The fans’ reactions to the character of Bobbie Barrett during Season Two of “MAD MEN” have always intrigued me, even after two years or so. In this day and age – namely the early 21st century – I never understood why they held her in such a low regard. I had explained this in an article written by me some time following the conclusion of Season Two:
“MAD MEN”: Sex and Bobbie Barrett
I have enjoyed Season Two of “MAD MEN” very much. In fact, I would say that I found it even more interesting than Season One. Many fans have commented that the female characters seemed to have developed a lot more in this past season than they did in the first season. And yet . . . when Season Two aired last summer, many fans – both male and female – had expressed a great deal of hostility toward one of the new characters – namely Bobbie Barrett. My first question is . . . why?
Why had there been such a great deal of hostility toward Bobbie? What was it about her that made her hated by many of series’ fans? As we all know, Bobbie is the wife and manager of insult comedian, Jimmy Barrett. The Barretts were first introduced in the episode (2.03) “The Benefactor”, when a drunken Jimmy, who had been hired as a spokesperson for Utz Potato Chips, insulted the owner’s wife. Sterling/Cooper’s own Don Draper had to meet with Bobbie to arrange for Jimmy to apologize to the Schillings, the owners of Utz. Don and Bobbie’s meeting eventually resulted in both of them having sex inside somebody’s car. Later, Bobbie tried to get more money from Don (in a hallway of the restaurant they and Schillings are at for the apology) in exchange for the pay-or-play contract of her husband’s. Don manhandled Bobbie and threatened to ruin Jimmy. And Bobbie appeared to enjoy the attention. She later convinced Jimmy to apologize.
Despite this violent encounter, Don and Bobbie’s affair continued in the following episode, (2.04) “Three Sundays”. After meeting at Sardi’s for cocktails in order to celebrate Jimmy’s new television series in (2.05) “The New Girl”, the pair encountered Don’s former mistress, Rachel Mencken, who got married. They eventually left Sardi’s and ended up in a car accident, on their way to the Barretts’ beach house in Stony Brook. The affair finally ended in (2.06) “Maidenform” when Don learned from Bobbie that he had developed a reputation for his sexual prowess amongst Manhattan’s career women . . . before leaving her tied up during another sexual encounter. Bobbie was last seen in (2.07) “The Gold Violin”, during a party held at the Stork Club, celebrating Jimmy’s new show.
I have to ask . . . why was Bobbie hated so much by most of the fans? The owner of one blog continued to call her ”the Odious Bobbie” in reviews for nearly episode in which Bobbie appeared. Others have called her sick, twisted, perverse, a skank, a whore, evil and God knows what else. When Bobbie gave Peggy Olson the ”be a woman” advice in how to deal with Don and other professional colleagues, many fans came to the conclusion that she was advising Peggy to use sex to get ahead professionally. In fact, many assumed that Bobbie also used sex to get ahead as a talent agent. And yet, the series has never hinted that Bobbie actually did this. What crime did Bobbie commit to produce such hatred?
One would point out that Bobbie has engaged in extramarital sex. Her affair with Don lasted at least four episodes – from “The Benefactor” to “Maidenform”. Yet, Bobbie is not the only female on the show guilty of this:
*Peggy Olson – Sterling-Cooper secretary turned copywriter, who had sex with junior executive Pete Campbell after knowing him for less than 24 hours in Season One’s (1.01) “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”. Pete, I might add, had plans to get married the following day and told Peggy before they had sex. Seven episodes later in (1.08) “The Hobo Code”, Peggy and a now married Pete had sex again, inside his office. Peggy gave birth to their son, in the Season One finale, (1.13) “The Wheel”.
*Midge Daniels – an art illustrator who was engaged in an affair with the very married Don Draper between “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” and “The Hobo Code”. In fact, Midge and Don’s affair had been going on for five years by Season One. Don finally ended the affair when he realized that Midge was in love with someone else.
*Joan Holloway – Sterling-Cooper’s office manager who was engaged with the very married Roger Sterling, one of the firm’s owners, during Season One. When the affair began, the series has not yet revealed. Their affair was already on-going when revealed in (1.06) “Babylon”.
*Rachel Mencken – the head of a department store, who hired Sterling-Cooper to revamp her store’s image. Although both she and Don became attracted to one another in “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”, their affair began in (1.10) “Long Weekend” and ended in (1.12) “Nixon vs. Kennedy”, when Don suggested they run off together for the West Coast and Rachel realized that he did not want to run away with her, he just wanted to run away . . . from some problem. She called him a coward and ended the affair. Later, she married a man named Tilden Katz.
*Hildy – Pete Campbell’s secretary who had a one night stand with married Sterling-Cooper junior executive Harry Crane, during an election night party held at the firm’s offices in “Nixon vs. Kennedy”.
*Jane Siegel – introduced as Don’s new secretary in Season Two’s (2.05) “The New Girl”. After Joan threatened to fire her in“The Gold Violin” for encouraging some of the junior executives to take a peek at owner Betram Cooper’s new painting inside his office, she turned to Roger Sterling to intervene on her behalf. They eventually began an affair and Roger eventually left his wife, Mona, for her.
*Betty Draper – Don Draper’s ex-model wife, who eventually learned of his affair with Bobbie. She kicked him out of the house for a while. But after discovering that she was pregnant, she had a one-night stand with a stranger at a bar before reconciling with Don.
Well, apparently Bobbie is not the only female guilty of extramarital sex. Hell, she is not the only character guilty of extramarital sex. So, what was wrong with her? Some have complained about her aggressive nature. Which struck me as irrelevant, considering that she is not the only aggressive character in the series. Bobbie might be the only aggressive female in the series. So is that it? Men are allowed to be aggressive, but not women?
Bobbie is also a sexually aggressive woman who happens to like kinky sex. She made that quite clear in the way she wrestled with Don inside his car, and when she failed to be put off by Don’s aggressive manhandling of her in “The Benefactor”. She also revealed to Don that when she learned about his sexual prowess, she set out to seduce him in order to have sex with him. Is it possible that Bobbie’s sexual aggressiveness is a turn off with most fans? Would they prefer if Bobbie was sexually submissive . . . allowing men to seduce her or make the first move? Would they prefer if Bobbie limited her sexual preferences to the Missionary position or bent over, positions considered submissive for women? Or would they prefer if Bobbie was a man?
Not only have male fans condemned Bobbie’s characters, but so have a good number of women. The blogger who had nicked named Mrs. Barrett – “Odious Bobbie” is a woman. Even Matt Weiner has joined the act in his interview with critic Alan Sepinwall about Season Two:
“People were upset about Bobbie Barrett, that she wasn’t Rachel Menken, and I’m like, she’s not Rachel Menken, and he’s not in love with her, and he says no. But he should never have slept with that woman.”
I am a little perplexed by Weiner’s statement. One, he called Bobbie “that woman” – something I do not recall him naming any of the series’ other female characters. And two, he stated that Don should have never slept with her. On one level, I agree with him. After all, both Don and Bobbie were married to other people. But why did he say this about Bobbie? Why not about the other women with whom Don had cuckolded Betty? Why not say the same about Midge Daniels, Rachel Mencken, Joy or any of the other women Don had sex with during his marriage to Betty? Why Bobbie?
Bobbie Barrett’s reputation with “MAD MEN” has improved since Season Two ended. Many fans have complimented Melinda McGraw for her superb performance of the memorable Bobbie. There have been fans who have finally understood the meaning behind Bobbie’s advice to Peggy in “The New Girl”. And there have been fans who view both Bobbie and Jimmy Barrett as metaphors used to reveal more of Don’s true nature.
But a good number of Bobbie detractors remain. She is also the only one of Don’s known mistresses who has received such a strong level of hostility. And I can only wonder if any of this negativity might be a sign that despite the fact that we are now in the 21st century, society still demands that women adhere to some its ideal view on feminine behavior – in both real life and fiction?
Filed under: Essay, Television | Tagged: christina hendricks, elisabeth moss, history, january jones, john getz, jon hamm, mad men, maggie siff, melinda mcgraw, mid 20th century, patrick fischler, rosemarie dewitt, television |