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'Mad Men': 'Right now my life is very...'


Not so long ago, Peggy Olson was the office square at Sterling Cooper, the one who opted out of work parties and complained the next day about the vomit in her trash can. (Total joykill!)  Even when she was cutting loose, Peggy was uptight about it. She’d say things like, “My name is Peggy Olson, and I’d like to smoke some marijuana,” not, “Hey, man, don't Bogart that roach.”

Sunday night, Peggy-the-office-nerd was nowhere to be found.  In her place was Peggy the hepcat, who in the course of one memorable night 1) smoked a joint; 2) was chased by cops from an illegal loft party; 3) had her first lesbian experience; and 4) made out with a stranger in a closet.  And she did it all wearing a fetching striped turtleneck and headband — not her Lady Bird Johnson pouf. 

How exactly did this happen?  I’m not entirely sure, but I like it.  Peggy used to be alienating and inscrutable; now her breezy attitude makes her just about the most sympathetic character on the show.  She’s become the closest thing the show has to a proxy for the viewer:  she’s thrilled by the changes around her, and nearly as giddy as we are to be transported to a downtown loft party in 1965. (In case you were wondering, the party was in Washington Market, an area that would largely be razed to build the World Trade Center, and the rest of which would come to be known as Tribeca.)

The new Peggy is also quite the comedian.  Her head (literally) pops up during a pivotal dramatic scene, bringing some levity to what was otherwise a heavy-handed moment (Don drinking, again). Later, when Joyce (Zosia Mamet) asks her if Mark owns her vagina, she quips, “No, he’s just renting it.”  Zing!  Even when she finds out that Pete and Trudy are expecting — and is clearly upset by it — Peggy reacts by banging her head into a desk.  Her response is perfectly understandable, and human.  Peggy used to be something of an automaton, so seeing her respond in such an instinctive, physical way is a sure sign of growth.  Not to mention, it’s also very funny. This may be the darkest season of “Mad Men” so far, but in some ways, it’s also been the most comic. 

If Peggy is morphing into the carefree girl in the striped turtleneck, Pete is turning into a family guy. Pete is one of the more reviled characters on “Mad Men,” but I must say he and Trudy grew on me enormously last season.  Their relationship used to be a farce, but I now find myself utterly convinced by the bond between them. Could Matthew Weiner be suggesting that marriage is actually good for some people? That seems to be the case with Pete, his dalliances with various nannies notwithstanding.  His love for Trudy is genuine, and he's thrilled to discover that he's going to be a father.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell if Matthew Weiner is deeply pessimistic, or hopelessly optimistic.  

Pete has also matured professionally.  His greatest attribute as an employee used to be his indefatigable willingness to suck up, but Pete’s developed real business acumen.  Yes, he still complains endlessly about clients — this week, he griped to Harry about a hilarious-sounding printing mix-up on the Playtex account — and clings to grudges like his life depends on it.  But he’s managed to become a master negotiator.  Witness the Clearasil matter: Pete managed to find a way out of a terribly sticky situation that not only salvaged his relationship with Tom, but was also a boon to the agency.  The substance of the conversation was the same — SCDP was dropping Clearasil — but Pete switched the focus.  He’s not being disloyal, only asking for more business for the agency.  It was a brilliant pivot by Mr. Campbell, who’s ever so slowly earning the respect of his partners.  So maybe next time, they’ll let him in on the Lucky Strike conference calls. 

As much as I like seeing Pete and Trudy happy together, the lingering whatever-it-is between Pete and Peggy still tugs at my heartstrings.  The ending of this episode was not too subtle: Peggy meets up with her cool, bespectacled friends in the lobby while Pete huddles with the agency’s gray hairs, congratulating himself on the Vicks triumph.    They’re both becoming more powerful in their jobs, but in every other way, Peggy and Pete are becoming different people. Peggy’s embracing the counterculture, while Pete’s embracing the Establishment.  Still, there’s something that ties these two forever.  I wouldn’t say they have a bond, exactly; it’s more like each has an omnipresent, almost subconscious awareness of the other. So when Peggy looked over at Pete at the end of the episode, I was rooting for him to meet her gaze.  He did. 

Many observers (and some commenters on this blog, for that matter) think Peggy is becoming more and more like Don. Like him, she has a secret past and lax attitudes about sex and fidelity, but I don’t think she is trying to emulate him, exactly -- at least not in her personal life. This week, Don caught Peggy trying on -- and gazing quizzically at -- Faye’s wedding ring.  She seemed embarrassed, almost as if Don would object if she opted for a more traditional life path.  There’s no doubt that his approval is important to her, and she feels abashed whenever she accidentally reveals her more girlish side to him.   But unlike Don, Peggy is growing to be more in touch with her own feelings, more in command of her own choices.  Her partying is fun and exploratory—not a desperate escape from her past. 

Speaking of which, the tension between Allison and Don finally erupted this week.  Allison flees the focus group in tears and Peggy, saying she feels responsible (oh, the irony) for the breakdown, goes to check on her.  The act of kindness backfires.  Allison badmouths Don — “He’s a drunk and they get away with murder because they forget everything” — which is already a big no-no with the steadfast Peggy.  Making matters worse, Allison also assumes that Peggy has slept with Don (Bobbie Barrett also said virtually the same thing to Peggy back in Season 2).  Peggy tells her to get over it, but Allison does no such thing.  She lobs a paperweight at Don, who’s too lazy to even write a recommendation letter for her.  The confrontation between Don and Allison was necessary, perhaps, but it also seemed forced. On a show that thrives on ambiguity and leaving things unsaid, it's uncomfortable to have Don's drinking become such an obvious "issue." 

It was heartening, at least, to see that Don was upset by it all, even if he didn’t follow through with the letter he began to type to Allison. What would he have said, after all?  Right now my life is very ... messy? Depressing?  Lonely?   It was another moment of obvious irony: Don has sunk so low that he’s now drunkenly typing apologies to his secretary, and, it must be said, doing so with remarkable proficiency — not a single typo!

Joan, of course, knows exactly what happened between Don and Allison without ever having to ask.  That’s why she brought Mrs. Blankenship “out of mothballs” for Don.  There’s an adage about “Mad Men” that nothing ever happens without a reason, and I think that applies in this case.  I have a feeling that if anyone at the office can — and will — confront Don about his bad behavior, it’s Joan. 

A few other questions/observations:

--This episode explicitly dealt with the new ad restrictions places on tobacco manufacturers by the surgeon general in 1964.  You can bet this won’t be the last time we hear about this.

-- The focus group only used women from the agency, yet Faye changed her outfit, took off her wedding ring, and wanted her name tag misspelled.  Who is she fooling, exactly?

-- Don and Faye really don’t like each other.  I’m with Don on this one, but I’m betting they will be sleeping together within a few weeks.

-- John Slattery directed this episode.  What did you think?

-- This episode marked the return of the two-way mirror, used so memorably in season one’s “Belle Jolie” campaign.

-- Freddy tells Don, “Your financial future’s in the hands of a room full of 22-year-old girls,” to which Don replies, “Not mine.”  What did he mean by that?

-- The eccentric design and limited space of the new office is a continual source of jokes — and frustration — for SCDP employees.  Pete’s office has a weirdly placed column, Joan has to give up her office during the focus group and doesn’t seem thrilled about it.

-- Ken Cosgrove is back.  Yay?  Though it’s nice to see an old face, he wasn’t exactly at the top of my list.  I am hoping we get to see more of the Sterling Cooper gang — especially Sal Romano and/or Paul Kinsey.

-- Betty's absence this season has been conspicuous, and I for one am excited about her (apparent) return next week. 

What did you think?

-- Meredith Blake

Photo: Peggy, right, tells Allison to get over it already. Credit: Mike Yarish /AMC



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Television review: 'Mad Men'

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Comments () | Archives (30)

When Freddie said that, "your financial future is in the hands of a room full of 22-year-olds." and Don replied "not mine." It was because Freddie is tied to that account and if it doesn't work out it, Freddie's future with the company is dependent on Pond's Cold Cream and the girls.

Some of the best writing - ever - is on display in 'Mad Men'. Including the days when Paddy Chayefsky and Rod Serling wrote original plays for the medium. All characters are changing in remarkable and often surprising ways. Future shadows are subtle and delicious.

John Slattery's direction was filled with non-verbalized contrasts and comparisons, as well as a fine visual style that expanded the ironies without overwhelming them.

Television has never been better.

This season truly is the spiraling downward plunge of the Madison Avenue Don Draper, until he finally reinvents himself in 1966, probably with a moustache and sideburns. Maybe he might be less of a cad, but I doubt it.

Peggy will become the consummate libber, maybe even burning her bra and marching against the war.

Joan will lose her husband in Vietnam and turn into the female executive she always knew she could do better than any of the boys.

And Pete will achieve his dream and become just like Don, wrestling with demons and destroying all his personal relationships in the process.

Love watching the Sixties all over again!

Great episode! My fav so far! Enjoyed the recap!

Pete intrigues me. I don't know if he quite embraces the establishment. He works within it; he gets the older guys. But he also sees the change around him in a way that they don't. Last season, he saw the potential in the African American market. He mourned JFK and understood what he meant to the country. He was angry at the others because they didn't feel anything. He knows that he had a fool for a father. One of the most moving statements from him came when he was talking to the fertility doctor; he said something like "do we really want to bring children into this world." He gets the times are changing.

He has a deep connection with Peggy beyond their romantic encounters. She is another person in the agency who doesn't quite fit in with the younger or the older crowd. Yet she can work with both like him. And she is so talented. Duck got them both. Yet ironically Pete seems to have the best marriage on the show. He's married to a smart, wonderful woman who is also a partner to him in every way.

Ken Cosgrove displayed more personality in this episode than he did in the previous three seasons.

Re: Don's "Not mine.": I'm pretty sure he meant that it's their client's financial future on the line, not Don's. Perhaps another sign that Don is growing more and more disconnected, but I didn't read anything further into that exchange.

Great post!
- Indeed, great to see Peggy exploring her ever-changing environment.
- Allison? She played the role well, and it's a nice reminder that Don still has that effect on women. This time however, the result is different. Which I think is the recurring theme of this season.
- To answer your questions about "my life depending on 22-year olds...," it simply acknowledges Freddy's position at the agency. If the account fails (or leaves), Freddy will be let go. Standard practice today in the industry as well.

Question: Has Matt Weiner hinted at how many more seasons of Mad Men we can expect? I ask because I don't know if I want to see what happens to the characters in the Seventies era. It would change things.

Nice summary.

It was an interesting turn to see Kenny Cosgrove in a pathetic state after his triumph of publication in The Atlantic in Season One. By now I had expected he would have published one or both of his novels and be working full-time as a writer on his own. His pitiful account of his working life seemed to give Pete the confidence he needed to take on his father-in-law.

I was left wondering, however, what happened to all of the other guys that were supposedly meeting up with Harry Crane for lunch?

As usual, an awesome review. LOVED the loft party scene! I especially loved when Peggy asked if there was any beer and then a BEAR walked by. Hilarious! And it was totally hilarious when her head popped up in the glass between her and Don's offices. Genius. Loved Peggy in this whole episode, and you're definitely right when you say she's the become the most sympathetic character on the show. I mean, who hasn't banged their head against a wall or desk when they see an ex boyfriend/lover actually happy with someone else? When Pete cracked a smile at her through the glass, I pretty much wanted to cry.

"Freddy tells Don, “Your financial future’s in the hands of a room full of 22-year-old girls,” to which Don replies, “Not mine.” What did he mean by that?"

Freddy brought the account with him to SCDP--Don was telling him that he would be held responsible for whatever happened with it.

this was the best episode of the season by far....and that has much to do with slattery's directing

you could see his touches

bert lounging in the lobby, the waiter getting the names wrong, peggy spying on draper, the timing of all the comebacks....all had slattery's stamp on them.

he is doing another epi this year, and i hope he gets more next season

I did like the way the episode was directed, way to go John. I loved the close up of the cigarette and the comment how they can't show that angle in ads anymore. Peggy did have the best line about her vagina. Liked the way Peggy very discreetly did not sign the card for Pete. We all know Ken will join SCDP which will both infuriate Pete and make him rich. I think it's only a matter of weeks until Pete/Peggy sleep together. Liked Cooper in the lobby reading the books with he socked feet on the table while the girl from Life was there to see Peggy, very subtle and also very funny. I think it might be Cooper who confronts Don about his drinking. Don defending Peggy's idea and not agreeing with Fay was great. Although Fay will want to sleep with Don, he will reject her. Now that Joan has proven her point with the old secretary, Don will get a new one.

I think Mrs. Blankenship was a nice little nod to THE APARTMENT. Only these guys took it one step further. Love this show.

Incidentally in the episode just before this week's, there was a wonderful throw-away line aimed at John Hamm's character. Don was planning to fly to the West Coast the next day, when one of his co-workers asked if he had time for a quick lunch with Bill Asher, even commenting that Asher might even cast him.

Bill Asher was, of course, the producer-director of 'Bewitched'. The line was in reference to the fact that the witch's hapless husband, Darin, worked in advertising.

Fell off my seat when I heard it.

When he said, "not mine", Don was talking about the fact that Freddie may be held responsible for the Pond's account, but, I think what he really meant was that he has no faith in the science being employed and doesn't give a fig about focus groups, particularly not ones pulled from his own office. He is accustomed to telling consumers and clients what they want. He doesn't believe in the efficacy psychology at all. To him, this is a waste of time. Besides, the last thing he wants is exactly what he got. A pissed off woman crying in his office.

I didn't think that all the bad things Don had to deal with were references to his drinking, at least not entirely. From the very beginning, Don has been trying to construct his world very precisely and we have watched it crumble. His treatment of Allison and it's aftermath were one more parapet coming down. He cant get away with the things he used to, for a variety of reasons, and now he has to make some changes or get crushed by his own pile of cr*p.

It wasn't a "dalliance." It was rape. The Nannie was forced to have sex. I hate the way people minimize what Pete did. I will never like him because of it, but I do agree that his marriage to Trudy is a good one at this point. She's way, way too good for him, but he has probably become a better person because of her. We'll see. He could still do something criminal or unethical at any moment.

Btw -- it wasn't just that women were restricted to the focus group, but SINGLE women. Makes the idea of Dove helping you get a husband even more ridiculous. Did the brilliant researcher really exclude an entire demo?

And they also used that 2-way mirror with the dog food rebranding project that went nowhere. There was a memorable line from that episode that was also used last night. In the dog food focus group, Don told Peggy to "turn it off" when the client became upset. Peggy said, "But it's actually happening."6 Last night Allison said the exact same thing to Don after the focus group "This is actually happening." Can't be a coincidence, both women attempting to snap Don into focusing on reality.

I also enjoyed Peggy in this episode. i have always enjoyed Peggy- even when she was very much the office outcast in the earlier seasons. She did have some good lines this episode. When she made the comment about her boyfriend renting her vagina I was definitely laughing, as well as when her head popped up in the window of Don's office. The whole scene with her and Allison was quite interesting- I was almost surprised Peggy didn't hit her- the look of anger on her face when she realized what Allison was assuming! I also liked the line by the art guys when Peggy asked him if he had known who Malcom X was and he responded "do you ever read between the ads."

as usual- good recap!

The scene where the artist denigrates Peggy for working in advertising is similar to the scene with Don and the bohemian girl in the coffeehouse in season one, where one of her friends gives him the same rap. I think we are meant to compare Peggy and Don, similar in many ways, but headed in different trajectories.

Pete and Peggy are the most interesting characters on this show, hands down. Loved seeing both of them get some juicy storylines in this episode. I personally can't hate Pete - he's the most transparent character and he DOES have good ideas. And yeah, kudos to him for developing what seems to be a real marriage on this show full of sham ones. I'd never have thought that would have happened based on season 1. Of note - he actually TALKS to Trudy about his job and what's going on and she feels involved. Don never ever did that with Betty.

@ Jean - well put! Personally, I didn't miss Ken - he was a fairly dull character that was only useful as a foil to Pete and a crush to Sal (Sal - come back!). But you're totally right; this is the most personality he's ever displayed. Methinks he'll be brought back into the SCDP fold sooner rather than later.

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