Tube Tied: Let Peggy Be Peggy
I haven't been writing about Mad Men too much because I am trying to let it simmer for a while before I make any pronouncements of quality. I will say that I'm still waiting for the good stuff, and that while I'm moderately optimistic that it's coming, this has, thus far, been a strange season for Mad Men's women.
Take Peggy, for example. You already know that I have a fondness for awkward young women on television. It comes from a sense of solidarity with the future name-taker who hasn't yet seen just how many asses she'll be able to kick someday. So it will come as no surprise, I think, when I tell you that I'm on Team Peggy in the Mad Men universe, hoping that she will ultimately triumph over the men who decided what she was before she had the chance to discover it herself. I have always preferred her awkward ambitiousness to Joan's swagger and tart remarks - there was a sense of the outsider to the former, and a refreshing sort of self-awareness.
This season, a change has come over Peggy that I don't quite understand. To be fair, there is often very little about Peggy that is easy to understand. Elisabeth Moss kind of keeps her that way, which I admire, since in the hands of another actress she would be less of an ambiguity, more straightforward, and I probably would have tired of her already. I don't seem to be the only one who thinks that she is regressing, somewhat. It's like she took Bobbie's "being a woman is a powerful business, if done correctly" advice too much to heart. Suddenly she's trying out Ann-Margret coquettishness. She seems to know, perfectly well (given Sunday night's look at Don when the Patio commercial fizzled at the pitch), that she is attractive to men in a different way than other women are - hence the desexualization in the first season, even though she hardly started out looking or acting like a clichéd seductress. I would much rather see her own that brand of unconventional attractiveness than see her morph into a more professionally ambitious version of Jane, Roger's new wife.
Similarly, the marijuana incident, though it contained the glorious line, "I'm Peggy Olson and I want to smoke some marijuana," seemed like the moment in a high school movie where the geek character suddenly gets admitted to the inner circle. Granted that Peggy was still far more productive, as a stoner, than any of her coworkers are when they are sober, it still felt, a little bit, like an attempt to prove something about Peggy we hadn't seen before: that she was willing to take risks. Considering that this is the character who slept with a soon-to-be-married man right out of the gate at the beginning of the series, I never felt in doubt of this quality of Peggy's. In short, I sometimes wonder if the writers on Mad Men occasionally share her male coworkers' opinions of her: that she is dull, and ultimately in need of a jazzing up.
Maybe I'm too protective of her. After all, identification with Peggy is more than an abstract thing for any woman who's ever worked in a predominantly male corporate environment. You become an artist of the suppressed eyeroll, a master of the poker face. The one thing that hasn't much changed since Mad Men, you see, is the idiotically competitive atmosphere of the average board meeting: they might as well, as they say, just take them out and measure them. Sure no one drinks or smokes in the office anymore, but the sense that every conversation is a competition that one must win, or else surrender one's testicles, continues apace. These are men's worlds to which we may have been reluctantly admitted, but we are still to take the terms offered, and never question them.
What I want from Peggy, simply, is to see her live her life as a person - and as a woman - who is different. It's not so often we get a Peggy on television. The tragedies of Joans and Bettys, while equally important illustrations of women's experience, are much less threatening to the social order of things, the way things are: they are unhappy because they married bad or just simply the wrong men - but they could have married better. But the success of a Peggy, the success of making headway in a man's world without capitulating to its terms - so here I mean Peggy as Peggy, not Peggy as ersatz Bobbie - well, that was always the thing about Mad Men that struck me as not just well-executed, but original and inspiring. I guess I just hope they stick to that.
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