The cast of AMC’s “Mad Men:” Vincent Kartheiser, Elisabeth Moss, John Slattery, Jon Hamm, January Jones, and Christina Hendricks.
EDITED TO INCLUDE COMMENTARY at bottom of article on Season 4, Episode 9, “THE BEAUTIFUL GIRLS,” air date 9/19/10.
AMC’s “Mad Men” is currently in its 4th (and probably best) season. It’s June, 1965, and “the times, they are a-changin’.” Both men and women on the show are experiencing massive upheavals along with the rest of the country, which was approaching a nearly unprecedented point of social unrest. The civil rights movement had begun in earnest; John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated; the Cassius Clay (whom the characters refuse to call his then-given name, Mohammad Ali)/Sonny Liston fight prompts horrible jokes about how “if I wanted to see two Negroes fight I’d drop a dollar bill out my door.” Second-wave feminism is about to knock everyone for a loop and the Vietnam War is going to alter lives forever. Male and female characters alike are choosing: dive in and go with the flow or fight against the rising tide? Note: here there be spoilers.
The ladies of “Mad Men:” Betty (Jones), Joan (Hendricks), and Peggy (Moss).
Despite the show’s title, the women of “Mad Men” are making the most leaps by far. Our three leading ladies are Betty (formerly Draper) Francis (January Jones), the picture of bourgeois suburbia; Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), the pioneering professional; and Joan (née Holloway) Harris (Christina Hendricks), who disguises her strength beneath demure dresses and Hermes scarves. The ladies of “Mad Men” are some of the most complex, fascinating, unpredictable, and infinitely watchable characters on TV. Creator Matthew Weiner offers a varied and sympathetic examination of the pressures under which women toiled in the tumultuous late ‘50s and early ‘60s, and the show draws frightening analogies between the quandaries of the characters in the ‘60s and ours today. It gracefully, subtly reveals just how much (or little) progress we’ve made. A friend told me that until recently, she couldn’t watch “Mad Men” because her inner feminist found it totally offensive. My (not-so) inner feminist is positively thrilled with the show’s offerings.
Betty Draper in her most frequent haunt: the kitchen.
First of the Mad Women is Betty Draper Francis, main character Don Draper’s ex-wife and the picture of ladylike frostiness. Betty is, perhaps, the show’s representation of the worst of the suburban 1950s: weak, white-gloved, and wealthy, Betty’s upper-class disdain radiates from her every (invisible) pore. She is a child, a selfish brat who smokes too much and never eats (over four seasons, I don’t think she’s eaten on camera more than once or twice). She’s a status-obsessed, wasp-waisted debutante with an ice queen demeanor. Betty’s the character who, in the first episode, caught her daughter Sally (the fantastic Kiernan Shipka) wearing a plastic dry-cleaning bag around her head and threatened to spank her if the dress was wrinkled. To be fair, Betty went through hell with her overbearing, duly status-obsessed family and in her farce of a marriage to Don. She has a breaking point: in the first season, in the midst of a mini-breakdown, she whipped out a shotgun and blasted the neighbor’s doves out of the sky; she also had restaurant bathroom sex with a stranger to get back at Don for his indiscretions. But this season has really made her the (little) bad wolf. Weiner has set her up for a fall, I think, because she’s far and away the most old-fashioned of the show’s women.
Ah, the heartwarming family dinner, complete with mother who smokes instead of eats and father who’s always running out the door.