Mad Men: Complete History of Don & PeggyPosted: May 23, 2014
For Vulture, Margaret Lyons writes: Mad Men‘s half-season finale is Sunday, wrapping up a run of seven episodes that have started to bring the show’s guiding themes into sharper focus: mortality, morality, companionship, self-regard. This season has revisited ideas and characters from early on, retold stories from other episodes, and found many of our characters in uncannily familiar situations. Don and Peggy exemplify that same-but-different feeling of this season, with last Sunday’s “The Strategy” using many of the same ideas from season four’s “The Suitcase” — Peggy’s birthday, office drunkenness, the frustration of trying to wring an idea out of thin air. Don and Peggy’s relationship goes way beyond these thematic echoes, though; it’s the definitive relationship of the series, one that reflects and metabolizes both characters’ interactions with all the other characters on the show.
More so than with any other pair on Mad Men, the story of Don and Peggy pokes at the show’s central question: Who am I? Don and Peggy ask and answer that question together, and even as their relationship has grown and changed over the course of the show, the mirror they hold up to one another remains as inspiring — and unflattering — as it ever was.
Don and Peggy meet on the pilot, which is Peggy’s first day at Sterling Cooper. If you haven’t rewatched the first season in a while, do so: It’ll make Peggy’s eventual ascension seem even more impressive because she faced an appalling level of constant sexual harassment from day one. (Particularly, though not exclusively, from Pete.) Don initially walks right past Peggy, instead greeting only Joan, so the first time Don and Peggy talk, she’s waking him up from a nap. Everyone in the office spends the rest of the episode encouraging Peggy to be sexier, to show off her legs, to capitalize on her “darling ankles,” to flirt more with Don. He tells her to “entertain” Pete, and she asks, meekly but with the kind of internal steely disposition we come to recognize, “Do I have to?”
Do I have to? It’s something Don Draper wonders about a lot. It’s also something that Mad Men spends a great deal of time acknowledging: We all have to do a lot of shit we don’t want do, and this is called “society.” That pressure is bad for almost everyone. Later, when Peggy awkwardly tries to flirt with Don by placing her hand on his, she’s not flirting because she’s actually into Don. She’s doing it because she thinks she has to, and Don’s rebuff is embarrassing but also a huge relief. Don’s someone who knows that you actually don’t have to do everything you think you have to do; sometimes this is bravery, sometimes this is assholery.
There’s not another important Don and Peggy moment again until episode five, “5G,” in which Peggy accidentally discovers that Don has a mistress. She’s horrified by Don’s deceit — made all the worse by the fact that Don dashes off to meet Midge while Betty, Sally, and Bobby are at the office waiting for him to take a family portrait — and she’s horrified by having to lie for him. Yet as prim and proper as Peggy seems, it’s only three episodes later, in “The Hobo Code,” that Peggy and Pete are getting to the office early to have sex before the workday starts. Don notices and mentions Peggy’s ripped blouse collar, thus inducting her into the glass house club, where it’s never okay to throw stones. This is also the episode where Peggy sells her first campaign, Belle Jolie’s “Mark Your Man” slogan. You don’t have to be like Don to be successful, but it helps.
Over the next few episodes, Don and Peggy develop a solid rapport, decent but not extraordinary. But then in episode 11, “Indian Summer,” Don stands up for her in the vaguely embarrassing Rejuvinator meeting. She doesn’t want to explain that the “weight loss” belt is actually a vibrator. Don steps in, demurely covers for her, and praises (but corrects) her copy work. Later, Peggy asks Don for a raise, which becomes a recurring act in their relationship. He’s surprised by how little she makes, and eventually agrees both to a raise and to removing some of her secretarial duties while she’s working on campaigns…(read more)
- Mad Men Recap: The Strange Family Don, Peggy, and Pete Built (wired.com)
- Mad Men – “The Strategy” Review: A Poignant and Outstanding Hour (entertainmentfuse.com)
- Mad Men Recap: Season 7, Episode 6: Burgers and Chicks (snapcracklewatch.wordpress.com)
- Mad Men Recap: Don and Peggy, Together Again (esquire.com)