Mad Men Watch: Will the Circles Be Unbroken?

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Michael Yarish/AMC

Fellow Sterling Cooper & Associates shareholders,

Our heroes have rather awkwardly talked about race, often brilliantly talked about gender, and clearly are obsessed with sexuality. They rarely talk about class, though. In America, it’s often unspeakable. And so out of deference to their reticence, let’s not take into account the author of the idea that history repeats itself first as tragedy, then farce; instead, let’s focus on how applicable it is, this week. For as our time dwindles in these offices, things are circling back, old ghosts are haunting us, and those sad refrains are echoing in our ears—only this time, with some extravagant apparatus.


Our striving Ms. Olson seems to have recovered rather well from the accidental murder of her beloved, Abe. If anything, she’s recovered a little too well: there’s a manic glint in her eye as she relates the extent of Dot’s dementia to Pete. His mother’s misunderstanding is, over a liquid dinner, played for laughs; hysteria covers the deep, seldom-acknowledged difficulties of their past. And then another round of whiskey sours, and another fine mess worthy of Three’s Company, in which Pete intimates something between Peggy and Ted and then Ted intimates something between Peggy and Pete and what matters is not that anyone’s mistaken but that these false impressions feel more real than the truest confession. It’s funny, when it happens to somebody else. Peggy, of course, hasn’t actually recovered at all. She’s got a Tell-Tale Heart spattered across her floor, and if she can’t get sad-eyed puppy dog (and apparent Zionist, what with the Moshe Dayan poster above his bed) Stan, she’ll get a sad-eyed puffball feline, and laugh off the Cat Lady jokes as she chain-smokes on the couch. She could write perfect pitches for both Ocean Spray and Sunkist, if the men in her life would stop battling each other and just ask her. But Peggy—who’s given a child up for adoption, fought her way up the ladder at two separate ad agencies and held her own as they joined, survived the disapproval of her family and the death of her boyfriend at her own hand—is losing steam here. She’s going nowhere, even as everything changes around her. It’d be funny if it weren’t so true.


Pete’s afraid of flying. He’s out of Raisin Bran. His mother is having the time of her life being walked by a debonair homosexual—the same mother who, not a week after the dementia clears up long enough to admonish him as unlovable, is proved wrong when the handsomest, strangest man in the office, Bob Benson, betrays an attraction to him. (Him?) One wonders, slightly outraged, what a bikinied Joan would have told Bob if he’d confessed to her first, between bouts of Beach Blanket Bingo; and one shakes a fist to heaven that we were denied seeing that sight. In all honesty, though, Pete’s inability to accept love has fallen from the intense heights of his romance with soon-to-be EST’d Beth to petty disgust at Manolo’s proclivities and an embarrassing clench at Bob’s knee-knocking. Dot was right about one thing: Pete has soured. It’d be funny if there weren’t hundreds of people who’d eagerly take Pete’s place—any of his places, actually.


1.    She expertly wields both her father’s slow-burn stare and her mother’s icy avoidance, and thus is the most powerful person in all of New York City.

2.    She does Model UN—fellow readers, oh, what country is she? Neutral and glamorous Switzerland, full of secret vaults and accounts? Nervy, existential France? Julie’s clearly Italy, right?

3.    When Julie betrays her by slipping the note under Mitchell’s door, Sally doesn’t burst into tears, or lock herself in the bathroom: she marches down, demands the enormous ring of keys from the doorman, and breaks into her love-object’s apartment to steal the note back. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what you call character.

4.    She brilliantly calls her father on his crap to his face, without incriminating herself, then gets the hell out of there before the blowback can engulf her.

5.    She unknowingly performs her father’s favorite pose: head bent against the door, heart breaking. Yet you can see how unsatisfied the posture is, and by the time her father is spitting out the word “comforting” to describe his adultery, the very word like vomit from his mouth, she’s abandoned the posturing and moved away from him, throwing herself on piles of pillows not to avoid him, but to think. She’s always thinking. She’s the best.


When do we give up on Don? When do we, having hidden in our kitchens for so long that our blouses are almost identical in pattern and texture to the wallpaper, begin to slam our fists against the bed just like Sylvia, berating ourselves for falling for him yet again? When do we start laughing at his ridiculous self-importance, his reliance on an (admittedly powerful) sex glare so over-used that, in the office détente this week, it ended up turned on Ted? When does it start being a touch sociopathic that he will expend incredible amounts of time and capital to get a mistresses’ son out of trouble, and yet lives his life almost completely ignoring his own two sons? When do we stop looking at that outstanding hair and start asking questions like, how does he have a driver’s license, or a Social Security number, or tax returns, after all these years unexamined? Is he falling out that window, or not? And if he does, who among us will be laughing, or crying?


Betty projects so hard onto Sally that she might as well be called Carousel. Roger’s been reduced to the office clown, juggling fruit. There’s no way Dawn is paid enough. And another week without Joan is another week wasted. Will these circles of history widen to include a revolution or two? Until next week….