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The Women of ‘Mad Men’

For these gals, 1968’s been a year packed with tumultuous surprises

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Sometimes it's hard to be a woman, giving all your love to Mad Men. And 1968 was one tough year for the women of Mad Men, whether Don Draper is their husband, their lover, their colleague or merely the guy who finds some other way to ruin their lives. For all these gals, it's been a season packed with tumultuous surprises – as John Lennon would put it, everybody had a hard year. Here's how some of our favorite characters rolled with the changes.

By Rob Sheffield

Jessica Pare as Megan Draper on Mad Men

Frank Ockenfels/AMC

Megan

Remember when Megan was smart – like, the smartest person on the show? Remember when she had ideas, opinions and spoke entire sentences at a time? Remember when she said "It's just a milkshake," and the entire Draper family (along with the Mad Men audience) had a lightbulb moment of "Wow, some people are sane! Bring on the future"? Yeah well, ever since she quit the firm, her brain has been gathering dust in the closet, right next to the foxy green raincoat she wore her last day in the office. She's turned into the Hot Chick Who Mopes Around The Apartment. I think she's made it all the way down to the lobby 3 or 4 times all season. When she gets really wild, she ventures as far as the balcony, wearing her special "moping on the balcony" panties.

Her life has gotten so insanely dull that Mad Men fans are forced to make up wacko theories to explain what happened and how she got replaced by the Megandroid. It's like the scene in Desperately Seeking Susan when Madonna reads the diary of suburban housewife Rosanna Arquette and decides it's in code: "It's got to be a cover. Nobody's life could be this boring!"

Where did Megan's spark go? Who took the "zou" from the "zou bisou bisou"? As soon as she quit her day job, halfway through Season Five, she started spending all her time sniffling on the carpet, with her haunted eyes asking, "Callice, how am I not famous yet?" Despite her sporadically mentioned soap-opera gig, she's even blanker now than when she was unemployed. And despite her superb taste in "minidresses you wear to go to third base with producers while leaving the door unlocked so your bratty stepchildren can get murdered," she's turned into a ticking time bomb of feminist fury, waiting to go off. Free Megan!

Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson on Mad Men

Frank Ockenfels/AMC

Peggy

On the plus side, she got to keep her Thermos. On the minus side, pretty much everything Peggy has fought for over the past couple of years has turned into spilled Cool Whip. Like her nemesis Joan, Peggy came up with a scheme to claw her way to autonomy, only to see all her planning and hard work undone overnight by one of Don's momentary whims. She was the only one who seemed to realize what a disastrous idea this boozy merger was. How sad to see her slump back into the halls of Sterling Cooper, once more clutching her Thermos, utterly crushed and defeated, a shadow of the unsinkable Peggy Olson who marched out of there last year to the Kinks' "You Really Got Me."

And then she harpooned her boyfriend with. . . what? A broomstick with a steak knife tied to it? She keeps one of those around the apartment? Well, at least she marked her man. Poor Peggy – she's spent her career trying to live by the Don Draper code, as he gave it to her in the hospital years ago: "It will shock you how much it never happened." But Peggy just looks shocked at how nothing is happening at all. Despair: Just taste it!

Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris on Mad Men

Frank Ockenfels/AMC

Joan

We all thought we realized what a great actress Christina Hendricks was, right? We didn't. This has been Joan's season, even if she has spent it suffering, seething, clamping down on her stoic rage, and apparently (a Joan first?) not getting any action. Like every other woman on Mad Men these days, only more so, Joan has excellent reasons to loathe Don. When Don blew off the Jaguar account, just because he felt it was beneath his dignity to chitchat with an unreasonable client, he rendered Joan's sacrifice on behalf of that account (great, great sacrifice) meaningless and destroyed any trace of her leverage as a partner.

So what does she do with her anger? She's Joan, so she swallows it down and schemes her next move. And since she's Joan, her next move will break her heart. She has a miserable reunion with her old girlfriend, with a Serge Gainsbourg soundtrack. She tries to bring in her own account (a very Lane thing to do). And she begs a career-rescuing favor from Peggy – now that has to hurt.

Joan also got to bond with beach boy Bob Benson, after the hilariously heroic scene where he lies to the emergency-room nurse about furniture polish. (If there's one thing Joan likes in a man, it's a willingness to lie about her to another woman. Joan loves lies more than compliments.) Whatever their relationship might be, she's clearly this season's MVP. Congratulations, Joan. Your mother did a good job. Love, Ali Khan.

Linda Cardellini as Sylvia Rosen on Mad Men

Michael Yarish/AMC

Sylvia Rosen

Don has a type: long-necked, square-shouldered brunettes with deep voices and soulful eyes. This has been his type ever since his life-changing encounter with the Woman on the Train, the one who told the young Lt. Don Draper "Let me buy a soldier a drink," the first kind words he'd ever heard from a woman, completely shaping his future and forming his philosophy in one moment. Don's greatest hits since then – Beatnik Girl, Schoolteacher Girl, "You're Not A Good Person" Girl, the much-missed Mrs. Tildon Katz – all fit the bill. So does Megan, which I guess is why some of us fools got our hopes up for this marriage.

And then came you, Sylvia Rosen! The downstairs neighbor is just his flavor, so we should have known she was trouble when she walked in. Except nobody wanted to believe it, until she whispered "Did you read my Dante?" and it was obvious Don was trapped in a whole new inferno of sexual hobo-coding. (The Inferno begins with the famous lines about Dante getting lost in the forest. Sylvia's Italian – so her name means "forest.")

Unfortunately, this ninny was easily the most annoying Don-quest since the comedian's wife back in Season Two, especially her swinging crucifixes. Any Mad Men fan had plenty of time to get tired of her prissy simpering before she got tired of Don's Fifty Shades of Sterling's Gold hotel caper. Let's hope this affair has finally ended, although the tragic part is they never got to have a sex scene to Tony Orlando and Dawn's 1970 hit "Knock Three Times," the ultimate soft-rock ode to downstairs-neighbor-banging in the era of free love.

January Jones as Betty Francis on Mad Men

Frank Ockenfels/AMC

Betty

Lucky Betty – now she gets to bone Don without wanting anything from him. Their wet hot American summer fling was one of the season's big shockers, but also Betty's most humane moment ever, especially when she empathized with Megan: "That poor girl. She doesn't know that loving you is the worst way to get to you." This was the fantasy honeymoon getaway their trip to Rome never was – right down to the way Betty gave Don six kinds of cold shoulder the next morning, huddled over her breakfast with the ever-dashing Henry, whose sanity seems to have rubbed off. At this point, Betty threatens to become the most mature and rational character on Mad Men, which just goes to show how bananas everybody's gone lately.

Julia Ormond as Marie Calvet on Mad Men

Ron Jaffe/AMC

Marie Calvet

She's only shown up once this season – but she's such an electric presence that even the spoiler-ish listing in the opening credits (hey, it just said "Julia Ormond!") could induce whoops of delight. In just that one episode, Megan's MQTLMVB (Mere Que Tout Le Monde Veut Baiser) managed to bag a healthy percentage of the season's best one-liners: "She is the apple in the pig's mouth!"

Alison Brie as Trudy Campbell on Mad Men

Carin Baer/AMC

Trudy Campbell

Talk about a moment of clarity – Trudy suddenly realizes, "WTF, I'm married to Pete Campbell? What am I, a moron?" And while it's unclear why this took eight years, it was still intense to see her throw him out. Finally, the Lady Macbeth of Cos Cob gets sick of being the apple in the pig's mouth. Allison Brie carried that amazing silent scene where she returned home, after dropping the Faux-Taylor Swift Idiot Neighbor Girl at the hotel, and you could just sense the change in her walk to the bathroom in the dark. Not even Trudy Can't Fail could keep closing her eyes to this disaster. But look on the bright side, Pete: at least your mom is learning "the physical satisfactions of love."

Teyonah Parris as Dawn Chambers on Mad Men

Michael Yarish/AMC

Dawn

Loved your scenes this season – both of them! Better luck next year. But hang in there. You seem to be the last Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce alum who still has any brains for self-preservation, which means you might be the only one who still has a job in a few weeks, harlots or no harlots.

Kiernan Shipka as Sally Draper on Mad Men

Frank Ockenfels/AMC

Sally

Loved both of your scenes too, Sally! Well, no, actually – hated your scenes with Grandma Burglar, not exactly Mad Men's proudest moment, though still preferable to another visit from Mustache Glen. This was Sally's most low-profile season, at least until last night. I figured she must have been locked in her room, watching The Man From U.N.C.L.E. reruns or smoking banana peels to Paul Revere and the Raiders records. But Sally was heartbreaking last night as she got her very own revelation about Don Draper, the same revelation young Dick Whitman got about his dad: "A dishonest man lives here."

This changes everything for Sally, especially with so many ominous examples of teen squalor: Lotus, Jackie, Frank Gleason's stoned daughter, the violin girl who ran off to join the hippie commune like on Family Affair. (Who the hell were you anyway, Violin Girl? You weirded us out there for a few hours.) When Sally yells "You make me sick" at Don, she's not alone. Suddenly, the question of whether Sally should go all the way with Mark Lindsay looks like the least of her problems. And whoever left her alone with a copy of Rosemary's Baby? Parent of the decade!

Audrey Wasilewski as Anita Olson Respola on Mad Men

Carin Baer/AMC

Anita Olson

Hi, Peggy's sister! As Weird Al would say, we ain't seen you around Burger World lately. (Oh, right – it's 1968, nobody's heard of Weird Al yet. Long story.) So what have you been up to? Oh, just wondering – we haven't checked in with you all season, which means two no-show seasons in a row. In fact, I think the last time you had a scene was that surprise birthday dinner for Peggy a few years ago (remember, the fancy restaurant with the phone. . . sorry. Not a happy memory). But hey, we wonder about you all the time, especially since you, last we heard, were raising Peggy and Pete's secret love child. That kid must be nearly eight now, so how come last night was the first time he's gotten mentioned since the Cuban freaking missile crisis? Isn't your long-smoldering (and very Catholic) rage about having to pay for your sister's mistakes reaching the boiling point by now? Hey, maybe it was you who threw those rocks through Peggy's window. But Mad Men loves surprise returns, and this is one surprise return that should be worth the wait.

Cara Buono as Dr. Faye Miller on Mad Men

Michael Yarish/AMC

Dr. Faye Miller

There are two theories about Dr. Faye. The first is that, like any other woman who gets the hump-and-dump treatment from Don Draper, she sniffled a bit and then went away quietly, refusing to stoop to his level by making trouble. The second is that Dr. Faye has spent three years plotting her revenge, and like Megan's spaghetti, it's going to be a dish best served cold.

I'm down with the second theory. Are we supposed to forget how she once mentioned over dinner that her dad is in the mob? No way is a veteran of The Sopranos like Matthew Weiner tossing that cannoli out there without following up on it.

So even though Dr. Faye hasn't been seen (or even mentioned) since the end of Season Four (in "Tomorrowland"), I'm braced for her to come back and collect her pound of Don-flesh. We already know, as does Don, from overhearing her in the phone booth, she does not handle rejection well. She also knows his dangerous secret. But most of all, she has that mobster dad. So don't be surprised if the season ends in 1970 with Don dangling from a meathook to the piano solo from "Layla."

Janis Joplin

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Janis Joplin

Back in April, Matthew Weiner told Rolling Stone's Sarene Leeds that if one song summed up 1968, it would be "Piece of My Heart." As he said, "It's druggy, it's sexual, it's personal." And what do you know: "Piece of My Heart" was one of the season's finest music moments, Janis Joplin voicing her feminist anger and pain while Pete Campbell tokes up in a haze of self-loathing resignation. But "Ball and Chain" is the Janis performance that really sums up the season for most of these female characters – especially when so many of their crises are Don's doing. It's like their lives are the collateral damage in his downward spiral. And as the late great Janis used to say: Honey, it ain't fair.

In This Article: AMC, Mad Men, television

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