Mad Men Season 5 Finale: How have the women held up this season?

Matthew Weiner’s critically acclaimed ‘Mad Men’ is well known for its well-rounded portrayal of women, struggling with the countless difficulties that they faced during life in the 1960s. I found this season to be no exception and it’s a credit to the writers that there is such a clear difference between the women of season 1 and season 5. As the show illustrates the rapidly changing societal landscape of the 60s, we see how many of ‘Mad Men’’s female characters have changed alongside it. We also see how some have even adapted to life outside previous patriarchal norms. For this post I will be summarising and examining how individual characters developed this season, their story lines and speculation about what could possibly happen next.

Joan Harris

Everyone’s favourite voluptuous red head was on fire this season. First and foremost, we see her finally leave her rapist, scumbag husband,  Greg. Huzzah! If this had been the main focus of her storyline this season I wouldn’t have been too unhappy considering the immense rage the man evoked within me every time he was on screen, but this being Mad Men we got so much more and then some.

We learn a lot about Joan this season, about her background, her family situation and how  she struggles with her sexually charged image and how she feels about her objectification. There is a stark difference between Season 5 Joan and Season 1 Joan, and how far she has come in terms of how she sees herself and her place in the world. Unlike the Joan 4 seasons ago, she no longer sees marriage as her ultimate goal in life, and who would after Greg in all fairness? She is determined to succeed as a self sufficient single mother, perhaps in some part to prove that she can cope to her busybody mother and perhaps to society as a whole. Unfortunately, this at times involves using methods that aren’t so honorable.

‘Mad Men’ gives into the typical trope of woman using her sexuality in order to get ahead in life this season with Joan. However this particular story line’s treatment was understandable and emotional. The juxtaposition of Don’s speech to Jaguar chiefs with Joan’s “seduction” of the Jaguar chairman makes things hit home. Like a Jaguar, Joan is literally treated like an object and a product, one that the partners seem to have not many qualms about bartering with. Especially slimey Pete. Joan is forced into a corner somewhat, she needs to support her son alone.; it may not be the honorable thing to do but it’s the most sensible with regards to her situation.

I think that Joan will “make up” for her method of becoming a partner by throwing herself into the job with gusto and professionalism. In the last episode she seems to be the only one who really cares about housekeeping of the company. It will be interesting to see how this new company dynamic plays out and in what ways Joan will continue to grow.

Peggy Olson

While Joan’s troubles stem from really establishing herself as a career woman, Peggy’s troubles come from maintaining herself as one and also trying to seek out the appreciation she deserves.

In her personal life Peggy casts off tradition and through her relationship when she learns that romance and commitment isn’t all about marriage and babies. Her mother haughtily tells her that she is being used, but how can she be being used when this is the outcome she was happy with? Peggy has become comfortable in her sexuality, it isn’t something she uses as a weapon. Her sexual relationships contrast with Joan’s in that while Joan’s reflect archaic patriarchal notions of women using sex as commodity, Peggy doing things on her own terms, reflecting changing attitudes towards sex. Both women represent the struggle between social change and tradition.

Contrary to her mother’s beliefs, Peggy isn’t sitting back and “letting herself” be fooled into anything. She takes control of both her personal life and her career, and does not let how much she may be vilified for it stop her from doing it. She doesn’t seem to be going through the old age trope of women having to choose between their career and love. In episode 13 we see Peggy make peace with Don, hopefully they do keep in touch and she continues to have as much of a place in the story despite the fact that she has moved on to another company.

Megan Draper

She certainly hasn’t become a favourite among fans of the show, but I still think that Megan’s character and her motivations are understandable. She truly loves Don, but that love is at odds with her youthful outlook and her attempts at being a “modern woman”. It also leaves her with a lack of understanding at the privilege she has acquired, a fact her mother snarkily and amusingly likes to remind her of.

In a world where women are expected to either  be wives or choose (rarely) a career, Megan stands for someone who wants to have her cake and eat it, so to speak. And why shouldn’t she, says you and also I. Unfortunately, unlike Peggy, it is more difficult for her to have both a career and a stable relationship.  It seems like Megan isn’t quite sure what it is exactly she wants to do. However she is in the privileged position of being able to flip flop and change her mind because of her husband’s economic status. She discovers she has a talent for copywriting through the Heinz beans account, however instead of encouraging her to go forward, she becomes frightened at the prospect of success within the advertising industry. When Peggy tells her that the proud feeling after selling an account is as good as it gets, it fills her with apprehension. Megan quits and tries to pursue her acting career, no matter how unlikely the prospect might be.

Her relationship with Don is tumultuous and far from healthy. Her immaturity and his set notions of what a marriage is don’t mix well. It is unclear if they really are in it for the long haul, this doubt is especially emphasised by the closing scene of the season, when Don gets propositioned by a woman at a bar. His hesitation speaks louder than words. At first, his pulling some strings for Megan to get the part of Snow White in a commercial draws a parallel to Betty stint as a commercial model and season 1. At first it even  appeared to serve as sort of a catharsis for himself in how he took away Betty’s opportunities. Perhaps being put in that situation again does not bode well with Don. Megan had a youth and independence that Betty hadn’t. Now that she is depending on him for acting work, perhaps this is the beginning of the end.

Marie Calvet (Megan’s Mother)

Her time in Mad Men was brief, but I found her character to be enjoyable and interesting nonetheless. Despite the fact that she is stuck in an unhappy marriage, she doesn’t let it hold her back from enjoying life and doing what she wants to do. She acts on her own sexual desires, and not to simply please a man, exemplified by her refusal to mother Roger. Her moments of putting Megan in her place when she’s acting particularly bratty are also golden. While it may seem like at times that she resents Megan, I think her chiding come from a place of love, she doesn’t want to see Megan heading in a similar direction as her, spending her days in a loveless marriage.


Not every little girl gets to do what she wants. The world could not support that many ballerinas.

This is what happens when you have the artistic temperament but are not an artist.

Betty Francis

Betty’s development was disappointingly limited this season, probably due to January Jones just having given birth and such.I haven’t jumped on the Betty-hate bandwagon as much as others. I truly think her character is a sad one, and I’ve always found her easy to understand. When someone discovers that their livelihood was basically based on a lie, of course they’re going to act out and be bitter about it. All her life she was told that her beauty would save her from hardships and that being a good wife would make everything okay. This illusion was shattered by her marriage with Don and it hasn’t been reconstructed in the least in her current marriage.It is evident what a low regard Betty has for herself,because if beauty isn’t the answer, what else does she have in life? Her weight gain is obviously a way of exploring this question, although disappointingly it doesn’t really go anywhere. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see till next season to see if the fat suit and Betty’s lack of confidence remains.

Beth Dawes (Rory Gilmore)

Beth Dawes appearance, like Marie’s, is brief but effective. A lot of people complained about her being miscast, unable to to not think Rory Gilmore every time they looked at her, but I thought she was played rather well. Her place in the story is just plain sad, conveying literally how much control a man can have over his wife and also the sad state that the perception of mental illness was in back then. I didn’t really buy the whole Pete trying to relate his life situation to hers thing. And how appalled he was at her asshat husband just fell flat for me because I could very well imagine him doing the same thing to Trudy if she ever got out of line. I have so much faith in his character, can you tell?!

Sally Draper

(I’m giving my favourite characters extra big pictures because I can!)Last but certainly not least we have ourselves a girl on the edge of puberty and certainly behaves like it. Sally grows up a lot this season. Her realisations and experiences are endearing and believable, and even when she’s being bratty Sally is likeable. This season explores Sally’s discoveries of sex and the grittiness of adult life; her first period; her relationship with Betty and the impact of her new family dynamic; and her relationship with creepy Glen. Sally is going through some changes, and by gum this is only the beginning! I look forward to seeing the fabulous Kiernan Shipka portraying a rebellious teen.

And that is that for the recap, summary analysis dealy. I suppose all we can do now is wait with bated breath for the next season and pray the heavens that it won’t be 25 years from now.  I’ll leave you with the greatest quote from the season, nay the series, nay, THE CENTURY.

 Well, I’m president of the Howdy Doody Circus Army. – Pete Campbell.

– Cora


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