“Ladies Room” Review
“Second Episode Syndrome”
The first episode of Mad Men was written seven years before the rest of the series was even conceived. Following up such a carefully-constructed premiere was always going to be tough. As a result, “Ladies Room” can sometimes feel a little arbitrary, as if series creator Matthew Weiner was just flipping through pages of the Prestige TV PlaybookTM.
In Mad Men‘s second episode, a larger focus is given to Don’s stay-at-home wife, Betty, whose existence wasn’t even revealed until the final scene of the pilot. Played by a cool and distant January Jones, Betty is clinically depressed with her seemingly idyllic lifestyle. The recent passing of her mother, coupled with the unstable nature of her marriage, causes her to literally drive her car off the road. Luckily, no one is hurt (she was only going 20 miles per hour).
Though Betty’s childish naïveté is sympathetic, her storyline isn’t necessarily compelling. Just because she goes to therapy and has an adulterous husband doesn’t mean she’s Carmela Soprano.
Elsewhere, Don’s new secretary, Peggy Olson, quickly realizes that Sterling Cooper advertising agency is a cesspool of sexism and misogyny. It seems that every guy in the office only has one thing on his mind. Case in point: after befriending a seemingly good-natured copywriter named Paul Kinsey, Peggy quickly gets a taste of his true intentions when he tries to have sex with her in his office. “Do you belong to someone else?” he asks.
The best scene of the episode is a mesmerizing slo-mo of the leering male executives marking Peggy as their newest object of desire (set to The Andrews Sisters’ “I Can Dream, Can’t I?“). The wide-eyed credulity she displayed in the pilot has been dulled and replaced with a hardened sense of disenchantment.
But now that she’s finally receiving some sexual attention, should she do as Joan Holloway suggests and just “enjoy it while it lasts?”
“Ladies Day” suffers from typical second-episode syndrome. It may not be a rehash of the pilot, but it’s a somewhat boring restart — a necessary sidestep to develop the secondary characters.
Nevertheless, the only guy we really want to spend time with is Don Draper. Once again, the charismatic Jon Hamm delivers every line with eye-catching confidence. The episode calls attention to Don’s troubled past, a secret he keeps closely guarded and never discusses. Every scene with Don is captivating, as he’s already the most interesting character in television history.
Yet even he’s not enough to keep “Ladies Room” from being one of the least memorable episodes in the show’s entire run. It’s not a “bad” episode, by any means, but it is inferior relative to Mad Men‘s impossibly high standards. When the biggest action comes from a slow motion car crash and Midge Daniels spontaneously throwing a TV out the window, it’ll be a dull day.
Luckily, Mad Men remains the most dazzling series on basic cable. During a boring episode like this, we’re still intoxicated by the elegant scenery and absorbing attention to detail. The world that Mad Men inhabits is filled with life, even if most of the characters so far (other than Don, Peggy and Roger Sterling) lack spirit.
But let’s not bury the lede: solid world-building is all we should want from a second episode. Mad Men is already ahead of schedule in that department, instilling confidence in the viewers that the rest will follow suit.
MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS
- The aforementioned “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” was recorded by The Andrews Sisters back in 1950 and is used to perfect effect in the episode’s best scene. But perhaps more noteworthy is “Great Divide” by Swedish alt-rock band The Cardigans, which plays over the end credits. Is this the only time that Mad Men used a song from beyond the show’s timeline? Even though it’s a pretty good tune, it noticeably breaks Matthew Weiner’s stiff criteria.
- Example #1 of Betty being a terrible parent: when Betty worries about young Sally Draper getting injured in the car crash, she laments the possibility of her having to go through life with an ugly scar across her face. Dying never crossed her mind.
- Example #2 of Betty being a terrible parent: when Sally is playing “spaceman” by crawling inside a plastic dry cleaning bag, Betty scolds her for scattering clothes on the ground. Suffocating never crossed her mind.
- The episode ends with Don calling Betty’s therapist, asking for a report on their first session. Don handpicked this particular psychiatrist due to his complete disregard for doctor-patient confidentiality. The doctor relays the info to Don so that Don can keep a closer eye on his wife.
- This week’s Ads Imitate Life moment comes when Don works on a campaign for deodorant and asks the question, “What do women want?”
- “Ladies Room” was written by series creator Matthew Weiner and directed by Alan Taylor.
- “I can never get over the fact that most of the time it looks like you’re doing nothing.”
- “Honestly, why is it that every time a man takes you out to lunch around here, you’re … you’re the dessert?!”
- “I don’t know you that well, but you’re the new girl, and you’re not much, so you might as well enjoy it while it lasts.”