September 21, 2009

Dissecting Mad Men: Episode 6

This week's episode was excellent. It was basically haunting. I loved every minute of it. I loved how as soon as the British "get the proverbial foot in the door", the foot gets cut off. Great symbolism. British hegemony over the US is over by the 60s. Britain is no longer the cultural centre of the English speaking world and while the Brits themselves might not yet have accepted that, it's already pretty obvious to us today in retrospect that this was the case in the 60s. Anyway, the scene I'm dissecting today is when Joan's prick husband comes home drunk without calling her. I think that's a good place to put my feminist analysis today.

So, Joan leaves work early to cook her rapist husband a "celebratory dinner," because he basically told her he was all but guaranteed to get chief resident at his hospital. Joan goes home, makes a huge dinner and he never shows until it's like 2 in the morning and he's drunk. Then, instead of just apologizing, Dr. Harris tries to pull a Don Draper and insist he HAD called her to tell her he wouldn't be home, that it's not his fault and it's all in her head. Joan, however, is a different kind of wife. I've said it before and I'll say it again; Joan is not Betty and she's changing the landscape of marriage by requiring some measure of honesty and respect at the foundation of her relationship with her husband. She insists it's a lie; he didn't call her at work at all and she makes it clear he hasn't fooled her about his being drunk, either. Joan demands to hear the truth, which ends up being, her unintelligent evil rapist husband didn't get chief resident.

Here's what was problematic about the scene, however; as assertive as Joan was with her husband, she insists that it's okay he's mislead her about his career for months and that he's lied to her tonight, because, in her words, "I didn't marry you for your hands, I married you for your heart." Joan, this dude's heart is the only thing sicker than his hands! He raped you in your boss's office last season! Remember? He's both stupid and heartless. He told you to quit your job before getting a promotion, and now he has failed in getting the promotion and tells you to get your job back despite the fact that it's just too late.

So, what do you think will happen next? The office manager job has been taken over by that obnoxious British dude, but Joan needs work. Do we think Don might somehow figure out her plight and give her a promotion like he did with Peggy? Or might there be an opening in the new and improved TV and Media department which Joan sees in the paper and for which she applies? I mean, she's qualified. I think Joan should start to assert herself all the time. It's not enough to tell your husband off for getting drunk and missing dinner but say nothing when he rapes you. Similarly, Joan demanded respect as Office Manager, but she didn't demand the more challenging job she should have had at Stirling Cooper.

Joan ends the episode, and her job at Stirling Cooper, by saving the day by saving one of the visiting British executives' lives. This one moment symbolizes how Joan saved the day so many times at Stirling Cooper during her tenyear there. No, it wasn't as dramatic before, but this is her role. Joan is a capable woman who can do basically everything, even save a life - something he surgeon husband finds more difficult than her. If Joan has simply been born ten to twenty years later, she really could have been anything without any problems. It sucks how our historical context restricts us, doesn't it?

No comments: