*PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD. PROCEED WITH CAUTION. AND DON’T BLAME ME – YOU WERE WARNED*
So after years (eight to be exact), of people taking one look at my vintage style and assuming I was a huge fan of Mad Men, I finally decided to watch it. I was intrigued, after all, for years this show was most people’s point of reference for vintage, so when they first met me they assumed I styled myself after the characters in the show and seemed almost disappointed when I told them I’d never watched it. I often felt as if I’d somehow failed vintage school by not knowing who Joan was so given the entire series just ended I figured now was as good a time as any to throw myself in, head first.
I have to be honest, through most of Season One, I really didn’t like it. There wasn’t one character that I felt was in any way redeemable. All the men were sexist pigs – especially Pete Campbell who continued to make my skin crawl for the majority of the seven seasons – Betty was childish, Joan was conceited, Peggy slept with Pete, a man who sexually harassed her on her first day at work, Don couldn’t keep it in his pants but expected his wife to – I mean, I know it’s the early 1960s but it was kind of depressing seeing women treated like idiots, and worse, seeing women accepting it as ok. But the fashion was AMAZING. Oh and Rachel Menken is my favourite character – yes, she falls for Don’s charms but she is a smart, savvy business woman and here we see Don’s tendency to have affairs with very independent and intelligent women who are nothing like his wife.
So despite feeling quite disheartened by the end of the first season I persevered because I’m stubborn and I really wanted to see more of Joan’s wardrobe. Things do improve in Season Two but I was slightly horrified that Joan still married Greg after he rapes her in Don’s office. Oh and Joan being “outed” as 31 is apparently a huge scandal! I like that Peggy is showing some ambition and standing up for herself a bit more. I have a love-hate relationship with Don. On the one hand he is a womaniser who cheats on his wife every chance he gets, on the other he seems to have a compassionate side, as seen in the flashbacks when he helps Peggy and keeps her secret. So Peggy has Pete’s kid and it looks as if her mother is raising it but after this season we don’t really see the child again. Also, because so much time passes between each season, I’m often left with questions – some get answered as the season progresses – some remain questions. Not liking Duck at all – he’s sneaky and manipulative and despite the fact I don’t even know if I like him, I can’t help feeling some loyalty to Don – I guess that’s what they call good acting.
By Season Three we start to learn more about Don’s childhood and I really start to feel kinda bad for him. Betty has had another kid but by the end of the season her and Don are getting a divorce and she already has husband number two lined up. Despite loving her job, Joan is leaving work as she’s married and that’s just what you did. I kinda wish she’d stayed with Roger Sterling despite the fact he was married – they just seemed to work – and he is one of the funniest characters on the show. We see Betty’s relationship with her father who is senile and her brother who appears jealous of how well off his sister is. In a mark of compassion, we see Don pressure the brother to agree to have their father live with Betty, which is what she wants, despite the fact that Don really doesn’t like his father-in-law. By the end of the season we see the destruction of Don and Betty’s marriage as she discovers his true identity and he has to come clean with all his secrets. This deception, along with everything else no doubt, leads her to ask for a divorce. While I feel this is about time, I think I feel more sorry for Don than Betty. She would be such a nightmare to live with and she is not a good mother to their three kids. I do love the whole conspiracy that hatches near the end when they realise the company is going to be sold off. I was really sad to see Sal leave after this season. He was the only homosexual main character (even though he had to hide it) and I thought he might pop up again but alas no. I felt really sorry for him when Don dismissed him and part of me actually thought Don might be a bit more open minded.
So, Season Four – by now I’m well into it and I feel the dynamic between the men and women is shifting – particularly at the newly established agency. Peggy makes some new friends (beatniks) and we see her relationship with Don evolve as she struggles to be seen as an equal. I really hate the character Joey Baird who is an arrogant copywriter who works under Peggy. He is cruel and vulgar towards Joan, drawing an obscene cartoon and telling her she “walks around the office like she wants to be raped”. When both Peggy and Joan are offended all the men tell them they can’t take a joke. Sadly, this is one aspect that hasn’t changed much in the last fifty or so years. I love when Peggy fires him, with Don’s support. We meet Anna who Don knew when he was young and through her perspective are given a different view of Don. His devastation at her sudden death proves he has a heart and you so wish she hadn’t died as you see Don head into a drinking/prostitute downward spiral. It seems everything will finally work out for our protagonist when he asks Megan to help him with his kids on a trip to California. The kids love her and she is far more laid back then Betty was but it is still a shock when Don suddenly proposes at the end of the season.
Beginning of Season Five Don and Megan are married and for the first time in the entire show, Don doesn’t cheat. In fact, he almost looks down on his male colleagues who do. My God, don’t tell me Mr Draper is finally happy!? For the first time we see Don leaving work on time and making his life away from the office the priority. Joan struggles with raising a child alone while her husband is a doctor in Vietnam. Given that she found out she was pregnant to Roger after a random one time fling and she was getting an abortion, it’s no surprise to discover the child is his. When she discovers her husband has willingly signed up for another year overseas she decides enough is enough and tells him to never come back. I love how calm she is when she tells him that if he needs to go overseas to feel like a real man than that is what he should do but, “You’ve never been a real man, not even before we were married, and you know what I’m talking about” – referencing the rape. I was really sad/happy to see Peggy move on to bigger and better things. There is a closeness and mutual respect between her and Don that you can tell he doesn’t feel for most of his male colleagues. Lane Pryce kills himself – very dramatically – Joan is prostituted out to a prospective client but becomes a partner of the firm in the process – Joan’s husband files for divorce – Megan quits advertising to pursue acting – and by the end of the season it seems as if Don is back to his old philandering ways – its a busy season! When Joan looses her cool after being issued with divorce papers Don takes her out for a drink. You can tell he respects her and there is a friendship there that he doesn’t share with many people. Despite his flaws, Don isn’t judgmental of others, perhaps because of his colourful past.
So by Season Six Don is shagging about again, this time with his married neighbour. Finally we see Trudy kick Pete out – FINALLY! “This is how it is going to work. You will be here only when I tell you to be here. I’m drawing a fifty mile radius around this house and if you so much as open your fly to urinate I will destroy you.” I find the developing friendship between Stan and Peggy interesting. I thought he was a bit of a prick in earlier seasons but there appears to be a real friendship there as they continue to keep in touch despite working at different companies. Peggy continues to grow from strength to strength career-wise and loving her style in this later season. The writing is on the wall for Megan and Don – she has created a life without him in L.A – and by the end of the season when Don decides to stay in New York it’s pretty clear they won’t see the series out together. Poor Ken Cosgrove. In season one I thought he was a complete pig but he’s kinda grown on me and appears to be one of the only men to be truly faithful to his wife. Plus, he has been one of the only men to take Peggy seriously as a colleague. There is a part of me that would like to see Roger and Joan together but I don’t think it will happen. I can’t believe they basically fire Don! Didn’t think this is how that would go down. Betty is thin again and after a chance meeting her and Don reunite. I can’t help but feel as if they are meant to be. Glad Peggy gets rid of her boyfriend Abe – never liked him.
Season Seven begins with Don trying to salvage his marriage to Megan and he doesn’t tell anyone he’s not working. He eventually does return to the agency but acts like a spoilt brat at his diminished position. I like that Freddie makes the occasional re-appearance and, being a recovering alcoholic, is a good friend to Don. I can’t believe Ginsberg loses the plot over the new computer and cuts off his own nipple – I liked him, I thought he was funny, so this was sad to see. I really don’t like Harry. He began as a good guy, faithful to his wife, and now he’s just a slimy guy with bad hair. I love when Don support’s Peggy’s pitch and for the first time they really appear to work together – very sweet when they dance to Sinatra. I can’t believe Burt dies! He was such a great character! Don and Megan finally get divorced. Very upset to learn that Rachel Menken has died of leukemia. I think Don genuinely cared for and respected her. And they fire Ken! I was very disheartened when SC&P was sucked completely into McCann and suddenly the sexism is back. After everything Joan has done and been through she is treated like an idiot – it’s infuriating. She clearly thinks so too and leaves. I was so excited when she proposed a partnership between herself and Peggy to start a production company but a bit disappointed when Peggy says no. I am genuinely glad Peggy and Stan end up together and the way it happens is so cute! Love that Joan still goes into business for herself, despite the fact that it costs her the relationship she had begun with a divorcee in L.A. Possibly my favourite scenes in the whole series is when Peggy and Roger are in the now empty offices of SC&P and he plays a baby piano as she roller skates around. Can’t believe that after everything that has happened Don just up and walks out, never coming back. That’s how he leaves. Betty has lung cancer and six months to live! She’s only about 38! I teared up when Don calls her and they say goodbye. And despite really disliking Pete in the beginning, his attempt at a reconciliation with Trudy seems heartfelt and I am really pleased they decide to start again in a new place with a new job. It’s nice to finally see Roger with a woman nearer his own age – Megan’s mother Marie – and they appear content. Don ends up at a retreat and has this intense moment where another attendee confesses he feels completely insignificant and ignored by his work colleagues and his family. It must strike a cord with Don because he embraces the man and cries. There is a tear jerking phone call between Don and Peggy where he says he just wanted to hear her voice and say goodbye. The entire show ends with him meditating and smiling before cutting to a 1971 advert for Coca Cola.
The Final Verdict
I have no idea how I feel about Mad Men. While it seems all the major characters story lines were wrapped up nicely, I feel really sad. So much can happen over the course of ten years. One thing I did really like the series for is how they incorporated historical events seamlessly into the story line. The assassination of JFK, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, the Civil Rights Movement, the hippie generation, influence of drugs, women’s rights – it really makes you realise that the 1960s was a period of change, arguably the decade which saw the most social change, certainly in American history. Of course, I loved seeing how the fashions evolved – the skirts just kept getting shorter and shorter! Style-wise I’d say Joan was definitely my favourite. I’m not a massive fan of the super short skirts and crazy patterns of the late 1960s so Joan’s slightly more sedate style is more what I would love to wear. Although I did enjoy watching Peggy’ style evolution as she becomes more sure of herself. Overall I did really enjoy the series. I do feel it is the sort of show you could watch multiple times and each time you would pick up something new but I’m not sure I’m emotionally ready to give it another go just yet!
Betty taking a shot gun to her neighbours birds like a badass.
Everything Roger Sterling says.
Joan starting her own business.
Everything Joan wears.
Trudy kicking Pete to the curb for all his womanising ways.
Pete finally realising he’s been an ass and reuniting with his family for a new life and a new job.
Peggy starting at McCann hungover, smoking and carrying an erotic picture that once belonged to Burt.
Roger playing a baby piano while Peggy roller skates through the empty offices of SC&P. (In fact, this is possibly the best moment of the whole series).
The evolving relationship between Stan and Peggy which is realised in the cutest way.
After Burt’s death when Don hallucinates and see’s him perform a musical number in the office.
Don’s big scam to make rival agency Chaough believe they’re shooting a Honda commercial. Peggy and Joey openly wheel the red Honda motorcycle into a television studio near one that Chaough has booked. Chaough’s people try to enter the studio, but are turned away. Inside, Peggy rides the Honda in circles.