Summary

  • Mad Men accurately depicted the racism of the 1960s, but failed to condemn it enough, reducing black characters to their impact on white characters.
  • The fate of Peggy and Pete’s baby remains a mystery, leaving the audience wondering what happened to the child throughout the series.
  • The show could have handled issues of body-shaming and Betty’s weight gain with more empathy and representation, rather than using it as a plot device to punish her character.

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Sixteen years after its premiere, Mad Men remains compulsively watchable, but there are some aspects that haven’t aged quite so well. Considered one of the most iconic examples of prestige television, Mad Men ran for 7 seasons on AMC from 2007 to 2015. For those watching while the show was airing, there was little better than weeknights when a new episode would drop. Delivering some of the most iconic characters of all time like Don Draper (Jon Hamm), aka Dick Whitman, and Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), Mad Men made New York in the 60s seem equal parts glamorous and horrifying. No one would deny that Mad Men changed the landscape of television in more ways than one.

Watching now, there are parts of the show that have already aged badly, because they were supposed to. Mad Men dealt with heavy topics and made a point of commenting on the inequality and systemic prejudice of the time. Every episode has at least one scene that was hard to watch, it was written that way. However, there are other aspects of the show that would have a much harder time getting okayed today, and for good reason. Looking back with a critical eye puts a spotlight on all the problems, successes, and questions fans are left with while re-watching the quintessential show.

Related: Mad Men: 10 Things From Season 1 That Keep Getting Better Over Time

10 Depictions of Racism And Overwhelming Whiteness

Dawn Chambers Mad Men

Being a period piece that takes place in the 1960s, Mad Men is set during a pivotal time for civil rights in American history. The depictions of casual, and blatant, racism throughout the series are historically accurate for the time, but the show doesn’t do nearly enough to push back against this, and condemn the actions of the white characters. At best, many of the recurring Black characters on the show are boiled down to simply the reactions and development they elicit in their white counterparts. At worst, Roger (John Slattery) is shown doing blackface in season 3. To truly capture the truth of the 1960s requires a lot more than the white perspective that Mad Men hinges on.

The later season attempts to make up for this somewhat with the additions of Don’s secretary Dawn Chambers played by the wonderful Teyonah Parris of the MCU and Peggy’s secretary Shirley (Sola Bamis), but they are again defined by their relationships to Don, Peggy, and the agency. In season 6, episode 2 “A Day’s Work”, Dawn stands up for herself in the face of Lou Avery (Allen Havey), but little else comes of this after the fact. If Mad Men ever got a reboot, an overhaul in racial equity in casting and storytelling would be the only way the series could move forward.

9 Where is Peggy and Pete’s Baby?

Pete kissing Peggy's forehead on Mad Men

In season 2, episode 5 “The New Girl” the show flashes back to Peggy in the hospital after giving birth to Pete’s (Vincent Kartheiser) baby. Don visits her here and delivers his classic “move forward” speech, and move forward Peggy does. There are few times in the series that Peggy and Pete’s baby is explicitly mentioned, but its existence remains in the shadows. The ghost of the child follows both of them throughout the series, but neither wants to nor attempts to seek it out.

It’s clear that the child was put into the adoption or foster system, but that’s all the audience knows. In season 7 Peggy says to Stan (Jay R. Ferguson) “I’m here, and… he’s with a family… somewhere. I don’t know, but it’s not because I don’t care. I don’t know because you’re not supposed to know, or you can’t go on with your life.” While Peggy might have made peace with this, the audience will always be left wondering what really happened to Peggy and Pete’s baby.

8 Body-Shaming And Betty’s Weight Gain Arc

January Jones as Betty Francis in Mad Men

Women’s bodies are a source of near-constant conversation on the show whether it’s men objectifying or criticizing them, or women turning on each other out of the environment the men created. While this will always be a relevant issue, it could have been handled with more tact and empathy for the women on the show. A standout failure on the show is the plot line in season 5 where Betty (January Jones) gains weight.

While Betty’s character got worse over the course of the series, using this plot point to “punish” the character doesn’t hold up. If the show wanted to include further representation of different body types, they could have cast an actual plus-sized actor. January Jones, was pregnant at the time, but the prosthetics added to simulate the weight gain have not aged well and never looked that good to begin with.

7 Sally Grows Up, But What’s The Deal With Bobby?

Watching Kiernan Shipka, the actress who plays Sally Draper, grow up on-screen was a memorable part of the show. Sally Draper’s best moments play a critical role as a mouthpiece for some of the social issues of the time, like the Vietnam War in the later seasons. Additionally, She is frequently used as a reflection of her parents, Don and Betty. Her arc is beautifully fleshed out and developed, but her brother Bobby got the short end of the stick.

Played by a revolving door of child actors, a new season often meant a new Bobby. Yes, he is younger, but it would have been interesting to see the impact of his parents’ issues on him. There’s little speculation, or information, on where Bobby might be now.

6 Trudy Shouldn’t Have Taken Pete Back

A montage scene in the Mad Men (Season 7) Finale

Trudy Campbell (Allison Brie) put up with a lot at the hands of her husband Pete Campbell. Pete did shameless things on Mad Men, but his cheating and disrespect finally reach a head in season 6, episode 3 “The Collaborators” when Trudy kicks him out telling him she doesn’t want a divorce, but she wants him anywhere but in her home.

Their estrangement goes on until the end of season 7 when Pete gets a job in Wichita, Kansas and convinces her to come with him and bring their child. Maybe it’s the money, the new job, or the comfort and stability of being married, but Trudy agrees. After standing her ground with him for so long this isn’t the ending fans of Trudy were hoping for.

5 Depictions Of Sexual Harassment And Assault

Joan Mad Men

A topic as serious as this deserves the appropriate framework and plenty of time and space for the audience to cope with and understand what happens to the characters. There’s nothing inherently wrong with discussing assault on-screen, in some cases it can be healing and beneficial for survivors, but it’s a fine line that must be treated carefully and with respect.

Showing an assault on-screen is rarely necessary, and if it does happen, it should be vital for a character’s story and development. When Mad Men does this it is rarely the case. When re-watching, or watching for the first time, viewers should be aware that sexual violence is present in the show, and could be presented with a good deal more care.

4 Joan Deserved Better

Christina Hendricks as Joan Holloway Harris on Mad Men (2007-2015)

A fan favorite, but largely unsung hero of the show, Joan (Christina Hendricks) went through amazing character development, but there are sad things about Mad Men‘s Joan as well. Her ex-husband Greg Harris (Sam Page) is a horrible man who assaults her before they are married, and eventually abandons her and their son to be in Vietnam during the war. Believing that the most important aspect of her life is marriage, she puts up with this for far too long to the audience’s dismay.

She took the brunt of sexual harassment in the workplace and was even asked to spend the night with a Jaguar executive in order to close the account in season 5, episode 11 “The Other Woman”. Although she does climb the ranks and eventually leaves SC&P to start her own business, it would have been wonderful to see her escape the world of male belittlement and disrespect that she lived in for so long.

Related: Mad Men: The Best Character In Each Season

3 The Greatest (Platonic) Love Story Was Between Peggy And Don

Mad Men Don and Peggy The Suitcase

There were certainly more than three women in Don’s life, but his friendship with Peggy was the most significant. Jon Hamm’s favorite episode, season 4 “The Suitcase” takes the audience through an odyssey of their relationship up until that point in the series, and shows how truly close the pair were. In the final episode of the series “Person To Person”, Peggy is one of the three phone calls Don makes as he stands on the precipice of the rest of his life. With no familial ties binding them, the two truly love each other as best friends because they share the same love and drive for advertising, and feel out of place in the world.

2 Peggy And Stan Were Meant To Be Together

Peggy And Stan Mad Men

While Peggy and Don’s relationship might have been the most important on the show, Peggy still deserved to get her happy ending with Stan. Some fans argued that the fairytale ending for the pair undermined Peggy’s arc of independence and self-reliance. Many suggested other people Peggy should have been with. Showrunner and creator Matthew Weiner himself was against the match, but in the end caved because the story was just too right. Being in a relationship doesn’t negate Peggy’s arc or mean that she isn’t going to keep going after her career with all she’s got. It just means that she gets a little happiness along with it.

1 Harry Was The Villain Of The Show

Harry Crane Mad Men

Don might have been an antagonist to himself and others, but Harry (Rich Sommer) is the ultimate villain, and cautionary tale of the show. There are many things about Mad Men‘s Harry Crane that wouldn’t fly today. Not as smarmy as Pete, or as self-destructive as Don, Harry starts out as a more junior account man, but sees the need to invest in television, computers, and media placements before anyone else at the firm. This eventually makes him the most important man there, and that only makes him a worse person.

Like almost all the men in the series, he was constantly cheating on his wife, but for some reason it was more disappointing when he did it. When the audience is first introduced to Harry he’s painted as though he’s different from these other slippery ad men, and it’s believable. As the series progresses, and he gains more power, he looses the good qualities that made viewers initially identify with him. With other characters, there was no question of who they were, or how low they would stoop. On multiple viewings of Mad Men, it’s clear Harry should have done a lot better.

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