Warning: If you’ve never seen an episode of Mad Men… What’s wrong with you? Get to it, because I’m going to discuss some spoilers and I want to know your thoughts in the comments, please!
After last week’s episode of Mad Men, which took place at the Codfish Ball, I saw a lot of celebrity tweets from the likes of Alexa Chung and Sarah Silverman in praise of Sally Draper. I also love her; she is one of my favorite characters ever, because she carries so much on her shoulders for one so young. Those of us who have imagined what it must have been like to grow up in the 1960s get to live vicariously through Sally. We’ve seen her develop from a 7-year-old dressed like Shirley Temple to a rebellious pre-teen living in one of the most interesting eras of American history. In the five seasons of Mad Men, Sally has been forced to mature quickly and has seen sex, drugs and rock and roll, and I’m very curious how she will turn out.
Sally and her mother Betty aren’t the Gilmore Girls, let’s get that straight. Betty is envious of Sally’s youth, but that’s for another article. Betty has forced her daughter to eat food to save face in front of her new in-laws at Christmas, start a new life in Henry Francis’ mansion and pretty much ignored her since baby Gene was born. And to top it all off, Betty ate Sally’s chocolate sundae! Bitch! Betty was never the perfect mother, because she was so self-involved. She gave up on Sally and allowed Carla, the housekeeper, to be the maternal figure. She asks herself constantly why Sally rebels, like when she cut her hair or was caught touching herself.
When Betty was Sally’s age, all she wanted was to have long hair! Sally is a daddy’s girl, just as Betty was, but Don isn’t emotionally capable of being there for her like Gene Sr. was for Betty. He gives her love through gifts, like the dog Polly, a trip to sunny California, or concert tickets. Betty can’t relate to Sally because she was the object of her father’s eye all the time, whereas Sally only gets attention when her father remembers she’s alive. Betty would rather give her attention to baby Gene – named after her father – and leave Sally in the care of Carla, or later with Pauline Francis, her mother-in-law. Also, Pauline Francis isn’t the best person to be taking care of your daughter, because if she can’t sleep, Pauline will be the first to split a sleeping pill with your kid. Sally’s resentment of Betty has occasionally popped up throughout the show, and I predict it will lead to an eventual “eff you, mom!” by Sally, who might then become a groupie, or somehow dive further into 1960s counter-culture.
Sally was happiest when her father was at home. She adores Don, even though he is absent for most of her life. For example, she runs into her parents’ bedroom, bypasses her frigid mother Betty, and gives her father a huge morning hug to remind him it’s her birthday (he then corrects her by saying it’s her birthday party). Don tells Sally he got her a pony, even though Betty bought her a playhouse. Don goes through the motions of being a father, like building the playhouse and filming his daughter’s party, but he is visibly bored and distant – he’s so distant he vanishes halfway during the party and forgets the cake. When Don returns, he brings Sally a golden retriever, Polly, and makes her birthday memorable. Sally, like some women, can’t help but be daddy’s little girl, and forgives Don instantly. She couldn’t care less if Don disappeared for hours, because he gave her a playhouse and a dog. In her book, Don has done no wrong. He continues to build this ideal of the “perfect” American family for Sally, who keeps living in this fantasy that her parents are happily in love and she has this easy life. Little does she know life won’t be that easy for long.
After Don and Betty divorce, Don goes on a date during a weekend Sally and her brother are staying with him in the city. Sally asks, “You’re going to see a girl? I don’t like that.” She’s not the little girl having a birthday anymore – she’s being upfront with her desires to spend time with him, even though he isn’t capable of staying and being a father. In another episode, Sally escapes from Betty’s home to convince Don to let her live with him. She would rather “cook” him French toast made with rum than stay with Betty. They go to the zoo and spend most of the day together, just the way it should be. When it’s time for Sally to get picked up by Betty, Don can’t handle Sally throwing a fit and asks someone else to be the parent.. When Megan tells Sally “It’s going to be alright,” Sally responds, “It’s not.” Sally knows Don can’t be the father she wants him to be, so she must deal with the rare time he gives her.
Last week’s episode of Mad Men was secretly Sally centered, and it made me worried for her future. Glen, who you remember as the creepy bathroom kid and knife enthusiast, and Sally are calling each other and are closer than ever since he moved away. Glen was actually a kind of savior to Sally, because the phone cord was what tripped Pauline Francis and twisted her ankle. Sally got to go to the city and stay with Don and Megan and politely asked, “Papa, can I see you get your award tonight?” Seriously, that melted my heart. And then Sally’s 1960s outfit? My goodness, did she own it?! She even got to be Roger Sterling’s “date” and be his business card holder. When she asks to see Don’s award, Don offers it to her but she declines it, saying, “You should keep it because it makes you happy.” This is the life Sally wanted until her rose-colored glasses were taken away when she walked in on Sterling and Megan’s mother. The look of horror made me want to cry, especially when she was on the phone with Glen and described the city as “dirty.”
I think Sally is ready to be a teenager and rebel and go to Woodstock just to piss off Betty and call for her father’s attention. She’s just as complex, maybe even more so, than Don because we know the path she has in front of her and I desperately want her to get what she wants. It’s not her fault her mother is so frigid and her father is so absent. Sure, you’re probably thinking it’s a first-world problem, but knowing the history of the 1960s and ’70s, I get worried for Mad Men’s fictional characters!
Images via AMC