Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Mad Men, or, "Daddy Issues: The TV Show"

So the theme of paternal abandonment continues, both in my life and on Sunday's episode of Mad Men! But, as per the theme of this blog, I'm going to stick to covering Mad Men, with this entry paying particular focus on the interaction between Roger Sterling and his daughter Margaret.

Margaret is an interesting character in that the events of her life are rarely shown through her perspective on the show. Instead they are mostly relayed to us by Roger through conversations he has with other characters. In an early episode, Roger bitches to Joan about the fact that Margaret seems to have no motivations in life, only having dated two boys (one who committed suicide). You'd think that even someone like Roger would be able to extend sympathy to Margaret for dealing with a tragedy like that, but the event is reduced to pillow talk between him and Joan (Joan, lovely Joan, defends Margaret, saying that Roger is too hard on him). In another episode, Margaret's possible eating disorder is hinted at as Roger jokes that Mona stopped cooking after Margaret stopped eating.

And of course, there is Margaret's wedding, the events of which are particularly contentious for father and daughter as Roger is hell-bent on taking his new, much younger wife Jane to the wedding, while Margaret is against this. It's not a huge leap to assume that Margaret is viciously (and rightfully) jealous of Jane for her relationship with Roger. After all, Jane is not much older than Margaret herself.

So as we can see Roger and Margaret have quite the strained relationship, largely due to Roger's failure to provide for Margaret emotionally and to acknowledge her humanity as a daughter. I think this has much to do with Roger's issues with women: he tends to categorize his relationships with women as either sexual and passionate or cordial and distant. For instance, he doesn't appear to have much regard for Peggy as a friend or colleague despite seemingly respecting her work.

Roger doesn't know quite what do do with Margaret, a daughter, because he never wanted a daughter. A son, he could commiserate with and raise in his own image, but with Margaret he's faced with a dilemma: does raise her to be used by men the way he uses women, or does he warn her against such men, which would require some reflection on his part and admittance to misdeeds? The answer that he comes to, of course, is neither. He chooses to give up on parenting Margaret entirely.

Which brings us then to the events of The Monolith, where we learn that Margaret has engaged in her own form of parental abandonment: leaving her toddler behind as she chooses to follow a group of hippies to live on a commune. Both Roger and Mona are shocked and make it their mission to set Margaret straight, travelling to the commune to shake some sense into her, as it were. It doesn't work, obviously, because who would want to leave a life of free love and drugs to go back to New York City with their parents, to raise a child just the same way as their parents did (and have the child grow up to be as miserable and dissatisfied as them?).

It is then we see Roger trying to take on the Cool Dad role: Oh sure I'll have a look around! Yeah, I wanna here all about your cool new life! Far too late to make a difference, of course. And as the day wears on, the similarities between Margaret and the hippie girl that Roger has been sleeping with over the course of the season become too apparent for Roger, and he's faced with the harsh reality of what he's done to the women in his relationships (the "she's somebody's daughter!" dilemma) and what a shitty human being he is towards women. His breaking point comes when Margaret sneaks off from the barn where she is supposed to be sharing a tender moment with her father, to have sex with another one of the hippies, which hits way too close to home for serial womanizer Roger.

Roger doesn't want Margaret to continue the cycle of parental abandonment that he has been perpetuating, and so he flips his shit, attempts to drag her out of there, and lays a guilt trip on her about her responsibilities as a mother. Then, Margaret, in what I can only say is one of the best fictional daughter-to-father fights I've ever heard, truly rips into Roger, handing his ass to him about his own parental abandonment and all-around shitty behaviour as a father.

Roger mocks Margaret (Marigold) about her life in the commune, telling her she's got to step up and face reality, be a mother and stop living for a life of hedonistic pleasure.... but isn't that exactly what Roger did for Margaret's entire childhood? Boozing it up, banging secretaries, spending loads of money and basically doing whatever he wanted? Margaret is clearly still extremely bitter over what she feels was a shitty childhood and she unloads it all on her father, so viciously and so painfully: "How did you feel when you went away to work, Daddy? Your conscience must have been eating you alive. Calling your secretary from a hotel at lunch to pick out a birthday present for me.... it's not that hard, Daddy, I'll be fine."

Roger walks away in his muddied suit, defeated.

The events of Roger's trip to the commune echo Don's own relationship with Sally and perhaps serve as a warning of sorts as to what will happen if Don doesn't get his shit together and be a proper parent. What pains me so much though is that this episode is set in 1969 and there are still girls and women out there with the same complaints about their fathers: they never cared, they were never there, they never had any emotional connection. People like to say that about Mad Men: "oh, weren't things terrible back then?",  they say, but things are still pretty terrible, just not as explicitly. When will they get better? When men like Roger and Don everywhere start getting their damn shit together.


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