Been slodging through Mad Men seasons 1 and 2 these past few weeks, unemployment style. 3 years late, yes. It usually happens like this: people won't stop blabbing about something and it annoys the heck out of me for months, even years. Then I forget about being irritated and in one bored moment, pick it up and can't put it down. The characters are utterly fascinating, even though I pretty much despise all of them by now. Even so, I have to keep watching. And the protagonist, Don Draper is 200% man. He exudes a swooning masculinity from the bygone era of the 1960's. (Albeit, an era where women were constantly sexually harrassed in the workplace by today's standards, blacks could only be elevator bellhops and maids, and copy machines were a brand new invention.) He is the creative director and partner of an advertising firm on Madison Avenue, so his professional persona is spotless. Don is the type of sleek, driven, no-bullshit man who will easily rise up in the ranks of management. Additionally, he is a scumbag serial cheater with very serious emotional issues that prevent him from letting anyone in. Because of his complexity and flaws, you can't help but be hooked in to discover the shady past underneath his cool exterior, and observe how he handles each day as his life starts to fall apart.
His model-esque wife, Betty, is gorgeous, wholesome, and frustratingly shallow, as her life revolves around acting like the perfect housewife. Like everyone else in the show, there is a dark side: she is a terrible mother who not only smokes and drinks constantly (well, everyone in the show does that), but has the emotional maturity of a small child. She is depressed and bored, and goes to a shrink that barely utters a word besides "tell me more." How else could you be if all you did was watch your kids, clean, watch TV, stay in all day, and occasionally get dolled up to go out as the eye candy hanging off Don's arm? She is aware that there must be more to life than that, but what? According to social expectations, her life purpose is complete: she was pretty enough to snag a handsome rich man who gave her babies and a cushy household. You can't help but flinch whenever she attacks tired old Don for petty grievances, or even major ones, because she only expresses her upset through pouting and throwing fits. Unlike Don, Betty is not a master at manipulating others or putting on a composed face. Unfairly, thus she is not as likeable as Don, which is a shame, because she is just as enslaved to a societal ideal.
Maybe it's because I'm a woman, but I am much more drawn towards the female characters in the show, as they face struggles that have mostly been defeated today. [Spoiler alerts! Stop reading here.] Peggy Olson, the fresh-faced secretary from a small town, starts off working for Don. After being hit on by most of her rowdy male coworkers, she realizes that being sweet and modest won't cut it in such a crude environment. She succumbs to the advances of a particularly slimy account executive, only to find that no goodwill or want of a relationship follows his lust. She refuses to dress in a way that flaunts her body, unlike the rest of the women in the office, who are all in secretarial positions. Peggy tends to speak her mind, even when it gets her in trouble, and she comes off as stiff. Even Joan, the curvy red-headed bombshell office manager, cannot convince her to "be a woman, not a man" to get ahead in the office. But Peggy's unflinching resolve lands her a job as a junior copywriter, when she speaks her mind to a client about their product and they like what she says because it stands out from the rest. She goes on to gain a position on a creative team as the only woman and often shows up her pompous male equals by pulling her own weight and more. Still, she is pretty difficult to read. Eternally loyal to Don as he treats he like an equal (a man) and played a hand in her promotions, Peggy also hides a secret at home and shuts down whenever anyone expresses an interest in getting to know her. Totally unrelated, I think she is extremely unattractive and can't be convinced that the males in her office actually enjoy gawking at her.
I also really like Joan Holloway. She is by far the most popular character with the males in the audience. Simply put, she oozes sexuality. If Don is the embodiment of manliness, then Joan is that of femininity. Most men in the show are electrified by the sight and sound of her, and she even has her closet lesbian roommate all worked up. She also gets a lot of points with the female audience too, as she is considerably bigger and bustier than today's depiction of women in the media. Some men of today may not find that attractive, but I think she looks great and it works for her. It's not that Joan throws herself at men. She is more tactful than that. Sure, she parades around the office in form-fitting outfits knowing that all eyes are on her, but she wields that power to her exact advantage. And she is intelligent, which shows through when her superiors give her a chance to do some work with a client. They love her ideas and sign on, even though meeting her in person definitely influenced their decision. But you wonder, what does she really want? Her coworkers have made a number of jabs at her age, that she will no longer be the object of desire. And her lover didn't want anything beyond weekly afternoon meetings in a hotel room. [Spoiler alert!] And out of the blue, she is engaged. Her fiance, a doctor, seems like a nice enough guy. It seems that being a married woman will severely restrict her office interactions and turn down her spark and spice. In a society where being lusted after is the most effective way of getting a man's attention, Joan isn't left any bright options. She rarely shows any of her emotions, especially when she is upset, maintaining a professional demeanor at all times. I feel bad for her too.
The title sequence is pretty awesome. The RJD2 song sounds like it was made for this show- sophisticated and haunting. Excuse me while I go watch another episode.