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Peggy Olson, Don Draper and the Shared Experience on Mad Men

26 May

Television has the ability to stir an emotional response in us and it’s one reason why so many of us write about it, whether on a blog like this one which talks equal parts style and plot, or with the plethora of excellent sites that produce astounding work on a daily basis. Mad Men has explored notions of shared experience and isolation for seven seasons now and as we reach the break this comes into focus through Don and Peggy. It is significant they made such inroads on their formally fractured relationship last week, followed by a passing of the baton of sorts in “Waterloo” just as mankind took a giant leap (sorry I couldn’t resist).

Mad Men 7.07 hotel roomThe build up to the moon landing plays a significant role in this episode and it hinges on the excitement of a potentially grand achievement rather than the previous shared experience TV has delivered of death; the JFK assassination being the defining first televised moment like this. There are daily death notices as the Vietnam War ticks on in the background (according to a Gallop Poll in 1969 52% of Americans personally knew someone who had been killed/wounded in Vietnam) and there’s a general atmosphere of uncertainty hanging over the nation. The moon landing is a joyous moment anticipated by many; however fear and cynicism still hang in the air. Fear they might not make it and another tragedy will play out in front of the world (it will also impact their pitch if something horrible happens). The cynicism angle is voiced by the disaffected youth with Sean – the son of Betty’s friend – referencing how much this mission is costing and the problems back on Earth. Sally mimics this later to her father, but hope is not something you can put a price tag on (even if Sean has a point).

Everyone is doing the same thing as they sit with their family – or in the case of Pete, Peggy, Don and Harry their work family – glued to the screen together; cynics and believers as one. Let’s take a moment to marvel at Sean’s pants in this scene. They look like they come from Felix’s closet on Orphan Black.

Mad Men 7.07 the Francis FamilyDon rings the family Francis to experience this with his kids and it’s significant that we only see him interact with Sally because by this point that’s the only relationship we’ve seen cultivated. Though I would have loved to see his chat with Gene, just to see this kid talk and Bobby’s also become somewhat endearing thanks to his bad bartering and stress stomachaches. However, Sally’s sass complete with her scarily accurate Betty smoking posture is what we’re really here for. Plus she kisses the boy least expected and is doing her civic duty by being a lifeguard. For all my worries about Sally, I think she’s going to be ok in the end.

Mad Men 7.07 Peggy and DonLast week Anne Helen Petersen wrote a terrific and terrifyingly accurate essay entitled “What Peggy Olson has Taught me About Doing it My Way” and like both Petersen and Peggy, I am in this same age bracket (I turn 32 in September *shudder*). Both this essay and Peggy’s sentiments rang true (so much so that even thinking about that scene makes me teary) demonstrating how TV can be a shared experience on a whole other level. Watching Peggy struggle and flounder in her interactions with others this season (the Shirley/Valentine’s Day mix-up is the lowest Peggy got for me) has been hard because Peggy for me has always been the one I want to succeed the most.

In “Waterloo” we get our Peggy victory as she pushes past her insecurities and uses the huge event from the night before to forge an association going way beyond the “voice of moms.” It’s an incredible performance from Peggy as she taps into the hope from the night before and spins it in a way to sell burgers through togetherness. For Don to finally understand Peggy’s worth he had to be reduced to a position of nothing. By handing over the pitching reins Don is giving Peggy the one thing she has always desired; his approval and confidence in her abilities. So while she panics and laments the lack of liquor, this fear also gives her strength.

Don uses his personal life to inform his pitch and Peggy does the same as she discusses the 10-year-old at home. At no point does she refer to Julio as her son, even if he has become a surrogate of the child she has given up and Pete visibly flinches at this reference (their child would be slightly younger). Earlier in the episode when Julio tells Peggy he is moving, she weeps silently as she will lose one of the few real bonds she currently has (which is depressing in itself) and if anyone is starved of human contact on this show it is Peggy.

Mad Men 7.07 Peggy and Don hotelIgnoring Harry – which is on point – in the hotel room is a trio who have deep insight into each other thanks to the secrets they share. Family is a vague term that Pete doesn’t like; Pete’s real family is a closed off dysfunctional mess so it’s no wonder he’s not too fond of this concept. There is another family and this one has been just as complicated (if not more so), however they’ve also been a lot more accepting of his flaws and often undesirable personality traits.

Pete is the one with the most information as he knows about Don’s past and that he is the father of the baby Peggy gave up, Don knows about the baby, but not Pete’s involvement (I doubt he would be as favorable to Pete if he knew) and well, Peggy of course is aware of her baby secret and is in the dark about Dick Whitman. The connection between these three characters exists not just because of these secrets, but it certainly adds subtext and a bond that doesn’t exist with anyone else at SC&P as Bert was the only other person to know about Dick and now he’s dead. So long Bert and your no shoe wearing policy, I’m glad you got to see the moon landing even if I wish you weren’t such a horrific racist. Cool song and dance number too. Bravo.

Mad Men 7.07 BertYeah this happened. It was delightful and bonkers. Plus it fits in with Don seeing the ghosts of those who know about his past. This is the first time singing and dancing was part of it, but hey it is 1969 and everything is a little off-kilter.

Mad Men 7.07 hugBack to Peggy and she lands the account; there’s little fanfare as everyone is busy with multimillion dollar making (and Don Draper saving) business deals and saying farewell to Bert Cooper. There will be celebrations and these will come off camera as I’m sure time will have passed when we return next year, instead we get this moment instead and it feels just as good. Peggy did it and the relationship she has with Don is the closest either of them have. This might sound depressing, but remember where they both were at the end of last season. Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss continue to deliver exceptional performances revealing the pain and potential happiness these characters can achieve and both have a place on the ultimate glassy eyed Olympics team I am forging (see also Aaron Paul, Julianna Margulies and Caroline Dhavernas).

Don appears to have lost Megan for good this time as his suggestion of moving to LA was met with silence and then a sigh; it’s been a facade for a long time as they’ve essentially been playing husband and wife, rather than living it. Instead Don now has a confidant again – yes he has always had Roger, but their friendship is something else all together – and for Peggy it is important that she is no longer adrift either. Who knows what they can achieve together and like the moon landing there is now hope for a happy ending.

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3 Responses to “Peggy Olson, Don Draper and the Shared Experience on Mad Men”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Out of the Box: Look of the Week | TV Ate My Wardrobe - May 30, 2014

    […] look from this episode is what Peggy wore for her triumphant Burger Chef pitch and you can see that here. Janie Bryant continues to deliver a range of exceptional costumes that stay true to a particular […]

  2. Not Letting Go of the Bad Ex: How Don Draper Changed in Season 7 of Mad Men | TV Ate My Wardrobe - July 2, 2014

    […] either of their storylines (and I could basically spend this entire time talking about Peggy and I already have) I want to ask about your general overall feelings about this season. How are you finding Don now […]

  3. Mad Men Music Monday: Space Oddity | TV Ate My Wardrobe - May 4, 2015

    […] Road (I tried to read this book once, but it was very much not for me). Bert is the man who died watching the moon landing and spoke one of the lines of Mad Men – “she was an astronaut” – so it is […]

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