Author’s note: I wrote this after season 4, but am revisiting it now and making some tweaks, and still find it a compelling argument even after watching season 5.)
When I got my Mad Men season 4 DVDs, the episode I was most eager to see again was The Rejected, because it looks startlingly different in retrospect after viewing the entire season from what it seemed to be when it first appeared early in the season. Specifically, this episode foreshadows the beginning of the Faye vs. Megan competition in the Mrs. Don Draper contest that came to a head in Tomorrowland, which neither of them dreamed would come to pass eight months down the road. At this time, it’s Allison who seems to be the one who has been most devastated by Don; clearly, she is in love with the man, or at least has a pretty fat crush on him, and he doesn’t love (or crush) her back. (There’s really no such thing as casual sex with your boss, whether in 1964 or 2012; no matter how hip and cool and unconcerned about commitment and fidelity either of you happen to be, there’s a power differential there that can’t ever be ignored when you’re bumping fuzzies with someone who’s in a position to fire you.)
But in the end, it turns out to be Faye who (to paraphrase Dotty, one of Faye’s focus-group participants) “gave him everything and got nothing,” and who could have predicted that, given what we see of Faye here? Let’s review: Faye has presented herself to the company as a married woman, complete with wedding/engagement ring combination, but has Peggy hold the rings so that she can present herself as a fellow single woman to the six single young women in the focus group, which includes both Megan and Allison, in order to gain their trust. And given the fact that all six women work for SCDP and therefore would have seen Faye around the office with the rings on, this seems like a rather bewildering posture on Faye’s part.
But we find out during The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, the very next episode, that Faye (as she confesses to Don, and only Don) actually is unmarried, and at roughly age 35, has evidently never been married. So what initially looks like cold, manipulative behavior on Faye’s part actually betrays a more complex agenda than it originally seems; she can’t come out and tell these women she’s lonely too, she has to get them to do the crying over men that she can’t (yet) bring herself to do. Faye’s anything-for-love deference to Don (after initial recalcitrance) in The Beautiful Girls and Chinese Wall, and her tears upon being dumped in Tomorrowland, show that she is far from “all business,” that she is just as hungry for love as anyone. She needs to know it’s not just her, and she needs to find out without giving herself away.
Why else would Faye present her hypothesis to Don, based on what we see of the focus group, that “all they care about is a husband”? Perhaps there were other things said in the focus group that weren’t in the script, but of the six of them, only Dotty ever says anything about marriage (“but we’re not married, so who am I?”). Certainly Megan, who gets her first real lines in this episode, demonstrates no chomping-at-the-bit eagerness to get hitched, and Allison actually says, “It’s almost worse when [men] notice.” As Don’s secretary of two years, who was there when Don’s marriage imploded, and who has recently seen him putting away alcohol like they’re not making any more of it, she of all people probably knows she’d be getting the sandy side of the Popsicle if she married him. Granted, logic doesn’t enter the picture when a crush takes over your brain, but did Allison ever really want to be Mrs. Draper? The evidence is pretty equivocal there; “we made a mistake” can be interpreted in a lot of different ways.
Yet Faye runs with it, even though she doesn’t know at this point who Allison is crying about, or why. Sure, blow off any married women who might be interested in your product; go ahead, focus on telling the single girls that if they don’t use Pond’s, they’ll be unloved forever. Project away, Faye! When she first brings the focus-group results to Don, she’s presenting them with an implicit point of view of, “Well, of course they all want to get married! I’m married! I’m fulfilled and happy, why shouldn’t they want that?” But, of course, she isn’t married, and actually has no idea what it’s like — and if she did, she might be pushing a very different agenda. After all, on this show, we’ve seen one married woman after another being fed a giant shit sandwich by her alpha-male husband — Joan, Betty, Mona, Jane, even Trudy. Why would it be any different for Faye, who is all too aware that nontraditional women are not sought after as wives in 1965, and struggle to maintain their dignity and self-respect and career trajectory when they do marry, unless they meet an extraordinary (and nontraditional) man? (Some things never change, do they?)
You know who does know all this at the time of The Rejected? Don Draper. He’s well aware that he was a terrible husband to Betty, and that he probably wouldn’t be a good one for any woman at this moment, given that he’s wallowing in depression and self-medicating with bathtubs full of rye — and no woman, no matter how wonderful, is going to pull him out of the tub right now. (He barely even notices Megan at this point, and won’t for another six months.) So while it seems strange that it’s Don making the proto-feminist argument here that single women only think they want to be married because no other possibilities have yet presented themselves, it makes perfect sense; he doesn’t want either end of the shit sandwich ever again. Of course, he can’t be the extraordinary nontraditional man Faye needs, either; ultimately, he picks Megan because he believes she will revolve around him and like it, whereas Faye chafes at trying to be submissive. But almost everyone wants love and respect in one form or another; Faye, unfortunately for her, exited the series not yet knowing that there are better ways for her to get it than being an alpha man’s wife.