Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Marriage and Class on Mad Men


I thought the resolution of the big mystery of the first couple seasons of Mad Men was kind of anticlimactic. You begin to suspect that Don Draper isn't who he says he is, and then slowly over the course of dozens of episodes, you find out -- he isn't! He's another guy, who turns out to be virtually indistinguishable from who everyone thinks Don Draper is.

The mysteries of the third and fourth season are intriguing me more, even if they aren't technically set up as mysteries. As I see it, they break down to these three:
  1. Why is/was Peggy with that twit?
  2. Why did Joan marry that twit?
  3. When Don so obviously preferred strong, independent women when he was having affairs, why, now that he's single, is he dating that twit?*
Peggy has left her old neighborhood behind in a lot of ways, but when she decides she wants a guy who is marriage potential - and who considers her to be marriage potential - she limits herself to someone who obviously fits in better with the family she's fleeing than her new life. Joan is confident of her ability to catch the eye of some of the most talented and successful men out there, and then twist them around her little finger, but is too afraid to look a gift horse in the mouth when an almost doctor actually proposes. I think it's a class thing. Peggy and Joan are, when it comes down to it, working class. That may not matter much when men are making passes, but it does for marriage. Both women know this, and respond with their own imperfect strategies. Peggy returns to her comfort zone; a boy from the neighborhood, even if that means someone who doesn't really understand her work life or the less traditional sexual mores that she's adopted (notice that neither Trudy or Betty show any inclination to pretend that their husbands were their firsts). Joan's strategy is to stretch herself as far as she can to grasp onto the lowest rung of the ladder, so to speak. She does her best to impersonate an upper middle class wife, ornamental and economically dependent, and she also settles for a man that it seems she realizes is kind of a dolt; maybe just doltish enough not to realize she isn't the twenty-two year old Bryn Mawr graduate he is supposed to be marrying.

Don, I think, is the most interesting. He may not belong to the country club set by birth, or even completely fit in there, but his marriage to Betty gave him a ticket in...and marrying one of the more interesting women he had affairs with would void that ticket forever. There are several episodes in the first couple seasons where Betty plays the company wife; the one who hosts and shows up for dinners, graciously deflects all attention away from herself, only has opinions if they're adorably feminine. She's good at it, and Don makes time in his schedule to date a pretty young blond who he's completely uninterested in just in case he still wants that.

*Now that Don has apparently expanded his repertoire of blonds, I should clarify that I mean Bethany...the one that was Jane's friend.

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