Season 4, Episode 9: The Birds, The Astronaut, And The Space Race

Miss-Blankenship

Sorry, Mad Blogsters. Ms. Dorothy was caught temporarily without an office in which to ruminate. Now she can't tell if she's angry or lovesick, soup or the pot, a sadist or a masochist.  

I like the fact that "Mad Men" is increasingly about the shifting identities of women. But at first, "The Beautiful Girls" seemed kind of choppy, and less graceful and dazzling, than previous installments. Then I took a look at Bert Cooper's role in this particular show, and the genius become more apparent. All of the episodes can't be about fluidity and rebirth: this one is about being tied-down and stuck. And being stuck feels bad. And then you die.

At one point while Ida Blankenship was still among the living, Bert asked for her help with his crossword puzzle: three letters meaning "flightless bird." "Emu," she responds. "It starts with an L," he says. "The hell it does," she tells him.

Whether as part of door-slamming farce or weird, slowed-down melodrama, many of the females in this episode were exposed as flightless birds. (And we also get Petula Clark, the ultimate "bird" of the then-London pop scene, singing "Downtown.")

It's the summer of 1965, but for Joan, it's more like the summer of '42: she's acting like a woundedJoan-And-Roger war widow, in need of comfort from any quarter. And indeed, having uptown street sex with Roger in a moment after the mugging was pretty shocking. I did like the imagery of the old-fashioned deli: send a salami to your boy in the Ahmy and all that. (Meat hanging on hooks: talk about forceful foreshadowing of a sexual hook-up!) Even then, though, that style deli was mostly on the Lower East Side. Joan and Roger were more in the (dying) Upper West Side neighborhood of the Viennese tea and pastry shops.

And while the city was indeed crime-ridden and getting worse in that pre-Lindsay era, something about being mugged by a black man (in a story all about the emergence of the civil rights movement) seemed suspect. At this point, is Roger low enough to have actually set up the mugging as an aftermath to the massage? It has its bit of heavy-handed symbolism in requiring Joan to give up her wedding ring. And by dint of her devotion to her husband (Dr. Not-So Rapey seems to have become a new man), having sex with Roger again seems to strip her of her born-again virginity.

Equally a source of head-scratching for me was this whole supposed amour between Bert Cooper and Ms. Blankenship. The reason the character was so delightful and humorous is that she had a heavy Brooklyn accent and, in a place dedicated to high-falutin images, was the salt of the earth, often asking Don whether he was going to the toilet. (Whether that makes her Jewish or not remains unsaid.) But I would imagine the WASPy Cooper, like Sterling, is vaguely anti-Semitic, and probably was even more so in his youth. So when young, was our Ida B such a sexual "queen of perversions" that being a hot Jewess trumped classism and anti-Semitism?

SallyIn death, she got wings. "Born in 1898 in a barn, she died on the 37th floor of a skyscraper. She's an astronaut," says Cooper, in a weirdly haunting, if wonderfully imaginative, line. (Is there a Jesus reference? Did people get born in barns in Brooklyn then? Were her parents stowaways or farmers? They surely weren't Norwegian farmers. But is saucy Ida B. still circling the building? Her name always seemed like a cross between Miss Havisham and a space ship.)

And the saddest bit of linkage, in terms of flightless birds, are the connections in this episode between the oldest chick, Miss Blankenship, and the youngest, Sally Draper. She arrives like some hobo from Don's youth, riding the rails, avoiding the conductor because she didn't have enough money. And in the end, after her desperate plea to stay fell on deaf ears, Don screams, "Am I going to have to carry you out?" Shades of Ida dying with her head on her blotter (last week one of the guys had cracked about Joan's "boobs on the blotter") and being rolled out, covered Cleopatra-like, in an afghan.

"We need a man and a blanket" was another great line from Joan.

And here's another theme from the show: getting covered up, and clueless men removed from nature. That's the male demographic that the auto parts guys need to go after. And these days, Abe, Peggy's would-be lover, would be trying to use his talents by getting a job on "The Daily Show." Then, though, he'd probably go on to become a member of the SDS and blow something up for social change, while expecting the chicks to provide coffee and sex. That's the way it was.

And I thought it was genius that Peggy, who seems so clueless out of the office, rejected AbeAbe. immediately. She sees no problem with corporations, and she comes from enough of a working-class background to not even consider the luxury of being a revolutionary. Perhaps she'll turn into a Peggy Noonan type and write for Ronald Reagan.

Back to Sally, though. Given her cold and appearance-obsessed, white-glove-wearing mother (Megan also wears gloves to remove Ida's blotter), Sally really needs a touchy-feely dad, the kind who started showing up in the 1980s, who took Lamaze classes, spoke about "our pregnancy" knew all about breast-feeding, and wore the kid to the office in a Snuggli.

But Don is a distant, 1950s-style dad. He doesn't believe in psychiatry for the poor kid, and wouldn't have a clue about how to fight for custody, nor does he want to. He has a business to run. He did give poor Sally very mixed messages for her trouble, ending up with a good-night kiss and a day at the zoo. (She wants to make herself indispensable in his home, a mix of daughter/wife/girlfriend/housekeeper, fixing rum-soaked French toast, and turning on the "Today" show. She keeps offering to be "good" -- which is heartbreaking -- and even says she'd watch her brothers.)

It's too bad that Faye walked in just as Sally was telling her dad that she hated it at home. He never got to ask her about it. He thinks that putting her in the care of any woman, even a stranger like Faye, is better than what he could do on his own. (Although he did draw the line at putting her in the care of a cadaver.)

MeganAnd I've got to say that I was disappointed that it was Dr. Miller who was having the lamp-crushing sex with Don in the opener. She talks about a "Chinese Wall," but isn't having sex with your boss a bigger conflict of interest? It did come as a shock that Faye, with her Ph.D. in psychology, who was previously was able to give Don such good advice, is so bad with kids. And even worse, she saw the whole situation narcissistically, as a test, which she usually aces, when it is Sally who is sick and suffering.

And we got the message over and over how tuned in to Don's every need the dewy beauty Megan is. When Sally took a run for freedom and fell, Megan was the only one who knew intuitively what she needed: a hug.

The women formed a thin pink line around Sally for the parental switch. Betty was on her best public behavior (or perhaps even consulted with Dr. Edna) and feigned worry for Sally. And they were dressed alike, with their blonde bobs and flowered dresses. She's always been great, but the actress Kiernan Shipka showed incredible chops in this episode. (The lisp has disappeared.) And Ms. Blankenship got it right: Sally had looked so "chubby in the pikchas." Now she's reed-thin and hollow-cheeked and sunken-eyed, with a haunted look.

"Everything can be replaced. You're fine," Roger, who himself seems pretty vulnerable these days, told Joan after the mugging. Is that the case even for a child's spirit?

Tags: mad men, tv
Recommend (78)
30 comments about "Season 4, Episode 9: The Birds, The Astronaut, And The Space Race".
  1. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , September 23, 2010 at 3:20 p.m.

    I loved this episode as a change of pace. Or perhaps the entire pace changes when we focus more on the women? Either way I loved it.

    And Dorothy, you know I love you (your column anyway), but the Petula Clark song was "I Know A Place." I've been thinking about that symbolism. It was about more than a club.

  2. Alan Stamm , September 23, 2010 at 3:39 p.m.

    Take all the time you need, Ms. Dorothy. It'd be sadistic for us to insist you rush copy of this quality . . . and it'd be masochistic to try.

    Once again, after reading some of the rest, now I've read the best. Flightless bird connection? Seen here first. . . . Hanging wurst foreshadowing weiner action? Also an original thought. . . . Linking Peggy Olson to Peggy Noonan? Who else could imagine? . . . "Thin pink line," clever phrasecraft.

    And oh yes: Thanks for a personal touchstone, a reminder of subway trips or drives from Inwood to Amsterdam Avenue for Viennese pastry with parents barely a decade out of Europe.

    All this in an online TV commentary. Please, take all the time you need. I insist. And be all means, get this writer a permanent office in which to ruminate.

  3. Marianne Allison from Waggener Edstrom , September 23, 2010 at 4:02 p.m.

    I really love what's going on with Sally. I cannot wait to watch her grow up and wonder how long Mad Men will extend into her adolescence. She is going to absolutely give her parents nightmares--she'll be at Woodstock or living on the Left Bank, no question about it.

  4. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost , September 23, 2010 at 4:05 p.m.

    There also seemed a huge theme of women doing everything for men. Including Sally, who tries it out when she's with her father, making breakfast and promising to help out and watch her brothers if they all moved in with dad. I think the writer's popped that theme into the foreground when Faye called Don out on it. Who was the pot and who was the soup?

  5. Alan Stamm , September 23, 2010 at 4:05 p.m.

    Just a few more things, as Peter Falk's character used to say in another show on another network in another century:

    * Petula Clark has a direct link of '60s civil rights era importance to another singer whose name we've heard, a reminder that no choice is random in WeinerWorld. While taping an hour-long NBC special in '68, Clark touched Harry Belafonte's arm during a song, prompting a sponsor to demand a re-shoot. "It was the most outrageous case of racism I have ever seen in this business," Belafonte said later.

    * Randee Heller, the 63-year-old playing Miss B, talks about the accent on AMC's site: "I grew up with grandparents that were from Russia and they spoke Yiddish, so there's a little bit of that. And then my mom and my aunt and my father's family all were raised in Brooklyn. They were first-generation Americans, so we got a little Brooklyn thing going. And then I moved to Long Island, so I have that."

    * "Did people get born in barns in Brooklyn then?" you wonder. 'Tis possible, or at least in farmhouses. Flatbush, an incorporated township before it was a neighborhood, had farms in the 1890s and beyond -- including a large spread owned by James Lefferts, who began selling acreage to residential developers in 1896 for what became the Lefferts Manor area and now is a historic district.

    * For anyone (else) who got hungry, Epicurious has a French Toast recipe using 2/3 cup of dark rum: http://bit.ly/cYzDnm

  6. Kate Lafrance from Hartford Woman Online Magazine , September 23, 2010 at 4:19 p.m.

    This was such a great episode - it made me so sad to think there can only possibly be a few left to the season - and then ANOTHER HUGE break before it comes back - which will be set in a whole 'nother year with huge jumps in plot and storyline ... wahhhhhh! Anyway - my favorite part had to be the "thin pink line" formed by the office women around Don and Sally when Betty showed up - so symbolic!

  7. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY , September 23, 2010 at 4:56 p.m.

    No shock to me that Dr. Faye is bad with kids. Her "insights" are based on focus groups, surveys and psychological models because she doesn't have the empathy to access any understanding of people by visceral means. And her I-chose-work-instead-of-children speech to Don did nothing for me, although that choice has been a central theme in the lives of many women of my generation. I think Faye went into psychology because she's self-centered and knows on some level how tone-deaf she is to the feelings of others. Reminds me of the day in high school when I realized that a lot of people with speech impediments go into public speaking.

  8. Joe Bobblog from DBI, Inc. , September 23, 2010 at 5:10 p.m.

    Enjoy your commentary, but you missed the point on this episode. It is not about being “tied down and stuck,” it is about the cultural revolution exploding in the face of the man in the grey flannel suit. Those tied down (the emu’s) are dead (Blankenship, Joan’s married to a Doctor lifestyle). Those discriminated against are pissed. They’re taking to the streets or taking what they want with guns. Rising are the empowered women (Joan sexually, Peggy in her career, and Faye in her decision to not have kids). The future (Sally) tries legacy role models, but in the end rebels against any and all limits. When old school Megan tells her “it’s going to be alright,” Sally says “No, it’s not.” And she is right. Don runs around trying to keep the plates spinning, but he cannot keep up. The episode opens with Don screwing Faye but ends with the three empowered women leaving the building. So Can Don re-invent himself or will he turn into fat Elvis?

  9. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY , September 23, 2010 at 5:53 p.m.

    Re: "dewy beauty Megan" -- when Sally threw her arms around her, my first thought was that she had to be a brunette (the anti-Betty) and that the other women who've shown real interest in Sally (Carla and Miss Farrell) have also been brunettes. If I were Sally, I'd only trust dark-haired women.

    Re: the "thin pink line" -- why did Peggy, Joan and Faye stay in the outer office during the transfer? None has children, none cares about Sally, and none has a friendship or rivalry with Betty. Initially it felt accidental -- like they all just happened to end up in the outer office at the same time. But when they lingered and locked eyes on Betty, it felt like a show of support for Don, as if they were waiting to see if Betty was going to attack him for causing Sally's distress (which Betty didn't even notice, of course -- no doubt she felt like Peggy, Joan and Faye were silently criticizing her for leaving Sally in Don's care). Or maybe they were slightly stunned by all they'd seen that day and were waiting to see if there'd be more.

  10. Moira Mcnally from out of home america , September 23, 2010 at 6:10 p.m.

    Dorothy, your insights are utterly amazing.

    Am I the only one who found it hard to believe that two sort-of-sensible people who were forced to turn over all their money, identification and precious jewelry at gun and/or knife point would find it the right time to have sex in the street instead of finding a cop??

    And I'll miss Miss Blankenship -- she was a kick -- one of the few "office girls" who didn't look like the cover of Vogue and the only person with an authentic NY accent -- I'm surprised Mr. Weiner didn't insist at least some of the actors have the accent.

    As for Sally, yes, she is going to be a real pip when she gets older -- can't wait to see her freak out old Bets!

  11. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY , September 23, 2010 at 6:16 p.m.

    Re: Joe Bob's comments -- Interesting points overall, but stretching it to say that Joan, Peggy and Faye are empowered. They're getting there, but Peggy still confronts more work-related barriers than a "negro," Faye seems conflicted as hell about her total lack of maternal instinct, and Joan has been successfully leveraging her sexuality for advancement and personal satisfaction since way before the wall tryst with Roger, but can still get leveled by a boy's dirty drawing.

  12. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY , September 23, 2010 at 6:32 p.m.

    Let's hope Sally doesn't end up at Woodstock -- she'll only be 14.

  13. Rob Frydlewicz from RAF Consulting , September 23, 2010 at 6:36 p.m.

    The street that Roger & Joan were mugged on, isn't it the same street Carrie Bradshaw lived on 35 years later? LOL

    By the way, some enterprising individuals have created hilarious Twitter accounts for Sally (http://twitter.com/sally_draper); Betty (http://twitter.com/bettydraper) & Grandpa Gene (http://twitter.com/genes_ghost).

  14. Kate Lafrance from Hartford Woman Online Magazine , September 23, 2010 at 7:12 p.m.

    Thanks for the Twitter links @rob! They led to tons more (multiple Dons and multiple Megans) including http://www.facebook.com/pages/Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce/173521749276

  15. Elizabeth Mayberry from Emmaco Inc. , September 23, 2010 at 7:22 p.m.

    Ditto, Ditto, Ditto to Alan Stamm's comments!

  16. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , September 23, 2010 at 8:14 p.m.

    WHAT greater respect for an employee, even one with very short tenure, than a proper funeral at Frank E. Campbell courtesy of Bert Cooper who, like Dorothy Parker, is officeless in his own agency. No mere morgue for Blankenship.
    And with an epitaph from Roger, "She died as she lived among the people she answered phones for."
    Seemed more throwaway comedy in this episode than usual.
    Including the set on which Roger and Joan get mugged; I don't think I've seen those stoops since the Star Trek episode where they landed on a planet with a parallel universe to Earth's and were going through the 1930's gangster stage.
    Abe is second guy in a couple of weeks whose parting words with Peggy is that he misunderstood her. And the third guy--the birthday dinner guy--just plain misunderstood her and didn't have to tell her.
    Dorothy, I don't know if women in SDS were only consigned to domestic chores. Some of the more connected ones also blew up buildings on 10th Street.
    BUT MOST IMPORTANT--did anyone notice the lack of respect the account guy on the automotive account had for Don Draper in the meeting? Surprising. But given the attention to details that Weiner displays, it has to have some meaning.

  17. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , September 24, 2010 at 11:04 a.m.

    Creatives are so sensitive. Ken's comment about the strategy didn't show lack of respect to Don, it showed how hard he was trying to please the client. It also showed that, in the end, Ken isn't really that smart. He would rather please the client than move forward with a clear strategy. SCDP made the right choice by choosing Pete Campbell to be in charge of accounts.

    Another separate, random thought about the episode. Sally's unescorted train ride was supposed to be a big deal. I'm about 4 years younger than the fictional Sally would be. I recall taking the train in to Grand Central when I was 9 years old (1969/70), accompanied by my 11 year old brother. No one thought anything of it. It was perfectly ok in that era. (of course our parents did know we were doing this).

  18. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , September 24, 2010 at 11:32 a.m.

    @Jonathan
    Actually Draper's name is on the door. The line from Ken literally said that Don had none of the client's interests at heart (the worst way to "sell" work) and it was delivered as if Don worked for him, i.e. in a dismissive, slightly sarcastic way.
    I would have fired him actually or asked my partner Pete (with the weird title Head of Accounts) to cashier him if he didn't mind. But Don, I guess, had other things on his mind like wondering when rigor mortis would set in on camera right.
    Sally was riding between cars to hide from the fare-collecting conductor, as reported by the kindly matroney woman. I did that, too, on the LIRR, but by then I was 24 and didn't attract much attention trying to beat the fare.

  19. Jody Quinn from Edelman , September 24, 2010 at 11:47 a.m.

    Wondering about all those driven women...lots of blondes in cars this week: Brittany, Betsy, Faye. And Sally, stuck in-between.

  20. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , September 24, 2010 at 12:26 p.m.

    THE LAST shot in the elevator is a classic

  21. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , September 24, 2010 at 1:08 p.m.

    Tom I'd agree that Ken is more interested in pleasing the client than anything else. But Don's look back, which basically said, "clearly, you don't think," was the message. Ken is too small to make Don look bad. Don probably would have shown him the door if Mrs. Blankenship wasn't in the way.

    I think that scene was also a backhanded way to establish Pete's credibility, more effectively than Pete's posturing.

  22. Scott Curtis from Studeo , September 24, 2010 at 1:38 p.m.

    I feel like the episode was really about what it means to be a working woman.

    Blankenship's nearest relative is a niece. She was probably a lot like Peggy when she was young and just how far ahead of her time would that make her? She was a pioneer. Joan made sure her title was 'executive secretary' because Joan needs her own job to be important.

    Faye was no good with kids because she spent her time being educated and having a career.

    And Sally, she is the future feminist.

  23. Marla Goldstein from Around The Bend Media , September 24, 2010 at 5:27 p.m.

    @Tom. Dorothy has it exactly right re: the women of SDS. You're thinking of the Weathermen. Entirely different. The women were expected to be acolytes for the men, make coffee, run the mimeo machines and be sexually available. Nothing more.

  24. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , September 28, 2010 at 1:02 p.m.

    I was thinking of Bernardine Dohrn, she of the SDS and the Weather Underground. Don't know if she was good at making coffee or churning out mimeographs or relieving the sexual drives of weather men, but didn't she demonstrate her bomb-making skills at least once as the former house on West 10th Street can testify?
    I do have to say---having checked her a couple of times to see if Ms. Parker's work was ready for last Sunday's episode--that I don't think I understand most of the show until I read this blog.

  25. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , September 28, 2010 at 1:04 p.m.

    The weathermen were, I think, a faction of the SDS. Much like-although dumber-Trotskyites within the CPA.

  26. Missy Kruse , September 28, 2010 at 6:13 p.m.

    Loved the three women at the end, but I just didn't see them all as 'liberated'. And my heart keeps breaking for Sally -- she deserves a better family.

  27. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , September 28, 2010 at 11:57 p.m.

    And the men don't seem so liberated either

  28. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , September 30, 2010 at 9:59 a.m.

    When Dorothy's column doesn't appear on Wednesday, I go through withdrawal.

  29. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , September 30, 2010 at 5:45 p.m.

    IT'S ADVERTISING WEEK in New York.
    Perhaps Dorothy has been overdining at the Algonquin

  30. julia john , October 29, 2010 at 12:51 a.m.

    The men don't seem so liberated either.