Monday, September 01, 2008

Jackie, Marilyn and the Infanta

This Mad Men episode deals with self-image, employing mirrors as a visual theme holding it all together, and, as the title "Maidenform" suggests, undergarments. The episode opens with shots of Betty, Joan and Peggy putting on their undergarments to The Decemberists' "The Infanta," and it's ripe with metaphor. As we find out later in an ad campaign idea, there are really two types of women, Jackie (Kennedy) and Marilyn. Betty is setup to be Jackie Kennedy, while Joan is all Marilyn (or, as Kinsey points out later, "Marilyn's really a Joan,") and both are shot initially, from the point of view of the mirror. Betty and Joan are comfortable with their appearance in the mirror, and unconsciously have an understanding of their place in the Jackie/Marilyn archetype.

Meanwhile, though, Peggy is shot without a mirror in the frame (I assume she's looking into one, but it's purposely left out of the shot,) as she's unsure of who she really is. Peggy, who's obviously neither Jackie nor Marilyn (Irene Dunn?) is a bit like the protagonist in the backing song, "The Infanta," a blank-slated heir who's presented with the different female archetypes (of the 19th century) that she has to look forward to. The song is understandably a bit jarring at first, but that's mostly because, until know, they've stuck with period music for the content of the show. After watching it a couple times now, it works much better knowing this song's context, and if Mad Men were looking for a modern band to pop it's cherry, it kind of makes sense for it to be the hyper-literary Decemberists.

Of course, while Kinsey's idea of using Jackie and Marilyn as a proxy for the Madonna/Whore complex was a good idea, it would've been a bit disastrous if Playtex had run with it, as around the time the ad would making a splash in magazines, Marilyn would be dead, and those ads would be pulled faster than Mohawk Airlines' ads in the wake of the Flight 1 crash. The Madonna/Whore thing comes up most prominently with Don's women. When Bobbie reveals that she has kids, Don has to process the information, finding his whore is also a mother. Same goes for Arthur when he sees Betty's kids. Betty notices his repulsion and decides to play up the whore/Marilyn side by getting a bikini. Don again, likes to keep his Madonna and his whore separate, so he's noticeably upset, and while Don was a bit rude in his assertion that it was "desperate," beyond the 'whore' aspect, it's actually a defendable position. The bikini in May of 1962 was an uncommon thing, something that a housewife especially would never wear. It wouldn't be until the following year when US audiences first saw Ursula Andress making a splash in her white bikini, in the first James Bond film Dr. No (premiered in the US in May of '63). That was the bikini that gained the swimsuit social acceptance in the United States, and so we're really a year away from it being acceptable for Betty to wear one.

The use of mirrors was a clever way to show the two sides of everyone, especially Don, the Duke of duplicity. But Don's mirror's got a growing crack in it. Bobbie, for one, reveals to Don that he's really the whore of the series, gaining the kind of reputation amongst professional women that's usually reserved for 'the whore.' Seeing himself for who he truly is, Don is revolted. On top of that, Don's having a much harder time compartmentalizing his duplicity, especially now that there are others privy to his secrets. Peggy and Bobbie both have provided reminders to Don about the accident, and it seems to rattle him each time. Since he keeps the accident in the same blind spot as Dick Whitman, the holes poked in that balloon have his big lie leaking out with the smaller lie. The first look of admiration from his daughter Sally, at the Memorial Day party, reminds him of his big lie's genesis. The final look while he's shaving, brings up his adultery, as she says "I won't talk, Daddy," reminding him that he's giving his daughter the same orders that he gives his mistress, and they both can't help but talk anyway.

That may have been the last image we saw, but the image that sticks in my mind is how Peggy's story ends, in the gentleman's Tom Tom Club. While Bobbie's tutelage didn't completely take hold since last week's episode, getting some reminder advice from Joan set Peggy in a direction that was both predictable and uncomfortable to watch. Tarting up her appearance and sitting in a client's lap will probably help her move up, but as we see in her mirror here, Pete, it's not a pretty site. Joan recommended that she stop dressing like a little girl, but even with the dress and makeup, she's still sitting on someone's lap, being treated like "The Infanta," as referenced in the opening.

Previously: Meet The New Girl (Episode 2.05)

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

What about "the Great Divide" by the cardigans in episode two last year? They've had modern music before.

drake leLane said...

The Cardigans song was just during the closing credits, not during the actual content of the show.

Which is why I had the clarification: "they've stuck with period music for the content of the show"

Bumpershine said...

I was a little put off the anachronistic music.

drake leLane said...

It's technically not anachronistic, since it's not music the characters can hear, but yes, since the show has stuck to period music during the content thus far, it feels weird to hear.

Harvey said...

The song felt self-conscious to me. Constraints are just as toxic to a show as inconsistency, but still ....

According to "The House Next Door" the song was originally supposed to run over the final scene and end credits of "Shoot" last season. And in the context of the intent, it definitely works better in "Maidenform" but I hope they don't make a habit of new music, just like I wouldn't want to see them using more contemporary editing styles.

Does anybody know why they posted a warning against drinking and driving before the episode? Did they get flack for last week or something?

drake leLane said...

Yeah, I was interested in seeing what Andrew Johnston (House Next Door) had to say on The Decemberists' placement, since he got caught in the switcharoo on it last season.

While doing my piece, I was going to include that bit if Johnston got confirmation on it's intended use, but his piece wasn't ready, so I went without. Just as well, since there's no confirmation, it's still just an assumption based on it's placement on the screener.

RE MUSIC: Mad Men seems to be trying to break constrains set up last season on several fronts. Like the first episode contained a slow motion sequence, where the music slipped out of diegetic mode, and it felt weird to me initially because of these constraints in my mind. I expect moments like this to slip in more and more as the season goes on, because if this series is going to go on for the 5-6 years, these constrains will begin to seem more and more claustrophobic.

RE DRUNK DRIVING: They ran a season 2 mini-marathon before the episode. The drinking and driving warning came at the end of last episode, not before tonight's episode.

Christopher said...

The infanta is also the child, the one to whom you leave your bequest, the products of your worldly life. The theme of children and what parents give them runs throughout the episode.

drake lelane said...

I guess I didn't spell out infanta as child, assuming that it was obvious (infant+a,) but hopefully the context of the last paragraph spoke to it enough (Peggy is infantalized first by Joan and then by the client).