Last Woman Standing: Peggy in Mad Men

*First published in The Stake

Mad Men can still deliver high and truthful moments even after seven years of squelching around in Don Draper’s doomed ego. “Lost Horizons,” the most recent Mad Men episode, is a good case in point. With Don off on one of his freedom rides, the episode centers around work discriminations against women. The first discrimination is when the gigantic McMann Erikson Corporation fails to have an office for Peggy after promising her one after the move.

They assumed she was a copywriter instead of a head copywriter because she’s a woman. Peggy accepts this oversight as many women do, with annoyance instead of raging out, and with her own special brand of obstinacy. She will not move from the deserted company floor of Sterling Cooper & Partners until she had a new office. Even when the electricity and phones are turned off, Peggy abides.

And because Peggy abides, she’ll be able to play the “boys club” game better than Joan. Joan is older than Peggy, less obstinate and more sick of the game than Peggy. Once moved to McCann Erickson, Joan ends up opting out of the company when discriminations from three different men in positions of power becomes too much. The first new coworker treats her like a doormat, her new boss treats like she’s his sexual favor, and the head of the company like she’s worthless. She fights for a fair deal but in the end settles for a poor one so she can wash her hands and walk out of McMann Erickson and never look back.

But not Peggy. She remains in the abandoned office, an in-between purgatorial world with flickering lights and silence. She tries to heat coffee on a hot plate, only burning herself in the process and spilling coffee across the floor. She stares at the splattered hot mess for a few moments and then walks away. Peggy’s ability to walk away from a mess, even when it’s hers, is the measure in which she’ll succeed in the male dominated corporate world. She may not have a personal life or even a soul by the end of the process, but she will succeed. And Peggy’s drive to succeed is admirable for all its inherent selfishness.

After getting a call that her office was finally ready, Peggy runs into Roger playing an organ in the empty reception area. It’s a strange meeting of the two; he’s never paid attention to her and she’s rarely spoken to him. They have drinks in the darkened rooms, she roller skates around the emptiness while he accompanies her on the organ. He also gives her Cooper’s 19th century Japanese picture of an octopus pleasuring a woman.

Peggy refuses it at first. She can’t put it up in her new office. “You know I need to work making men feel at ease.”

“Who told you that?” Roger asks.

The next time Peggy is shown, the music is rolling and she’s striding down the hallway of McCann Erickson with sunglasses on, a cigarette dangling between her lips, a box in her hands, and the pleasuring octopus picture tucked under her arm. Men slide past her staring and she doesn’t care.

Now that Joan is gone, Peggy is the lone remaining woman from the first season. Only the strongest women remain in the world of Mad Men. Two episodes are left for Mad Men, but the last shot of Peggy in sunglasses toting around erotica make it clear. Whatever comes, she will succeed.

writing one small line at a time

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