the ways in which sally draper ruled mad men

We shout out to actress Kiernan Shipka, who's been the show’s great revelation.

by Colin Crummy
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10 April 2015, 12:28am

Sally Draper began life on Mad Men asleep. Like any child actor the then six year old who played her, Kiernan Shipka, was expected to do no more than walk to her spot, say the line, get out of the way of the main adult action. In essence, don't make a scene.

By series one, episode two that had changed, after Sally Draper puts a dry cleaning bag over her head. It's an innocuous moment in a way - her mother Betty Draper more concerned with clothes on the floor than suffocation - but Sally's composure and that questioning look she gives Betty sets her up to be more than just window dressing for the rest of the show's run. It remains an uncomfortable, confrontational image, just as Sally has proved herself both of those things for the adults and audience of Man Men ever since. Here are some of her greatest moves:

She Explored Child Sexuality

Let's start with a big, audacious move both by Shipka, in playing it, and Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, in scripting it. In season five, episode four Sally turns a sleepover at a friend's into something else, when she masturbates to an actor from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. on the television. The scene is later played for the purpose of examining adult shame, as Betty is mortified by her daughter's behaviour. But more than that, the moment breaks a cultural taboo in acknowledging child sexuality. And more than that, Weiner addressed the idea that little girls can have sexual feelings too.

She's A Feminist

Skip forward to the final season of Mad Men and Sally's turned into a fledging feminist to the ire of her mother. In episode five, she horrifies Betty when she comes home with a broken nose. While Betty's busy trying to think of ways to fix it, Sally's already three steps ahead of her, first telling her to get a grip with a zinger: "It's a nose job, not an abortion", and then by landing the killer blow of "Don't worry about me finding a man, I already have you to keep me in line". Atta girl.

She Knows How To Handle A Monstrous Mother

The kinder online commentators have called Betty Draper an emotional vampire and she's certainly not been shy of putting her kids in the frontline of battle with ex husband Don. When angry at Don's new Manhattan wife and life, Betty chooses to tell Sally of her father's previous marriage and watch how he'll try to wriggle out of explaining it. But Don doesn't rise to the bait, and Sally, once informed tells her mum of the conversation: "Daddy showed me pictures and they spoke very fondly of her," leaving Betty nowhere to go with her lashing out.

She Showed The Adults Up For The Children They Are

As Mad Men progressed, so has the sense that the adults are really children with Manhattan as their playground. Frequently, Sally is called upon to show them up in this light, as in confrontations with her mother or when, in season three she violently mourns her grandpa's death while all around her the adults are intent in keeping up appearances.

Sally Sheds Light On Don More Than Anyone Can

Daddy's girl does more than her share of the lifting in Mad Men to get underneath the skin of Don Draper. When Sally catches him having sex, he initially tries to brush the episode under the carpet, saying he was merely comforting the woman. But Sally is not the child everyone takes her for, and Don realises this and takes her to see where he grew up.

She Can Wrap Up The Entire Show In A Look

Which is the one she gives Don when he shows her his childhood home. It's sympathetic, saddened and devastating.

Sally's Been As Stylish To Watch As Anyone On Mad Men

Sally's fashion evolution has been as revelatory as her character. She's got a preppy Yale-girl-in-waiting look down to a tee and was the showstopper at season five's Codfish Ball in knee high boots and big girl make up. It was uncomfortably adult, which was completely the point.

She's Given Us Kiernan Shipka

Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner admitted he didn't really know what he was getting when he cast Kieran Shipka as Sally. 'You never know how a 6-year-old is going to develop,' he told the New York Times last month. 'Will they become self-conscious in front of the camera or lose interest? But Kiernan is a prodigy.' So even when Mad Men bows out in May, expect plenty more from Kiernan. 

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Text Colin Crummy

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Sally Draper