I love “The Beautiful Girls” for many reasons. The main one being that this episode was about the women, the varied women of Mad Men. And I don’t think this was a story the writers could’ve told without three seasons of carefully crafted background. “The Beautiful Girls” is about the variety of lives each of these women lead, and how they’re not “traditional” roles any longer.
1. Ida. Miss Blakenship dies in “The Beautiful Girls.” Ida dies, and Roger makes the joke that “She died like she lived, surrounded by the people she answered phones for.” Which is callous, but true. Yet, even Roger wants better for the old girl. Bert (who we find out has no office of his own) eulogies that “She was born in 1898 in a barn; she died on the 34th floor of a skyscraper. She’s an astronaut.” Because he wants wild Ida to be more than her sum, the same way he sees himself. Likewise, Joan calls her an “executive secretary” because Joan would never want to be remembered as just a secretary. And of course, to Roger’s comment, he spent most of “The Beautiful Girls” determined not to die in the office.
Ida’s death was some of the funniest physical humor they’ve done in a long while. I don’t think it’s by accident that Peggy, the trailblazer found her. Goodbye, Ida, who in your own way, you really mark the end of the time when women not interested in marriage, family, and motherhood would find themselves limited only to the position of executive secretary.
2. Joan. Not only is Joan sensing her husband’s mortality as he ships off to Vietnam, but with Ida’s death, she’s feeling a little of her own. She’s not adapting well to the new styles of the 1960s, and her clothing is looking a little matronly. As perhaps the real executive secretary in the picture, we saw last episode that when it comes to the younger men, Joan’s hotness is loosing its touch. Of course, as she reminds Roger at the end of “The Beautiful Girls,” “I’m married.” And married women were certainly expected to dress with a clear signal that they were off the market.
I loved the shot of Joan in her glasses and pajamas, alone in her apartment, when Roger sends her a masseur. I don’t blame Joan for not turning down the gift. Even if it is Roger, and Joan had an affair with him long enough to know what that means.
Likewise, when Joan entertains Roger by going out to dinner with him, that also did not surprise me. As Greg unintentionally pointed out in the last episode, Joan has no office friends, she has no confidant. In fact, Roger may be the closest thing to a friend she has. A friend with ulterior romantic motives.
As they’re mugged after dinner and have sex in alleyway, again not a surprise. With three seasons of build-up, both Roger (very expressively) and Joan (a little more subtly) know they were the love of each other’s lives. The pay-off of the character development is bittersweet, because you know that Joan’s going to pull the “I’m married” curtain down around her life as the first reaction. However, it was nice to see Joan enjoying and wanting sex again.
Joan may think she’s Ida 2.0. But she doesn’t quite realize that she’s not.
3. Faye. “The Beautiful Girls” opens with Faye in Don’s bed. She’s clearly enjoying herself and enjoying being paired up with Don as an adult relationship. However, by the end of the episode, Faye’s confidence and enjoyment has done a 180. When she realizes that Don needs someone to mother his children and play secretary and Faye doesn’t have a motherly bone in her body, she’s pissed. She rightfully calls Don out on the bullshit of him putting her in that position, and while he makes up with her, you can tell that their relationship isn’t going to last forever. Had Faye been born in 1898, her lack of child skills would’ve put her on the fast track for spinsterhood.
4. Peggy. Peggy’s already made a lot of choices in her life to not be Ida. And now Peggy’s finding out who that career woman is and how much fun she can have. But you can also tell that she’s lonely, and as much as Jody would love to fill that place in Peggy’s life, she’s trying to hook Peggy up with Abe (the guy she made out with in the closet during the police raid). As much as I adore Peggy and Jody’s antics to shock Stan, playing gay in an era where you could be committed or worse for being gay, may not be a wise choice, especially around the office.
As far as Peggy’s date with Abe, my vote is for her to kick him in the balls. I get it that Peggy doesn’t understand the full implications of the Civil Rights movement and what working for corporations who are against Civil Rights means. And what that means for her own crusade as a woman in a man’s world. (Clearly, because I just typed that, I’ve been reading too much 1940’s Wonder Woman.) Of course, Abe doesn’t get that woman are discriminated against too, and I thought the writers did a smart bit of writing here in that Peggy’s line could’ve sunk into a “my pain is greater” argument. But the reason, Abe makes me want Peggy to sock him in the family jewels is because his character hits my personal buttons as the liberal white guy crusader who still wants women to serve him. I’ve totally dated Abe before, and Peggy needs to go with her gut that he’s not as radical as he presents himself to be.
5. Megan. In a sense, despite her job title, Megan is further away from becoming Ida than Joan, Faye, or Peggy. In fact, Megan can choose who she wants to be. She can even be a mother without turning into Betty. (Megan is the one who responds the best to Sally, which may be actually the writing positioning Megan as young in the same way Sally is.) Megan can be all these women, parts of them, or not like them at all. Even the probably only 5 years at most difference between her and Peggy means she’s light years away in terms of choices.
7. Sally. Oh, Sally Draper, running away on the train to be with her father instead of living in her mother’s world. While all the adult women on the show bottle up their pain, Sally screams with hers. She shouts and defies. Sally wears her rage on her sleeve. Poor little Sally doesn’t even really understand what she’s raging against. She screams as Ida quietly dies.
But all the women — Peggy, Joan, Megan, and Faye — know. And the reason they can’t stop her is because somewhere they don’t want her to give up. She is all of their anger, all of their fears, all of their hurt exploding everywhere. Sally stops crying in Megan’s arms, not because Megan tells her to stop (like Don and Betty do), but because there’s something in Megan’s demeanor that conveys her understanding.
Normally in this era, family business was family business behind close doors. But the women uncharacteristically, out of a need they perhaps don’t understand themselves, flank Sally as she goes to meet Betty in the lobby. They are Sally’s armor. (Even Jody shows up just as Betty’s escorting Sally from the SCDP offices.)
8. Betty. Betty is the most unhappy woman in this entire narrative. The one that lies to her husband saying they have it all. And the one who is her daughter’s and her own worst enemy. Betty’s role is as a wife and a mother. Yet, she can’t stop her daughter from running away, and she’s making flubs as the political wife (being late, being jealous of Don and Bethany).
Despite Roger and Bert’s inability to give Ida a proper obituary (as someone who used to write obituaries, this is not uncommon when elderly people die), I think we find out a lot about Ida through these women. Ida had a real love affair with Bert (Joan). She was wild Ida (Joan and Peggy). She didn’t become a mother and may have not been very good with children (Faye). She didn’t want to be stuck with a family and children (like Betty). She perhaps wanted to scream that she died answering phones (Sally). But Ida took what was available for her in her time and on the work that other woman had done before her (Megan).