Mother, Daughter. Like? - Mad Men Season 5 Preview #2
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I just googled “Did Rare Steak Exist In The 60s?” (Answer - not really, except for “barbarians”). This was mainly due to how much I’m enjoying my leftovers-lunch, but as I turned my thoughts to Mad Men, I started thinking about what else I enjoy that the inhabitants of that era didn’t.
I’ve stated before that as much as the show is called Mad Men, it’s really only about one man: Don Draper. And as he decides who and what he’s going to be as the times change, the options aren’t presented to him in the forms of other men. They’re all the same; it’s he who’s the vanguard.
No, it’s the women in Don’s life who represent the changes of the era. Last week we talked about Peggy, bound and determined to buck convention, no matter the bruises she gets. But so many women think that’s a crazy, no-hope path.
Like Betty Draper.
I started thinking about steak because I started thinking about pleasure. It’s a concept of a “thing” that seems so absent in Betty’s life. I can’t conceive of her ever cutting into a bloody rare steak and moaning at the taste; I can barely conceive of her moaning at anything. She enjoys booze and cigarettes, yes, but some would say these are drugs to blunt the pain of her ennui. Even so, we never see her really relish them, do we? And it’s not like the woman loves her food. We know this. Sex? I’m don’t know. She has it, sure. Enjoys it? I have no idea. Is she allowed to?
(Sidebar: Why are all ads for chocolate thinly-veiled orgasm metaphors on TV? I admit I’m not a fan of the stuff, but is cocoa and milk and sugar really the only acceptable simile for women’s sexuality, even today? If I look at what’s going on in American politics, I’d say women better quit “liking” it so much, lest even chocolate be restricted for “encouraging” wanton whores, but that’s getting really off track.)
So what if I’m right? What if she doesn’t have any pleasures in life? Showing off a nicely appointed home, maybe. We’ve seen that she doesn’t really care about all the gorgeous dresses she has – more that she was once important enough that someone made them for her. The love of a good man? I’d be happy to give this to her if I could but poor Betts is struggling along in Henry’s family, no more secure, it seems, than when Don didn’t have one.
Pride in children? Maybe for some. Not for Betty, at least not yet. Her kids are still a chore to be organized and tidied and presented and hopefully be a credit to her someday – but not a joy.
So if you’re a woman who played by the rules all this time, who did exactly what was supposed to be done in order to have a “nice” life, and you’re still not happy, and it makes you really, really mad…
…how do you react to your daughter beginning to become a woman? What do you tell her about life? Who do you expect her to be?
Sally Draper spent last season (I wanted to write “last year” but who knows what year it will be when we return, although since Kiernan Shipka is realtime-aging it can’t be that far forward…right?) bucking against everything. Everything! Chewing and swallowing properly at the Thanksgiving table. Turning a blind eye to her father’s paramours, to her mother’s hypocrisy. Being a “nice girl” who doesn’t touch herself, doesn’t run away, doesn’t like her maybe-stepmother better than her mother.
What is life like for her? Who does she get to be? And what scars is she going to achieve getting there?
As far as I can tell, Sally’s going to be one of the first “teenagers”. Technically they existed before her, what with 50s sock-hops and whatnot, but I mean teenager in the rebellious, determined-not-to-become-her-parents way that we think of them (or thought of them, pre-millenials). She’s already smart enough – through observation or pure genetics - to know that the life she’s been given is a sham. That she could kick and scream and protest and throw off the shackles of her old family and theoretically get something better. Who knows what, but something. Anything.
It’s almost like she’s her father’s daughter.
So does he encourage her? Don may or may not think much about Betty but he loves his children, however inconvenient he finds them from time to time. He loves his daughter and unless I’m mistaken, appreciates her feistiness. Except when it makes his life difficult, which is mostly.
So what does this man, who can see the world changing, do? Does he force his only daughter back into a box that may be restrictive and conformist, but will produce a “lady” and a predictable future? Does the ever-present spectre of his ex being possibly mentally unwell factor into his decision? Or does he let Sally develop “naturally” and become the person she wants to? What kind of future will that lead to? What if she becomes that kind of girl? Is that what he wants for his daughter? Would that be seen as being a good father anyway?
How the hell is he supposed to think about this when he’s got work to do?
Mad Men returns with a two hour premiere March 25th.
Attached - the cast of Mad Men at various events this week.