Do you know why Sunday night’s episode of AMC’s ‘Mad Men‘ was so great? Because it was the story of Peggy, and she is possibly this show’s most interesting character.
Usually Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) is the focus of this show – his conflicts, his drinking, his sexual appetite. But Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) has been one of this drama’s most fascinating figures since the very beginning, and this week’s episode – titled “The Rejected” – took us farther into her story (and her mind) than we have ever gone before.
It’s been a while since she (and we) considered her affair with Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) back in Season 1 – a liaison that produced a child who Peggy immediately put up for adoption.
Last night, when news spread through the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper & Pryce that Pete’s wife, Trudy (Alison Brie), was pregnant, Peggy was deeply affected. She’s a young career woman in 1965 weighing the benefits (or fantasy) of marriage against the single life. In many ways, she’s a traditional Catholic, as she joked last night when attending a party of downtown bohemians in the company of a new friend named Joyce who works for Life magazine (elsewhere in the Time-Life building where Sterling Cooper is now located).
While she muses about marriage and motherhood, Peggy also seems to recognize the freedom the single life affords her. At the party (which got raided by the cops, for heavens’ sake!), she casually smoked a joint and wasn’t too shocked when Joyce, a lesbian, made a pass at her. (Peggy politely rejected her, at least for now). Then Peggy had a make-out session with a handsome writer named Abe, as they hid in a closet together from the police.
Elsewhere in the episode, Pete was at his scheming best (something we haven’t seen in a while) when he was faced with booting his own father-in-law’s account (Clearasil) because it conflicted with the agency’s new client, Pond’s Cold Cream. Pete than successfully squeezed his wife’s dad for a bigger account – all the Vick’s cough suppressants.
Four other details stand out from “The Rejected” – the kinds of details that make this show so exciting and such a pleasure to watch and talk about later. One was the sound of Don typing on an IBM Selectric electric typewriter. There was no typewriter like that one, and no sound like the Selectric’s clunky clickity-clack – I loved those machines.
Another was the scene that demonstrated an intrinsic flaw in modular office design, circa 1964 – that glass window separating wall and ceiling, through which Peggy got to spy briefly on Don while he snuck another drink.
It was right after Don’s now-former secretary laid it tearfully on the line when she confessed to Peggy that she and Don had had an affair. “He’s a drunk, and they get away with murder,” Allison said – the first time anyone has uttered this hard truth about Don, and the third of the four details worth closing with here.
And the fourth: How great was the scene in the reception area of Sterling Cooper at the episode’s conclusion? There, the two generations whose split would come to characterize the 1960s, stood several feet apart. Just outside the agency’s glass doors stood a gaggle of Peggy’s new friends – the young downtown bohemians – come to pick her up for lunch, and just inside, the group of dark-suited businessmen, the partners of Sterling Cooper meeting their new, gray-haired clients from Vick’s. It was a great, perfectly choreographed moment.
After a few weeks in which “Mad Men” seemed to be spinning its wheels a little, this episode was a reminder of why so many people think this is TV’s finest drama. What did you think?