Smoking All Before Him – Mad Men Season 1 Episode 1

Mad Men. A term coined in the late 1950’s to describe the advertising executives of Madison Avenue

Donald Francis Draper. What a mad man. At least, that’s what the first episode of Mad Men will lead you to believe.

It works tirelessly to establish Don Draper. The man, the executive, the ladies man, the family man. He’s strikingly handsome. He’s effortlessly witty – ‘Freud, you say, what agency is he with?’. He’s compassionate towards women. In a man’s world – Don Draper is quite comfortable at the teetering top.

And don’t the middle line boys love him! As they stride around the office in their finely pressed cotton suits and shining wingtips they are near carbon copies of the man they oh so love – although the result is more like a somber parody and at times it borders upon homo erotic. So too, Salvatore highlights the awkward embarrassment that inevitably comes with this machoism and bravado, when he suggests ‘I want to be alone so I can do something about it’. Oh, doesn’t it just make you cringe!

Yet it works. We are drawn to Don and his ability to stand up for Peggy, and say what we all already think of Campbell despite it only being 10 or so minutes in to the episode – and he seems fallible. This is a man I could invest emotion in.

Despite this we aren’t given too much, at least not yet. Rather, the emphasis on this being an environment for only the strongest men is perpetuated. Joan, in big part, is perhaps the best at surmising this man’s world. As she prunes around the office introducing Peggy to her new environment and her new typewriter, she matter of factly notes that ‘the men who designed it made it simple enough for a woman to use’. One would wonder if she is simply referring to the typewriter, or the marginalised status women hold amongst the Mad Men.

Beautifully, Mad Men counters this with the powerfully astute Mrs. Menken. (Would it be too much to suggest her last name is a play on words on the plastic Ken doll and the Mad Men’s aspirations to this lofty perfectionism?). Certainly, Ms. Menken is a formidable force in a man’s world. Don doesn’t quite know how to take her. His charms don’t seem to have the same affect. Undoubtedly, she is the only suggestion of female triumph without the need to spread one’s legs that exists in this episode.

Furthermore, the episode opens up possible avenues for exploration. We see Don replacing his medal, the front inscribed with ‘Lieutenant Francis Donald Draper’. Interesting considering Campbell suggests he would follow Draper ‘into combat blindfolded’. Also, Campbell ends up back at Peggy’s house having been denied satisfaction at his buck’s party. Given he’s already ‘let her know what kinda guy you are’, it seems she already understand ‘what sort of girl she should be’. And the kicker – Draper’s got a wife and kids.

I just can’t wait to see what is to come out of this..


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