Detective Sally and the mystery of the Mad Men

Sally Draper books are always interesting.

Sally is always interesting.

Sally, more than perhaps any (Peggy, Peter aside perhaps) is forced to navigate the era, adapt and grow. She does this by constantly listening, watching and learning. Her outbursts drive her mother crazy because she hits on exactly what is going on and Betty fuggin’ hates this.

It is always awkward to have a child see truth and comment on it.

Her books as well are a journey. As she advances, grows and becomes more and more wise, so do the books she’s reading.

The first Sally book was Nursery Friends From France, read by her mom when she was little and a princess who felt her father hung the moon.

Now, she’s reading Nancy Drew: The Clue of the Black Keys, Carolyn Keene.

Here’s the synopsis of the 28th book in the Nancy Drew series:

Terry Scott, a young archaeology professor, seeks Nancy’s help in unearthing a secret of antiquity which can only be unlocked by three black keys. While on an archaeological expedition in Mexico, Terry and Dr. Joshua Pitt came across a clue to buried treasure. The clue was a cipher carved on a stone tablet. Before the professor had time to translate the cipher, the tablet disappeared – along with Dr. Pitt! Terry tells Nancy of his suspicions of the Tinos, a Mexican couple posing as scientists who vanished the same night as Dr. Pitt. Nancy and her friends follow a tangled trail of clues that lead to the Florida Keys and finally to Mexico in this suspense-filled story that will thrill readers.

I had not read a Nancy Drew book before this one. They’re very fun. Like Anne of Green Gables, which I finally read as an adult, I get why they are popular and you girls get obsessed with them. I have a niece I intend to read these to when she old enough not to rip the pages and, you know, get it.

Back to Sally.

She sneaks onto a train in S4E09 (The Beautiful Girls) and is found by a lady avoiding the conductor.

“I didn’t have enough money,” said Sally to her incensed father.

“Men never know what’s going on,” the lady says to Don.

Sally wants to see her dad and doesn’t want to wait. Don freaks, makes her stay in the office then Faye Miller takes her to his place as his secretary – Miss Blankenship – dies. Dang! Some people just have a day, right?

Sally then starts investigating. Who is Faye? Why does she have her dad’s keys?

“Why did she know you have peanut butter Dad?”

Sally Draper

At first, things are charming, but as the mystery of her absent father is discovered, things change for Sally. Things will continue to change for Sally.

What’s charming turns real, and this is the first time she really feels it. No, she can’t stay with her dad. No, her dad is not the gallant knight she believed. Yes, he will let her down. He will always let her down.

The title of the episode plays into Sally’s choice of book: the detective novel. Sally is not the only one doing detective work.

The beautiful girls (Faye, Peggy, Joan, Megan and Sally) are all investigating, detecting, navigating and learning.

Peggy learns that all the social justice warrior ethic in the world can’t trump a man’s need to be a man and save a woman. Ugh, Abe Drexler is just so punchable.

Joan gets mugged at gunpoint, has sex with Roger on the street, and makes a quick decision by analyzing the facts. She has already learned this lesson. She regrets nothing, but is married and that is that. Sorry, Roger. You’re a child.

Speaking of children, Faye learns who Don is and that’s all for her. Ciao doctor.

Miss Blankenship has already learned.

“She was born in 1989 in a barn, she died on the 37th floor of a skyscraper; she’s an astronaut.”

– Bert Cooper

Remember the astronaut reference for later.

There is a moment in this episode worth mentioning. It’s one of the moments that make you remember that this may be one of the best shows ever written.

Sally falls when running away from her father in anger.

It is Megan who picks her up. It is Megan who knows what to say to her. It is Megan who solves the mystery.

“I fall all the time,” says Megan.

The following scene is Don and all the beautiful girls.

Megan at the desk, Faye, Peggy, and Joan stand near the door while Betty and Sally chat.


The Chrysanthemum, the sword, the mad men and Japan

Enter Japan.

In S4E05 (The Chrysanthemum and the Sword), the Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Price agency gets a nibble from the Honda motor company, who are taking suitors for an ad campaign to show off their new motorbike.

The relationship between Japan and America post-Second World War is an irresistable and inevitable addition to the Mad Men series, and it’s been kind of hinted at from the beginning with Roger Sterling’s war experience and Bert Cooper’s Nipponophile-ness.

The Japanese have entered the American marketing world by the ’60s, and Mad Men heads straight for the rising tide of Asian influence on American culture and business, a reality that will remain.

Things changed.


In the episode in question, Peter Campbell says the crew needs to read the book by Ruth Benedict before the sale to understand their culture before making a pitch.

Don, of course, reads it, and no one else does.

The episode is very much a ‘this is how things started’ type of story where we see the Second World War era (Roger) pitted against the post-war capitalists (Peter) who are after markets and money wherever they are.

This is where American ad agencies and businesses branch out to Asia (mostly Japan), and vice-versa.

Roger comes out looking the stereotypical bigot, which is no surprise, and Don looks nuanced and wise, as per. Everyone else is the typical bumfungling crew completely freaked out about screwing up and getting fired.

Of course, Bert Cooper first introduced viewers to Japanese influence with his shoeless office, but this is the first time Asian characters are introduced, and the Japanese business world and culture is explored.

As a follow up, in S4E11 (The Chinese Wall), we see Fosco Maraini’s Meeting with Japan on Peggy’s shelf, which shows both Peggy’s ambition and seriousness about her career, and maybe gives us a bit of that following-Don’s-lead aspect to her character.


Benedict’s book was written in 1946 at the request of the U.S. Office of War Information as the Americans were getting set to occupy Japan post Second World War. The book very much does the “this is how Japanese people are” thing that’s pretty dated, and simplified, but the book is an interesting read not so much to discover what Japanese culture is like (you can read a Japanese author for that), but how Americans and outsiders view and deal with them.

This is very much how the episode plays out. It is almost entirely about how the Mad Men characters view the Japanese, although there is a brief taste of how they view the Americans, even if it’s a bit stereotypical in its delivery. See: men staring at Joan’s boobs.

The importance of the book in the episode comes at the end.

After all the other ad agencies have ignored the pitch rules, Don refuses the cheque he was given because his firm have not done the same. He tells the Honda people that they broke the rules they outlined. Read: you have no honour.

“The man is shamed by being openly ridiculed and rejected; it requires an audience.”

– Don

Maraini’s book, it should be noted, is the better book about Japan written by someone who’s not Japanese. It is more honest about the obstacles writing from a European perspective. He, like Benedict, is writing for Western eyes, but focuses more on art and culture. I found it the better book.

So-called “eastern influence” starts to pick up in Mad Men from season four on. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, I Ching, and others are coming to the reading list, and the intention is pretty clear: Asian influence is starting to become a thing in American culture (particularly big cities like New York).

Of diamonds and escaping and hot air balloons and masturbation, enter Sally Draper

The first book that shows up in season four of Mad Men in S4E05 (The Chrysanthemum and the Sword) is the first book that Sally is reading on her own: The Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pène du Bois.

The story is about professor William Waterman Sherman and his attempt to fly across the Pacific Ocean in a balloon only to land on the volcanic secret island of Krakatoa with its cave full of diamonds, that fund the residents’ luxury lifestyle.

It’s a decent fantasy children’s book and something Sally would, no doubt, be drawn to for it’s plot of running away to hide by herself on a balloon or island away from Betty and Henry and her brothers (especially Gene), and maybe even her dad.

How many female characters in Mad Men want to run away? Want to hide?

The episode in question is a very important Sally episode, and hints at some of these adventures that she wants to go and exploring she wants to do.

It’s really the first full-on Sally episode where other characters react to her throughout. The hot air balloon is a nice metaphor here.

Here’s what Sally gets up to:

First, she sneaks off to cut her hair when she’s at Don’s being babysat, and gets slapped by Betty when she sees her shorn locks (even though Betty has almost the exact same hair length). Classic Betty. Does she hate the herself she sees in Sally or is it Don staring back at her?

Then, Sally gets caught about to “play with herself” when she’s at a sleepover.

Betty, naturally, is full of rage and resentment. Her icy stares are straight up terrifying.

“She was masturbating Don, in front of a friend. Does that seem normal to you?”

– Betty

Betty wants to send her to a psychiatrist to stop her from becoming a “fast girl.” Fast like her father?

Mad Men does an excellent job of exploring the concept of therapy throughout the series. Betty had her sessions in the first season, and now we’re about to enter Sally’s go round. There are moments where Don is clearly doing therapeutic work, and Roger winds up on a couch later.

It’s interesting to see how the practice was in the ’50s-’70s, and what each visit tells us about the character in question.

If Betty is full of resentment towards Sally and Don, Sally is certainly resentful of her mother.

Sally’s resentment began last season when Don left, and Sally and Betty are headed for some epic mother-daughter battles.

Wait a second. Back to the book. A secret mine full of diamonds.

Where have we heard that before?

Betty read Fitzgerald and Sally reads Du Bois. Both are reading about hidden caves of diamonds.

The interwoven daughter-mother relationship in sometimes obvious (Sally cuts her hair to be the same as her mother), but sometimes subtle.

Betty and Sally are both looking for diamonds to hold in secret. Both look to be like diamonds. Both want perfection inside and out, but both are just too damaged to get there.

Neither can bear for others to see what they are inside.

A scene in S4E05 is perfect and worth noting. Betty stares at a dollhouse in Sally’s therapist’s office. The music, far off gaze, and smile say it all.

She wants perfection. The dollhouse’s perfection makes her happy. If only she could stay there.

Sally wants this too, but for Sally it’s not in a dollhouse. It’s in her house.

It’s a world where her mom and dad are together in one house and Henry is nowhere to be seen.

Sally also wants escape and adventure. She’s a kid after all. We’ll see this moving forward.

The Group of women in Mad Men who define an era… all eras

Betty Draper reclines in the tub with a book in S3E10 (The Color Blue). The book is Mary McCarthy’s best-seller The Group, a novel that was banned in Australia, sent a whole ton of critics (I’m looking at you Norman Mailer) into a self-righteous tailspin and stood firm as a best seller in 1963

It was the book everyone read and didn’t want to admit it.

The Guardian’s Elizabeth Day has a great recounting of its reception and importance both then and now.

The Group, about eight Vassar girls navigating New Deal America in 1933, sits alongside The Best of Everything (also a Betty book), Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Valley of the Dolls (coming soon) and others that pop up on the Mad Men Reading List which explore the female world.

It is no surprise that Betty is reading the book though any character in the show has likely read it or will read it at some point in the decade.

Continue reading “The Group of women in Mad Men who define an era… all eras”

How do you say father in Mad Men? – Hilton

Conrad “Connie” Hilton (Chelcie Ross) first appears in S3E03 (My Old Kentucky Home) and Don makes him a drink. He calls later and then appears in S3E07 (Seven Twenty Three), which is when Peggy mentions his book.

“My mother gave me his book. He’s Catholic.”

– Peggy

Conrad’s character and the book (which I got through, and is okay) bring up themes of fatherhood throughout the season. He is constantly reminding Don of his duty to his family, and sliding into the absent fatherly role in Don’s life.

The following exchange rules:

“I don’t know what I’m more disturbed by: the fact that you don’t have a Bible or that there’s not a single family photo,” Connie.
“I’m easily distracted,” Don.
“You should have those things. They’ll make you feel better about what you do. Start showing up on time.”
“Maybe I’m late because I was spending time with my family reading the Bible.”

Don and Connie, S3E07

SIDE NOTE: Some times I get into conversations with people about this show, and have to defend it’s nihilism, it’s depressing characters, it’s bleakness… The complaints are valid, but, as a counter, it’s a pretty f*&(ing well-written series sometimes.

Continue reading “How do you say father in Mad Men? – Hilton”

Confessions of an advertising mad man, who may be a hillbilly

Don walks into the elevator and there’s Roger.

It’s S3E07 (Seven Twenty Three).

“Ogilvy wrote a book… Advertising is already up there with lawyers as the most reviled, this is not going to help,”

– Roger Sterling

Confessions of an Advertising Man is David Ogilvy’s ground-breaking book that makes up a lot of the meat in Mad Men. Creator Matthew Weiner admitted that he used it to pull plot points and motivation while crafting Mad Men.

It is the most important work of the period that shines light on the period.

Continue reading “Confessions of an advertising mad man, who may be a hillbilly”

Layne Price, Tom Sawyer and the polarity of Mad Men and nostalgia

Standing in a hospital waiting room, Lane Pryce is talking with Don Draper after learning that he is staying in America because his replacement had his foot run over by a riding lawn mower.

It is S3E06, and the perfectly titled “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency.”

Ha. Classic.

Guy Mackendrick (Jamie Thomas King) is the ad man from London who gets aforementioned foot mangled and has his career ended. No golf, no sales. So it goes.

Back to the books.

Lane says to Don that he’s been reading a lot of American literature and that he is thinking of Tom Sawyer.

“I feel like I just attended my own funeral. I didn’t like the eulogy.”

Lane Pryce, S3E06 (Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency)

Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is an established American Lit classic, and tells the story of young rapscallion Tom and his adventures, sometimes with his buddy Huckleberry Finn. I won’t go into the whole plot, but, they live in the south, Tom cons a bunch of kids to paint a fence, there’s a murder, tons of racism and at one point the boys watch their own funeral as everyone is convinced they drowned in the river.

Oh, and, yes I am very proud that I got to use the word rapscallion. Simple pleasures.

Continue reading “Layne Price, Tom Sawyer and the polarity of Mad Men and nostalgia”

The decline and fall of empire, mad men and the hollow men

We are in season three, and after looking at Rand-esque super heroes, destruction of such hollow creations and a deep dive into the soul of the catastrophe of personality and its beauty, we come to the decline of Britain, the Vietnam war, patriarchy’s end and a whole shwack of things we can pull out of Mad Men because, well, why not?

It is S3E03 (My Old Kentucky Home), and Sally is reading The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume I to her grandpa Gene.

The section is about the licentiousness of the Greeks.

“Just wait. All hell’s going to break loose,” says Gene.

Continue reading “The decline and fall of empire, mad men and the hollow men”

Quietly waiting for the catastrophe of my personality to seem beautiful again

It is season two. Peggy is skinny again (post baby), Harry Crane’s wife is pregnant, Trudy Campbell is not, Betty is taking horseback riding lessons and giving them in flirtation, Don’s blood pressure is up, and there is a photocopier in the office.

It is the future.

The president (JFK) is young and hot, the agency needs to match, and a hipster is reading Frank O’Hara in a bar at lunch.

“I don’t think you’d like it,”

Hipster to Don Draper
PLOTTIFY - Don Draper in an Emergency Starts a Meditation in Mad Men

It is S2E01 (For Those Who Think Young), and the collection is Meditations in an Emergency.

Continue reading “Quietly waiting for the catastrophe of my personality to seem beautiful again”

Compson, Whitman, Draper: A name’s sound and fury

What’s in a name? What’s in a family? What is history? What is time?

I may or may not have just finished reading a certain author from the south and everything is up for grabs.

There are those books on the Mad Men reading list I’m curious to read (The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, The Last Picture Show) those I may not have wanted to read at all (Atlas Shrugged), and those I’m completely stoked to read.

Woman of Rome, Crying of Lot 49, and (even though I’ve read it before) the Sound and the Fury are among the latter.

Let’s set the scene and find out how one of the 20th century’s finest novels wound up in one of the 21st century’s finest shows.

Continue reading “Compson, Whitman, Draper: A name’s sound and fury”

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