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News and reviews for the big and small screens…where potatoes fear to tread.

Knock Knock ~ Masculinity and Mad Men’s Mystery Date

Mad Men is…past its peak (much like Don). I hate to say it. We’re nowhere near break-up status, but I just haven’t found s5 so far to be as gut wrenchingly fantastic as the previous seasons (I cried during every single episode of s2).

But there are still nuggets of brilliance and a lot to think about. Last week’s episode, Mystery Date, wasn’t exactly the subtlest of scripts, but there were several very interesting things to analyse and I found myself lingering on it for days afterwards. Clearly the episode had a lot to say about violence against women, and as such we could take it as female-centric. However, I think it equally had a lot to say about masculinity, a theme which ran through many of the episode’s sub-plots:

Pete and Roger

Pete was always the show’s go-to character for exploring masculinity. For example, in season 1, his obsession with hunting reflected his insecurities; later, he found potential impotence devastating.

But now Pete seems much happier (perhaps because he is now a father?) – to the point where he feels he can challenge Roger for dominance within the firm. Their one-upmanship provides a strong vein of comedy throughout s5 so far, but also highlights the way that old fashioned masculinity must give way to the younger.

Peggy and Dawn

This was a very interesting subplot in that it explored mulitiple conflicts, including race and class as well as gender.

Earlier in the episode, Peggy showed that she was able to spar with Roger – and win. Her talent and confidence have come on leaps and bounds, and by taking on the Mohawk work she proved she was equal to any man.

Finding Dawn sleeping in the office, Peggy offers to take her home. This is not the first time Peggy has put up a virtual stranger (Bobbie Barrett in s2), but this action also reminds us of Don, who has also invited girls home from the office on several occasions. Dawn points out that Peggy drinks too much, again showing how she’s taken on the manly traits of her colleagues. However, she is unhappy with this, expressing to Dawn her concern that she is acting too much like a man. Perhaps she is remembering Bobbie’s advice – to ‘be a woman’ rather than take on the guys at their own game.

Don and Andrea

Don is looking more and more like a shadow of his former self. Settling down seems to have robbed him of his creative mojo – in the pitch with the shoe company, upstart Ginsberg seizes his chance to jump in with an off the cuff idea which the company loves. Ordinarily this would be Don’s territory, but now he just upbraids Ginsberg for going off script. Like Roger, Don is on the verge of being replaced.Furthermore, his marriage is no longer a simple equation of dominant husband and submissive wife – Megan (raging bitch or modern woman?) fights back.

So it is perhaps fitting that his creepy stalker in this episode is called Andrea, derived from the Greek for ‘manliness’ (andreia). Despite his wish to be a faithful husband, Andrea’s appearance suggests that he cannot escape from his sexual past. This prompts him to strangle her in his fever dream, a symbolic gesture suggesting he is rejecting his past self in favour of a more domestic lifestyle.

However, there is a more sinister suggestion here that violence and masculinity go hand in hand. The constant references to the Speck murder case create an atmosphere laden with misogyny and fetishised aggression. The implication, which Sally Draper understands all too well, is that any man at the door could be a potential killer. Ginsberg’s Cinderella story similarly suggests that the princess’s pursuer could be nice or nasty (although she doesn’t care because he’s handsome and gives her a nice shoe.. *eyeroll*).

And Don’s ladykilling impulses (however you choose to interpret that) seem to be lurking underneath the veneer of domestic bliss. I predict trouble…

Joan and Greg

Here, violence against women was really the dominant theme, but we did see some treatment of masculinity. Greg shows the aforementioned ambiguity by fulfilling the role of loving husband and rapist. He rejects family life and the feminine sphere for a life in the army (a life saturated with violence), also finding his masculinity buoyed by the respect of other men (‘they make me feel like a good man’).

Later, we get one of Mad Men’s deliciously constructed shots showing Joan, Kevin and her mum lying on the bed. This prompts us to consider Kevin’s future in an all-female family. What kind of man will he grow up to be? What will his place be in a world of changing gender dynamics?

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One Response to “Knock Knock ~ Masculinity and Mad Men’s Mystery Date”

  1. […] it. It is surely no coincidence that Megan is shooting the very Butler series mentioned in ‘Mystery Date‘ – the one where we learned that the man who is chasing you could be a lover or a […]


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