Mad Men: Babylon   Rewatch 
June 18, 2014 7:34 AM - Season 1, Episode 6 - Subscribe

A taboo office romance is revealed. At a brainstorming session, Peggy proves to be more than a secretary, opening up new opportunities for her at Sterling Cooper. Meanwhile, Rachel faces her conflicted feelings for Don after he seeks out her advice on a new campaign.
posted by Sweetie Darling (21 comments total)
 
Freddie's interest in Peggy may be because she reminds him of his daughter. His daughter's 30th birthday is part of the reason he gets so sloshed and pees himself — missing the Samsonite meeting.

Did Don deliberately get his tie dirty to trick Rachel into cleaning it?

I'm interested in hearing comments on the Babylon connection. It's usually used to explore the idea of exile, or problems with miscommunication. It seems like they're playing up the idea of exile, but I'm not sure how it connects to everyone.
posted by drezdn at 8:22 AM on June 18, 2014


"It was like watching a dog play the piano."
posted by Sweetie Darling at 8:28 AM on June 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


I feel like I'm already unaffected by Don's drinking -- like nothing can be as bad as in Marriage of Figaro. Mind you, it's not pointed out as heavily in other episodes as it was in that one; it's just there, in the background, much of the time.

Freddy: "Does anyone here speak moron?...Let's throw it to the girls." And Joan's line about the mirror being their worst enemy, while facing the one-way glass, and then the men blatantly insulting/objectifying them from the other side.

Peggy seems to be more made-up this episode (not counting the lipstick). Her outfits seem more put together as well.

There was a lot about the main men and their women in this episode. That was the overarching motif. Roger and Joan and Roger, Mona and Margaret, Don and Betty and Don and Midge and Don and Rachel. And the theme is escaping, being free, and finding utopia. But everyone is trapped in their worlds: Betty and her fear of losing her looks, and now she's bringing Sally into the same world. Joan and her relationship with Roger, knowing that it will never lead further (plus the heavy-handed bird in a cage), and Rachel...trapped in her identity as A Jewish Woman, perhaps, or in the relationship with her father, or maybe both.

PS Joan I totally saw the outline of your girdle. Totes inappropes.
posted by tracicle at 12:27 PM on June 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


"It was like watching a dog play the piano."

It's a great line because it's wildly sexist, but given how naive Peggy is, it's 100% true. Of all the women in that office, Peggy is the LAST one you'd expect to come out with something thought-provoking. Gosh, she is so wet behind those ears.

I think the play between Exodus and Babylon, of going towards the Promised Land, but of being thrown out at the same time is really important. The song Rivers of Babylon speaks about pining for freedom and missing Zion when the slaves were brought to Babylon. It's taken from Psalm 137


By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”


How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.


Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
“tear it down to its foundations!”
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.


So, not only is it about pining for Zion, it's also about remembering your origins, and being unmistakably who you are and of not being able to ever forget it. That last line is chilling too, when we think about Adam, who although not dashed against the rocks, is dead all the same. As though Don is revenging himself on his step-mother and father by rejecting Adam.

I could probably do a dissertation on this, but you see where my mind wanders.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:38 PM on June 18, 2014 [7 favorites]


I'm thinking about it now in contrast to "Ladies' Room" because although I didn't realise it on first or second watch, this is another episode about the women of Mad Men. But this time it's the women viewed from the perspective of the men. They are taken for granted, objectified, talked down to, blatantly insulted, ignored.

In fact, even the audience is encouraged not to take them too seriously: the "brainstorming" scene with squealing girls who think brainstorming sounds intimidating, viewed in slow motion to focus on their lips and the application of the lipstick, the lingering shot on Joan's backside. This is how they are viewed in everyday life in the offices of Madison Avenue by the men in power. Joan refuses to take it seriously, placing herself above it all, but she is just as objectified as the others.

I kind of want to watch Ladies' Room again, then this one, to look at the contrast directly. All the same women are in both episodes, I think (although Margaret is only spoken about, not present), but it's much more about how the women in the show interact with each other (Betty and Mona, Joan and Peggy).
posted by tracicle at 1:15 PM on June 18, 2014


Don: I flunked [Advanced Reproduction]
Betty: That's because you were caught cheating.

Duh duh dun! Betty thinks that by joking about the possibility of Don cheating, it can't be true.

Also, guys? Do you think Sal might be gay? Don said he was interested in Joan Crawford...
posted by donajo at 6:02 PM on June 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


This is my favorite first season episode of Mad Men and maybe my favorite ever. It could be the Jewish themes--Rachel's feelings about Israel are pretty close to the feelings of just about every American Jew I know. But it's also just gorgeous and has Peggy showing her chops. Just great.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:22 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh, I'd forgotten he gave her an actual bird in a cage. Wow.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:39 PM on June 18, 2014


Don had some uncompromising, unsentimental, and downright brutal lines this episode.

Don to Betty: "Mourning is just extended self-pity."

Betty's not allowed to feel melancholy or grieve for her mother? That's just great, Don

Don to Betty: "In New Guinea, pygmies grind up their ancestors and drink the powder in a beer."

I believe Don has already done this, hasn't he?

Roy: "So what do you do, Don?"
Don: "I blow up bridges."

Yes you do, Don.

Roy: "How do you sleep at night?"
Don: "On a bed made of money."

OK, Don.
posted by cwest at 10:18 PM on June 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


Betty's not allowed to feel melancholy or grieve for her mother? That's just great, Don

Given Don's past, I don't think he's the right person to comment on how Betty feels about her deceased mother. I need to start remembering that every time he tells her how inappropriate it is to grieve.
posted by tracicle at 10:28 PM on June 18, 2014


Given Don's past, I don't think he's the right person to comment on how Betty feels about her deceased mother.

I'll say.
posted by cwest at 10:37 PM on June 18, 2014


Also, Joan says to Peggy, "They wanted me to tell you. They were very specific about it. Well, you know what they say: the medium is the message."

The phrase "the medium is the message" became well-known due to Marshall McLuhan's book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. The book was published in 1964 and this episode takes place in May 1960, so the use of the phrase must be an anachronism.
posted by cwest at 11:07 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


The phrase "the medium is the message" became well-known due to Marshall McLuhan's book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. The book was published in 1964 and this episode takes place in May 1960, so the use of the phrase must be an anachronism

That stood out to me too. A rare mis-step.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:27 AM on June 19, 2014


I liked the way that Betty's candid, heartbreaking admittance that Don occupies her every waking thought while everything else is a fog is subtly mirrored in Roger's more mundane statement to Joan that he's been thinking about her all day.

I wasn't much of a fan of Rachel the first time around (nothing against her, just wasn't particularly invested in her and Don's flirtations), but I really felt for her when she was trying to convey the complexity of being Jewish.

Lots of things to ponder in this episode, I forgot that Mad Men was so rich ands emotionally complex from so very early on. And beautiful, too, this whole episode was masterfully shot and constructed.
posted by dumdidumdum at 6:29 AM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Also, three of the women mention their time in college: Betty studied Anthropology (but never uses it anymore), Rachel learned about utopia at Barnard, Joan met 'Carol the disaster' at college.

Roger worries because Margaret isn't interested in college, but we know that women went to college and were then expected to settle down, or find 'a more permanent situation' as Joan puts it.
posted by dumdidumdum at 6:35 AM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


McLuhan's The Mechanical Bride was published in 1951.
posted by brujita at 9:32 AM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


My first viewing of this ep I was annoyed by the brainstorming scene. It just seemed way too over the top--the girls preening and the guys literally going gaga over their bodies. But then I noticed how often Joan glanced at the mirror, and the mirror line quoted above. The women know exactly what this dumb exercise is about, and they put on a show for the execs on the other side of the screen because, like Betty, they know beauty is their number one job, like it or not. Especially love the looks between the older secretaries "Oh lord not this shit again..." Mad Men may be about privledged white men but it captures the eye rolls they get behind their backs really well.

The montage at the end though--I loved it before but now it seems too cribbed as a cheap ending from Northern Exposure/Sopranos. It's fine but, like, enough with the song montage endings everyone.

The real Exodus in this episode is Peggys. From one side of the mirror into the other. She isn't naive at all about the "brainstorming"--its true purpose-- she's disgusted. She doesn't want to pretend not to know she's being watched, she wants to do the watching, to craft the language and hence the experience of being a woman, not as a show, but as a human being. Freddy's "discovers" her in the rushes, but not by accident--she is destined to lead her people out of their slavery, but only by pretending to be one of the rulers.

This is episode one of an alternative version of this show called Fuck Yeah Peggy.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:43 AM on June 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


Mad Men in some ways can be summed up by this line of William Carlos Williams:
"The pure products of America
Go crazy-"
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:48 AM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


First of Don's flashbacks/seeing people who aren't there.

What a peculiar detail--Don's taking Betty only the comic strip section of the newspaper to read with her Mother's Day breakfast in bed. Is that how Don sees Betty (infantilized), or how he's come to believe she sees herself (as a young princess-in-the-making)?

I'd forgotten how heavy the running thread of Judaism/Israel is in this first season.

Margaret Sterling's first appearance! Making serious eyes at Don, no less.

Roger to Joan: "You like the pearl necklace I gave you?" SO not the question I want to hear a guy ask post-coitus. Ick.
posted by ChrisTN at 3:17 PM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


The real Exodus in this episode is Peggys. From one side of the mirror into the other. She isn't naive at all about the "brainstorming"--its true purpose-- she's disgusted. She doesn't want to pretend not to know she's being watched, she wants to do the watching, to craft the language and hence the experience of being a woman, not as a show, but as a human being. Freddy's "discovers" her in the rushes, but not by accident--she is destined to lead her people out of their slavery, but only by pretending to be one of the rulers.

Yeah. Part of the language of this show is to focus on someone's still face (or the back of their head) while commotion or go-nowhere-blabber is going on around them and they are figuring out the actual pitch. We've seen it done a few times with Don by now (and are introduced to him with a track into the back of his head in the pilot's cold open, while he's working on Lucky Strike) but this is the first time we've seen it with someone else and it's all about Peggy taking her time in that room to figure out the angles.

She doesn't get her color, and abstains from trying any others.

She watches the other women "kissing" (really more like biting) the tissues.

She thinks.

When the already-drunk Freddy Rumsen asks for the trash samples, she's been hanging back in order to deliver them herself and give the "basket of kisses" line, which was clearly a little over-rehearsed in her head. Joan catches what's going on here. Freddy of course doesn't, but can appreciate a brilliant turn of phrase (particularly considering how much he needs one.)

She feigns naiveté while Rumsen asks where she heard the phrase, and gets him into the conversation where she can give the second half of the pitch (not wanting to be one color in a box of a hundred) and I think even uses Joan's insistence on scooting her away to leave Rumsen with some curiosity about her while still keeping up the façade of "innocence" about it all.

It's something Don would have seen straight through, and his ego is such that the way she played it would have made him blind to how good her ideas were. But it's perfect for Rumsen, who then can present the idea to Don directly (while, to his very limited credit, acknowledging that she came up with it) and thus Don is engaged and sold.

It's really very brilliant. Fuck yeah, Peggy.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:48 PM on March 22, 2019


The book was published in 1964 and this episode takes place in May 1960, so the use of the phrase must be an anachronism.
I think the "anachronism" was deliberate. McLuhan could well have visited Stirling Cooper as part of a preparation for client pitches, in this era. He would probably have been using this phrase for a few years before he put it into print and Joan might have heard. But, the even more satisfying explanation is that it was Joan (or Peggy) who went on taught the phrase to McLuhan - who then used it without attribution. Joan, for sure, would be somebody who understands precisely how to use her appearance as the medium to convey the message desired. It is far more interesting to have her use the phrase before it became popular, as a leader, than afterwards when it was a cliche.
posted by rongorongo at 2:39 AM on July 28, 2019


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