Spoiler Alert Thursday: Mad Men, “The Summer Man”

(In which Joey turns out to be a total asshole, big surprise.)

I guess it was inevitable that Don would fall for Dr. Faye. She’s smart, she’s pretty, she’s professionally serious, and she’s not — as evidenced by her flat Bronx (?) accent and hollering match in the telephone booth — a little ice princess in the Betty mold.

Faye is also interesting because she’s the third professionally successful woman at SCDP, and the one whose professional strategies are the most complex.

The series so far has been most interested in Peggy’s professional advancement. Peggy’s method for getting ahead at Sterling Cooper, and now at SCDP, has been totally straightforward. She’s out to prove that anything men can do, she can do better. But she’s not a man, and we’ve seen her confront the limitations of her strategy time and again. She has to work twice as hard and be twice as smart as the men — and even then, she gets less respect than her male cohort, and almost certainly less pay.

A couple weeks ago she dealt with bad behavior from Rizzo by meeting him on his own terms and outdoing him — in the hotel stripdown scene, she proved, once again, that she’s just as good or better than a man, by being even more macho and shameless than he was. This week, she has to deal with more bad behavior, this time from Joey. But now, as Don reminds her, she’s actually Joey’s boss. She doesn’t have to play Joey’s game at Joey’s level — she has achieved a status where she can yell at him or fire him, and ultimately, she does both.

The problem with this is exactly as Joan says. As long as she was little Peggy Olsen, working harder for less pay, people like Freddy Rumsen loved her — she was a smart little girl, a “ballerina,” a cute and harmless pet. When she had risen a bit in the ranks, but was still at the level of Joey and Rizzo, they treated her like a bit of a freak, but with grudging respect. Now that she’s more powerful than some of the men, and not afraid to say so, they’ll think of her, as Joan points out, as a “humorless bitch.”

But holy cow, it’s not like Joan’s way is any better! Her strategy is to play combination nursemaid and siren to every high-ranking man in the office. I guess this worked for her in the ’50s and early ’60s. But now that she’s getting older, her beauty doesn’t automatically afford her power like it used to, and the younger men laugh at her seductive poses and think of her as a nagging mom.

When Peggy fires Joey for harassing Joan, Joan puts Peggy in her place by telling her she could have taken care of the situation better herself. Joan would have had a private dinner with the Sugarberry Ham executive, by the end of which she would have had him wrapped around her little finger. Peggy is stunned by the realization that she actually hasn’t done Joan any favors, and that maybe Joan’s way of thinking is right.

Except that Joan isn’t right, at all. The problem with Joan’s strategy is the flipside of the the problem with Peggy’s. Peggy may be viewed as a humorless bitch, but does anyone really believe that if Joan’s plan had succeeded, the men in the office would have let her off the hook? Joey already calls her rape bait and compares her to the madam of a Shanghai brothel. If she had turned on her Joanie magic and convinced Sugarberry to take Joey off the account, the men would have just added manipulative whore to their list of epithets.

In other words, the dilemma faced by ambitious women at SCDP face isn’t about which strategy is the winning one, because there isn’t any winning strategy. Any woman with a little ambition, who isn’t content to be a performing pet or a meaningless secretary, is going to be a target. Her only choice in the matter is whether she’ll be hated for being a bitch, or despised for being a whore.*

So where is Dr. Faye in all this? When we first met her, she seemed to be working in the Peggy vein — wearing a suit, running a meeting, talking like a man in a man’s world. But later, she pulls on a fuzzy sweater and seduces the hell out of a group of secretaries in the focus group room. It’s interesting that where Joan deploys her powers of feminine persuasion against people in power, Faye saves this tool for use on a conventionally powerless sector of the office populace. It’s partly a function of their jobs — Joan is administrative staff, serving account and creative executives, whereas Faye is a psychologist, trying to figure out how to manipulate the public. But Faye doesn’t wear that tight sweater outside the focus group room. She’s certainly pretty enough that she could use her sex appeal to her advantage, but in the conference room with the men, she chooses not to.

To some extent, what sets Faye apart from Joan and Peggy is how deliberate and conscious she is about the uses to which her femininity can be put. For Joan, a sexpot is simply what she is — she doesn’t know how to be any different. And Peggy couldn’t play that game if she tried. Faye is more shrewd than either of them. She can be all business in the board room, but she can also turn the charm up to 11 when she thinks it might do her some good, and she says as much to Don when he asks her how she manages to always get what she wants from people. (Notably, she’s at dinner with Don when this comes up, and what she actually says, by way of a long-winded retelling of an Aesop’s fable, is that when she wants to, she can get people so hot that they can’t wait to take their clothes off.)

In practice, Faye’s calculated deployment of gendered power strategies looks pretty misogynist. She clearly has low regard for the secretaries — she dumbs herself way down in order to get to their level, and summarizes her findings from that focus group by concluding that all women want, after all, is to find themselves a man to marry. When she dresses up as one of the girls, she does it with an eye roll – she has to look like a kitten so the other kittens will play with her, but she makes a point of changing into those clothes after she gets to the office. She wants to make it clear to the men that this is just a drag act for her; it’s not really who she is.

On the other hand, it’s not like she holds men in particular high esteem, either. (And she certainly uses costume to mislead men as well as women, as with her fake wedding ring.) The more important key to her character seems to be that she is a little bit of a sociopath, like Don. She thinks she’s smarter than everyone else in the room, and her interest in other people is largely limited by her ability to manipulate them. When Allison, for example, abandons the focus group in a burst of tears, Faye immediately loses interest in her – in fact, within a matter of minutes she literally forgets who Allison is.

Earlier this season, she told Don that he’s just a type, and a predictable one at that. She’s smarter than him, in other words; she has his number and can play him in her game. But in this episode, he defeats her expectations by not trying to sleep with her,** and by surprising her, he manages to win her respect. This is how sociopaths fall in love, I guess. It will be interesting to see how being the boss’s girlfriend will affect Faye’s status at the office. I expect we’ll get to find out, soon enough, how Faye negotiates that particular minefield of office gender politics.

*Sadly, Joan seems to think that power, as between herself and Peggy, is a zero-sum game. In Joan’s view, two possibilities exist: 1) Joan goes behind the scenes and takes charge of the situation, and Peggy remains what she was, a copywriter with no power in terms of personnel matters; 2) Peggy asserts herself as powerful, and Joan is diminished to a meaningless secretary. Peggy doesn’t think that way, because one of her primary character traits is her cluelessness when it comes to interpersonal dynamics; and also because Peggy mostly measures herself against Don and the other men, not against Joan. In the long run, Joan’s view is self-defeating and probably wrong — power isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a zero-sum game between women. But for the purposes of this moment, and this episode, Joan has got the situation down pat. There can’t be more than one queen bee at SCDP, and Joan isn’t it anymore.

**For crying out loud, Faye, it’s only like the oldest gambit in the playbook. What kind of psychologist are you?

7 thoughts on “Spoiler Alert Thursday: Mad Men, “The Summer Man”

  1. I enjoyed this analysis, jms and agreed except for on demurral: I think there’s more to Don’s “move” in the cab than the “oldest gambit in the playbook.” Nor can we be certain yet that she has actually been especially won over by it (I think that move was for us not for Faye–to show us what his in on about; to see more about this see my comments on Adam K’s recent post on the Kritik blog which you’ll find here
    http://unitcrit.blogspot.com/2010/09/next-in-our-multi-authored-series-of.html ).

    I too am intrigued by Faye’s accent: one of the few Mad Men characters to actually _have_ a New York accent despite the show’s ostensible NYC setting. Which I find quite charming. Bronx? You may be right!

    As I say in those comment (but without time to elaborate right now), I was kind of disappointed by the overheard phone booth argument with David as a contrivance for making her suddenly receptive. But you are right that she is not a Betty, though a fly blonde to be sure.

  2. I think there’s more to Don’s “move” in the cab than the “oldest gambit in the playbook.” . . . . (I think that move was for us not for Faye–to show us what his in on about

    I totally agree, Lauren — my footnote was mostly facetious.

    W/r/t the phone booth conversation, I thought it was more to show that Don was surprised and charmed by how crude she turned out to be. (I thought it was pretty charming.) I don’t think it was necessary to create a contrivance to make Faye receptive, since she already signaled her potential receptivity when she confessed to Don that her wedding ring was a fake (even if she subsequently deflected his advances when he was drunk). But there’s not much to go on, so your guess is as good as mine.

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