Mad Speculation – Don Draper and Peggy Olson

At first glance, Don Draper’s fractured identity and his attempts to reinvent himself by abandoning Dick Whitman form the basis of Mad Men. His story, however, unfolds alongside Peggy Olson’s whose identity also takes shape throughout the series. It is the relationship between these two characters as well as the chemistry between Jon Hamm and Elizabeth Moss that gives Mad Men its poignancy and depth. Matthew Weiner has crafted a story that is as much Peggy’s as it is Don’s.

Don and Peggy www.amctv.com
Don and Peggy
http://www.amctv.com

Whether they are working together or on opposite sides of the table these two fully understand one another, often without words. For Jon Hamm, acting comes from a “place of pain;” he endears audiences to Don Draper even when we find the character’s behavior repugnant. For her part, Elizabeth Moss’s wide-eyed performance balances Peggy’s innocence – “I always try to be honest” – with her ambition.

First Day at Work tomandlorenzo.com
First Day at Work
tomandlorenzo.com

Peggy and Don have come a long way since she made an awkward pass at him on her first day of work as his new secretary. Don, head of creative at Sterling Cooper, admonishes, “Peggy I’m your boss not your boyfriend.” This line is one the two, thankfully, have never crossed.

Awkward madmen.wikia.com
Awkward
madmen.wikia.com

He has more respect for Peggy than for any of the women he takes to bed. Don has demonstrated a complete inability to remain faithful to one woman [I am sure you would like me to include a photo montage here but I simply do not have the space for Betty, Midge, Rachel, Bobbie, Miss Farrell, the secretary who threw a vase at him, Faye, Megan, and Sylvia.]

Peggy’s romantic track record is not much better. Miss Deaver’s secretarial school taught her how to type but neglected to impart in her any fashion sense or the ability to choose a decent man. Her taste in romantic partners runs from bad

Duck and Peggy xfinity.comcast.net
Duck and Peggy
xfinity.comcast.net
The Married Man www.theatlantic.com
The Married Man
http://www.theatlantic.com

to worse.

Her First Big Mistake www.huffingtonpost.com
Her First Big Mistake
http://www.huffingtonpost.com

And also this guy.

Happy Birthday! www.vh1.com
Happy Birthday!
http://www.vh1.com

The best man she ever dates, Abe, loves Peggy more than she loves him – this is not a crime though it results in a stabbing.

Love Hurts junkee.com
Love Hurts
junkee.com

Don takes Freddie Rumson’s advice and recognizes Peggy’s talent as a copywriter.

Basket of Kisses blogs.amctv.com
Basket of Kisses
blogs.amctv.com

He promotes her and trusts her with his secrets.

"The Suitcase" nypost.com
“The Suitcase”
nypost.com

And she trusts him with hers.

Forget This Ever Happened theguardian.com
Forget This Ever Happened
theguardian.com

Don rarely thanks Peggy for her good work, instead he imparts to her the important “that’s what the money’s for” lesson. When his tendency to disregard her talent and treat her “as an extension of [him]self” backfires in “Shut the Door, Have a Seat” he humbles himself and asks her to follow him from Sterling Cooper to SCPD. Peggy worries how he might react if she says no. His reply, “I would spend the rest of my life trying to hire you” beautifully summarizes the important place she holds in his life.

I See You as an Extension of Myself tomandlorenzo.com
I See You as an Extension of Myself
tomandlorenzo.com

Eventually Peggy leaves SCDP in an attempt to step out of Don’s shadow.

You Have My Blessing now-here-this.timeout.com
You Have My Blessing
now-here-this.timeout.com

She takes a job with competitor Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough, only to find herself back in Don’s orbit when he proposes a merger between the two agencies. Since Peggy works in a man’s world she often has difficulty maneuvering as a woman despite Bobbie Barrett’s advice.

Be a Woman www.nakedapartments.com
Be a Woman
http://www.nakedapartments.com

She lacks Don’s natural ability to read a room. For example, Peggy asserts herself in the Heinz pitch with disastrous consequences.

Stan Knows It's Bad www.racked.com
Stan Knows It’s Bad
http://www.racked.com

Don’s world spins out of control in Season Six amidst a haze of affairs and alcoholism fueled by his ongoing Dick Whitman/Don Draper identity crisis. Peggy momentarily usurps Don, even taking over his office, when the partners eject him from his own agency.

Look Who's Wearing the Pantsuit www.huffingtonpost.com
Look Who’s Wearing the Pantsuit
http://www.huffingtonpost.com

Don takes this humiliation as a sign to open up to his children about his past.

Home Sweet Home npr.org
Home Sweet Home
npr.org

Later he gingerly works his way back into the agency and into his children’s lives.

I Love You www.theatlantic.com
I Love You
http://www.theatlantic.com

Peggy, disgusted by his earlier selfish behavior, has a difficult time warming up to him again. Their collaboration on the Burger Chef campaign and Don’s gentle advice and confidence in her ability lead to a reconciliation.

The Dance www.zap2it.com
The Dance
http://www.zap2it.com

Don has always fashioned himself as Peggy’s mentor but it is not until he puts Peggy ahead of himself with Burger Chef that he fully earns the title. The look on his face as she delivers her moving pitch to the clients illustrates his pride in her talent and accomplishments.

So Proud vulture.com
So Proud
vulture.com

Peggy chooses work over motherhood – “I wanted other things” – early in her career. Her recent friendship with ten-year-old Julio is evidence that she yearns for a family. There is a chance that she will find love and combine a family with work as she moves into the era of women’s liberation.

"Meditations in an Emergency" http://www.nj.com/
“Meditations in an Emergency”
http://www.nj.com/

Don has yet to reconcile his past and as a result his fate is difficult to predict. He has a dismal history of learning from his mistakes. Yet he is a good man, a faithful friend and a loving father. These qualities should lead him to find peace of mind and a measure of happiness. I doubt he will find it in the advertising business, with its hollow “reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay.”

"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" theguardian.com
“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”
theguardian.com

Don and Peggy have both found relief and emotional sustenance in one another. Their friendship has the potential to heal and revitalize Don. Unlike Betty and Pete, Don and Peggy have demonstrated their ability to adapt. It is time to find out how they will “change the conversation.”

"Waterloo"  thetoastnet.png
“Waterloo”
thetoastnet.png

2 Comments »

  1. Wow, this post actually made me want to watch the show, as you have humanized Don for me, which I really didn’t think was possible. Nice analysis as usual.

    Like

    • Ooh! That is a big accomplishment. Thank you! I love Mad Men because there is a lot of hope for these characters, especially Don and Peggy. I can’t watch something if it does not bring me joy and Mad Men does have a joyful element. If I can’t find it in the characters, I find it in the fashion :-).

      Like

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