Article first published as The Women Of Mad Men Finish Strong on Blogcritics.
The women of Mad Men take center stage in the season five finale. Joan takes charge as head of operations despite Lane’s ever present empty chair and Pete’s distractions and disruptions. Lane’s wife takes Don head on turning his apologies and $50,000 check into yet another painful, guilt ridden reminder of Lane’s suicide. Megan breaks through Don’s defensive and controlling attitudes about her career and convinces Don to secure a role for her in SCDP’s Butler shoe commercial.
Peggy is growing in her new job, takes her first solo business trip, and meets Don as “an equal” while “clearing out the cobwebs” at the movie theater. Then there’s Pete’s troubled liaison with Beth that results in yet another fistfight and Roger’s search for post LSD meaning that lands him in bed with Madame Calvet. The challenging and evolving role of women in the ‘60s has been an important underlying theme of Mad Men since its inception. The advertising business provides the perfect backdrop against which to explore this dynamic and Mad Men portrays it very well. The stage is set for an even deeper coming of age next season.
Joan As The Responsible Adult
The partner meetings at SCDP have taken on a more formal tenor under Joan. She is determined to put her sex goddess past behind her and provide responsible operational leadership that will keep the agency and the partners on an even keel. Fortunately, SCDP’s finances are strong due to renewed billing from Mohawk Airlines, growth from existing clients and new revenue from Jaguar. The agency’s cash reserves are further strengthened with an unexpected $175,000 payout from Lane’s partner life insurance policy. With revenue up 34% in the first quarter and strong projections for the second quarter, SCDP is ready to expand. The key component of this expansion is the hiring of additional staff and along with that comes the need for additional office space. The availability of a contiguous floor presents an ideal opportunity to expand and create a two-floor showcase in the Time-Life building. In the Mad Men days the 15% commission system accommodated higher overheads than today and spacious offices were important to impress clients and build the agency’s image. Agency executives jockeyed for office size, windows and views to build their own image and presence. Today, overheads are lower, and agency digs are less about conspicuous opulence and more about efficient, functional space designed to reflect the culture of the agency.
Joan realizes that hiring new staff is a necessary expense that can be cut back as needed due to account losses or spending cuts. She also knows that office space expansion is a longer term, more fixed expense and an impulsive, imprudent move could seriously jeopardize the agency’s future. In 1985, as president of Geers Gross, I was saddled with an onerous lease on a multi-floor spiral staircase office in the Daily News building that threatened the agency’s survival. Joan does the right thing and convinces the partners to postpone the office space decision until June. It’s a pretty safe bet that we will see SCDP on two floors next season and office envy will continue unabated. As the partners survey the empty space, Pete’s comment to Don speaks volumes. “Look Don, I will have the same view as you.” Don congratulates him.
Peggy Flies Solo
At her new agency, Peggy is at her “Don Draper best” browbeating a creative team about a campaign idea. The tougher side of Peggy as creative copy chief is emerging and she likes it. Peggy’s new boss, Ted Chaough, appears in her office doorway and tosses Peggy the biggest opportunity of her career. The agency is in the pitch for a top secret “ladies cigarette” from Phillip Morris and he wants Peggy to be the lead creative. This will be a huge, high profile account with big media budgets and groundbreaking creative opportunities. When Peggy lets him know that she doesn’t smoke Ted shoots back. “Smoke it. Name it. Sell it.” Let the new business games begin.
The cigarette, of course, is Virginia Slims which was introduced with great fanfare by Phillip Morris in 1968. Phillip Morris selected Leo Burnett as the Virginia Slims agency and they created an iconic campaign that featured the line, “You’ve Come A Long Way Baby.” Virginia Slims was positioned as a fashion brand through extensive use of print ads, television commercials and outdoor billboards. An emerging, independent minded generation of women are about to get fashionably hooked on nicotine. It is ironic that Peggy’s big break comes in the form of a cigarette. Don’s bold New York Times manifesto declaring his “independence from tobacco” helped revive SCDP after the Lucky Strike loss. Now Peggy has the opportunity to make tobacco the platform for her success and notoriety.
Peggy confidently takes her first solo out of town business trip to Virginia for a client meeting and factory tour. The management of her new agency has confidence in her ability to lead the pitch as copy chief of the agency. Peggy realizes that Don would not have sent her alone and she smiles confidently in her motel room with a glass of wine anticipating what is next. Peggy has come a long way.
A Missing Ingredient At SCDP
At SCDP the tensions between Don and Ginsberg are growing and the testy creative presentation to the Topaz client brings Peggy’s absence into perspective for Don. Ginsberg is pushing the client hard on a line he clearly doesn’t like. “Topaz. Always inexpensive, never cheap” The client objects strongly to the use of “cheap” in the tag line but Ginsberg persists. Ken, sensing disaster, calls in Don but to no avail. The client’s parting comment to Don hits home. “You should get a girl’s opinion. I used to take that for granted around here.” Ouch!
After his dentist appointment Don has a chance meeting with Peggy at the movie theater. They both are glad to see each other and the bond they have is still very evident. This is the first time that they meet as “equals” and Don is not in charge. At first he asks her if she lost her job and then comments that she is relatively new at CGC to be avoiding the office. Don is clearly fishing to see if there are problems that could perhaps provide an opening to get her back. As she lights up a cigarette, Peggy assures Don that all is well, fills him in on her opportunity to be the creative lead on the big new Phillip Morris cigarette and expresses excitement about her upcoming trip and first plane ride. Don is genuinely pleased and tells Peggy he’s proud of her, but “I just didn’t think it would be without me.” This touching admission gets to Peggy and she suggests that they all get together soon for dinner. Whether they come together again at SCDP is the bigger question. I’m not counting on it
Don also comes to terms with Megan’s desire for independence and success in her acting career. At first Don resists getting her a part in an agency commercial and tells Megan that she should build her success on being discovered, not on being “someone’s wife”. After viewing her screen test reel, Don realizes that Megan has potential and deserves her shot at success so he gets Megan the part in the commercial. The women in Don’s life are finding their independence leaving him feeling alone. As Don sips his old fashion at the bar an attractive women asks “Are you alone?” His answer to this question will shape much of Mad Men’s next season.
Possibilities and potential abound at SCDP. Despite Lane’s tragic demise and Peggy’s departure, the agency is on a hot streak and financially sound. More new business is on the horizon and Don and Roger are energized. Joan is coming of age as a partner, Pete’s stature in the industry is growing and Ken is stepping up.
The agency’s new offices should be a showcase and It will interesting be to see who has more windows and the better views….Pete or Don