Mad Men‘s Perfect Meditation On Girlhood

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sally draperLike a lot of fans of Mad Men, one of the reasons I’ve always taken to the show is because of the women. Their challenges, navigation of the workplace, and struggle with family and professional relationships although anchored in the 1960s, are still quite relevant today. As from  sexual harassment to assault to the stigma of divorce, Mad Men has always seemed to have a lot to reveal about the ladies. But as Don Draper‘s little girl Sally Draper gets on into womanhood, I suppose we can look forward to the show demonstrating further commentary on the unique and sometimes jarring experience of growing up as a girl.

Last night’s “At The Codfish Ball” addressed 12-year-old Sally’s ladyhood straight on with everything from make-up to dates to an awkward brush with adult sexuality. The little girl who notoriously endures a complicated relationship with both parents, prepares to attend an award dinner with Don, getting a new dress for the occasion thanks to her step-mother Megan Draper and step-grandmother. When she steps out for the evening, announcing her arrival with a very grownup “good evening everyone,” she appears like like nothing short of a Toddlers & Tiaras contestant.  Knee-high boots, bright eyeshadow, and all. Don, visibly perturbed by the styling, asks that his daughter lose the boots and the make-up.

His new father-in-law, in rusty English, says that it is often a father’s sadness when a daughter “spread[s] their legs and flies away.” Megan, mortified, speaks up and says “wings, Daddy.”

What ensues is a sophisticated meditation on the transition from girlhood and the expectations of daughters — explored with nearly all the characters. After Sally excuses herself, Megan literally scoots over and assumes her seat at the table,  conversing with her father about his hopes for her as she gets older. Peggy Olson, having decided to move in with her boyfriend, asks that her mother recognize her decision as an adult one. Don tells his daughter that he has very much enjoyed sharing the evening with  “a beautiful young lady who will one day be wearing makeup, just not today.”

But just as Sally starts to think she is getting the handle on this grownup business, what with being Roger Sterling‘s date and carrying a shiny purse, she heads to the aptly metaphoric “lady’s room” to see her step-grandmother having oral sex with Roger Sterling. She leaves, visibly upset by what she saw, but deciding to make no mention of it to any of the grownups in the room. The moment not only appropriately concludes the episode, but also comments succinctly on the more unnerving corners of impending adulthood– particularly adult sexuality.

Sally is every bit a little girl as she returns to the dinner table, unable to finish her fancy dinner. But having had a glimpse into an illicit intimate encounter between two adults, she is just a smidgen older.