More prevalent than anything else in last night’s episode of Mad Men “The Summer Man” seemed to have strong emphasis on gender issues. The 1960’s weren’t always kind to women (Hell, 2010 isn’t always kind to women), and Mad Men took special pause to reminded us of that.

Joan was isolated in this episode, a woman scorned for sure. She was getting zero respect in the workplace. And when she tried to stand up, and be in charge, she was then targeted for jokes and taunting. That is, not to mention the blunt comment said to her face that she was dressed like she wanted to be raped. (Though form-fitting, her hot pink dress was actually modest in both neckline and hemline.) What’s interesting is what happened when Peggy got involved.

When Peggy took offense at the inappropriate cartoon drawn of Joan, she goes to Don. But Don informs her that she has the power to fire someone, and she should. “If it comes from me, it looks like you’re tattling,” he said. (Or something to that effect.) In this way, Don was helping Peggy empower herself.  He says to her, “If you want respect, go out and get it.”

So, Peggy, sticking up for Joan (but also herself, she is seen as one of the boys, but doesn’t appreciate the blue comments) fires Joey. And what happens? Joan gets angry.

Though what Peggy did was to help Joan, and be a sister-at-arms, it alienated Joan. Joan didn’t want her battle fought for her. She tells Peggy that she had her own way of getting someone fired. Joan didn’t like how this made her look to everyone. The last thing she wanted was to look weak, and to confirm that she was a “meaningless secretary” and Peggy was just a “humorless bitch.” Joan also couldn’t have liked that Peggy finally had more power than her – and demonstrated it. Peggy’s broken through the glass ceiling, and surpassed Joan with talent, rather than relying on charm and looks. Women had never been able to do that before. The power dynamics between women, and women and men, were changing in the 60’s. Speaking of men, it’s time to talk about Don.

Don’s more insightful than we thought. One particularly great voice over by Don was, “She’s a sweet girl. And she wants me to know her, but I already do. People tell us who they are, but we ignore it, because we want them to be who we want them to be.” I interpret this quote in two ways.

First off, the girl he’s with is similar to Betty. They even look eerily alike. And in a way, he might think that most women of “that sort” are all the same. He’d been through all the drama with Betty. Don is tired, he’s no spring chicken. And if he’s not dating someone different and kindred, he basically knows what he’s in for.

Another way to read-into his voice over is that people are always telling you what they want. Especially when it comes to dating. Some of this is instinct, some is just picking up on clues. He knows the girl he’s dating just doesn’t want to have a good time, she wants a relationship. And the girl knows he doesn’t want that. Yet both pursue each other, trying to change the person on the other side of the table. They’re a bad match, and they don’t care. Meanwhile, Betty must be starting to wonder if she’s a bad match for any man.

See, Betty’s a complicated case for me. She can’t have a fresh start entirely, because a lot of her issues are just her own problems. She wasn’t unhappy just because of Don. Betty’s still the same girl. And annoying she may be at times, I respect that she’s a sensitive sort. And yes, she’s dramatic. She’s tapped into her emotions, although she doesn’t know how to work with them. And all her husband, Henry, wants is for her to behave. Which means ignoring her emotions.

All in all, I really enjoyed this episode. Though other’s are saying they’ll be annoyed if Don becomes a tamer sort and quits drinking, I don’t think that would dampen my appreciation of the show at all. Last night gave us a chance to see that not all emotionally-in-touch shows have to be narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker and set in the present. Sometimes it’s a man from the 60’s who has something really insightful to say to us.

Two additional great quotes from Mad Men “The Summer Man”:

“We’re flawed because we want so much more. We’re ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had.” – Don Draper Voice Over

“When I’m out of sorts I look at the calender. There’s usually something good on the horizon.” – Faye Miller