Mad Men, Season 4
Week 7: Peggy Olson vs. Mary Tyler Moore
I finished this episode with one primary emotion: relief that Don and Peggy never made out. You're right, John, that there was a father-daughter dynamic during their night on the town, but the episode also teased us with the threat that Don might behave as abominably toward Peggy as he had toward Allison. When he said, "Let me take you out to dinner," I thought, No! When he said, "Let's go someplace darker," I thought, No! And when he patted the couch, urging Peggy to sit next to him in an echo of the gesture he used the night he bedded his secretary, I thought, Please, please no!
Thankfully, the night ends chastely; Don and Peggy have exchanged confidences but not bodily fluids. Peggy has learned just how alone Don is, and Don has learned how alone Peggy feels, as a young working woman out of sync with her gender and her peers. In the diner, she tells Don, "I know what I'm supposed to want, but it just never feels right. Or as important as anything in that office."
For years now, Mad Men has been telling us the story of women entering the work force, but this episode should cement Peggy's status as an early working girl as iconic as Mary Tyler Moore. How amazing is Elizabeth Moss' face? It can be so hard and beaky, and then in an instant so soft and thoughtful, and her eyes convey at every turn how much Peggy's holding back: how composed, how self-contained, and how solitary she must be to navigate her circumstances.
Today, we read about women struggling with "work-life balance" everywhere—in the New York Times, in best-selling books, on our acquaintances' Facebook pages—but this episode reminds us how alienating it was for the first echelon of women to pursue careers in masculine industries. The episode even hints at the way things are changing: Although Trudie pities the unmarried Peggy, saying, "You know, 26 is still very young," Megan, the even younger receptionist, seems to admire what Peggy has achieved, a great job and (for the moment anyway) a boyfriend, too: "Well, you're doing all right, aren't you?" (Perhaps Megan will be part of the first generation to strive to "have it all," the poor thing.)
John, you asked whether the slumber party will change Peggy's working relationship with Don. I think it will. For Don, hearing what work means to Peggy—and what she's given up in order to be at the office both when the lights turn off at night and when they turn on in the morning— helps him to understand why she's been so needy lately, so desperate for recognition and thanks. She's making a big bet on her career, and she needs reassurance from someone that what she's doing is worthwhile. Meanwhile, Peggy begins to understand that Don's downward spiral is more profound than a post-divorce bender, and that he may need some help coming out of it. Faced with two drunk, middle-aged ad men, she puts Duck in a cab—knowing he (and the easy recognition he offers) is a lost cause—and returns to Don, who is drunk and out of control, but who can be saved. I think we'll see Peggy steering Don to a newer, more stable version of himself in coming episodes. I doubt he'll really let down his guard, though (even if telling Peggy to leave the office door open is a start).
One final question for you, gentlemen: Was this the most bathroom-oriented episode of Mad Men to date? There are three (count 'em!) scenes in the SDCP bathrooms—Peggy's run-in with Trudie and Megan, Peggy's solitary tears, and Don's puke-a-thon. Then there's Duck's threat to defecate on Roger's white chair. Finally, Don accuses Peggy of "shitting on" his ideas. Was that even an idiom back in 1965? Your thoughts on this fecal trend would be most welcome.
Now, I want a rare steak, and I want to see two men pound each other.