Thursday, September 10, 2009

Peggy Olson is My Hero

Yes, I am indeed one of “those” people; a dedicated viewer and fan of AMC’s series Mad Men who will quietly judge those who don’t watch it. If you tell me it’s “boring,” I reserve the right to think you’re “stupid.” Which is probably not a fair assessment, but this is my blog, so I can make all the snap judgments I want.

As its third season is just starting to rev up, it’s becoming more and more clear that while the show may be called Mad Men, the real heart and soul lies in the women (as many entertainment writers more astute and talented than myself have already noted). I admit that the trials of dissatisfied housewife Betty Draper fail to fully capture me; someone just needs to give her a copy of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and let her grow into an actual woman, rather than just being Barbie taking care of Don’s Dreamhouse. But Joan and Peggy are where it’s at. Joan is a walking example of every man’s sexual desire, yet she’s smart, shrewd, and capable of so much more than she lets on. I long for the day she escapes her marriage to Dr. McRapeface and truly comes into her own.

So while I’m waiting for Betty and Joan to get up to speed, there’s Peggy to focus on. The girl went through a lot in the first two seasons, with working her way up from secretary to copywriter, and then that whole “unknown” pregnancy thing. But it’s in this current season that Ms. Olson is truly kicking ass and taking names and paving the way for women to shake off the antiquated 1950s way of life and prepare for the sexual revolution. Here are just a few reasons why Peggy Olson is my hero:

* Her speech to Campbell at the end of last season. Yes, everyone’s been marveling at it for the past year, but it warrants repeating. While he’s lamenting his marital woes to Peggy and wondering if she’s the girl he should have chosen, she calmly—but not cruelly—finally tells him that she had his baby and gave it away, because she wanted more from life. I can only imagine the emotional turmoil that whole situation must have put her through, but she manages to remain cool and collected when finally admitting it out loud. And it just makes us all wonder when and if that storyline will make a reappearance and where it will go.

* She’s unflappable. In a time when it was socially acceptable to refer to women as “doll” and having a woman climb the corporate ladder was unheard of, Peggy just goes ahead and does her thing anyway. While the men at Sterling Cooper were loathe to take her seriously initially, none of them can deny that she’s talented and sharp as a tack, with Don himself telling her to “never apologize for being good at your job.” Her high ambitions have also caused some run-ins with the women of the office, to which Peggy simply smiles and offers a cool reply with the subtle subtext of, “don’t hate on me because I’m accomplishing what you never had the guts to do.”

* She doesn’t allow her family to bully her. Anyone who is close to their family knows how hard it is to go against their wishes. And in Peggy’s time, those wishes are “stay at home until you get married and have babies.” But as the long commute from Brooklyn gets to be too much, she decides it’s time to move to Manhattan, even if it means having to get a roommate to afford it. Her mother takes the news less than well, telling Peggy, “you’re going to get raped, you know.” Well, my mother may not like every decision I’ve ever made, but at least she never told me that! And Peggy just sighs and forges ahead with what she knows she needs to do.

* She’s socially awkward. Even with all her ambition, Peggy is far from perfect, as evidenced in her very real (and often hilarious) social awkwardness. Once she sees that her career path is on track, she decides to make an effort to embrace the social aspects of life in NYC, and often comes across as an alien visitor observing and mimicking human interactions. She borrows a corny line she overheard Joan use in the office to break the ice with some guys at a bar, picks up a decent (if uninspiring) college student for a one-night stand, and when being left out of a boys-only smokefest during a Saturday in the office, she walks in declaring, “I’m Peggy Olson, and I want to smoke some marijuana.” And of course there’s the hilariously stilted roommate ad she posted on the company bulletin board, which led to a creative rewrite by Joan, which then led to an even funnier exchange with her future (and possibly psychotic) roomie. Don’t worry, Peggy, I would love to live with you and your nice furnishings and small TV. And I, too, like to have…fun…?

* That look. My current favorite Peggy Olson moment occurred in the most recent episode where she gives Don the world’s most perfect “I told you so” look after the disastrous meeting with the Patio people. Charged with marketing a new diet cola, Patio, the makers of Pepsi wanted an ad inspired by Ann-Margret’s opening number from the movie musical Bye Bye Birdie (truly one of the worst musicals ever). And from day one Peggy knew it was a terrible idea and failed to see how it would appeal to women—a.k.a. Patio’s key demographic. But when she voiced her opinion, the Sterling Cooper boys were too preoccupied with looking forward to the Ann-Margret look-alike casting session to pay her any heed. So the commercial was made, it was awful, and the Patio people said that, while it was their fault for coming up with the concept, the ad was unusable. And as everyone filed out of the conference room, Peggy turned to deliver the best, and most deserved, smug look of satisfaction in TV history. Oh well…at least they were all in agreement that the product name sucked.


  1. Hello Rachel,

    I have written a musical that I would like you to review. I could not find any other way to contact you but this way.

    Since messages in a bottle rarely make it to shore please let me know that you received this.

    My email address is

    Thank you,

  2. Yes! Awesome writeup. Paul Kinsey used to be my favorite (circa season 1 episodes 1-6), but Peggy's definitely taken the lead.