Lost in the Movies: Mad Men - "The New Girl" (season 2, episode 5)

Mad Men - "The New Girl" (season 2, episode 5)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Monday I will review an episode of season two, possibly followed by each episode of season three. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on August 24, 2008/written by Robin Veith; directed by Jennifer Getzinger): Who is "the new girl"? The obvious answer is Jane Siegel (Peyton List), Don's new secretary. She attracts the attention of some of the office's hornier employees, and while the newly-engaged Joan initially appreciates Jane's compliments, she eventually scolds her for what she perceives as showing off. However, the deeper meaning of the title seems implicit in Don's continuing, surprising dalliance with Bobbie Barrett - especially since the two of them have a run-in with Don's previous mistress Rachel Menken, long back from Europe with a husband in tow. Don totals his car while driving Bobbie out to Long Island, and he calls Peggy to pick him up at the station. Bobbie stays with Peggy until she's fully recovered, and an uneasy tension develops between them until, finally, Bobbie interjects with a bit of advice that builds Peggy up and cuts her down to size simultaneously. "You're never gonna get that corner office until you start treating Don as an equal. And no one will tell you this, but you can't be a man. Don't even try. Be a woman. It's powerful business when done correctly."

"The New Girl" also features a flashback to Peggy in the immediate aftermath of her pregnancy. Her mother and (pregnant!) sister visit, and then Don himself shows up at the hospital bedside. His beleaguered demeanor reminds us that, at this point in the timeline, he had just undergone his own trauma recently, forced to confront and then re-bury his own haunted past. He tells Peggy to do whatever she's told and then advises, "This never happened. It will shock you how much this never happened." (As a side note, Peggy's baby daddy has his own childbearing concerns this episode as he and Trudy discover that she, not he, is the hang-up in their plans for pregnancy - although he seems more relieved than disappointed to confirm that there is indeed a hang-up.) When Peggy returns to the office after several days away, Don scolds her for not completing her work. She almost takes this as meekly as she usually does but pauses when her co-workers have left the room and reminds him (apparently he's all too ready to set aside what "never happened") that he owes her the fine money. When asking for the cash, she calls him "Mr. Draper." When receiving it, she returns his gaze and says, simply, "Thank you, Don."

My Response: 
I'll be honest: I didn't catch the significance of that line on first viewing (the cast and crew of the show did, however - apparently when Moss read the first-name dialogue at a table read, they burst into applause). I did notice the body language; summoning up her courage as Don pays her directly, as she's reminded that now she's done something for him and knows some of his secrets, and as she remembers Bobbie's advice, Peggy becomes much more slyly assertive in this moment. It's an intriguing new development in their relationship and fits in nicely with an episode that thrives on juxtapositions between clashing characters. Some of these clashes are in performance style as much as fictional personality, in Getzinger's adept handling of different tones as much as in Veith's deft dialogue on the page. Moss' clipped delivery contrasts with McGraw's laid-back bemusement as Bobbie, while the aggressively stylized patter and forced smugness of Karthesier's Pete makes for a subtly bracing encounter with the effortless charisma of John Getz as a doctor who seems to have stepped in from a non-period piece universe.

The episode also had me wondering if Peggy is going to step into something like Don's role in season one, as a figure with a mysterious past (more recent, in this case) whose secrets we only unravel over the course of the season. I assumed, several episodes ago, that the baby at her family's Brooklyn home was her own, although this would require a lot of convoluted machinations. The flashback's revelation suggests any of several possibilities: the child in Brooklyn actually is Anita's birth child while Peggy's is somewhere else (dead or adopted by strangers or taken in by someone else Peggy knows); Anita actually has two children, conveniently telling people that she gave birth to twins; or something even stranger or more complicated is going on, which we can't even guess yet. Anyway, as Don continues to descend - slipping further from the confident alpha male who juggled two mistresses into an increasingly confused, guilty guy who can't even handle one - Peggy is slowly, stumblingly, climbing upward. In the first Mad Men episode both written and directed by women, "The New Girl" makes much of Peggy's and Bobbie's scenes together. These are two very different women, yet they are linked by the very fact that they are forging professional paths in a world with narrow options for people like them.

Next week: "Maidenform" • Last week: "Three Sundays"

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