Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Women of Mad Men

We had planned to have a guest column up today, but some extenuating circumstances have prevented that.  So, in lieu of those circumstances, you will get a little more of my athletic and fantastic prose.

Now that the Fourth Season of Mad Men is wrapping up, it seems like a good place to do a bit of inventory on one of the most appealing aspects of the show – the women. Through four seasons we have seen a variety of different women enter the story, leave the story and remain focal parts of the story.  Without a doubt, each woman that has been a part of the Mad Men universe has brought her own virtues and vices; from Betty’s icy beauty, to Joan’s full figured intuition and Ms. Farrell’s all around dreaminess.  In the end, we can usually say one thing about the women of Mad Men – they are all astoundingly beautiful (yes, even Ms. Blankenship).  I will disappoint many of you now: Sally Draper is not on this list as she is a little girl and not a “woman.” So now, as one of the most famous Mad Men pontificators, I find that it is my duty to give you the Top 10 Women of Mad Men.  Another list in a growing history of stupid lists.

10.   Trudy Campbell – As I was creating this list one of the strangest placement issues came when I tried to fit Trudy Campbell into the equation.  I almost had her in a  much more prominent spot but then had to bring her down to ten after considering some of the other women and their placement in the show.  I’ll point how far she almost jumped later.  Trudy Campbell, though, is a bit of an underrated character.  In the early seasons, she came off as shrill and annoying.  However, as the series has gone on, she has become perhaps the one reliable woman on the show.  She always values family and has Pete’s back, even after he cheated on her with the German au pair in Season 3.  Even though Pete cheated on her, she saw how much he actually needed her and will always need her.  She has become a very strong and sympathetic character.  Also, she is foxy as hell even when she is pregnant and her belly is ridiculous.  I dare you to find a sexier moment than in Season 1, when Trudy and Pete have pillow talk and Trudy moans “Oh, Peter.”  Always want to hear a woman sound like that.

9. Megan – Now, I know a lot of you out there may be saying, “Hold on, Domino. She was only in Season 4 and she slept with Don. There is no way she is better than Trudy.  She shouldn’t even be in the Top 10. She’s not better than Ms. Blankenship. Plus she has bad teeth.” To which I’d respond, “OK, give me some time to explain and don’t pile on your reasoning, I’m trying to eat here!”  Megan does have bad teeth, but in the sexiest, most French way possible.  I have to say, she is right up my alley.  We don’t know how the last episode will play out yet, but as of now she is rising up the chart.  She has a fantastic resume of: being oblivious to Joyce’s lesbian advances, being nice to Peggy in the bathroom, comforting Sally Draper (which is like averaging a near double-double for a season), making bold, thought provoking comments to Don Draper (this helped Dr. Faye Miller’s stock) and having sex with Don.  Megan came out of nowhere in “Chinese Wall” to rise to this spot and after her understanding of Don’s bold New York Times ad, it seems like she may be hanging around or moving further up the ladder in the near future.

8. Joan Harris – I think this might be the most shocking pick of all to some of you.  Men love Joan’s curves and beautiful face.  Women like her shapely body as an antithesis to toothpick thin models. Women also like her strong attitude and are sympathetic to her because of the terrible husband she ended up with.  However, Joan just doesn’t do it for me in several ways.  Her looks are not totally up my alley (listen to my podcast and you’ll know I prefer brunettes to red heads) and I think as far as her character goes she is definitely lacking in a few areas.  She has remained too stuck in the methods of the 50’s and the “old” ways of women exerting their power.  Don’t get me wrong, using curves and sex appeal will always give a woman the upper hand on a man, but ideally a woman would not completely rely on those tactics.  Now, of course Joan’s tactics were born out of a certain era, but it would be nice to see her evolve and perhaps accept some more of the changing dynamics welcome to women, rather than become frustrated at not being able to navigate them as she did with Peggy in “The Summer Man.”  Yet, she is the classic Mad Men woman in many ways: sexy, witty, tough and classy.  She’s had a highlight reel of lines as wells as hip swivels. I’ve got tough standards.

7. Jane Siegel – “WHAT?” That might be the consensus for all you Mad Men fans out there at seeing this placement.  Well, I’m sorry, but you need to listen to my podcast (Podcast of Myself Episode 16) to really understand that I very much prefer brunettes to red heads or blondes.  Now, it may be easy to overlook Jane Siegel at this point in the series.  She has become a trophy wife to Roger Sterling, a background character who we are not really sympathetic towards.  However, you have to remember when this handsome jewess first showed up on the show back in Season 2.  We were calling her the hottest Mad Men woman in history. Who can forget the episode when she showed up at the office after Memorial Day with the terrible sunburn? Or when she unbuttoned her sweater to distract all the guys? She masterly outmaneuvered Joan by having an affair with Roger and getting her job back after Joan fired her.  There are not many better looking Mad Men woman moments than when Jane was in her bathrobe in bed at the hotel with Roger at the end of Season 2. She may not be the most popular character these days, but you can’t argue that she is one of the finest looking women that has graced the screen in Mad Men.

6. Rachel Mencken – Speaking of handsome jewesses, Rachel Mencken practically invented the category.  She is something out of a Hemingway novel and if I had my way, she would definitely be in the Top Three.  However, I have to take all factors into account, including plausibility, so she hasn’t cracked the Top Five. Rachel Mencken was perhaps Don’s best match as a mistress.  She was a smart and savvy business woman, she was sensitive, she was intelligent, she was nurturing and she was tough.  And damn if she wasn’t sexy in some of those sleeping gowns she used to wear when Don would come over to her apartment, which was probably in some swanky Upper West Side building.  Rachel loved Don and she was the first one who was really able to coax out some moments of intimacy from him.  Unfortunately, when Don got panicked and went into Dick Whitman mode and asked Rachel to run away, she saw right through him and had to call off their affair as well as her direct dealings with him in business.  She later married Tilden Katz (not sure if there were any tie-ins to Katz’s Deli there) and ran into Don in a restaurant with Bobbi Barrett.  Don was dismayed for sure and later used the name Tilden Katz as his alias when he, Roger and Freddy Rumsen went gambling in “Six Month Leave” in Season Two.  Don could’ve been happy with Rachel Mencken.  They could have ordered great delivery quantities from Russ & Daughters and perhaps formed a great union.  Instead, their love was cut short.  They did have some steamy makeout scenes, though, I have to say.

5.  Midge – This character is fresh on a lot of our minds because she just reappeared in “Blowing Smoke,” although she was a bit worse for the wear.  However, Midge holds a special place in any Mad Men fan’s heart as she was Don’s first mistress. She is the founding father of Don’s extra-marital affairs and she set the tone for Don’s mistresses in opposition to Betty.  Midge was an artist who first hinted at the counter-culture changes that were to come in the 60’s.  She was slightly at odds with Don and his nonchalant nature with money as well as his failure to appreciate the bohemian culture.  In “The Hobo Code,” Midge was able to see from Don’s perspective that being a bohemian was just another way of viewing the world and buying products in that world – it was merely another way of branding oneself.  She understood that just as Don understood that she was in love with her bohemian friend and had to let her go (but first he gave her that $5,000.00 bonus check).  As we saw in “Blowing Smoke,” Midge held a special place in Don’s heart, although Don had to let her continue to go adrift with her heroin habit.  On a personal note, I like Midge because I am slightly in love with Rosemarie Dewitt, the actress who plays her; especially because of her stellar participation in an excellent episode of Wainy Days.

4. Betty Draper – She is perhaps the Queen Bee of all the Mad Men women.  Betty Draper is pitied and hated in equal doses by many viewers of the show.  I know women who have been very empathetic towards in the past (though Betty’s recent mistreatment of Sally has changed that) and those who are diametrically opposed to her entire disposition.  There is one constant, though: male viewers of Mad Men find her extraordinarily beautiful (“hot” would not do justice here).  Betty is a complicated character. She is a grown woman who went to a great school in Bryn Mawr, she was raised by a wealthy and classy family, yet she remains frustratingly childish. This could be because Don treated her as a façade of a woman – an image of the wife, rather than an actual partner.  However, we are seeing in Season 4 more than ever that Betty is in many ways a child.  She is constantly being asked what she wants, but she can never truly articulate it. Betty is coming close in certain respects to articulating her wants in this season, by telling Henry when he acts too much like Don, which is what she doesn’t want.  But she still remains far from a mature adult woman or a capable mother.  Some may want her moved down the list for how bad a mother she is, but we have to take the sex factor into account.  Betty is a proven sexpot as her fantasies and use of the drier have shown.  She looks sexy when her hair is frazzled (see middle of Season 2 breakdown) and who can deny how terrific she looked when she cheated on Don in “Meditations in an Emergency.”  Look, Betty Draper will always be a controversial character in the Mad Men universe; she is petulant, abrasive, coy and complicated.  What we can all agree on is that she is one damn beautiful woman with blonde hair.

3.  Peggy “Jimmy” Olsen – Peggy may be the consensus “favorite” woman of the Mad Men series and rightfully so.  Her character has progressed more over the past four seasons than any other female character on the show (Pete and Don being the exceptions, but they are male).  Peggy has moved from the innocent, meek and confused secretary of Season 1, to the poised copywriter and confidant/peer of Don Draper that she is in Season 4.  Now, of course Peggy has had her pratfalls in between: sleeping with Pete, being played by Pete, sleeping with Pete again,  listening to Pete’s story about hunting and having a woman cook his food, being played by Pete again, getting pregnant by Pete, looking terrible as a pregnant woman, giving her baby away, getting schooled by the priest, getting kicked around by Don, sleeping with Duck, having a loser fiancée, etc.   Despite all of this, Peggy has always proven resilient.  She knows how much talent she has and how much Don needs her.  She is a creative and forward thinking young woman who has proven that she knows not only a lot about advertising, but about human nature.  She still has a vulnerable/innocent side to her, but that ads to her charm as well as to her good looks.  There is a mixed opinion about whether or not Peggy is a babe or not.  Don told her in “The Suitcase” that she knows she’s cute and I’d have to agree. She has a unique look but always manages to pull it off.  She has gotten increasingly better looking as the seasons have gone on and she goes from innocent to seductive in a second, which is extremely sexy. Top Peggy Moments include: the way she looked when she told Pete about the baby, Peggy in the blue dress in Season 2, Peggy throughout Season 4.  Nothing trumps the way she looked and spoke in “The Suitcase,” when she was a vision of beauty, especially the way her eyes pierced when she was woken up on the couch by Stan and Joey and then with her tousled hair when Don touched her hand.  We all love Peggy and she is a babe.  The funny thing is, the future of the show definitely hinges on her in a huge way. Now that’s a woman.

2. Dr. Faye Miller – “C’mon, Domino,” you’re probably saying. “We thought that you loved brunettes so much! How’s a blonde going to get the number two slot? And a blonde that’s a new character at that?”  If that’s what you’re saying, then you probably need to get a life and to get off my back. I know these lists are entertaining, but enough already.  You also need to pay attention, because Faye Miller is a babe.  She talks tough with her New York accent.  She had us thinking she was Italian but it turns out that she was secretly Jewish all along.  Her father may or may not be in the mob. She is a perceptive accomplished career woman who apparently has “the softest” skin and who likes to have loud sex.  By every account she is in the upper echelon of what a Mad Man woman should be.  Now, of course I am attracted to Faye Miller (top Doc Miller moments: tight dress when she talked to the secretaries and made Alison cry, washing dishes in her stockings in the office while talking to Don, green dress in the backseat making out with Don, dressed up at the bar when Don drunkenly hit on her, sweaty post-sex with Don, red dress at the beginning of “Blowing Smoke”) on a physical level.  Yet, like Don I really appreciate her on an intellectual level.  Dr. Miller has delivered some of the best lines and this season, while articulating the key themes of Mad Men.  The most specific example being her, “what I want vs. what is expected of me” line from “Christmas Comes But Once a Year.”  She, like Don, is concerned with the identities and roles that people take on in life and at the office.  She wants to discover what those motives are – like Don and his curiosity, which is part of his “hobo” nature.  Dr. Miller is mature emotionally (ranting telephone call aside) and can truly give part of herself to Don.  Whether or not Don is going to accept what she can give and invest in this prize of a woman is another issue altogether. In the end, Faye Miller has been one of the great additions to this season and to the canon of Mad Men woman. She is a surprising, but deserved Number Two on this list.

1. Miss Farrell – One of the great tragedies of real life and of fiction is that Ms. Farrell was not brought back in one of the storylines for Season 4 of Mad Men.  When she burst onto the scene in Season 3 has Sally’s sympathetic, intelligent, empathetic, mysterious and cosmic teacher, well a guy just had to fall in love with her.  Whether it was the long brown hair, the small eyes, her running at night in short shorts and Bowdoin sweatshirt, spinning with the children with flowers in her hair, calling Don at night while drinking whiskey while her bra strap fell off her shoulder, or asking Don if everything was alright when she realized she wasn’t going to see him again after he had to leave her in the car, Ms. Farrell was a once in a lifetime kind of woman.  Again, she had a complexity that intrigued Don.  She was able to talk about perception in “The Color Blue” when she told the anecdote about the student who asked her how everyone knew that “blue” was the same thing.  To which Don replied that he would have told the student that “there is a color blue out there and its my job to tell people what it is.”  There was a certain innocence to Ms. Farrell, but not a naïveté – this is a woman who followed Don on the train and called him at home after she had been drinking.  She seemed to represent an all-natural woman, something sort of mythological or at least “old” that appealed to Don, as he wondered about her as a girl with “long curly hair.”  Ms. Farrell was not only empathetic towards Don when she should have been upset with him, she was also extraordinarily empathetic towards Sally.  Sally loved Ms. Farrell and Don loves Sally, which is one of the true ways to get into Don’s heart. Yet, that isn’t the ultimate criteria of being the top Woman of Mad Men.  Ms. Farrell balanced stunning beauty, grace, intellect, cosmic significance as well as an air of the all-natural, the fundamental that is the key mixture for what I define the best Woman of Mad Men to be.

All of the women on this list have their virtues and vices.  They are all beautiful in their own ways as fictional characters.  There could be only one winner.  So, now you have a list and I’m sure it will inevitably change after Season 5 next year.


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