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Forget-Me-Not: Don, Peggy, and Remembrances of Things Past on "Mad Men"

Oh. My. God.

Seriously, who else gasped aloud last night during this week's episode of Mad Men ("The New Girl")? There was not only one hell of a fantastic reveal but an even bigger and better payoff to the last season and a half of storylines involving Don Draper and one Peggy Olsen.

Throughout Mad Men's first season, Don and Peggy were beautifully set up as mirror images of one another: social climbers and dreamers who had no compunction about reinventing themselves into the image of the people they wanted to be and sweeping the detritus of their lives under the rug. Peggy has an affair with a married man, gets pregnant, and births her baby boy... before landing in a hospital after suffering what seems to be a fairly substantial break with reality. Donald Draper leaves behind his tortured farmland childhood and assumes another man's identity with as much ease as someone else might don a suit.

In last night's gorgeously scripted episode, we finally get a glimpse at what happened AFTER last season's finale, which had Peggy giving birth to the child she didn't know she was carrying. After failing to understand what had happened, Peggy is kept at St. Mary's and drugged to make her more docile. Throughout this season, it's been assumed that no one knew where Peggy had been (the boys play a game of guessing about her whereabouts, however) but one person did and even visited her there: Don Draper.

That Don would care enough about Peggy, even after promoting her off the desk, to show up at the hospital and sit at her bedside was a telling detail about his character, as was his insistence that Peggy do whatever the doctors tell her to do and get on with her life, forgetting about all of this. And sure enough, Peggy does forget about all of it, to the point where she can't even bring herself to look at her own child.

How fitting was it that Don would return the favor by turning to Peggy for help after landing in jail for drunk driving, not with his wife but with his latest mistress, Bobbi? I couldn't really think of another person whom Don could have called for help (though Roger Sterling did come to mind), but it made narrative sense that he'd reach out to the one person whom he could rely on to "forget" things like this: his protege Peggy. And, sure enough, Peggy does come to his rescue, going above and beyond to look after Bobbi, lend Don an exorbitant $150 for his bail, and tie up all the loose ends.

Whilst looking after Bobbi, Peggy is let into Bobbi's secret of success: stop trying to act like a man because you'll never be one, so be a woman instead... and start thinking of yourself as Don's equal, not his subordinate. Powerful words that, to Peggy, seem like a mantra or an incantation for a spell.

So when she goes to Don after the meeting (in which he berates her for not being ready, despite her being up all night looking after his mistress and covering up for him), I assumed that our demure little Miss Olsen would bow and scrape and scuffle away, never venturing to ask for her money back or remind Don of what they'd been through over the last 48 hours.

How wrong I was.

In a brilliant twist, Peggy not only asks for the money back from Don (after firmly shutting the door) but goes so far as to call him not "Mr. Draper" but "Don," establishing herself as his equal, shifting the balance of power in their relationship perhaps permanently. The look of shock (and something approximating horror) on Don's face was chilling. With such a simple one-word piece of dialogue, Peggy has become a strong, independent female of the species and we, as viewers, might just be seeing the emancipation of women spring forth right in front of our eyes.

Will we see Peggy be able to reap the rewards of her new-found conviction and confidence? Or will she be forced to suffer because of what she knows? Either way, I'm absolutely hooked.

Next week on Mad Men ("Maidenform"), Don and Duck try to make peace, Duck gets a visitor at the office, and Peggy tries to include herself at the executives' after-hours meetings.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Yup - her calling him Don is such a brilliant moment. It is one word, one second, and yet it speaks volumes. Fantastic.
Brent McKee said…
What's your take of the scenes with Peggy's obviously pregnant sister in the hospital flashbacks? I take that to mean that the baby we all think is Peggy's is actually the sister's and the Peggy's baby was put up for adoption.
Anonymous said…
Don showing up at Peggy's bedside and Peggy calling him by his first name were both fantastic moments. Very interesting about the sister being pregnant. Maybe she lost her baby and that's why they can pretend that Peggy's baby is actually hers? And is part of the reason she resents Peggy so much?

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