“I think Ken and Peggy have this really interesting, sweet relationship. They’ve always gotten along, they’ve always helped each other, and they’ve kind of been two of the only characters who’ve never had a problem, really. She just sort of respects the idea that he’s doing something outside of the office, even though she makes fun of him for it. It’s a really sweet scene near the end when he decides he’s not going to write anymore. I think she really feels like her heart goes out to him in that sense because I think she admires that he has this creative side to him and is disappointed to see that he’s not going to keep going with it.” -Elisabeth Moss
Mad Men Cast & Crew singing Bye Bye Birdie (x)
Sigh, rant ahead, sorry…
Putting aside the enraging first sentence (“aren’t my critics the real racists here?”), you know what? I wasn’t looking for Dawn or any other character to be a perfect symbolic depiction of ~the civil rights struggle~. I’d just settle for introducing a single named black character who’s an actual human being with a character arc, rather than an accessory to the white people around them.
Weiner and Mad Men writers, you have never done that. You do not do it with Carla, Hollis, Sheila, or Toni. (Had to look one of their names up on google, lol!) I’m not sure why anyone *expected* you to do it with Dawn, but you haven’t - one reference to her brother is all we know of her life outside the office. The disparity between what we know about her and her impact on the plot compared to Michael Ginsburg, another character introduced this season whom you obviously found way more fascinating and dynamic, speaks volumes to where your confidence and comfort zones are.
Argh, I did not want to rant about this! But I have to. This show is actually great at handling race and privilege from the perspective of white America, and realistically showing how its characters are oblivious (and at worst complicit) in a racist status quo. In fact, I think in a way it tells us more about the civil rights movement as actually experienced in the ’60s than most shows would: me, fellow white people, we like stories about people like us becoming civil rights allies, who marched alongside the oppressed and showed no bigotry to others, but the truth is the Dons and Peggys of the world basically had their heads in the sand and just watched it happen around them. It’s accurate. But I find myself wishing we got some of the other side too.
The show’s handling of SEXISM - where it really knows what it’s doing and excels - would be so failed and incomplete if was primarily about the men and didn’t give equal depth to its many, varied (white) female characters, some of the best on TV. Yet there’s a reluctance and fear to develop black characters - even just one - the same way. It’s probably because there are an admirable number of white women on the writing staff, but not (as far as I know) any writers of color to speak to their experiences and quell fears of being scrutinized or getting it ‘wrong’.
It’s an unfortunate fault in the show, and I really wish Weiner would stop trying to justify it. And it goes to show how people who are very insightful about certain isms can have major blind spots with others.
-Mad Men meta ahead-
Seriously, one of my favorite - most beautiful and real and frustrating - aspects of Betty’s character is her inability to connect with her kids. Because it’s kind of a myth that ~maternal instincts~ are a thing that’s innate to all women — all the platitudes about a Mother’s understanding and love. She takes care of her children, she keeps them fed and safe and socially normal, and I’m sure that she loves them in a way, but there’s a gap there - the same gap I’m sure she felt secretly with her own mother - that she just fills with performance, following scripts of motherhood.
(Remember her script when Gene was born and Betty took such care to be like HERE IS A BARBIE DOLL, WE STILL CARE ABOUT YOU? And it really could’ve been sweet but Sally wasn’t feeling it, and Betty was completely useless at gauging what on earth Sally - not just My Daughter, but this specific human being going through specific grief of her grandfather’s death - was going through and needed? The sad thing is that Don’s a much more intuitive parent when he bothers to jump in, but for him it’s always just an option. Society asks so much less of him. So does the audience.)
But as Sally in particular gets older, reaches the age where she’s rebelling against her, now Betty wants more than ever to get that bond back with her, the one she *never really had*, which is heartbreaking. She’s resented her children, paid someone else to do the heavy lifting raising them, fails spectacularly at knowing Sally on a regular basis, but she wants to know she’s still needed.
And it’s so much wrapped up in self-centeredness and jealousy, losing Don (who she left, who she was right to leave, but who she wishes was still a sad lonely bastard ruing the day she did) and now her daughter to some hot new Canadian thing, the new perfect wife and mother. This sweet scene is a victory: not just the petty one against Megan, but also in Betty’s own mind, where it means so much that after everything Sally will still come running to her for help and guidance, for understanding things that Matter in the grand scheme of sex and womanhood. She hasn’t failed at being a mom. Her greatest pride would revolve around a Major Event in Sally’s confusing life, one where hugs and platitudes were just what she actually needed.
Just… it drives me so nuts when fandom and even professional critics can only respond to this character with jokes about “robot” Betty who doesn’t know how to express emotion. Better than the fat jokes, I guess. (Sorry for the meta explosion!)
Mad Men | Peggy leaves Don and SCDP (finally).
But that’s life. One minute you’re on top of the world, the next minute some secretary’s running you over with a lawn mower.