After a tortuous 17 month long hiatus, AMC's four-time Emmy-winning Mad Men will return on March 25th with a two hour premiere. The show notoriously takes time jumps equivalent to its season span (the pilot was set in 1960, Season 5 in 1965) so the turbulence of the late '60s is rapidly approaching. This was a rough era for women. With the stability of the '50s behind them but the revolution of the '70s still years away, the three main women find themselves in an era of motivation yet stagnation. Let's take a look into the lives of Betty, Joan and Peggy and how they're dealing with such a conflicted time.
Elizabeth "Betty" Francis, formerly Draper (January Jones)
When we first met Don Draper's Mrs. she seemed like your typical '50s suburban housewife. Little did we know there was more beneath that perfectly coiffed blond bob. Betty's simmering unhappiness and resentment toward her husband grew as she realized that times were changing and that the obligations she had signed up for weren't satisfying. After all, why should she adhere to societal norms if Don wasn't going to hold up his end of the bargain? But Betty was also out of touch with the greater world around her. This was most prominent in the Season One episode "Shoot" where Betty tried to reinvigorate her modeling career. Betty's obliviousness to her husband's advertising world was evident as she sat in a waiting room, clad in a typical 1950s full skirt while the models around her shuffled around her in their modern pencil skirts. Her dissatisfaction hit the boiling point during the Season Two finale when she engaged in some revenge sex with a stranger in a bar.
The question is: why do we, the audience, despise Betty so much? It was Don who was the initial adulterer with his multiple affairs and caddish ways. Is it January Jones' cold portrayal? Jones has been accused of cold, flat acting in other projects, but her talents seem specifically tailored to play Betty Draper. Yet, Betty earned some sympathy when her father suffered a stroke in Season Two. In the episode "Inheritance," Betty's close relationship with her father and tumultuous one with her stepmother revealed more of her damaged psyche. In Seasons Three and Four we watched Betty deal with her father's death, and come into her own by pursuing a relationship with a local politician, requesting a divorce from Don and attempting a new life. So what does 1965 hold for Betty? Notable absences may be in store as a result of Jones' own pregnancy, but there's so much tension between her and Don, something big must be on the horizon. I'm going to guess that it has to do with unruly daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka) or maybe even a final breakup sexual encounter with Don.
Joan Harris, née Holloway (Christina Hendricks)
Joan Holloway was the office bombshell. A confident, powerhouse of a woman, Joan thought herself modern in every way. She was on the birth control pill, having an affair with head honcho Roger Sterling (John Slattery) and knew how to work her sexuality to get ahead. But Joan's conflict came from her attempts to maintain the norms expected of her while her forward-thinking personality fought against them. Early in Season One, a co-worker cruelly posted a photocopy of her driver's license on a bulletin board, revealing that she was 30 years old. Embarrassed that she was unmarried at such an age, Joan ended things with Roger and found herself a fiancé shortly thereafter. Joan began to second-guess her importance in the workplace, however, when she temporarily helped out with script reading for Harry Crane (Rich Sommer). She excelled at the job, but was brushed aside when a male replacement came in.
Things got even rougher for Joan in Season Two when she attempted a little adventure in the bedroom with new fiancé Greg. After brushing her off, Greg visited Joan the next day at work where he raped her inside Don's office. That moment was a harsh reminder that women's lib hadn't yet hit their world, and Joan could still be the victim of sexual violence from her own partner. Season Three saw Joan and Greg attempting married life, but with Greg's failed medical career came Joan's best moment. Having lost out on a promotion, Greg claimed that Joan had no idea what it was like "to want something your whole life," and not get it. Bad call, Greg. When Joan grabbed a nearby vase and smashed it over Greg's head, women the world over cheered her audacity. In a shocking twist, Greg turned his career around in Season Four and joined the army as a staff surgeon heading to Vietnam. For comfort, Joan turned to Roger and found herself in trouble with an unplanned pregnancy. Her age snuck up on her once again while in an abortion clinic waiting room, where another woman assumed she was an accompanying mother. We later learned that Joan has kept the baby while assuring Greg that it's his. Season Five will no doubt address Joan's child, but something tells me things aren't going to go well for Greg.
Margaret "Peggy" Olson (Elisabeth Moss)
Peggy Olson is the not-so-little secretary that could. She may seem the meekest of the three women, but with her focus on her job and refusal to let personal relationships cloud her judgment, she is the most modern of them all; a hint of the women's lib movement to come. Peggy started out Season One as Don's new secretary. While she had a rough start, she quickly got the hang of things with some suggestions from Joan and catching on to Don's extracurricular activities. Her promotion to copywriter was ground-breaking for such a traditional office, but Peggy lived up to the challenge of working right along with the boys. After a sexual fling with co-worker Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), Peggy faced a pregnancy and disappeared to give birth in the Season One finale. Peggy's relationship with Don began to have real depth after he visited her in the hospital and encouraged her to get past the birth and move on.
Season Two revealed that Peggy gave the baby up, and continued to pursue her career goals and adapt to modern times; specifically with a more adult haircut in the episode "The Jet Set." As such an ambitious woman of the era, Peggy no doubt faced trouble in her love life with men who were not so understanding of her pursuits. Boyfriend Mark and potential lover Abe both lost the battle with Peggy's job. Season Four found Peggy and Don at a turning point in their friendship. In the episode "The Suitcase," Don forced Peggy to work all night on her birthday, when what he really wanted was a trusted companion in dealing with the death of Anna. That episode solidified their connection and we'll no doubt see more of their secret trust in Season Five. What I would like to see is for Peggy to embrace some more of the 1960s counter-culture, perhaps by spending more time with Life magazine writer and lesbian friend Joyce (Julie Carpenter).