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Mad Men: Bugles, Gender Roles and Nightmares

This episode was titled “Mystery Date” with the background of the Richard Speck murders. The motifs intertwine portraying changing gender roles through a grotesque landscape of dreams and nightmares.

Don confronts the monster within in a literal dream while he’s sick with fever. He confronts the temptation of his old flame Andrea and submits to it. He can’t rationalize his misdeeds with external stimuli. They come from a dark place within him. This internal tension erupts in a male dominant strangulation scene that’s only a dream, yet an inherent part of his psyche.

Peggy is still the transitional figure. She dreams of transcending the traditional world, but is still weighed down by it. She acts like a man in the work setting, craftily working her way up and capitalizing on the power imbalance when Roger is in his time of need, but feels guilty for acting like a man. She’s enlightened enough to offer the black secretary Dawn a place to stay, yet, deep down, is still fearful for her purse.

Joan fantasizes about the handsome husband in uniform, yet confronts the reality of the husband in uniform, absent and grasping for an ordered world. This parallels her marriage built on the socially acceptable appearance of the handsome doctor and crushed by insecurity, failure and, as she has not forgotten, rape. She finally (or openly) accepts reality.

Then we have Sally as a sponge, too old to be immune to the fucked up trauma around her, but too young to fully internalize it. In past episodes she sees her father with a naked, young, slender woman. She sees her mother in the grips of depression. Now she gets the world of problems that is Henry’s mother Paulina. She stresses to Sally the virtues of discipline and adulthood, while engrossing herself in titillating stories, stuffing her face with Bugles and keeping a sharpened kitchen knife next to her at night.

Sally, scared, tries to reconcile the Speck murders. She gets told it was “their short uniforms stirring his desire,” confirming that if something awful happened to her it would be entirely her own fault. She finally finds peace by falling asleep, while hiding under the couch, knocked out by prescription sleeping pills.

[Photos via Mike the Intern]

Previously: Mad Men: Characters Read “The Tea Leaves” and Confront the “Dawn” of a New Era
Previously: Mad Men Premiere: A Little Kiss and a Mountain of Internal Unrest

 

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