Mad Men, Season Four, Episode Four, "The Rejected"
To begin, I just have to say that this is the first episode of this season that I've really liked--not just found interesting--or touching. It felt more like the "Mad Men" of old; it brought out serious themes; Don was both sympathetic in places and a complete jerk in places; and it had a lot of humor. There were several very funny, quick bits of visual humor (Peggy peeking over the top of the wall into Don's office after Allison chucked something at him breaking the glass over a print; Bert Cooper hanging out on the reception area couch in his stocking feet, fanning through magazines and eating an apple. Does that man do anything for this new firm?) John Slattery is clearly a very talented director as well as actor.
The title of this episode is very evocative. So much rejection--of people and ideas--is depicted here, some of it quite necessary to do; some of it is just plain sad. We've got the women in the Ponds focus group, who are manipulated by the psychologist Faye until they're dwelling in pools of tears shed over men who've rejected them; Pete's father-in-law's company is rejected in favor of Ponds (conflict with Clearasil) until Pete gets rather nastily assertive, demanding the account for all of the Vicks products as well; Peggy's early-on rejection by Pete and her rejection of motherhood and Pete's baby is coaxed out again by the news that Trudy is pregnant; and traditional ideas about marriage and women's need for men at the center of their lives are tried on (Peggy playing with Faye's engagement ring during the focus group), argued over, and rejected by some. It's 1965 and we're finally getting some explicit feminist philosophy articulated when Peggy's new friend informs her that her boyfriend "doesn't own your vagina." Peggy's quip, "No, but he's renting it," is humorous, but it's all too clear that for the women on this show, if the men don't own their vaginas, they do have way too strong a hold on their hearts and minds. And it's this angle that is most intriguing to me.
Peggy is a strong woman who's forged a new path for herself as a career woman. And she struggles with a desire for marriage (and children too?). How much of this is social pressure and how much of it is something she really wants for herself? At this point, she seems not to know. She's told the traditional Freddy that she does want to get married, something he assumes of all women; Don smiles a bit wonderingly when he sees her twisting Faye's engagement ring on her finger; and Peggy is clearly affected by the news that Pete will be a father. Pete has the grace to appear uncomfortable at her congratulations and glances. And what's behind the looks they give each other at the end? The whole ending strikes me as very symbolic: the good-old-boys in their suits are standing inside the office preparing to close a deal. Peggy's new hip friends stand outside. She's dressed in a coat that looks like it could be Pat Nixon's "sensible" coat from the Checkers speech, but she leaves the world of the office to join the new generation, glancing back at Pete, however, as he looks at her too. Trying to determine which world she belongs in, which attitude she should take to gender issues seems to be her big quandary of late. Like her response to the film at the party, she's Catholic; she knows she's not supposed to like it (the film and evolving, more liberated roles for women), but she's willing to experiment--with pot, with the counter-culture, and with a new group of friends who, unfortunately, are not the best representations of the counter-culture. These folks in the real world did have many among them who were narcissistic and shallow, but there were also elements of this culture providing a much needed critique of the society. Weiner mostly reveals the counter-culture at its worst so far. It will be interesting to see how that develops. (But then, one could argue that he shows most of '60s culture at its worst.)
The other angle that I find intriguing is Don's strong understanding of advertising's power to get into people's heads and influence them, planting new ideas. To Faye's suggestion that they change the Ponds campaign to link the cold cream to matrimony--"a veiled promise"--Don replies, "Hello 1925. I'm not going to do that." Yeay, Don! He argues that if women in focus groups spent a year watching his ads, they'd be talking about different ideas when the psychologist brought them together. It can be disturbing to watch the deliberate machinations of these folks, but there is also so much truth in what he says. People have a hard time thinking outside the box of the ideology they were born and raised into. Culture plays a strong role in introducing us to new ideas--and as television expanded, advertising became an even greater force in our culture. It's interesting that he doesn't want to be responsible for reinforcing the idea that all women should desire to get married. His lousy experience with marriage has likely helped him to get to this place. Betty is certainly someone who was too strongly influenced by that ideology despite clearly not relishing the traditional woman's role. I liked the ending picture of the old married couple to which Don comes home: "Did you get pears?" "Did you get pears?!" What buying the culture's dominant ideology can lead you to. Perhaps after that, Don didn't feel so bad opening the door to a wife-less apartment.