Mad Men s5e9: Dark Shadows

“Don’t wake me up and throw your failures in my face, it’s Sunday, for Christ’s sake!”

Hello, self-involved garbage– as Roger succinctly puts it in this episode, it’s every man for himself. Betty gets insecure and stirs the pot with Sally re:Anna, Don clips talented Ginzo’s wings, and Roger’s doing God knows what with Jane.. they’re just grabbing whatever they want in that moment, everyone else be damned.

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So, there’s Don and his work mojo .. or lack thereof. Shockingly, turns out all his fucking off has left him real rusty. Heading in on a now-rare weekend, Don attempts to get some SnoBall shit done to no avail. On his way out, he glimpses Ginsberg’s folder, overflowing with great ideas.

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He’s jealous of Ginzo’s raw talent, and even though Don trashes Ginsberg’s (better) SnoBall idea en route to the meeting so the client would favour his pitch instead, he hasn’t won the war; this is just temporary satisfaction, a band-aid on some horrifying wound. The Michael Ginsberg looming talent threat persists, in spite of Don’s cultivated façade of indifference.

Though Betty is actively trying to better herself and get on with it, it’s one step forward and 2 gigantic steps back. At least Henry is a steady positive in her life.. and actually present for Thanksgiving with his family. Waiting to get the kids one weekend, Betty snags an accidentally intimate look at Don and Megan’s lavish lifestyle on Park Avenue, and immediately feels intensely uncomfortable and insecure. Can you blame her?

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Oof. That love note to Megan is probably the best writing Don’s done in awhile. Seeing him being so outwardly kind, romantic and loving with someone else can’t feel good for Betty.. especially after all the bullshit he put her through for years on end. But Bets, don’t forget that appearances can be deceiving. Don didn’t immediately land on his feet after the divorce, after all.. and shit’s a damn mess on and off with Megan.

Every one of these characters experiences moments of great happiness tempered with terrible real life shit. Betty’s life, though cushy from the outside, can be just bleak as we know Don’s can be. It’s all a real mixed bag; good shit happens, bad shit happens, just like Forrest Gump’s Mama said. What matters is holding onto your humanity, keeping an eye on your moral compass .. which can be exceedingly difficult when life circumstances throw everything they’ve got at you. Gotta keep your shit together during times of adversity, which is harder than it looks.

In this case, Don’s lie about his upbringing and being previously ‘married’ to Anna is a lie so big, so insurmountably massive to Betty. Sally’s doing some busywork family tree for school, but to Betty, there’s an exposed nerve there; it kicks up a whole bunch of bad vibes and negative feelings.

But when she’s with Henry and living her day to day, Betty shows real flashes of insight, clearly absorbing the life advice from her Weight Watchers meetings. There’s some understanding and personal growth, slowly unraveling why she feels the way she does about shit in order to get on with it. But Betty is also human; she really could not sustain this level of zen as she felt jealous and sad about Don’s new life. Though this may be petty and absolute shit, it is relate-able and human.

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Absolutely apoplectic that Betty casually mentioned Anna Draper to Sally, Don blasts towards the phone to give her an earful. Megan astutely tells him that’s a bunch of shit, effectively putting him in his place; let her stir the pot, Don. One step forward, maybe. Megan ain’t wrong.

Remember, bad behaviour is generally motivated by alienation and fear, irrational things that we all feel every now and then. Betty is natch capable of compassion and affection, but those behaviours fly in the faces of immaturity and selfishness.

And even though doing acid hasn’t actually changed much of Roger’s day to day, it’s impacted how he deals with his own feelings as well as how he deals with the people around him. It’s given him a touch of introspection and clarity. The morning after he and Jane have a bang in her now tainted Clean Slate(TM) apartment, he shows real remorse for brazenly hurting someone he once cared about a great deal. Think about this Roger versus the guy from a season or two back; he would have made some super sardonic quip and sauntered off about his business. There’s some semblance of growth with Roger as Don and Betty backslide a little.

Thanksgiving 1966 brings a gigantic toxic cloud to descend upon Manhattan, a pretty literal vision of the negativity and selfish garbage floating around in this episode. Shit’ll clear up soon, guys and gals.

“This is a setback. You’re always thinking about other people, and then you’re angry because no one’s thinking about you.. But I am. It’s so easy to blame our problems on others, but really we’re in charge of ourselves. And I’m here to heIp you, as you’re here to help me. We’ll figure out what’s next.”

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Mad Men s5e7: At the Codfish Ball

“No matter what, one day your little girl will spread her legs and fly away..”

“.. Wings, daddy.”

Here’s some of that good old deep-rooted dissatisfaction and the ever-present yearning for more.. TALE AS OLD AS TIIIIIIIME. This pair o’themes are on display in this delightful episode. There’s a bunch of semi-fulfilled and partially crushed dreams here. Peggy comes to the realisation that she may indeed want to get married, and then .. sort of gets it but not entirely. Megan longs for creative success, subbing in advertising for acting, and when she really succeeds it still ain’t quite right. Sally gets to hit up the eventually disappointing grand staircase-less ball in the mod dress she wanted, but not the gogo boots and makeup.

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And of course we have Don, thinking he is about to pounce on the opportunity of a lifetime at said ball; he bags Heinz, but ends up being cast aside from the big corporate fish due to the reverberating consequences of The Letter. Natch, nobody wants to work with a guy who would fuck them dirty like that.

There’s Peggy and Abe, with her modern sensibilities in competition with her Catholic upbringing. When Abe insists on a dinner together, Pegs is rattled; sounds like bad news to me too. But Joan puts the marriage proposal bug in Peggy’s ear.. when it turns out all Abe wants to do is shack up.

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Peggy chooses to be with Abe because he’s modern and not like those other dolt dudes who expect her to be a certain way because of ~Society~, but now she has to actually live with the fact that.. he’s a modern guy. Grappling with being a modern 60s career gal on an explosive upward trajectory and the future she’s Supposed To Want is no easy task. But hey, moving in together is pretty awesome too– as Joan kindly points out, reassuring Pegs it’s the right choice for her.

Joan: “Sounds like he wants to be with you no matter what.”

Peggy: “I thought you were going to be disappointed for me..”

J: “I think it’s very romantic.”

P: “It is, isn’t it? We don’t need a piece of paper! I mean.. not that marriage is wrong or anything.”

J: “Greg has a piece of paper with the US Army that’s more important than the one he has with me.

P: “.. I’m sorry..”

J: “It is what it is.. I think you’re brave. I think it’s a beautiful statement. Congratulations!”

Obvi, the dinner at their newly minted shared space with Mrs. Olsen did not go well. And it’s not that shocking that the woman who claimed moving to Manhattan meant certain rape would be less than supportive of Peggy and Abe’s choice to live together In Sin(TM). Yikes on bikes. Admittedly, I think Peggy was trying to do the right thing and attempt to have an adult relationship with her mother where she doesn’t have to lie about her life, but some people are just stuck in their ways. Not much she can do about it.

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At a fancy client dinner, Megan gets wind that SCDP is about to be fired; she and Don close that Heinz deal expertly. It’s also probably the first time this season we see Don actually, you know, working. Fuckin’ finally.

Though she’s very talented at this gig, Megan definitely wants more; her father expresses his disappointment at her giving up the acting dream to this job and this shortcut life with Don. All Marxist and pretentious academic junk aside, Emile ain’t wrong.

You can see it on her face when Peggy is genuinely thrilled for her re:Heinz; Megan’s got some lingering discontent and indifference to the whole schtick. If this type of professional success is ‘as good as it gets’ according to Pegs and Megan feels this nonchalant.. that’s not a great sign of things to come. Here’s that enormous, central theme of the series.. is that all there is?

On top of all that– since she’s Don’s wife, the reaction is sort of overblown. Peggy even remarks on it, saying that when she did that very same thing with a great campaign that the men in the office didn’t really bat an eye. And the nightmare fight Don and Megan had in the previous episode stemmed in part from her wanting to be seen as more than Mrs. Don Draper, home and office wife who just does whatever the hell he says. If this happens again and she has another idea that’s not in line with what he’s thinking, will he have another fucking meltdown?

And Megan’s tag for Heinz, ‘some things never change’, is true of all our characters. Try as they may to throw on a fancy persona, they’re all the same people deep down. Don as the ever-glib brilliant adman who’s now happily remarried is still a human mess just below the surface. Roger is charming and magnetic as ever with Sally, until Marie catches his eye and he’s gone in a flash to get blown. Pegs wanting to shack up rather than get hitched, though at the end of the day maybe she DOES want to be married after all. Megan knocks it outta the park with Heinz, but deep down she would prefer to be IN that commercial.

Don really did fuck it up with The Letter, as Kenny’s father in law Leland Palmer succinctly points out. Don’t bite the hand, Don.

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And here’s Sally wanting to be more grown up, but then sees something TOO grown up when she walks in on Roger getting his knob enthusiastically schlobbed by Marie. Pretty much nobody but Roger’s had a good night at this ball.

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Ringing Glen, he’s at the communal phone of his boarding school in absurd flasher gear of a winter coat (and apparently nothing else) on the phone to Sally, asking.. How’s the city?

Dirty, indeed.

“He’s at Dow Corning– they make beautiful dishes, glassware, .. napalm..”

Mad Men s4e13: Tomorrowland

“But I think, in my heart, it was an impulse. Because I knew what I needed to do to move forward.”

Ahh, the curveball season finale. As we all know, Don Draper is the reigning king of the fresh start, always moving forward and all that garbage. But life really isn’t conducive to clean slates as Henry makes crystal clear to Betty, along with those of us living on planet earth know intrinsically. One of the show’s central themes is prominent in this episode.. can people really change? Or is it all just a blip?

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This is and is not the Don Draper we’ve gotten to know throughout the series thus far. When it looks like he’s going to come to terms with his own identity in some meaningful way, he veers sharply left (and imitates Roger by making an impetuous and capricious move) and proposes to Megan. The hell? True to form, I guess.

Betty certainly thought her life would change when she married Henry. Sure, things are different, but it’s not all that she envisioned. As her journey continues, she’s learning that life is less and less the ideal iconography she was pitched and the only thing you can really control is your perspective.

Bets, you can move out of your house and leave Ossining, but your problems are gonna follow ya if you don’t look inward and work on that shit. Her fresh start with Henry hasn’t radically changed her nor her life, and a new house in Rye won’t do that either. At least she’s with a man who will communicate with her exactly what is wrong with her actions, and call her out on her bullshit instead of just disappearing, but it’s up to her to do the work.

Now that Don’s not around to blame for her erratic/childish behaviour, she’s gotta learn to adapt and be an adult. Henry has precisely no time for her impulsive shitfit re:Glen and Sally being friends which is probably for the best. Firing Carla inadvertently draws Don closer to Megan too, ha.

And man, Faye didn’t deserve such shit treatment. She really got a raw deal, but I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. Don lost interest episodes ago, and it doesn’t look like he was ever really that into her; she’s not the right person for him. But getting some fucking phone call like “oh yeah bee-tee-dubs I met someone and am suddenly engaged PEACE” is crushing, but she blasts him with a truth H-Bomb before hanging up.

“I hope she knows you only like the beginnings of things.”

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Let’s be real, the Hobo Code stuck with him. Dude is always looking to hop that midnight train going anywhere; Faye represents facing his issues and working through his Dick Whitman/desertion garbage feelings like a real life person, whereas Megan represents a clean slate and bright-eyed optimism that only youth can foster. Poor girl doesn’t know what she’s signed on for..

I’m drawn back to the season premiere, and that reporter snapping Don out from his thoughts; “Who is Don Draper?” Good question. He’s tried to make himself a better man this season, but suddenly jerks to the crutch of the Fresh Start(TM) personified, Megan. The first time I watched this finale, that ending gave me whiplash– but going back and examining the earlier episodes, it adds up pretty neatly. All along there were these little snippets planted that she’s the shining star for Don; the Pond’s focus group, being naturally nurturing to Sally, actually getting what The Letter was about.. etc. The pieces are all there.

Megan’s on the level. Maybe she’ll be the one to accept Don for who he really is, to love Dick Whitman and all that mess entails, allowing him to get on with it sans too much manpain. And hey, maybe he’ll do it right. He tells her he feels like “himself” around her, the best version of the man he aspires to be in the day to day. Maybe she’ll coax more of that out into the open.

At the end of the day, Don is someone who needs to be needed, and Faye didn’t really deliver that; Megan does just that little bit. He also needs someone who will nurture his kids in the way that Betty simply can’t at this point, in a way that he’s unable to as well; since he grew up with no loving mother figure, seeing that in Megan is magnetic.

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She also didn’t have a fucking meltdown over a spilled milkshake, which Betty certainly would have done. Between Megan’s sunniness and Don’s slight ability to even acknowledge his past to Sally (“that’s my nickname sometimes” re:Dick and Anna on the wall) and have it go well, Don seems on top of the world.

It’s an optimistic ending for a season fraught with such darkness, yet I can’t help but wonder how pristine that slate will stay as lives move on. Fundamentally, people don’t change– not wholly.

Peggy and Joan share a moment over the absurdity of the engagement; Peggy signed the first bit of new business with Topaz that day, but natch.. that’s not as important as getting married. Those dudes are all just between marriages, after all.

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And it didn’t slide past Roger that Don did the exact thing he was judged harshly for back in Season 2, either. Granted, Roger reacts much better than Don ever did— and there’s absolutely fuckall Don can quip back about it.

Don and Betty have one last encounter in the house on Bullet Park Road, and it’s a bittersweet adieu. It’s also one of those rare moments where she softens towards Don, and they have an easy interaction; she’s vulnerable about how things aren’t ideal in her life. Don lets her know that he’s engaged, and even in her sensitive state, Betty manages to not say anything shitty which is pretty good progress.

She does ask if it’s to Bethany Van Nuys, and Don is essentially like “WHO??

image courtesy of Tom + Lorenzo

Adios, house; thanks for the memories. Onto the next one.

The finale closes with Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe” as Don stares off into the void, his new fiancée asleep on his chest. Natch, the first thing I thought of was the always relevant Groundhog Day, the tale of a man trapped in a fucking time loop with endless fresh starts as he relives the same day over and over.

And once he gets it right, he breaks the loop and can live happily ever after.. but only after something like 100 goddamned years.

Here’s hoping Don gets his shit together sooner than Bill Murray. As a man who’s started over quite a bit, maybe he’ll stick the landing this time.

That’s a wrap on Season 4, kiddos! Stay tuned for Season 5 reviews, starting soon.. will Don do it right with his marriage this time? Will Pete’s hairline continue to evaporate? Will Peggy be running the place by the time we return? Will trash Greg do the math on Joan’s baby??? Do people really change or is it all just smoke and mirrors?

Mad Men s4e12: Blowing Smoke

“I bet I could get a date with your mother right now.”

Ah fuck, this is the episode with THE LETTER. Iconic Don Draper shit, kiddos.

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Turns out desperation truly reeks, as Don takes meeting after meeting and is met with continual rejection, a feeling he ain’t used to in the slightest. SCDP is teetering on the edge without Lucky Strike, and everyone in Manhattan seems to know it.

Hey, remember Midge? One of Don’s OG boho mistresses, she happily runs into him in the lobby of the Time Life building, but all is not as it seems. Don’s genuinely happy to see her at first, this familiar link to who he was just a few years back.

When he told her that he had been expecting to run into her in The Village, maybe he was hoping they would reconnect or have a catch-up sesh about all the seismic changes in his life this past year; he seemed crestfallen to learn how far she had tumbled, and that her reasons for seeking him out were motivated by cash. Ugh.

Turns out Midge is married to some idiot and lives in a real shithole now, with no use for a check. Said dolt lets it slip that she sought Don out and didn’t just happen to be in the Time Life building that day.. thanks, heroin.

Don gives her some cash for a painting, staring at it once he gets home, lost in the void. Maybe he’s not that dissimilar from the trapped junkie who sold it to him; someone willing to whore himself out for cash from Lucky Strike. Seeing Midge could be a partial wakeup call for him, maybe an extreme glimpse at what could’ve been had he not cut back on his boozin’ earlier this season.

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Snapping out of the void, Don starts writing. After all, part of Don’s entire life mantra includes “if you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation”. Midge’s knob of a husband informed Don that the painting is an after-image– what she sees when she closes her eyes. Time to change the after-image of SCDP post-Lucky Strike.

Tearing the pages out of his sobriety journal, he’s set on moving forward and can’t seem to shed that dark period of his life quickly enough. In the process of creating this defiant statement, Don ditched an honest part of himself with his journal’s pages to make way for this very public (and fundamentally faux) declaration of independence.. looks like he’s done dabbling with authenticity for the time being. Nothing like splashing out for a page in the Times, huh?

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I mean, GODDAMN. Natch, the other partners do not react well. Don didn’t sign their names, nor did he tell anyone about his plan. Then again, it seems to have done its job; the phones are ringing off the hook at SCDP, and it’s not all bad news.

Both Don and Betty act out of self interest in this episode, damaging others in their wake. Sally is growing up and becoming more of her own person, to Betty’s chagrin and vague confusion. Sally is absolutely a different person than Betty is at this point, and she has limited context for how to relate to her daughter outside of Dr. Edna’s sessions.

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Sally and Glen have stayed in touch, and sneak off to hang out in secret as kids sometimes do; Betty finds out and has a fucking meltdown. In a fit of bizarre jealousy over Sally and Glen, she announces to Henry that it’s finally the right time to move. Poor Sally.

Paired with Lucky Strike leaving, Don’s tobacco tantrum on a full page of The New York Times gets a lot of people laid off.. Faye Miller included. Time for all the partners to pay up, let people go, and keep the lights on. The junior partners have to put in 50 grand apiece to keep the company afloat, and Pete doesn’t have that kind of cash. Turns out it’s not that big a deal, as Don pays Pete’s share; a very generous nod to his discretion with that whole Dick Whitman mess.

“I heard from all my clients this morning, mostly out of morbid curiosity. But one thing’s for sure, they’re not talking about Lucky Strike anymore..”

Everything is uneasy, but in the midst of it all, Megan lets Don know that she ‘gets’ the letter and what it symbolises; one of the few times that day that Don breaks his Draper façade. And, Megan is the other person in the office aside from Peggy who comes to Don with something resembling a positive reaction, some form of understanding what exactly it is that he’s trying to pull. It feels different that day at SCDP.

And she’s right, Don does stand for something.. even if it’s through the guise of an ad rooted in a self-serving motive.

“I thought you didn’t go in for those kinds of shenanigans.

Mad Men s4e9: The Beautiful Girls

“It’s a business of sadists and masochists, and you know which one you are.”

This episode rattles me every damn time I watch it. Seeing Joan, Peggy, Faye and Sally all struggle with being put in a box and told what to do is infuriating and sad.. yet entirely too relatable even as a modern lady. Oof.

Like a tiny hobo, Sally hitches a train to the city to see Don; it does not go well. A kind judgmental stranger pops her to SCDP, and in a panic, Don shoves Faye in her direction. Turns out she’s not good with kids, much to Don’s chagrin.

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Women in this era were made to feel like horrible people and general failures for choosing not to have kids, and especially for not being good with kids. Hell, women today still get the same sort of shite judgement but it comes in more insidious forms masquerading as Encouraging(TM); “you’ll change your mind”, “you’ll be maternal when you have a baby”, “it’s different when it’s yours”, “what kind of guy would want to stay with a girl who doesn’t want a baby?”. Fun fact: these are real life sentences said to me by real life men (and women), all of whom I swiftly told to fuck off.

Anyhoo!

“These domesticated suburbanites still have a primitive desire to get their hands dirty, but they have become so removed from nature that they can’t. They don’t know how to hunt, or swing a hammer, or fix their cars.”

“You mean like these two!”

“Actually, no.. I’m from Vermont, and Don’s a competitive fly fisherman.”

“What our findings show is that this demographic will spend a good amount of money for the satisfaction of being useful with their hands. Ladies love a man who’s good with his hands..”

There’s a nice splash of irony when Don is meeting with the Fillmore Auto Parts guys. Faye is rattling off research about how men want to feel like they’re Real Men(TM), getting their hands dirty and all that junk, since the suits we know don’t tend to do that often. Just as she’s not a Real Lady for not being great with kids, men can be viewed as lesser than for not being able to fix shit. However with the dudes it’s more of a joking context, versus the reality of women being judged pretty harshly.

Sally is super unhappy at home, and who could blame her? She doesn’t get along with Betty in the least, she misses her father, things just aren’t right. Don has no idea how to really connect with her, and popping Faye into that Woman(TM) mould doesn’t really work.

It’s striking how much Don is using Faye, and it really hit me over the head watching it now. Back when this initially aired, everyone on the damn internet was ALL UP ONS Faye and Don ending up together, and I remained as indifferent and skeptical as Sally. The way he treats Faye is absurd. Watch my kid, make me a drink. What’s going on at that other ad agency? Tell me. It’s pillowtalk subtle, but it’s definitely undermining what she does professionally and he still, a tiny bit, doesn’t take her seriously.

Speaking of disrespectful trash, Peggy gets a drink with Joyce and hey, Abe pops in! Good god, Abe. He’s a journalist, an opinionated know-it-all type, and admonishes Peggy’s very real concerns about equality for women versus the Civil Rights movement. Pegs isn’t one to take it on the chin, and puts him in his place for trying to tell her how she should feel.. cause fuck that noise.

Granted, I feel a lot of this Abe guy is just being awkward and jamming both feet in his mouth in the process but nonetheless, Pegs splits. He tries to apologise (somehow) by writing a literal fucking manifesto; Peggy is mortified, since it’s taking down her profession. In the days following, Abe is clearly on her mind, radical nonsense and all; has she met her opinionated, overconfident match?

At least he’s got better bone structure than Mark.

But man, the fact that Faye doesn’t magically “fix” Sally’s outbursts or offer any insight cements the idea that she’s nothing more than a fling for Don, and she rightfully calls him on it at the end of the episode. Woof. Don definitely needs someone to help him understand his kids better since he seems to be quite shit at it on his own.

Oh yeah, and during Sally’s surprise visit, Miss Blankenship fucking DIES. Jesus Christ.. and she dies at her desk. It’s a bittersweet scene with some good comedic punch, but Bert and Roger are clearly upset. Roger had a bang with her way back when, Bert knew her for most of his life.. very sad.

“She was born in 1898 in a barn, she died on the thirty-seventh floor of a skyscraper.. she’s an astronaut.”

image courtesy of ONTD

Ah, poor Ida. Feeling the immediate pang of life being too short, Joan agrees to have dinner with Roger at their old out of the way place which doesn’t seem so nice anymore since the Bowery’s turned into a toilet. After getting mugged, they have a filthy alley fuck high on adrenaline. It’s a good distraction for them both, at least. Roger is evidently bored in his marriage to Jane, and Joan’s shithusband is about to be popped off to Vietnam. She doesn’t regret the bang, but she wants to respect her marriage. Fair enough.

But man, do I love their banter.

image courtesy of MadMenWiki

Megan steps it up and works hard to cover Don’s desk as well as reception. When faced with the reality of returning home to Betty, Sally has a horrifying meltdown causing everyone to come running; faceplanting in the process, she hugs Megan and tearfully admits that she knows things won’t be OK. Ugh, heartbreaking and unnerving. Sally’s sadness and helplessness is palpable, radiating to everyone within earshot.

As the elevator doors close, we see the faces of Joan, Faye, and Peggy. It’s like the curtain closing on a play; who are these women in the office versus their real lives? What do they really want at the end of the day? They all want more out of life, that’s for damn sure.

image courtesy of MadMenWiki

“Men never know what’s going on.”