Imagine for a moment that it is the early 1960’s. You are a Madmen – an advertising account executive or copywriter. You chain smoke 2 packs of cigarettes per day; this is a social thing and you offer a cigarette to your buddies or clients whenever you see them. You are aware that there is evidence telling people smoking is bad for them, but you and everybody else keep on smoking. You do not know that smoking gives you black lungs and cancer – or that it will. Moreover, you drink as much as you smoke, hard liquor mostly but sometimes you add it to your milk or 7 up, just so they are palatable. You are busy and sure of yourself. You get to create ads for such brands as Lucky Strike cigarettes, Playtex bras, Clearisel acne cleanser, Mohawk airlines, and President Nixon. Moreover, you like 20 something women, women who are not your usually your wife (you love/like her/hate her too but she has her place at home with the children) and because of all the women you work with, do business with, and meet in bars, you are not faithful to your wife. You do not have a conscience about this or little conscience; having a mistress or a fling with a secretary, well it’s just what madmen do, its part of the life style.These are my first impressions of the TV series Madmen that I have watched on Netflix these past couple weeks. I never found I had much interest in the show, besides the wonderful 1960’s fashion, but watching the episodes in sequence, getting into the story of the characters from the beginning, I have become a Madmen fan. Here are my thoughts and details on the two main characters of the show Don and Peggy:
Don Draper is an extremely interesting character. He is a successful shareholder and account executive at Sterling and Cooper, very successful, but his personal life, past and present, is a mess. Don has several mistresses and lovers, is a lady’s man, and never quiet seems happy unless he has an affair on the go. At the same time, he loves his wife Betty and their children, would never spank his children because his father spanked him hard. He would also never hit his wife. Don likes his conventional family in their beautiful suburb home but he is always looking for something else outside his family and job. Don has problems when he can no longer hide an affair from his wife, but he still keeps sleeping with other women despite this fact.
Don also believes in and gives Peggy, his secretary, a chance to write and eventually gives her, a job as a copywriter for women’s products on his creative team. He even visits her in the hospital when she is very sick. Don is a mess of conflicting character aspects. He is also very talented at his job and has a way of explaining advertising concepts to clients that really appeals to them. At the same time, he is also not really Don Draper at all. He hated, had a rough time, growing up with his family and when he is mistaken for a commanding officer ” Don Draper” after an explosion when he is in the Korean War, he leaves his old life behind and becomes a new man. When the real Don Draper’s wife comes searching for her husband, he even becomes friends with her. He cannot find a place for his little brother in his new life though, when he comes searching for Don in New York. The best he can tell his little brother to do is leave and gives him a few thousand dollars to start a new life. He is shocked when his little brother hangs himself, and feels remorse when all his old family is truly gone. Yes, Don, our hero, at Sterling and Cooper, is a very complicated person.
Another important character on the show is Don’s secretary Peggy. Peggy is hampered by the traditional role of a woman who is supposed to meet the perfect man in her twenties stop working as a “secretary” and be a stay at home wife. Peggy is smart though, and she wants more. She is also initially confused by the expectation of the men at the office for the secretaries to sleep with them, yet remain ‘pure’ for marriage. Peggy works hard at her job at the office to the point where she becomes a junior copywriter with her own office space, a better job then any other woman in the office has, and many men. Yet, Peggy is initially seduced, two times by Pete a copywriter in the office out to conquer the advertising world, and even becomes impregnated by him despite being on birth control. She becomes fat and does not realize she is having a baby until she gives birth and has a little break down. After giving the baby up to her sister and mother, she goes back to work confident that being a copywriter is what she wants to do. She could not be both a mother and have a career in the 1960’s, yet Peggy is bothered by the decision to give up her baby, cannot bear to look at him even. The religious implications of what she has done haunt her, yet she continues to thrive in the office and volunteer at church. She shocks Pete, who despite being married, tells her he loves her, when she tells him he got her pregnant and she gave the baby away. She allows nothing in the way of her career and she is only 22 years old.
There are many other interesting characters in Madmen, but I think these are the main two character storylines of the first and second season. The sacrifice both Don and Peggy make for their careers is amazing. The complexity of both Don and Peggy learning to deal in their separate worlds the best way they know how and sometimes the worst ways, are aided by the lifestyle encouraged in the advertising business. Drinking, smoking, sex, and fierce competition at Sterling and Cooper, forever alter, the way each character develops.
If you’ve never watched the show before I highly recommend it and I will be back with updates and my thoughts of seasons 3 and seasons 4, followed by seasons 5 and 6 of Madmen as I watch them this summer.
- Photos: Madmen: Best Season 5 Moments (abcnews.go.com)
- #MadMen Buzz: Elisabeth Moss [aka Peggy] Talks About Season 6 and Her Final Scene With Jon Hamm (muhsadam.wordpress.com)
- Mad Men season premiere (liveblog.washingtonpost.com)
- Cakes and Madmen (delightsbycynthia.wordpress.com)