The centerpiece of last night’s episode of Mad Men is an idea that Megan came up with for a commercial for Heinz Baked Beans (seriously, how much did they have to shell out for their product to get so much damn attention this season?). In the commercial we see a mother with her child, feeding him baked beans throughout the ages. As Megan says, things change but a mother feeding her child is something that is permanent, something that is passed on through the generations. That’s what this episode was about, passing on the beans from one woman for the other. Yes, the episode was almost entirely concerned with the lives of the women and how they are raised to believe what they believe and how they pass on those beliefs to both their peers and their daughters. No, these weren’t beans they were passing on, it’s a heaping, steaming spoonful of dysfunction.
There was really only one scene of unadulterated man-on-man action last night when Leland Palmer told Don that he murdered his daughter when inhabited by the spirit of evil named Bob and that society would never recognize Don for his achievements. Well, the American Cancer Society would, for the ad he placed about tobacco being evil, but the fancy blue blood types in the ballroom would never accept him, and they would never do business with him. They like his politics, but they don’t like that he bit that had that fed him, to use Leland’s idiom. They wouldn’t have accepted him regardless, with his studied manners and vague back story. Don may get invited to the ballroom, but he’ll never know the steps to the dance.
Other than that, this is women all the way.
Mothers and Daughters: The episode is marked by the arrival of Megan’s parents from Canada. Holy shit, Megan’s mom is Julia Ormond! Holy crap! (I’m sorry, but I need to get this out of the way: Julia Ormond looks really Frenching good for a woman of her age. I mean, she’s beautiful. Even more beautiful than Megan. And unlike the other Hollywood actresses of her age, it doesn’t look like she has done a thing to her face. Sure, she’s been genetically gifted her whole life, but good for her for either aging gracefully and still looking like a million francs or having the best damn plastic surgeon in the whole damn world. Julia, will you marry me, or at least be my mom and take me to brunches where we sip mimosas until the early evening?) Megan and her mother have a very strained relationship and Megan explains that her mother was always jealous of her because her father loved her more than he loved her mother.
Megan’s mother is a careless woman who will fall asleep in bed smoking and expect Megan to come in and put the cigarette out for her. She seems more concerned with her own feelings than anyone else around her. From what we see of Megan and her mother, it’s obvious that they are the same person. They’re both gorgeous, married to older philandering men, and both in marriages that make them wildly unhappy.
However Megan’s mother still seems to be a large part of her life, unlike Sally whose mother was physically absent as opposed to her usual emotionally absence. Instead Sally is left in the care of Mrs. Frances, her step father’s bumbling mother, who Sally unknowingly sabotages when she drags the phone into her room, creating a tripwire booby trap for “Bluto” (as Sally calls her) and breaking her ankle. So we see Sally given other surrogate mothers, Megan (who once comforted her after running away) and Megan’s mother, Julia Ormond. But Megan is more of a friend to Sally, like a peer, and takes her shopping, buys her an inappropriately mature outfit, and teaches her how to put on makeup. Don is more attracted to Megan when she’s acting a mother than anything else, but still he disagrees with her parenting decisions. Thus Sally is set adrift without any real mother figure of her own, left to figure out the mysteries of her life through absence rather than presence.
While Megan is destined to become her beautiful but bitter mother and future lesbian Sally Draper is left to forever be searching for a mother figure, it is Peggy who is rebelling most against her mother. From the moment Abe asked Peggy to move in with him, I knew that Peggy’s very Catholic mother was not going to be a big fan of this idea. When her mother arrives at her apartment (with a very delicate cake that we never get to see) Peggy breaks the news and it does not go over well. Duh, Peggy. Her mother says, “Don’t put it in my face. You think you’re the first person to ever do this?” It’s not that Peggy’s mother cares about her living with Abe, it’s that she cares that Peggy has to make a big deal about it. Peggy’s mother seems fine with her rebelling, she just doesn’t want her daughter to rub her face in the fact that she chooses not to believe in the morals and values that she instilled in Peggy. It’s like her life decisions are saying that her mother is somehow inadequate. This is what Peggy always struggles with, doing things that are different and modern have their price, and the price for Peggy is that it is going to create a strained relationship with her mother.
The funny thing about Peggy is that when Abe calls her and says they need to talk at dinner, she thinks that a proposal is coming and goes out and buys a dress and prepares her answer. It’s almost as if she wants that traditional life and is prepared for it. But when he offers a more modern arrangement, she agrees to it in what we assume is second best, but it’s something she sees fits her. Peggy is at once drawn in by her mother’s traditional sensibilities about relationships and repelled by them. She was raised on the expectation to meet a nice boy and get married and always envisioned her life that way. She has no alternative until one is present to her. But that staunch Catholic upbringing is hard to rewire and that is why Peggy needs her mother’s approval. She needs her mother to change her world view so that hers can be comforted. She needs her mother to tell her that it’s alright, but that’s not something that’s going to happen.
The best part of their fight in the hallway is that Peggy calls up the spirit of her dead father and says that he would want her to be happy, even if it’s living in sin with a Jew. Peggy’s mother says that her father would think that she is stupid. It is women arguing over a man, competing for his love, even he’s dead and gone. Speaking of which, what worries Peggy’s mom the most is that Abe will leave her. She’s concerned that, without the bond of marriage, he’ll get sick of Peggy at some point and leave her old, alone, and worthless to other men. Then she advises Peggy to become a crazy old cat lady rather than living with some man who she’s not married to. Oh, this is how a million Cathy cartoons are made. Thanks, Momma.