By: Brennan Carley. Taylor Cavallo and Dan Siering
Betty Draper could perhaps be described simply as the most beautiful, yet painfully tragic, character in television. Often compared to Grace Kelly in the show for her beauty and poise, it becomes profoundly clear that her life lacks true meaning and is filled with struggles in connection to her husband, raising her children, and finding her own place in a world that is seemingly constructed specifically to work against her. Her position speaks to greater issues of the time: the emptiness found in the lives of stereotypical ’60s housewives. In the place of real happiness for Betty resides constant oppression. Betty is perhaps the character who exhibits the most drastic changes as the seasons progressed. When she was the perfect housewife who was unknowingly being betrayed by her husband all too frequently, she evoked sympathy from audiences who longed for Betty’s beauty and kindness to be realized by Don, whom she so desperately loved and wanted to please. Her initial naivete and emotional immaturity were truly painful, although in some ways beautiful. Things quickly changed, however. She becomes cold and heartless once she divorces Don and gets remarried to a politician, disregarding the responsibility of effective motherhood, and audiences quickly change their opinion of her. Subtle hints in the last episodes of Season Four have hinted at Betty still having feelings for Don while her new marriage is simultaneously failing.
In 2009, the fictional Don Draper was named the most influential man in the world by the men’s magazine Ask Men, beating out Barack Obama. That pretty much says it all. Draper, the main character of Mad Men, is the charismatic, witty, poignant man that women want and men want to be. He is commanding and assertive, while also showing profound depth and compassion throughout the show’s four seasons. Although he frequently cheated on his beautiful wife, Betty, there is something irresistible about a man who still insists on being a gentleman in small ways and honoring his word to clients and friends alike. There is a perfect amount of mystery surrounding his character, and throughout the four seasons, pieces of a remarkable story come together that explain the way he became the man he is today: he stole a dead fellow soldier’s identity and became “Don Draper” to start a new life, eventually climbing to the top of the advertising world as head of Creative for Sterling Cooper in New York City. Season Three saw the end of Betty and Don’s marriage after she became aware of only one of her husband’s romantic escapades with a powerful Hollywood woman, and Season Four ended with Don proposing to a young woman named Megan who was hired as nanny for his children on a trip to Disneyland. As he is Don Draper, she accepted, naturally.
Roger Sterling is the epitome of the swinging sixties Mad Men culture-he’s charming, confident, stylish, stalwart, and a little bit sinister. Roger is the inventor of the three-martini lunch and the five-martini dinner. Hiring Don Draper away from his fur salesman position, the white-haired ad man builds the company with his namesake into the most sought after firm on Madison Avenue. Despite having a longtime wife, Mona, and a teenage daughter, Roger Sterling is guilty of a long and distinguished career of infidelity. Roger and Joan have a steamy affair for the first two seasons, yet the romance is quickly cut short after Roger experiences a nearly fatal heart attack. The near-death experiences changes the aging’s businessman’s perspective on life. As a result, Roger promptly divorces Mona and replaces her with Don’s former secretary, a stunning 20-something brunette named Jane. Roger and Jane have a sweet and steady relationship, but Roger soon begins to feel an urge to resort back to his old fling, Joan. This desire to return to his former consort comes to fruition at the end of Season Four when the two have a surprising romantic encounter after a mugging on a Manhattan street. Toward the close of the season, we learn that this brief romance has led to an untimely pregnancy. Entering into Season Five, Roger will soon be faced with a choice: remain with his pleasant yet juvenile wife or return to his former mistress.
Joan Holloway is the ultimate sex symbol of the Sterling Cooper office. With her curves and confidence, Joan turns more heads than any other woman on Madison Avenue. As the office manager, Joan keeps everything running smoothly around the office, doing everything from consoling her secretaries in the break room to distracting potential clientele during contract negotiations. Sterling Cooper would simply not be the same without the spirited redhead’s feminine touch and striking bosom. Joan engages in a steamy and secret affair with her boss, Roger Sterling, for almost two seasons. Yet, after the death of Marilyn Monroe and Roger’s heart attack, Joan reassesses her place in the world and realizes an inherent fear of being left alone. Thus, the fiery redhead gets hitched to aspiring doctor Greg Harris and quits her job at Sterling Cooper. It soon becomes apparent that there’s trouble in paradise, however, and Joan’s husband begins to forcefully take out his anger on Joan. Despising her role as a housewife and in dire need of money, Joan obligingly takes a job at a local department store, where she has a humiliating encounter with Don. Joan begs Roger for her job back, and in Season Four, she returns to Madison Avenue in full force. Joan’s disgruntled husband eventually leaves for Vietnam, and the veteran office manager evidently finds herself in a position similar to that of Season One. After enduring a mugging with Roger, previous emotions are rekindled in the form of a sexual encounter in a Manhattan alleyway. The romance leaves Joan pregnant with Roger’s baby, and at the end of the last season, she is an army wife with another man’s child.
One of the youngest employees at the beginning of the series, Pete Campbell comes from one of the wealthiest families in Manhattan and carries around a smug allure to match his social status. Pete walks around Sterling Cooper as if he has the world in his pocket and has his entire future set in stone. Don makes a point of shattering Pete’s warped illusions as soon as the young WASP account manager steps onto the scene. After getting a taste of reality, Pete gets his footing and begins to feverishly climb the ad agency’s corporate ladder.Pete tarnishes his initially pristine reputation early in Season One when he engages in a one-time romance with-then typist Peggy Olsen on Don’s office couch. The encounter leads to a pregnancy that Peggy keeps hidden from Pete until well into the series. Pete, unaware of the magnitude of his infidelity, continues on with his jovial wife Trudy and their homely Manhattan lifestyle. The couple eventually learns that it will be difficult to have children together, a discovery that is in line with Pete’s realization that Peggy has mothered his child. Despite his apprehension to go the extra mile, Pete proves to have a knack for pleasing clients, and in Season Three he is promoted to co-head of Accounts. He is quickly escalated to partner status at the end of Season Four when the agency undergoes a dramatic downsizing. This promotion escalates Pete’s once temperate womanizing ways, and, when Trudy announces that she is pregnant, the young ad man is left with a choice to become a serious father or join the mob of Madison Avenue womanizers.
In the first episode of Mad Men, viewers are introduced to Sterling Cooper and its eccentric staff through the eyes of new typist Peggy Olson, a young girl from Brooklyn who takes the long subway ride to Manhattan every day, entering a whole new world. However, we are quickly shown that Peggy is not like the other women in the office. She dresses differently and carries herself with class. During her early days at the agency, she and the soon-to-be married Pete Campbell have a steamy office romance that eventually leaves her pregnant with a baby she never takes care of in order to avoid the public social stigma of having a child out of wedlock. She remains stoic and never tells Pete about her pregnancy, though it eventually comes out in a later season during an intense confrontation between the two characters. Pete is heartbroken to find out about his estranged son, as a subplot that is simultaneously being explored are his wife’s fertility problems. Peggy makes a name for herself by impressing Don and Roger with her creative capabilities and gets promoted to the Creative board, where she shines despite adversity and the constant sexism she faces from the peanut gallery of Ken, Henry, and Paul. As the woman, she has consistently been the rock that the sometimes erratic men of the office can rely on. Even the all-powerful Don has turned to her in times of need.