Lost in the Movies: Mad Men - "Ladies Room" (season 1, episode 2)

Mad Men - "Ladies Room" (season 1, episode 2)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Most days (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on July 26, 2007/written by Matthew Weiner; directed by Alan Taylor): Last time, Betty Draper was little more than a punchline - "Oh look, Don Draper has a wife. Surprise!" This episode, on the other hand, treats her almost as the main character. Not only is she onscreen about as much as her husband, we begin to glimpse her interior life (externally rendered). Her hands tremble, her eyes flicker with confusion - she even crashes her car into a neighbor's fountain (after witnessing a divorcee move in down the street). Trying to explain to Don that their daughter could have been scarred in the accident, she expresses her fear that the little girl would by condemned to a sad, lonely life. Don is perplexed: isn't Betty happy with what she's got? After initial hesitation, he agrees that she should see a pyschiatrist. This unease with her anxiety spills into the office; as his co-workers attempt to pitch a space-age campaign for aeorosol deoderants, Don is lost in a soliloquey, mumbling, "What do women want?" Eventually - he thinks - he comes up with the cocky answer: "To get closer." Notably he receives this epiphany not with Betty, but with his mistress. The other focal point of this episode is Peggy mooning over a glib postcard from Pete on his honeymoon. (In one of the best lines of the episode - more due to delivery than context - Roger snickers, "Niagara Falls - redefines lack of imagination.") Peggy also has some flirtatious lunchtime encounters with Paul Kinsey (Michael Gladis), the acid-tongued copywriter with high aspirations and a sniffy attitude toward his surroundings. Paul is occasionally bashful, especially compared to the frat-boy leering of Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton) and Harry Crane (Rich Sommer). Nonetheless, when he aggressively goes in for a kiss, Peggy pushes him away. She's unable to express what - or who - is compelling her to repel him. The company men aren't the ones who have trouble explaining themselves in "Ladies Room," while the women struggle not just to communicate their experiences to others, but to understand them themselves.

My Response:
Like the premiere, "Ladies Room" is written by Matthew Weiner and directed by Alan Taylor. It's certainly of a piece with "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" but nonetheless has a slightly different feel. There seemed to be quicker, and more noticeable, cuts at times and some images that announce themselves more boldly (including the opening shots of an egg, followed by Don from the "behind view, lifting a cigarette" image that we see in silhouette during the opening montage). Storywise, "Ladies Room" notably expands Mad Men's sociological study into the domestic realm, beginning to dissect the Long Island suburbs with the same thoughtful attention it has already brought to bear on midtown Manhattan. The episode also indulges in some further, albeit more minor, look-Ma-it's-1960 nudges, as when Betty sternly reprimands her daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka) for wrapped herself in a plastic dry cleaning bag, not because it's dangerous but because she's afraid the little girl left all of her clothes on the floor. I had seen "Ladies Room" once before, and I've enjoyed it both times for its deeper dives into character; one strong scene I've forgotten to mention till now depicts the flaring tension between Joan and Peggy, in which Joan snaps, "You're the new girl, and you're not much, so enjoy it while it lasts." Coming off Top of the Lake, I'm marvelling at Elisabeth Moss' subtle range - her character in that show is so fundamentally different, and not in an Oscar-baity over-the-top fashion, that at times I almost think I'm watching a different actress, not just a different character. I have enough vague knowledge about the show (very mild, general spoiler warning I guess) to suspect Peggy is headed down a different path than she presently seems to be on; I look forward to seeing her come out of her shell, as she already begins to do here ("I'm not blushing!"). She's not the only character in the process of discovering who she is and what she wants, right alongside the viewer.

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