Mad Men S1E2: “Ladies Room”

“Second-Episode Syndrome”

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 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 is just outlining broad strokes from the Prestige TV Playbook.

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.

Though her plight is sympathetic, Betty’s childish naïveté is cause for concern. It doesn’t help that she’s the least compelling character so far. Just because she goes to therapy and has an adulterous husband doesn’t automatically make her as interesting as Carmela Soprano.



Elsewhere, Don’s new secretary, Peggy Olson, realizes that Sterling Cooper advertising agency is a cesspool of 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 feminism. 

But now that she’s finally receiving some sexual attention, should she do as Joan Holloway suggests, and just “enjoy it while it lasts?”


Joan and Peggy Ladies Room Mad Men S1E2

“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 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. 

But even he’s not enough to keep “Ladies Room” from being one of the least memorable episodes in the show’s entire run.

Mergers & Acquisitions

  • The aforementioned “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” was recorded by The Andrews Sisters back in 1950, and is perfectly used 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.
  • The episode ends with Don calling Betty’s therapist, asking for a report on their first session. Don handpicked this particular psychiatrist because he has no regard 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 Advertising Metaphor for Life comes when Don is trying to come up with 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.

Sloganeering

  • “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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