One of the most interesting things about ‘Mad Men,’ right from the very beginning, has been the way that – even though the show dwells in the world of good ol’ boys, clueless gents and back-slapping fraternizing – the most compelling, sophisticated, and articulate characters have been the women. From Betty to Joan and everyone in between, the true measure of the culture times, and the emotional gauge for all that happens in ‘Mad Men’s’ heightened advertising world universe, has been the women. So, it’s nice to see this week’s episode tackle the female characters (as well as this thing called feminism) head on. Also: there are a ton of really good sight gags.
As always, this episode of ‘Mad Men’ is about the past versus the future – chiefly, the baby that Peggy and Pete had versus the baby that Pete is going to have with his wife. Pete, ever the conniving weasel (I always saw him as a kind of Patrick Bateman-in-the-making), uses the news to leverage business from his father-in-law. The father-in-law is at first chummy and then enraged; he knows that Pete is strong-arming him, but goes along with it anyway. Then, there’s the friction between Peggy and Pete. Think back to Season One, where Peggy was impregnated with Pete’s child. (She put the child up for adoption, with Don’s help.) Yeah, that kind of friction. It more simmers underneath the surface than comes to a head, but it’s palpable and adds a much-needed dimension of emotional depth.
And, really, the episode (entitled “The Rejected”), is all about Peggy.
Mostly it’s about her burgeoning, possibly romantic (Hey, don’t count it out. Remember when Willow made “the switch”?) relationship with a journalist who works for ‘Life’ magazine in the same building as Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. In the episode’s funniest exchange, the new possible love interest comes on to Peggy. Peggy rebuffs her advances. “Does your boyfriend own your vagina?”, the girl asks. “No, but he’s renting it!”, Peggy replies. The fact that this exchange takes place in a kind of swirling ’60s loft party set up by a photographer adds a chaotic extra layer. So does the sly smile that slides across Peggy’s face.
Peggy finds her way into each important set piece in the episode, too.
There’s a large, female-centric focus group held in the office. The psychologist gives Peggy her ring, and Peggy studies it longingly. (And, in an absolutely wonderful moment, Don studies Peggy.) Later, the focus group implodes due to many of the women opening up and crying (including Don’s scorned secretary Allison). In the emotional aftermath, Allison confronts Don. If the burgeoning wave of feminism is the episode’s subtext, it lets itself be known in more pronounced ways with Peggy and her new lesbian friend. There’s a determination and fierceness to Allison’s talk with Don that’s really, really great. The confrontation culminates with Allison throwing a round piece of art into some framed photos. And then the masterstroke of the moment: Peggy, in the office next door, peeks her head over their divide to peer through the glass, into Don’s office. It’s an absurd, hilarious touch.
When Allison talks to Peggy about what happened with Don, Allison implies that Peggy is just like her: a woman who works in the office and had been taken advantage of by the predatory Don Draper.
“I’m nothing like you!”, Peggy shoots back.
In a way, this proclamation encompasses the whole episode. Peggy isn’t like Allison, or anyone else in the show, with their single-mindedness and lack of introspection. It’ll be interesting to see how far afield Peggy goes, or if she’ll end up, well, rejected.