4.9 The Beautiful Girls
It began as such a normal episode for Don. The Beautiful Girls opened with the Madison Avenue lothario engaged in the kind of horizontal activity with his new love interest, Faye, that wrecks bedside lamps. Later, he enjoyed a relaxing swim (as we learned last week, swimming appears to have replaced drinking industrial-strength liquor as Don’s hobby of choice), before heading off for an extended lunch, probably in an expensive restaurant.
And then things went all Fawlty Towers. During a tense meeting with Fillmore Auto Parts (who, we learn elsewhere, are massively, horribly racist), Don’s daughter makes an unexpected appearance, having somehow navigated her way through Manhattan’s subway network.
Then, just when he thinks he has things back under control, and having seated himself back in the meeting room, his secretary abruptly dies. The formidable Miss Blankenship, the source of so many great lines, and whose voice could stop clocks, shuffled off this mortal coil while still seated at her desk.
It’s a bizarre, oddly disquieting moment, easily ranking alongside season three’s hideous ride-on lawnmower incident as the show’s most blackly comic. Having provided so much amusement a scene or two before (her dismissive “The hell it is” dismissal of Bert as he failed to solve a crossword puzzle was priceless), one of Mad Men’s most colourful characters had popped her clogs.
Desperate not to make a scene in front of his prospective clients, Don hastily commands a couple of minions to move Miss Blankenship’s now lifeless body from behind her desk (“Get a man!”), before rushing back to the meeting with a weary “So, where were we?”
From his vantage point, Don can see the macabre sight of the late secretary’s corpse being dragged away with an old blanket draped over her.
As I’ve said in previous episodes, the writers of Mad Men enjoy tying each week’s events together with an overarching theme. In an episode as morbid as this, it stands to reason that this week was more than a little preoccupied with sex and death.
Having opened with Don’s new squeeze, Faye, in the throes of (off-screen) ecstasy, it then descended into the valley of death – shell-shocked at the sudden death of Miss Blankenship, a maudlin Roger Sterling (top line: “I want to go to my favourite restaurant and drink a glass of cyanide”) convinces his old flame Joan to accompany him for a meal.
After a pleasant night out, the pair make the odd decision to trudge back home through what appears to be the most dilapidated part of the city. Predictably, they’re soon mugged at gunpoint. Unpredictably, this appears to arouse them both uncontrollably, and it’s possible that, with Joan’s husband now off in basic training , Joan and Roger’s relationship could reignite properly at any moment.
But as strange in tone and amusing as The Beautiful Girls is, there are serious moments, too – Peggy’s becoming increasingly politicised, despite her initial resistance, and that she’s beginning to find her working life clashing with her new-found ideals.
There’s also a genuinely touching, beautifully written line late on. As Bert struggles to write a fitting obituary for Miss Blankenship, he utters the following: “She was born in 1889 in a barn, and died on the 37th floor of a skyscraper. She was an astronaut.”
As for Don, things continue to get worse. Having placated his daughter Sally with a trip to the zoo, she later throws a particularly vocal tantrum when she learns she has to return home, and in the process of running away, lands flat on her face.
Don’s summary of the episode’s events are accurate, though less poetic than Bert’s: “Jesus, what a mess.” Classic Mad Men.
Read our review of episode 8, The Summer Man, here.
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