Okay, this one’s going to be disjointed, you guys. There’s no way to write about a Mad Men episode like this without jumping all the hell over the place. But since we’re looking for themes, motifs and through-lines, keep an eye out for two things: The Threat of Pink and The Lady Gardens.
And guess what? Neither of these things are as dirty as they sound.
If there’s anything notable here, it’s that Don is somewhat brightly colored (for Don). Yellow’s not a color we see him in all that often. We like to think that it’s indicative of their role reversal here. He’s being a good boy and keeping his nose to the grindstone. Now yellow is his “hard at work” color like it used to be Peggy’s. It definitely can’t be called his power color, because he still has none.
As for her, this is the outfit she wore on her disastrous Valentine’s Day. It’s her “To hell with men, I got a kickass job” outfit.
Things to note:
1. Peggy’s gloves. Given the cold, technical feel of the computer room and Ginsberg’s ultimate fate, they have an almost clinical feel to them; like Michael is a patient of hers rather than a co-worker. Someone who literally needs to be handled with kid gloves. We’ve been noting the proliferation of gloves on women this season. Margaret wore a pair to complete her Nixon daughter drag before she ditched it all and decided hygiene, like marriage vows, was optional. But more interestingly, Joan has been depicted several times over holding or putting gloves on in a scene; enough times for us to start to consider it a motif. Meaning to be determined at a later date. We’re watching this one unfold for now. We’d like to think it’s a “getting things done” kind of thing; at least for Peggy and Joan. We don’t know how Margaret would fit into that, though. Maybe it’s a “Who needs a man?” thing, similar to Peggy’s outfit, which resembles some sort of girl scout uniform. Although it should be noted that Peggy’s accessory motif this season seems to be more hat-based than glove-based. This is at least the third hat of hers we’ve seen this season. Very “That Girl.”
2. The woman in the computer room. She is clean and unruffled. Literally. The minimalism of her look (and demeanor) make her as one with her surroundings, even as the pink makes her stand out from them. Given all the Kubrick symbolism being thrown at us this season, we can’t help but think of the space receptionists/stewardesses from 2001:
Minimalist, efficient, ominous – and very pink. Pink found its way into the costumes of almost all of the female characters this week, binding them together or illustrating their vast differences. But in almost every case, the woman in question was considered a threat. Put a pin in that. We’ll come back to it.
3. Ginsberg’s clothes. We’ve noted before how the clashing prints of his getups tend to illustrate the manic state of his mind. We’ve also noted how he tends to wear oversized clothing. Put a pin in that one, too.
Compare his outfit to Stan’s normal getups, which are skin tight:
Michael and Stan are often dressed in matching outfits (pants to pants, shirt to jacket, tie to shirt) . Sometimes it’s to set them apart from Peggy, if they’re sharing a scene together, and sometimes it’s just to show them as a team. United by their team colors, but wearing vastly different uniforms.
As for Shirley, she’s clearly got a signature look. Costume designer Janie Bryant likes to do that sort of thing with the more stylish secretary characters. Joan, Jane Siegel, and Megan all had signature looks, as did lesser characters like Scarlett. You saw colors, embellishments and silhouettes repeat themselves in each character. Back in the SC days, Joan clearly had the same dress in several different colors, so consistent was her style. Shirley’s just continuing the tradition here. She’s also establishing the floral motif that’ll play itself out in most of the women’s clothes this episode.
We don’t get to talk about Stan much, but that’s not because he doesn’t give us stuff to work with. He’s straddling that line between counter culture style and acceptable corporate style (for an art director, that is). That conflict plays itself out in his clothes as he keep adding little touches here and there, like woven belts or giant buckles, those thick-banded watches which would remain a popular look well into the ’70s, the love beads and scarves, the denim and fringe.
We’ve always had him pegged at a few years older than Peggy, which would put him in his early 30s. He’s too old to be a part of the counter culture and he doesn’t have the kind of job that would allow him to fly his freak flag as much as he clearly wants to, but he pushes the envelope as much as he can. Granted, given the leeway he’s given for his constant in-office pot-smoking, it’s a wonder he doesn’t just come in wearing a dashiki and sandals, just to see if he can.
Note Don in shirtsleeves, like a junior copywriter. Note Lou, who deliberately screws with Don this episode and openly insults him. He’s back to wearing his signature cardigan. Still threatened by Don, but comfortable enough in his power to go back to his signature look instead of trying to impress Jim Cutler. Note how everyone is wearing a neck tie of some sort except the secretary.
A lady in pink, threatening the status quo of the story, if not of society itself. She’s unmarried, pregnant, and pretty much living on the streets. She’s also filthy. That’s appropriate for someone in her situation and it’s also of a piece with the show’s disdain for the youth movements of the time, as seen through the eyes of the mature people at the center of the story. Janie Bryant costumed Margaret/Marigold’s commune in similarly filthy and ugly clothing. There’s no romanticizing of the hippies here. To the generations above them, they were seen as aimless and disgusting. “These people are lost and on drugs and have venereal diseases.”
Contrast Stephanie’s look with her polar opposite’s:
Betty Francis, Lady of Leisure. “They get so tongue-tied around us. I can only pretend so long that we’re just regular neighbors.”
This “laying out the silver” housecoat/bathrobe is working on a somewhat ironic level, because for the first time in the almost ten years of story, the former Betty Hofstadt is threatening to do something life told her she was never supposed to do: question her role as a mere accessory to a man. Angrily and loudly.
A lady in pink, threatening the status quo. Betty, and to a greater extent, her neighbor, are working that romantic, floaty, pre-“Stepford wife” style that came into vogue at the time for housewives; especially ones of means. Ruffled collars, filmy fabrics, puffy sleeves, the occasional maxi-skirt and lots of florals. Put a pin in all that too.
As for Henry, for once we have a slight issue with the costuming choices here. This comes off a bit too stylish and youthful for a Republican politician in 1969. The windowpane plaid, patterned tie and gold pants come off 1960s college prep rather than 1960s politician. Nothing illustrates this better than the fact that Stan Rizzo wore this jacket (or one exactly like it) when he got dressed up and pitched Don for a transfer last season. We find it hard to accept that in 1969, a Republican state senator in his fifties would own the exact same jacket as a pot-smoking art director in Glen Campbell drag.
Megan Draper, Lady of Leisure.
And lady-lover, to boot. Although to be fair, we don’t think she and Amy have had any sort of sexual encounters. Amy clearly has a huge crush on Megan and there was definitely a, shall we say, sapphic vibe to several of Megan’s scenes this episode, but we’re not convinced that Megan has cheated on Don yet. This episode established just how much of a player and poser Megan can be. We suspect she knows about Amy’s attraction to her and vaguely encourages it without doing anything about it. She likes – and probably needs – the attention right now. There’s clearly nothing going on with her career and her marriage is over, even though neither of the parties wants to rip the Band-aid off.
That sapphic vibe was echoed somewhat in that bizarre “You’re so beautiful!” “You’re so magnetic!” exchange with Stephanie. Not that there was anything overtly sexual about it, but it continued the idea of women reacting to Megan’s beauty.
Once again, a lady in pink, threatening the status quo. Megan knows her marriage is shaky as hell and that her career and lifestyle aspirations haven’t gone anywhere. She’s too wealthy to be one of the starving artists she likes to surround herself with. She could never take the risks with her life that someone like Stephanie has (hence the admonishments about how “sloppy” Stephanie’s life is), even though she likes to pretend that she would if it weren’t for Don. Her mother once said she had the personality of an artist without the talent, which is a more restrained way of calling her a poser. She also knows that if she turned around today and told Don she was pregnant, her marriage would be magically (if temporarily) “fixed.” Don’s ultimate California fantasy (back in the days when California represented hope to him) was a pregnant Megan (dressed like the hippie she never was or will be) giving him permission to sleep with other women.
In addition, she has always had reason to believe that the one thing she’s got going for her with her marriage is the tight bond she has with Don after he voluntarily told her all his secrets; something he has never done with anyone. She hasn’t taken that lightly. Here comes Madonna-like Stephanie, representing all those things at once to her: freedom, motherhood, and secrets. Her entire existence a rebuke to the image Megan has of herself. It’s no coincidence that Megan could be taken out of this scene and inserted in the one with Betty and her neighbors and look more at home in the latter. Florals, ruffles, and maxi-skirts: the moneyed housewife style. Look at all the jewelry she’s got on. She’s no struggling actress. It’s no wonder she never gets any roles. Her entire persona this episode came off entitled and settled.
Whereas Betty is entitled and decidedly unsettled this time. She’s also a lady in pink, threatening the status quo; angrily demanding to know just why she’s supposed to keep her mouth shut.
The Francine encounter had her wondering why any lady would want fulfillment outside the home and Bobby daring to disappoint her had her wondering why she bothers putting so much work into being a mother. She was ripe for this kind of conflict with her husband. Henry’s always had what looked like a benign sort of condescending paternalism to him. He clearly looked at Betty as a princess needing to be rescued by him, but many subsequent scenes showed him as a good match for her; someone who had her best interest at heart and could weather her moods and insecurities with aplomb. It’s telling that after all the little tantrums and fights over the years, this is the Rubicon for him: a wife who doesn’t ask permission before thinking.
Tellingly, she is not in pink or florals here, where she’s not questioning the status quo, she’s defending it like the culture warrior she’s increasingly sounding like lately. Because yes, Betty found her voice, after all this time. And it’s yelling loud and clear into a bullhorn, “SIT LIKE A LADY!” This is why we compared her to a fledgling Phyllis Schlafly in our earlier review of the episode. Of course this is who Betty would become if she ever worked up the nerve to become someone. She wasn’t going to take to the streets to burn her bra. She’s taking to the streets to tell slutty grade school teachers to put one on because there are children present. “Like everything else in this country, debate club is just an excuse to make out!” she said with some exasperation last season. Her field trip into the counterculture to look for a runaway girl last season didn’t open up her mind; it ultimately confirmed to her the rightness of her upper middle class values.
This scene was DELICIOUSLY bitchy on both their parts. Some of our readers thought Betty sounded abusive here, but to be honest, a lot of parents made jokes about breaking their kids’ arms back in the day. Henry clearly didn’t approve of it, but then again, Henry addressed both mother and daughter as “GIRLS!” Which tells you everything you need to know about what he thinks of Betty. And also lets you know why Betty’s so angry right now. “I speak Italian” was a funny line, but only because she didn’t say the more accurate “I have an Anthropology degree from Bryn Mawr, you asshole.” People forget how well educated Betty is. Seems like Betty forgot it for a time too.
As for Sally, put yet another pin in her angry plaid poncho.
A lady in pink, having thwarted Don’s expectations, she’s now lying to him about it. “I tried to get her to stay…” she says weakly. What’s notable about this outfit, aside from the florals and the pinks which continue the motifs (not to mention more evidence that Megan owns an astonishing amount of clothes – she’s the character least likely to repeat an outfit) is that Amy’s infatuation plays out in her choice of outfit for the party that night:
Different colors, but exactly the same style and silhouette. Very Single White Female.
And if you think we’re overselling her infatuation, check her out, checking Megan out:
Of course Megan was pretty much demanding that she and Don check her out. Don is the only person in the room wearing plaid and it sticks out like a sore thumb, even through the haze of smoke and dim lighting. It’s impossible to lose track of him in the scene. Megan, for her part, stands out just as much. That’s a Pucci dress. She’s dressed more finely, with more jewelry, wearing more makeup and having the most done up hair of anyone in the room. In fact, she’s more than a little overdressed.
These are people from her acting class, according to her. They clearly don’t have a lot of money and/or aren’t interested in dressing in expensive clothing. She knows this about them – or she should, anyway. That she dresses like this to host a party for them tells us that either she’s deliberately rubbing her wealth in their faces or (more likely) she’s completely clueless as to the obvious differences between her and them.
Since this dance of Megan’s was a deliberate callback to the famous Zou Bisou moment, take a look at the vast differences in how each party looked. Don’s birthday party was a glittering, brightly lit fabulous affair. This is dingy, crowded and smokey. Megan’s naughty playfulness has turned into desperation and Don can’t even be bothered to look at her. And if you think that’s an unfair comparison, then compare it to this L.A. party from last season, all brightly lit and “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” instead of dimly lit ,with clarinets and weird attention-seeking dances.
No, we don’t think that guy is Charles Manson. Sorry, folks.
Harry’s as out of place here as Don is. For all his attempts at California cool, he just looks like a well-established guy heading into a middle age wearing an ascot.
They both look far more at home in a bar, rather than some starving artist party. It’s interesting that Harry did Don a solid here, since they’ve been at loggerheads in the recent past. But the vestiges of the bright young men that populated SC back in season one (Pete, Harry, Ken) are all solidly behind Don this season. They worshipped him back in the day and they can’t stand seeing him cast aside like this.
As we noted, Don’s plaid stood out in the party scene, which helped us to connect it once again to Sally:
The girl sure does love her plaid sleepwear. But it seems that every time Don wears a plaid, his daughter must also be depicted in one (or even two, counting that poncho), further underlining their bond and similarities.
We thought this scene cutely captured that brief, odd moment when big sisters and little brothers seem decades apart in age, even though only a few years (and puberty) separates them. Eighteen months from now, Bobby will have a deeper voice, be three inches taller than her, and insist that everyone start calling him “Rob.”
A lady in pink, threatening the status quo.
A lady in pink, threatening GOOD TASTE AND ALL THAT IS HOLY IN THIS WORLD MY GOD PEGGY WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?
Sorry. That is the FUGLIEST thing Peggy Olson has ever worn. And that’s really saying something. We think it’s perfectly accurate and correct, as well as hilarious, that her three big style references of the late ’60s are Mary Tyler Moore, Marlo Thomas, and Velma from Scooby Doo. This looks like something a nun picks out to wear the first day after she left the order.
She and Julio are bound by their horizontal stripes. We’re not the only ones to notice he’s roughly the same age as her own child. Although we suspect that thought never occurred to her. Still, it’s cute how she put out pretzels for him.
All joking aside, she does become a threatening figure – or at least, a highly agitating one – to Michael. Note that it’s late on Saturday night and he’s still wearing the clothes he was seen in early on Friday morning, in the opening scenes.
But before we delve into Ginsberg, one more quick jump back to the west coast:
Our final lady in pink. She tried like hell to threaten the status quo and she’s as angry in her own way as Betty is right now, but in the end, Don’s still getting on that plane and leaving her behind, like he always does.
There was some question as to whether Stephanie returned to Oakland or stayed in L.A. She’s dressed for colder weather, as are the people behind her, which indicates to us that she is where she says she is. It’s also notable that she’s wearing clean clothes that might even be new, as well as more jewelry and a pair of sunglasses she didn’t have before. It doesn’t seem realistic that she’d have time to cash that check and go shopping, but we’ll take this as an external representation of the idea that she’s in a safer place than when the episode started.
That’s one of the best dresses she’s worn in the office. Thank God. We needed something to erase the memory of that horribly ugly outfit that pushed poor Michael over the edge of sanity with its ugliness. Many of her outfits have a very subtle military undertone to them, with rows of buttons like medals and now chains, draped over military blue. We don’t take any literal meaning away from that except in the sense that she commands people in her job and that she’s perfectly comfortable in the role.
As for poor Michael…
We got to thinking about his clothes (as we do) and how he’s always swimming in them. We used to offer the theory that he was wearing his father’s hand-me-downs, because they look like older men’s clothes. But he’s been making good money for years now and besides, his clothes, while large and wrinkled and unstylish, don’t really look like an old man’s cast-offs. He bought these outfits and he chooses to wear things several sizes too large. Years ago, he flipped out on his co-workers for looking at images of murder victims. “Put it away! I don’t wanna look at that!” He flipped out once again when he was forced to listen to a fake Beatles sing a terrible song. “Turn it off! It’s stabbing me in the fucking heart!” When he went on that blind date, he commented on how good she smelled and did the same thing when Don returned to the office this season. He screamed about the couch in his office smelling like farts. What ultimately triggered his breakdown was the incessant hum of a computer. Adding all that up, it seems to us that he’s been suffering from a form of sensory overload for some time now; consistently expressing distress over his senses being assaulted or pointing out things his senses have picked up, unable to turn the noise down. Consequently, he wears giant clothes because he doesn’t like being restricted and is trying to limit the amount of stimulus he’s receiving. It surprises us that so many people thought this breakdown came out of nowhere. We think they’ve been signaling it almost from the introduction of the character, in his dialogue and in his costuming – and they’ve been highly consistent about it. This was always where he was going to go.
By the way, we’re pretty sure Peggy got that hanky from her secretary because it matches her outfit and because it doesn’t match Peggy’s (and doesn’t seem like something Peggy would have anyway). That’s a really nice, subtle touch.
Check out just how short the skirts got in 1969. Can’t imagine anyone dressing like that in an office today.
Don’s in a tobacco brown, most of the men are in smokey grays, and there’s a streak of blood running down the center of the table. Perfectly representing the text of the scene visually. Cigarettes and combat.
He even wears his hat jauntier than they do. Get in the cab, you losers. Don Draper needs to swagger and you’re in the way.
[Stills: tomandlorenzo.com – Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC]