Mad Men, Season 1 Episode 1: “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”


It’s March 1960. Don Draper, a high-level advertising executive at the Sterling Cooper agency in New York City, struggles to find ideas to keep an account for Lucky Strike cigarettes while at the same time managing his tangled personal life; unknown to his stay-at-home wife, Betty, he is having several extramarital affairs. Peggy Olson finds employment as Don’s new secretary but immediately finds it difficult to fit in with the other secretaries, especially Joan Holloway. Junior accounts manager Pete Campbell, who is about to get married, takes a liking to Peggy and pursues her sexually.

Analysis & Discussion under the cut!

Right off the bat, Don Draper’s (and his coworkers’) relationship with women is a complex one. He shows up uninvited to his mistress’ apartment, and seems to respect her independence and ability to stand on her own two feet. But at the same time, she’s shown as an extreme kind of free spirit – “I don’t make plans, and I don’t make breakfast” is when she says to Don when he (jokingly) proposes. He seems to respect Peggy, but then at the end of the episode scolds her for thanking him (!!) for sticking up for her when Pete was dissecting her limb by limb by body part. He insults his female client by telling her that he’s not going to allow a woman to “talk to him like this”. And, of course, there’s the fact that he is sleeping with other women while married with two children.

Ken Cosgrove shows the ridiculous relationship between men and women in the offices of Sterling-Cooper. He says about Pete’s bachelor party, “I wanna be there before they tie an anchor on his neck and drag him out to sea”, and says while looking at Peggy’s behind, “I’m really enjoying the view from here.” He tells his friends “You gotta let them know what kind of guy you are, then they’ll know what kind of girl to be.” Pete also has a serious problem with how to address Peggy – telling her, “You’re in the city now, wouldn’t be a sin for us to see your legs. Pull in your waist, you might even look like a woman.” and then, “Hey, I’m not done here. I’m working my way up.” He clearly crosses a line with women in a strip club (!) and makes them uncomfortable. To put it bluntly – Pete’s got a problem with women.

While the men of Sterling/Cooper certainly aren’t helping with the situation, the girls are a bit clueless to how truly awful the treatment and stereotypes are – in fact, they play into them beautifully (for now). Joan says to Peggy, “If you make the right moves, you’ll be in the city with the rest of us. Of course, if you really make the right moves, you’ll be out in the country and won’t have a job,” implying that marriage is the ultimate end-game. She says about the typewriter, “The men who designed it made it simple enough for a woman to use,” and Peggy says “I hope so!” When Joan tells her to “put a paper bag over her head”, stand naked in front of the mirror, and “Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. Be honest with yourself.”, Peggy nods obediently. Even the element of rebellion against society’s norms that the two both partake in – birth control pills (oh, the scandal!) – comes with a lecture from their doctor (who is smoking a ciggarate) – he says, “One would hope putting a woman in this situation wont turn her into some kind of a strumpet … I will take you off this medicine if you abuse it. It’s for your own good, really. Easy women dont find husbands.”

I’m really interested in what Peggy thinks of all the things said to her on her first day. Is she secretly super-uncomfortable? Understanding that this is the way things are? Considering quitting? If I entered a work environment and people treated me like that, I would quit immediately. What do you guys think?


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