Mad Men S1E2: “Ladies Room”

Directed by Alan Taylor | Written by Matthew Weiner | 47 min

Secretary Blues

By Colin Hart 

8.4 / 10

The first episode of Mad Men was written seven years before the rest of the series was even conceived. Following up such a perfect premiere is a tall task indeed, no matter how much time you have. As a result, “Ladies Room” can sometimes feel a little arbitrary, as if series creator Matthew Weiner is just checking off boxes on the prestige TV playbook.

The larger focus this episode is Don’s stay-at-home wife, Betty, whose existence wasn’t revealed until the final scene of the pilot. Played by a cool and distant January Jones, Betty has her own inner turmoil which has yet to be explored, such as the recent death of her mother and the instability of her marriage. Her plight is sympathetic, though her childish naïveté is cause for concern.

Mad Men prides itself on providing equal opportunity for its female characters, but Betty comes across as the least compelling so far. 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, comes to realize just how much of a cesspool the office environment really is. 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?”).

The finest scene of the episode is a mesmerizing slo-mo of the leering male executives marking Peggy as their newest object of desire. Her realization of how hard it is to be a woman at the workplace has slightly dulled the wide-eyed credulity she carried in the premiere.

Nothing against Elizabeth Moss, who is a fantastic actress, but Peggy has acted a little weird thus far. Now that she’s finally receiving some 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.

But with secondary characters notwithstanding, the only guy we really want to spend time with is Don Draper. Once again, the charismatic Jon Hamm delivers every line and movement with eye-catching confidence. The episode calls attention to Don’s troubled past, a secret he keeps closely guarded and never discusses. With every scene, Mr. Draper becomes more and more captivating. Or maybe irresistible is the word?

But even he’s not enough to keep “Ladies Room” from being one of the least memorable episodes in the show’s entire run. Even the final scene, which will become the series’ bread and butter, leaves much to be desired.

Mergers & Acquisitions
  • Despite this being a relatively weak Mad Men installment, “Ladies Room” still features the dazzling visuals and warm colors that helped make the pilot such a visual treat. However, the overall weaker material means that the costuming and set design won’t be able to singlehandedly carry this show through a slog. Luckily, that won’t ever need to happen.
  • Paul Kinsey makes quite the impression as the office’s resident bohemian, as pretentious as the pipe he smokes. He quotes Rod Serling (sign o’ the times: The Twilight Zone!) and thinks he’s Orson Welles. Other than that, he’s pretty cool.
  • This week’s edition of Advertising Metaphor for Life Itself comes when Don is trying to come up with a deodorant campaign and asks the question, “What do women want?
  • 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.

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