Mad Men’s ‘New Business’ – some thoughts

13 Apr

One of the downsides of catching up with Mad Men after the US is seeing spoilers. It’s unavoidable – I follow several TV journalists and their tweets, whilst not specific, usually hint as to the mood of an episode at least. So, when the reaction of the twitterverse seemed to be ‘boring episode’, I was a little apprehensive going into ‘New Business’.

I agree, it was a little annoying to have time spent on Megan’s family. Megan herself – that was a big loose end that needed tying up. But whilst this was a little slow, a little ponderous, I liked its meditation on relationships, in particular its commentary on the multiplicity of female roles and the ways in which women try to escape their cages. We saw Marie take on the role of avenging mother, filled with a destructive anger against not only Don but also, seemingly, mankind itself; in escaping her lifelong duties as a wife, she echoes runaway Diana. Pima seems to embody masculinity, not only in her dress but also her working manner. And then there’s Betty, eager to pursue academia.

But I really want to talk about prostitution. It was all over this episode, making the title highly ironic (for isn’t that the world’s oldest business?). Diana, of course, assumed Don was a customer in the last episode; in this one she travels all the way to his swish apartment ‘with six dollars in [her] pocket’. For all Don’s attempts to be warm and cuddly, the way they started out lends a layer of grime to the entire relationship. Then there’s the way Pima uses sex – with men or women – to get ahead. Peggy rejects this method, but for Stan the encounter, although initially fun, becomes something grubby when he’s faced with a loving girlfriend at home. Speaking of whom, his girlfriend offers her body for his career advancement. Megan is faced with the prospect of having to do the same to the gross Harry Crane. Marie booty calls Roger in order to get the $200 for the removal men. Sex, in this episode, is a woman’s commodity – but the overall tone is sordid. The sexual revolution is starting to take on a dark undertone.

Of course, we also have many references to divorce, culminating in Don paying off Megan with a million dollars. This is crazy money. I mean – really crazy. He says he wants to give her the life she deserves, but the truth is she’s already run off with all the furniture. For all her talk of him ruining her life, she doesn’t take into consideration the fact that she has also wasted years of his. He’s paid for her to go to California, to have the time to try out acting, and now she gets to take all the money and run. Even legitimate marriage can’t save you from the unbreakable link between sex and cash.

Diana is, of course, a dark fragment of Don. She’s the washed-up runaway, the woman who’s left everything and started afresh. The immoral character of New York City was a lurking figure in this episode, again the other side of the American coin to San Francisco, which had tempted her. Like Don, she has washed up in the gutters of the metropolis, but unlike him, she can’t sever herself completely from her past – in part because she is a woman. Her layers of lies unravel to reveal that she has committed the greatest feminine betrayal in leaving her child. Don is perhaps finally starting to wake up to his flaws as we see him attempt to comfort and support her, and it may push him further towards redemption to understand that she is so damaged she cannot accept this. We shall see.

I will probably change my mind next episode, but I really feel like that million dollar move might be the game changer and one that Don bitterly regrets – or embraces. Without a financial safety net, his Don Draper world could come crashing down at any minute. We could yet see him as the hobo he has always suspected himself to be.

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