another as they are getting closer. Don is married, and trying to figure out what he wants from life, while Rachel is fiercely independent and loyal to her faith; both issues that prevent her from entirely jumping into an affair with Don.

Don is also growing further away from Midge, encountering one of her other suitors and discovering that he doesn't mingle well with the Manhattan beatniks Midge is so close with. So he's caught in these relationships that work on base levels but struggle to be anything deeper. He remains haunted by his past and drifting towards an uncertain future, and it's a story that remains incredibly absorbing.

Babylon is one of the less showy episodes so far, but writers Andre and Maria Jacquemetton create some wonderful office interplay here, adding deeper complexities to an array of already intriguing Sterling Cooper relationships. A


- Adam is still weighing in on Don, as he has a hallucination of his brother's birth.

- Betty's monologue in bed was January Jones' audition scene. It's arguable that she phones it all in later in the show, but this is Jones at her very best -- achingly dependent on others and profoundly sad.


Betty: My mother was at least two years older than whatever Joan Crawford says she is, and she was still very fetching. I'd like to think that she'd stand up very well as a prediction of my eventual appearance.

Betty: I want you so much. I've thought about it all day.
Don: Me too.
Betty: No, I mean it. It's all I think about, every day -- your car coming down the driveway. I put the kids to bed early, I make a grocery list, I cook butterscotch pudding. I never let my hands idle. Brushing my hair, drinking my milk... and it's all in a kind of fog because I can't stop thinking about this. I want you so badly.
Don: You have me. You do.

Rachel: I'm the only Jew you know in New York City?
Don: You're my favorite.

Barbara: It's 1960, we don't live in a shtetl, people marry for love.
Rachel: I'm not sure people do that anymore.

Roger: Poor bastard probably couldn't help himself, the way you glide around that office like some magnificent ship.

Guest stars
Rosemarie DeWitt (Midge Daniels); John Slattery (Roger Sterling)
Writers Andre Jacquemetton, Maria Jacquemetton Director Andrew Bernstein

No comments:

Post a Comment