Toward the end of last night's episode, Peggy and Joan step into an elevator in the way we've seen Sterling and Draper do so many times. Peggy mentions she has just fired Joey, the cretinous freelancer who taped a dirty drawing to the window of Joan's office. This is Joan, and this is "Mad Men," so you know the response won't be a sweet and smiling, knee-jerk gratitude. Instead, Peggy gets an earful that breaks down how the matter could have been handled in a more political way: "No matter how powerful we get around here, they can just draw another cartoon. So all you've done is prove to them that I'm a meaningless secretary, and you're a humorless bitch."
Peggy, it's pretty clear, will one day in the future run an agency. She's got the talent and the ambition, and her rise recalls, as many have noted, Mary Wells, who founded Wells Rich Greene and was the first CEO of a New York Stock Exchange-listed company. Joan, on the other hand, already runs an agency and has for some time. Her name might not be on the shingle, but her lording over day-to-day life at the agency, much more so than her looks, gives her an enormous amount of power there.
Joan's not a "meaningless secretary" she fears being perceived as; she's a vital operational cog. As such, she's hellbent on shielding the power she's already consolidated from the actions of an upstart like Peggy, whose own rise will be built on talent, yes, but it will also be helped along by the changing mores of the day. In 1965, it's not only OK to be annoyed by an offensive gesture like Joey's, it's also OK to do something about it and do it in a big way that makes a clear point.
Peggy might see the benefit in that, but it's less clear to Joan, who's all realpolitik. She knows that after the big statement, like firing Joey, there's a ripple effect of thousands of micro-interactions that define anyone's role in an business. In the "Mad Men" version of it, the rise of women in business in the mid-1960s isn't coming through some go-sister monolithic movement that has everyone onboard with a common agenda and one voice, but is instead fraught with friction and the self-interest of those who have the most at stake.
Of course, that rise is helped along by a patriarchy so intensely focused on itself. While Peggy and Joan are tossing jerks from the office, Don is working his own self-improvement plan. It's a regimen of journal-writing (seriously!), drinking less (no joke!), swimming laps and trying to take the high road with women. The catalyst for this is the recent sickness and death of Anna Draper. Her husband's death gave Don his identity, while hers helped deepen his drunken spiral. And Don's dark state isn't helped by problems with Betty and her new husband, who are keeping him from his younger son's birthday party.
Don, however, does eventually show up for the party, with giant stuffed animal in tow. And speaking of inanimate objects, he manages to wangle a date with the researcher, Dr. Faye, certainly the worst-acted role in the series. Though this hookup has been coming for some time, Don puts the brakes on a makeout session in a taxi, turning back her advances. This is self-control, something Don mentions in his journal that he's lacking. That and he wants to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
More than a few on Twitter wagged that Don's voice-over narration of his journal is reminiscent of Carrie Bradshaw on "Sex in the City." That might be a bit harsh. Cringe-inducing to be sure, the jottings are part bucket list, part Proust for Dummies and part "Red Shoe Diaries" ("I looked up and thought about the Barbizon [hotel] and all the women in there. One in every room touching themselves to sleep.") But that awkwardness is the point. As the first entry tells us, Don had never written anything longer than 250 words, and that was during a high school career he never finished. You can't exactly expect probing psychological insights.
The main ad action in the episode concerns the creative team trying to cook up cocktail recipes that include Mountain Dew, in a nod to its hillbilly-at-the-still associations. With its extreme-sports positioning, it's easy to forget Mountain Dew began as a backwoods-themed beverage. Former Ad Age Editor Fred Danzig recalls that brand history for us:
"Back in 1964, Pepsi acquired Mountain Dew and put it into play in 1965. That's when Ad Age reporter Jackie Eagle -- in the New York office -- shouted, 'Yahoo, Mountain Dew. It'll tickle your innards.' A proud 'good ole girl' from 'hillbilly country' in the South, she knew the brand and its slogan and had even used it to express her enthusiasm about good news, just as the rest of us in that 11-person office -- unfamiliar with the brand -- might have shouted, 'Holy mackerel!,' or an equivalent. So, this drink -- with its long history as yet another small-time Southern entrepreneur's home-brewed beverage -- entered the national scene."
Here's a Mountain Dew ad from 1966:
Matthew Creamer is a former Ad Age editor and reporter. Follow him on Twitter: http://twitter.com/matt_creamer