Let's start with the obvious: breasts. As a device, what better way to highlight the unending double standards and sexism of the time than to concoct a storyline around Playtex, Sterling Cooper's "brassiere" account. Due to FCC regulations at that time, a woman could not be seen wearing a bra on television; she had to wear it over her sweater, or hanging off her arm, like a shopping basket. But women could be photographed wearing bras for print. It turns out the agency, which fancies itself "creative," was creating workmanlike ads (perhaps the famous "Cross your heart, you're suddenly shapelier!" Playtex line) for that workhorse of a bra all of those years, when new business guy Duck Phillips (whose goose is soon to be cooked) announces that the Playtex client is jealous of Maidenform, which ran a dreamy, surreal, campaign, with lines like "I dreamed I floated down the Nile in my Maidenform bra."
So just the idea of giving women some loftier ambitions, and room to move, as the Maidenform campaign did, ignited cultural imaginations. Add the hypocrisy of puritanical codes for bra ads juxtaposed with the swinging sex vibe of the time, and you stir up some hugely upsetting contradictions for women.
"I find they both open easily," Ken the account guy says, to big laughs, and either he or another one of the boys chimes in, "Bras are for men." Indeed, at this agency, writing bra ads does prove to be man's work, as Paul Kinsey comes up with a concept that Don approves after the male group hangs out at a bar, where Peggy was not invited. As a result, Don makes Paul Peggy's copywriting partner on the account. (Another unhappy twosome.)
The idea for the new campaign, focusing on the duality of women, is that every woman aspires to be either Jackie Kennedy or Marilyn Monroe, as played by the same model in back-to-back images in her underwear, wearing a black wig as one and a blonde wig as the other, with the tag line: "Nothing fits both sides of a woman better than a Playtex bra."
While I thought the black and white work was smart and even contemporary, it also felt like a glaring anachronism. It's hard to believe that concept like this could have been articulated in 1962, even in advertising circles. This sort of deconstruction of pop iconography started appearing two decades later, when semiotics became popular on college campuses, and after Jackie's death, when numerous accounts of JFK's womanizing surfaced.
Of course, for the purposes of this particular script, the duality was brilliant: Don had said earlier, "Men want both," and after all, Jackie was a wife, Marilyn a mistress.
Earlier, during a great scene at a country club, where callow riding-lessons guy Arthur reappears and flirts briefly with Betty, a guy in a tennis sweater tells Don about being an operative for JFK's failure, the Bay of Pigs (which could be an alternative title for this show.) He says that once President Kennedy got into office and discovered he couldn't do anything, his "vigor disappeared," and that now he's "chasing starlets."
Don's similarity to JFK has been pointed out many times, and in this episode, his continuing dalliance with his latest mistress Bobbie is the most reckless, and depressing, yet. (Judith Exner possibilities?) Warning, Don Draper!
Last week after the accident, we saw a vulnerable, far more likeable side of Bobbie Barrett. No longer. The bitch is back -- and the reason Don pursues her so ardently is once again a mystery. (Although she does trigger one of the funniest lines in the show. Previously, out of nowhere she mentioned that she had an 18-year-old son, and after another erotic encounter with Don, she casually drops the fact that she has to go visit her daughter at Sarah Lawrence. "Is that everyone?" he responds, as he seems to be silently calculating her age. )
Bobbie even acknowledges her own wonder at Don's continuing interest in her -- and mentions that he's got a
reputation among the ladies as a "connoisseur." He tells her to stop talking. "Does it make you feel better that I'm like you?" he asks, and then ties her to her bed, and leaves. He doesn't want to see himself in her desperation and vulgarity, so he becomes cruel and controlling.
That's some nasty business, although there is some actual advertising lore that in the early '90s, a creative director once missed a meeting because he was tied up in a hotel room.
Meanwhile, swiftly failing new business guy Duck also shows his dark side. First his dog, estranged wife, and kids show up at the office, and the only one he greets lovingly is Chauncey, the dog. The ex alludes to a drinking problem, which he says no longer exists.
He later tells Pete Campbell (his mini-me in the office) that dogs are better than wives because they're more understanding. But after yet another embarrassment similar to the still-born experience with American Airlines (he wasted everyone's time by bringing the Playtex guys in to see a new campaign; they had decided before the meeting that they wanted to stick with the old work), he discovers from his kids that his ex is soon remarrying, and that the new husband is allergic to dogs, hence the return of Chauncey. He goes off the leash -- and hits the bottle. But because he can't stand to see his loser-self reflected in his faithful dog's eyes, he cruelly abandons Chauncey right on Madison Avenue. It's painful to watch. We knew he had a drinking problem, but who knew he had major dog issues, too?
Rising account guy Pete Campbell leaves the office just as a model who came to a Maidenform casting call is getting in the elevator. The casting call brought out all of the crudeness of the time: Peggy was kept outside, as the men of the agency "bra-ditioned" the women behind closed doors. (Peggy gets angry and announces, "I have a good eye for this!") Pete chats the disappointed model up, and ends up going home with her (shades of Peggy.) Despite their apparent non-chemistry, they have sex in her one-room apartment as her mother (in an unusual bit of 1962 parenting) is sequestered without complaint on the other side of a plastic divider. Meanwhile, the TV blares about the "sanctity of space." Pete gets home to his fancy Upper East Side digs around dawn, and has to look himself in the mirror.
We get to see two sides of Peggy as well -- she finds out that the agency invited the Playtex group out to a stripper bar. "If we were to take you to see some women in their underwear, would that be too much like work?" That's what Fred -- the account guy who plays Mozart on his zipper, and tells Peggy to write some "titillating copy" while hitting her on the ass -- says to the Playtex guys. They go to the Tom-Tom -- another double! After Joan advises Peggy that if she wants to be taken seriously she has to stop dressing like a little girl, she shows up in a sexy, low-cut cocktail dress, and the client not only tells her to stay, but plunks her down on his lap. (Did Mary Wells start out this way?)
While this scene is painful to watch, it does illustrate the frustrating and confining possibilities for women in business at the time. Still, Peggy's sexing herself up as her route for success seems dubious. Pete gives her a disapproving look, betraying jealousy, anger, and an obvious double standard.
A similar thing happens between Don and his wife. She serves her kids breakfast in a flaming tangerine bikini outfit -- and looks better in it than the zaftig women modeling the bathing suits at the country club during a "ribs and fashion show." But an angry and controlling Don tells her to take it off. "It's desperate," he says.
Before the bikini fashion show, the scene at the country club on Memorial Day included a salute to war heroes. "Heroes, on your feet!" the MC says. Don stands up, to applause and an adoring look from his little girl.
In the final scene, his daughter Sally comes into the bathroom to watch him shave. (Again, a mirror figures heavily in the scene.) "I'm not going to talk. I don't want you to cut yourself," she says, looking up with love. And perhaps the pang of all of his collective lies and lack of heroism gets to him. He tells her to leave, and sits down on the toilet, a small, unhappy, isolated figure, seen twice -- once as himself, once as his mirror image.