Wednesday, July 29, 2009

MAD MEN: What You Already Know

What I'm about to tell you, you already know...if you watch MAD MEN. Women are the crux of this show. How do I know this? I just re-watched the very first episode.

In the first ten minutes here's what we know: Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is an ad man and must come up with a pitch for Lucky Strike. After his night at the bar, he knocks on the door of his friend Midge (Rosemarie DeWitt, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED). They chat about his day and her day and he spends the night. Relationship? Check!

Introduced next is rookie secretary Peggy Olson (Fred Armisen's wife, Elisabeth Moss). Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks) shows her how to play the office game, with considerable attention paid to Peggy's attire and how she can better herself so as to be more attractive for the office's men.

This pilot episode chronicles two accounts for the ad firm Sterling Cooper. One, the aforementioned Lucky Strike, and another for a department store headed by Rachel Menken (Maggie Siff). The Lucky Strike account is settled, not without some drama, but ultimately settled. The Menken department store account is most certainly not, with confusion over how to market the brand in an already-saturated department store market. The two have obvious chemistry and its not out of the question to see a relationship brew over a cocktail meeting. While the Lucky Strike account settled relatively easily (with men only), the Menken account is anything but.

Peggy is the object of attention in the new office, purely by being "the new girl." Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) apparently likes what he sees and is evidently interested in Peggy sexually, as per his 1950s acceptable language toward her in the office. Oh by the way, Pete has his own wedding to attend this weekend. He knocks on her door (ALL THE WAY IN BROOKLYN!) and invites himself in. And she lets him. (Is this normal for a woman in the 50s?)

Finally, at the end of the episode we see Don arriving at him home in the suburbs. He kisses his wife Betty (January Jones) and says goodnight to his kids. Up until this point there has been no mention of him having a family, especially with his already-established relationship with Midge, and his on-deck relationship with Rachel. The final shot shows Betty standing at the doorway to the kids room watching her husband say goodnight. And in typical MAD MEN fashion, the episode ends with temporally appropriate music.

This final shot could have ended without Betty appearing at the door, but it does. And let's not take this for granted. Men at work is taken for granted. But as the series progresses, it becomes (sometimes painfully) clear that women rule the roost. The men just happen to be living in it.

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