“Mad Men” and the Quality of Glen


WE’VE ALL BEEN THERE. Well, maybe not all. But if you’re a girl, or were a girl, you’ve been where Sally was at her overnight at Miss Porter’s. Left alone with some guy who you are willing to make small talk with…but then it soon becomes clear that it’s going to turn into his mouth on your mouth. And you give a signal– a polite signal – you lean away, attempt to make small talk – “What music do you like?” But he keeps going and you are going to have to get up and say no. And then you’re called a name: you’re a tease – “C’mon, you called us up here.”

We’ve all been where Sally was on “The Quality of Mercy,” last week’s episode of Mad Men, but not all of us have Glen. When she jumps up and yells for him to help her from the other room, where he’s gone with the pretty blonde, we’re thinking, or I was thinking, “He’s hooking up, he’s going to be pissed, he’s not going to come through.” Or: he’s going to want Sally – that’s what’s going to happen – she’s going to have to repay him. But what does Glen show us? That’s he’s the only virtuous man – the only non-man child – on the show. And possibly on the earth.

All of the Mad men are failures to the women in their lives. All of them, without exception. Don can’t be more than sexually intimate with Betty and Meghan, maybe a wee bit more vulnerable with the neighbor affair lady – as he goes crazy having to separate from her. Even as he helps get her son away from jail and into a safer place for him during the war, it’s only so that he can talk to her on the phone and be the hero. But he not only fails Meghan, he fails Sally by putting himself in the position of being caught in the act by her. (Oh, Sally, with her tragic bad timing and a future promising decades of therapy!)  If you fail your daughter, you have failed. And as we see in this past episode, Don knows it. Don is an obvious fail, as are all of the men in the firm, some more obviously than others.  And the one non-firm man, Betty’s new husband – Gene? Harold? Henry!—gets off on Betty being desired by men at parties. He feeds the only thing that gives Betty power: her sexual attractiveness. True, he did love her when she was fat with black hair a few short episodes ago. But somehow Betty got her groove back and she’s all old hot Betty again. (And blond! Do you know how hard it is to switch from blond to black and then back to blond? I’ve tried. But then again, Betty does have a lot of time on her hands. But I am veering off point here. I’m just glad they stopped giving her that fake double chin – so so very very rubber X-Men mutant-like fake.) So, Henry’s off the list. Roger Sterling, twice divorced, father to Joan’s son, is a big fail. He too failed his daughter by taking his grandson to see Planet of the Apes. Oh, and Sally walked in on him getting a BJ from Meghan’s French Canadian hot mom. Poor, poor Sally. But let’s get back to the men – let’s stick with the men at the firm. Peggy and her love with her boss man. Well, Ted’s cheating on his wife, so even if it’s true love, there’s a trail of lies there. Peggy was also made pregnant by Pete Campbell in season 1; I don’t remember all the details, but it was a bit rapey. And Pete was married to Trudy at the time– so fail fail failfail. He then failed Trudy again and their daughter because he was having all sorts of sex in the city, and lost the Vicks account because he caught his father-in-law (another failure) in a whorehouse. Stan had sex with the dead partner’s hippie daughter. And don’t get me started on Harry Crane.

OK, maybe Ken Cosgrove isn’t so bad. As we see in this past episode, he’s not an obvious fail. He can’t take getting shot in the eye or being in drunken car accidents with the boys from Chevy. He’s taking his wife and new baby on the way into consideration as he decides to quit the account. And yet by doing what he does, he is still complicit somehow. Ginsberg, too, is virtuous, but he’s also angry.

Only Glen is above reproach. Only Glen, raised as he was by a single mother, is always true.

He comes out of the room where he had been macking down with the cuter blond, as soon as he hears Sally call him. He races out and beats up his friend because she, Sally, says that he was trying to force her. He beats up his own friend who was his ride, potentially stranding him at Miss Porter’s. I love Glen. We women all need a Glen. Not because we’re weak. But because we need to believe that even though men can possibly take physical or emotional control over us, that they won’t. They will choose to not wield their power over us. Make us change our minds, question our motives.

I was 12 when our neighbor, who was 15, was like the boy Sally was saved from by Glen. We ended up alone in my yard after a group of neighborhood friends left from playing a late afternoon game of hide-and-seek.  It was the end of summer and we ended up sitting on the grass. My parents were freshly divorced and busy pursuing their own free libidos, so as I recall, no one was home. He was new – he had just moved to our neighborhood. He was cute, and I was intrigued by his being older than me. And his being taller and bigger. But I had never even kissed anyone yet. I was curious. But when he went in for the kiss, I got nervous and turned my head and shied away. Like Sally. But he kept persisting. And I really did just want to take it slow, maybe hold hands, maybe nothing. Like Sally. Or maybe I wanted it to go my pace – the way I wanted it. But I ended up in the unfortunate position of being sexually assaulted. At the time, I didn’t name it as such. I thought that I had obviously brought this on, that this is what boys do and on some level, I was even lucky to have this kind of attention. Though I didn’t want it. And I asked him to stop. To this day, I still feel the after-effects of his taking what he wanted from me without my consent. Without it being my decision. As I watched Sally, I felt her discomfort, and I felt myself give in – this is what I thought she would do. Like I did – like so many do. Because I didn’t think I could stand up and say no and be able to walk away. I didn’t have a Glen. Glen is the only non-manchild on the show. Glen was able to stop his “hook-up” to save Sally, because like he said, “Cut it out – I told you! She’s like my sister!” Punch, punch, punch.

We love Glen because he’s always come through for Sally and, in earlier seasons, for Betty, but he’s the real hero of the show. He’s the true hero thread – it’s not just the women getting stronger; it’s the men, too, if Glen is any indication of what’s hopefully to come in the next generation. But, what I dig also about Glen is his willingness to kick some ass if need be. And also to keep his priorities straight. His lady friend is being disrespected at the same time the hot blond girl wants to show him her “diary”. He’s able to leave her with confidence that she is not the last girl who will want to show him her “diary”. I freaking love you, Glen.

So, let’s see who else might step up to the plate and be a real man like Glen in tonight’s finale. Can Don redeem himself ever in Sally’s eyes? Probably not. Was his public cock blocking of Peggy and Ted’s affair a way for him to be some kind of hero, or were there deeper motives at play? His and Peggy’s relationship has always had an opposite-ends-of-the-telescope quality to it; kindred spirits in many ways, each with their own secrets and brilliant minds. Don has actual respect for Peggy. Something he does not seem to have it for anyone he gets involved with sexually. There’s some kind of purity between them. Maybe his motives were a desperate cry for help – a desperate attempt to keep something honest, to at least keep Peggy from becoming another victim of the scumbags that run amok in that office. If Don can save just one, maybe he can find some redemption. But he still won’t be half the man Glen is.


About Stephanie St. John

Stephanie St. John is a singer-songwriter and leader of the band Mimi Ferocious. Her piece "Belly-Up," about body acceptance through the joys of the maternity jean, is a part of the collection of essays, The Beautiful Anthology (TNB Books). She's a mother of two and lives in New Paltz, NY.
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2 Responses to “Mad Men” and the Quality of Glen

  1. strambinha says:

    I do agree that Glen behaved wonderfully towards Sally. He is the perfect, protective friend or older brother. I also agree that Ken is not so bad, but let’s not forget what kind of a jerk he was in the first season, the obnoxious, insulting way that he hit on Peggy during that lunch when she first started working at SC. He was quite vulgar in a few other occasions.

    But Don Draper, if we could set aside his philandering and a few jerk moments like the one in which he threw money in Peggy’s face, he has consistently treated women with much more respect than the other men in the show, and he is always there for Betty when she needs him, even after the divorce. While they were together, he brought a hostile father in law to his home because that was what he believed would be the best way to defend his wife’s interests at that moment. We may call him patronizing and old fashioned, but he behaved as a true gentleman towards Betty and many other women very often all these years.

  2. Pingback: Mad Men Season Finale – It’s All Fun and Games Until They Shoot You In the Face — The Good Men Project

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