A fascinating episode of feminine turmoil, offering perspectives from Mad Men's prominent women. It's sometimes forgotten that this series has some of the strongest female characters on television, as the show's very title elicits the notion it's focused on '60s philanderers. "The Beautiful Girls" is a strong reminder that the female characters have just as much complexity as the men.
Life and death was another issue woven into this episode. Miss Blankenship (Randee Heller) was discovered dead at her desk by Peggy (Elisabeth Moss). A tragic end for a woman who apparently spent her entire adult life as a secretary of declining skill, with Cooper (Robert Morse) the only person with a positive spin on Blankenship's ignoble fate ("she was born in 1898 in a barn. She died on the 37th floor of a skyscraper. She's an astronaut.") Of course, we know from Roger's audio-tapes from "The Suitcase" that Cooper and Blankenship were once romantically linked, so it's only natural he should have a more upbeat opinion of her.
Miss Blankenship's passing was a great example of Mad Men's ability to juggle pathos and comedy, particularly in the moment Don (Jon Hamm) had to continue a meeting with a client while distracted by background sight of Pete (Vincent Karthesier) and Joan trying to remove hefty Blankenship from behind her desk. A very amusing sequence, if not quite achieving the black comedy peak of season 3's "lawn mower incident".
Peggy grappled with civil rights and racism, after being setup by friend Joyce (Zosia Mamet) with her friend Abe Drexler (Charlie Hofheimer), whose political opinions didn't fit with her own. Abe was clearly hoping to woo the intelligent Peggy over with his confident and eyebrow-raising thoughts on racism, but his disagreement with Peggy that racial discrimination is comparable to the injustices women face in the workplace was too polarizing. By the time Abe was laughing at the idea of "a civil rights march for women", Peggy had to leave offended. Unlike Roger with Joan, Abe's attempt to clear the air with Peggy was a failure. He arrived at SCDP the next morning, clutching an article he'd written for her entitled "Nuremberg on Madison Avenue", which contains material about the racism actions of a client SCDP represent (Fillmore Auto Parts) that Peggy thinks would get her fired if Abe published it.
Faye (Cara Buono) appears to be Don's unofficial girlfriend (what happened to Bethany?) and is even allowed to stay in his apartment while he goes to work in the morning. Unfortunately, there are signs Don sees Faye (and women in general?) as handy people to pass problems to, perhaps because that's exactly what he does to his female-only secretarial staff all day. Here, after daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka) was delivered to his office, having been discovered alone on a train by a good samaritan, Don's anger over Sally's reckless behaviour and ex-wife Betty's (January Jones) inobservance, led to him asking Faye to babysit Sally until he got home. An understandable plan, and Don handled Sally rather well once he got home (making her promise not to run away from home again, spending the next morning with her at a zoo), but it was all just a temporary fix to a deeper problem...
The final scene of the episode summed things up neatly in a lovely visual of Joan, Faye and Peggy entering the elevator together – each symbolizing the three degrees of feminine progress in the workplace. Faye's opted to be singularly focused on her career (at the cost of family and kids); Joan has decided to place more stock in husband and homemaking just lately; and Peggy's somewhere in the middle, believing she can have both. And that does seem possible, as society gradually bends. Certainly, she'll have better luck than poor Miss Blankenship –- whose death perhaps signals the passing of the "old ways".
WRITERS: Dahvi Waller & Matthew Weiner
DIRECTOR: Michael Uppendahl
TRANSMISSION: 3 November 2010, BBC4/HD, 10PM