Peggy In Private
Written by Duana T
This week I watched Mad Men on Sunday night like a normal person – thinking ‘this is how it’s supposed to be done, I won’t have to rush, I can watch and think and get really ready to write about the show first thing in the morning."
But as I watched more and more of the episode I got more uncomfortable with the prospect, and put off writing about it all day. Because, frankly, the show left very little to be discussed. They explained everything they wanted us to know so clearly. But also for another reason.
There was no relief.
To go into boring writer talk for a minute, when you have multiple plots in an episode, in addition to each story being somewhat smaller, you can make them do different things to ‘balance’ the episode. It’s not an accident that a show that has an A plot about incest will do something frivolous, like a wig montage, in the B plot to offer the viewers and the characters some time to process what we just saw.
But no. Mad Men doesn’t pander. It demands that you buckle the hell up and get on for the ride. The episode – lots of people say it was the best of the season so far – was 100 percent Peggy and Don, with only brief appearances by the rest of our friends (Hi, Ken Cosgrove!). I settled in to finally catch up with some of Peggy’s outside life that’s been so far away in the last little while, to see what she’d been up to outside of meeting cute lesbians at work and going to happenings.
And bit by bit, the truth comes out. Peggy’s life is work. Peggy’s life is Don. The question is whether or not she hates that as much as she wants us to believe.
When her face lights up at the sight of flowers in her office, SHE KNOWS they’re not from the boyfriend, whose name I choose to believe we’re not supposed to remember. And she immediately calls Duck, flirty-flirty, in both the personal and the professional sense, until she discovers he’s in a bad way– drunk, dismissed from Gray, and desperate to see her. Makes you wonder how long these assignations have been going on. She’s certainly not surprised to hear from him – so have Duck and Peggy been carrying on an affair all this time?
If so, it has to have been intermittent. Not just because she says she merely ‘heard’ about the Clio Awards, but because as we can clearly see, Peggy’s life is devoted to Don. She’s so resentful – about Glo-Coat, about never getting credit for anything, about having to work with still-not-redeemable Stan the art director .
(May I digress for a second? I know how lame and predictable it is not to like ‘the new class’ of anything. But Stan, short Danny, and whashisname, cute helper kid, just seem like such dorky, outclassed…nimrods… that I long for the days of Paul Kinsey and his insufferable pipe.) And we’re back…
But you’ll notice that Peggy doesn’t really bitch, up to this point in the season, about how little she sees her boyfriend, or her family. She doesn’t whine wistfully about being able to give it all up once she gets married and becomes a mom. She’s like a lot of girls I knew –like the girl I was, even – who are only too happy to have a job to blame for the fact that they’re never available, emotionally or otherwise. It’s supposed to look hard and terrible, because nobody wants to admit they love being at work. Even Peggy knows it’s not appropriate to brag about how great, how fulfilling, how much more important than everything else in her life her job really is. If only Don would say thank you…
But still, the Public Peggy saves face in front of the others – in front of blissfully ignorant pregnant Trudy – by pretending what she wants to do isn’t to go to the fight, that she wants to be just like other girls, and be romanced, and have a good story to tell the next day. But – tell to whom? Nobody at work cares about Mark (I looked up his name) and wouldn’t ask her about it the next day. Nobody even notices that Peggy’s present came from Duck and not her boyfriend.
Except for Don, who’s been riding her harder than ever. Not that he’s ever been easy on her, but now, in his desperation not to be alone, he deliberately keeps her late. There’s an argument that says he didn’t know she had plans, a life, but I don’t buy it and never have. He is so desperate not to be in his own life – in the cold hard certainty that Anna is dead – and he has found no comfort in women, in booze, and certainly not in Roger, that he forces Peggy to stay with him all night, knowing she’ll be the only one who can help him.
And Peggy pretends to be fussed about screwing her boyfriend’s plans, but really, he should understand, shouldn’t he? And the ones who don’t – her family – well, they weren’t supposed to be there anyway. In fact, she saves all her emotional outbursts for the one man who truly matters. “You never say thank you!” “That’s what the money is for!!” – I know that’s a fight between boss and underling but really – isn’t that the most classic battle of the sexes you ever, ever heard?
I am hardly the first to love the relationship these two have but it’s beautiful. He understands her relationship breaking up but since he knows Peggy’s just like him, since he knows when they go for a drink and he asks her, just disinterestedly enough, whether she ever thinks about the baby and she blithely admits that she tries not to but, like Dick Whitman, she has flashes of remembering the old her, who made mistakes, Don is more sure than ever that they’re cut of the same cloth. Destined to be together if only because they understand each other so well.
And when one of those mistakes confronts them back at the office, when Duck slurringly calls Peggy a whore and most of us were peeking through our fingers hoping it was going to be okay, well, then Matthew Weiner and crew finally throw us a bone, and Don, to our immense relief, throws a wild punch to take Duck down (although isn’t it interesting that ultimately, he had to say ‘uncle’? Duck was the stronger of the two…) and defend Peggy’s honor.
She repays him, of course. By holding him all night so he doesn’t have to be alone with his demons. By sleeping over in her office, as he does, so she doesn’t miss anything. And in the morning, when he earnestly looks for her approval on an ad that’s really not that great or original, she gives it, and is rewarded with a hand squeeze, and the reassurances that she was right, that she does know him completely, as only Anna did before her.
I’m not going to go all film 101 on you and talk about the significance of Don having Peggy ‘leave the door open’ but they are bound and determined to keep us wondering. Guessing. He tells her she’s attractive – in a voice that assures us he doesn’t really think so at all.
Conventional wisdom says that these two will never be together, that it will threaten the purity of the relationship that they do have. But what if we’re all wrong? What if we’re witnessing the birth of the very first prototype of power-couple? I can barely breathe with excitement, either way.
Attached – Jon Hamm and partner Jennifer Westfeldt arriving at Heathrow today.
Photos from Splashnewsonline.com