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An Empire in Decline

by Mike Anton

The Establishing Shot: I Always Wanna Be By Your Side

"The Other Woman" was a fairly monumental episode, the latest in an unceasing crescendo of incredible moments throughout this pitch-perfect fifth season of "Mad Men." While Joan, Pete, Lane and Roger all played important roles this week, Mad Men, at its heart, is about Don and Peggy. In kind, I present to you "Don Draper and Peggy Olsen: a movement in four parts"

"Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" (Season 1, Episode 1)

Before Jaguar, before the death of Anna Draper, before Peggy's child, before even "a basket of kisses," advertising super hero Don Draper needed a new secretary. That lucky gal was Peggy Olsen, a nice girl from Brooklyn who entered the fast world of the '60s in a post-war Buick. While Don takes a Lee Daniels, Jr. riff and instantaneously creates an entire ad campaign for Lucky Strike off the top of his head, Peggy was another woman at a line of typewriters, designed by men to be simple enough for a woman to use. The advice she's given by Queen of the Bullpen, Joan Holloway? To cut eyeholes out of a paper bag, stand in front of a mirror, and evaluate her physical strengths and weaknesses.

It's no coincidence then that Peggy tries to advance herself in Don's eyes by making a pass at him (Eleanor, his last secretary, didn't catch his eye, apparently). Her failed pass brings the ire of Don Draper ("I'm your boss, not your boyfriend"), but he sets to correct her, not fire her. Sure, this is the first and only warning, as he'll make sure she can't even sell sandwiches at Penn Station, but the tears slowly forming in her eyes is enough to let him know this is a one time situation. Her career could have been over on Day One, just by trying to play the game the way she was told to.

 

"Shut The Door. Have A Seat" (Season 3, Episode 13)

Merry Christmas, SterlingCooper! You're being enveloped (and shuttered) by another giant as your current masters (PPL) go right along with it. Don Draper scrambles all the necessary elements to strike out on their own, but the burgeoning Sterling Cooper Draper Price is missing one element: Peggy Olsen, the hot-shot new creative who has cornered the female copywriting sector and is quickly moving on to bigger and better. Don comes to Peggy's apartment, hat literally in hand, to tell her that he's taken her for granted, that he's been hard on her, but only because he sees her, "as an extension of himself. And you're not." She's ready to kick him out and move on, but he tells her to sit down, and she, still with the manner of his secretary, takes a seat.

This Don Draper pitch is based not on work, but strictly on their personal connection. He needs her because they have a shared past, one marked by a great tragedy that forever altered their paths moving forward. While Peggy is at this point unaware of exactly what that entails, Don was in the room with her after giving birth. Don schools her in The Hobo Code and she moves forward, with him. Peggy's first inclination on saying no has nothing to do with her work. "If I say no," she manages to say aloud, "you'll never speak to me again." His response, "I'll spend the rest of my life trying to hire you" has little to do with her skill set, her craft. He needs her like he needs a mistress: for support. The fact that she comes up with good ads might not even be secondary. It could merely be a coincidence.

 

"The Suitcase" (Season 4, Episode 7)

Don falls off the sober cliff into Drunken Louse Canyon, populated by men who sleep with their secretaries and steal ideas from the books of potential employees. Meanwhile, Peggy is fast becoming a star in everyone's eyes but Don's. He wants to her to remain the girl Freddy Rumson's describes in last night's episode: "some secretary from Brooklyn who's dying to help out." While Don drinks himself into yet another stupor, Peggy not only cancels her "surprise" birthday dinner, she breaks up with her boyfriend because the work is more important. Or, more to the point, pleasing Don is most important.

When Peggy confronts Don about not getting recognition for her ideas, he holds his power over her head. She works for Don, her glory goes to Don, and everything that she has an opportunity to accomplish should come with a "thank you" to Don (and Jesus) for giving her another day. All of the connections made later that evening (laughing at Cooper's lack of testicles, marveling at the size of cockroaches, Don's meager past, choosing sides of the Liston/Ali fight, mourning the death of Anna Draper) are personal, and come in spite of his brutal takedown of her work. Let us not forget, he didn't even remember it was her birthday.

He's beaten up by his rival Duck Phillips, his shirt is covered by his own vomit, he still wants another drink, he falls asleep in her lap. When Anna visits him (with his suitcase) with the promise of a better future, he breaks down. The next morning, the Master of the Universe has returned with writer’s block removed, presenting Peggy with a Samsonite ad. When he asks for her thoughts, she naturally says it's good. When he grabs her hand, echoing the pilot, it's not because she's attained a new position in the office, merely in his life, before he dispatches her to come up with ten new tag lines for him.

 

"The Other Woman" (Season 5, Episode 11)

Don has married Megan, a woman that he has decided to share his life with, making Peggy nothing more than afterthought in his personal life as well as his professional one. She has the respect of everyone in the office, even Roger Sterling, who hands her a wad of cash to do work on the sly. The same Roger Sterling who demanded she get him coffee during “Shut The Door. Have A Seat.” (She refused. The coffee, not the work or cash.) She works well with her fellow creatives, sharing an office with Stan Rizzo (whom she humbled in a hotel room a year ago) and the up-and-comer Michael Ginsberg, who shares with Don a very harsh upbringing and flare for good pitches. Something that Don has forgotten he also shares with Peggy. Head of the department in name only, she's dispatched to do anything but be on hand for the Jaguar pitch. Don chooses to bring in freelancers to come up with the most important client SCDP has ever tried to reel in. It’s still a man’s world.

Most of this season, Peggy has been an afterthought. Obviously that was purposeful. When Peggy spins a beautiful new pitch for Chevalier Blanc, one reminiscent of his "It's Toasted" sell, Ken Cosgrove and Harry Crane extol Peggy's talents to Don, who responds by deferring the idea to Ginsberg (though Peggy was apparently in charge of everything not related to Jaguar). When she tries to defend herself, Don shows his appreciation: throwing money in her face. “You want to go to Paris?” Instead, Peggy sits down with her true mentor, the aforementioned Freddy Rumson, the one who saw her talents and championed her before relieving himself of his office for her (by relieving himself in her office). They talk business, and he talks her into leaving. This isn't personal; it's business. But that she’s leaving SCDP for Teddy Chaough – Don’s infrequent nemesis (mostly in Teddy’s mind) – inevitably makes it both personal and business for Don.

Peggy picks an unfortunate time to break the news to Don. He’s in a mood to celebrate – the firm has just landed Jaguar – but he’s also not especially thrilled with how the account was landed. His first comment after Peggy enters his office? "I can't put a girl on Jaguar." Then he takes a seat as Peggy stands, asking her if it’s about Joan's new five percent stake in the company (something she was not only unaware of, but a galling prospect, to be sure). It is no coincidence she stands while Don sits when giving her two weeks notice, in a nice visual metaphor for their relationship since the memorable equal-backed shot from "The Suitcase."

Everything is told by Don Draper's face, vacillating between the confident, stoic, Don and the scared, emotional, hurt Dick. He takes her resignation as a part of a game, the mistress who really wants Don to leave his wife this time. He tries to assuage her with a new gift (a raise) but she's leaving. And people don't leave Don Draper. These are the moves of a desperate man. His desperate retort – "well, let's pretend I'm not responsible for every single good thing that's ever happened to you" – is, in fact, fantasy. The lack of a price to make Peggy stay baffles him. His cold dismissal of her on the spot, with the use of "a room full of freelancers" says it all. It's business, yes?

But when she offers a handshake, a customary way of doing business, he takes her hand and kisses it. She would never be more than a woman to him; that much is clear. And while he cares about her, that won't satisfy the worker that Peggy clearly is, the career she wants to be known for. Once again, he grabs her hand in his office, and, once again, she cries. But that's not enough to keep her. As she leaves the throngs of SCDP celebrating a pyrrhic victory, she takes very little with her on the way. Least of all, she forgets the candies that Don gave her, a good luck charm. The last person who catches her eye on the way out is the new partner, Joan, who was the first one to greet her more than six years earlier. She basks in the glory; Peggy leaves the Time-Life building as a Rock Star, appropriately played out by The Kinks' "You Really Got Me."

 

The Close-Up: You Got Me So I Can't Sleep At Night

In the previous episode, "Christmas Waltz," Don Draper relays that an advertising agency is defined by their first car account. So let us go through all of the craven shit the old hands at Sterling Cooper Draper Price went through to define their company for the ill on their way to this pyrrhic victory.

Pete Campbell willingly sells out Joan to get one of the three Jaguar votes in the most dishonorable way possible. He guilts her, saying what a shame it would be if this eensy-teensy little thing (Joan's pride) got in the way of a monumental victory for the firm. This from a man who goes home that night, holds his daughter in his arms, and reads her to sleep. This from the man who patterned his life after Don Draper, not recognizing any of the mistakes he made along the way. He's a soulless pimp, one who is well suited for this type of business.

Roger Sterling, along with the other partners (save for partner and creative head Don Draper, who abstained by walking out) allows this deal to go down. But none of the other partners are the father of Joan’s child. All Roger cares about it not having to pay for it, for the first time this season. Special kudos also go out to Bert Cooper, whose own protests were summed up with, "let her know she can still say no," the kind of posturing that lets him sleep at night knowing he did his "best" as Joan sleeps Jaguar into the account books.

Lane Price does not try to talk his confidante and sometimes protegé out of selling her body for the good of the company. Rather, he tries to get her a "better" deal by asking for a five percent ownership stake in a company that has no financial legs to stand on, by playing the “I’m the only one looking out for your interests” card. Of course, that “better” deal also suits Lane, as SCDP’s credit has already been extended by $50,000 for Lane's embezzlement. They have since lost another account a few months earlier and, one assumes, will be throwing a considerable amount of money at Jaguar to keep the carmaker happy (and the ad agency legitimate). If only they had that money to give. The clock is ticking on that checkbook. So to is the future of Lane Price, and the company as a whole.

Joan decides to sleep with the head of car dealers because she's an abandoned mother of one who reels at the prospect of spending another minute with her own mother (maybe she'll get a black girl, as "they like being bossed around"). When Don comes in as the knight in somewhat reflective armor, it's too late, and the deed is already done. She did something now that she wouldn't dreamt of agreeing to in 1960. Here's to progress.

Don Draper can't land the right line for Jaguar, sending his professional life into turmoil (notice how little he cares about Peggy's big win) right along with his home life. When he refuses to let Megan be, y'know, an actress, the thing that she wants to be because it goes against his wishes, and is confronted with the fact that she'll resent him forever if he doesn't let her pursue this dream, he finally relents. Little does he know (or, little does he care) that "nailing an audition" is a very literal euphemism. When the process begins with taking off her jacket, stepping forward, and showing the goods, who knows where it ends. Her promise at the end that she's going to make it carries a silent, Don Draper-esque promise: by any means necessary.

 

B-Roll: You Really Got Me

- I'd like to take a second to emphasize just how great this season has been. And there are still two episodes left. How pissed do you think Matthew Weiner was, sitting on his couch, technically out of work, watching the fourth season of "Breaking Bad"? Must have been like Michael Jordan watching the Rockets win back-to-back titles. He, as well as his immensely talented stable of writers, designers, grips, and the rest of the crew, should be incredibly proud of their work (especially director/former cinematographer Phil Abraham, who created a moving painting Sunday night). This is some medium-defining stuff right here.

- Full circle: Don Draper learned the business of advertising from "an old Greek named Teddy," who taught him about the power of nostalgia. Peggy leaves Don's apprenticeship to work with a man named Teddy. Can't make this stuff up, folks.

- I thought for sure they were going to send Megan's redheaded actress friend in lieu of Joan to the fateful hotel meeting. But she just sold herself on the conference room table in a dark advertising agency. You gotta spring for larger parts, girlfriend.

- In this week's "Holy Shit, Is That On The Nose Or What?" segment: "At last, something beautiful you can truly own." No wonder why Don was so attracted to it.

- In this week's "Holy Shit They Use That On The Nose Line So Incredibly Well" segment: The editing and the writing as Joan sells herself, being "owned" metaphorically by her position and literally by the emerald. When the reveal occurs – that Don is too late – it's so, so powerful. I know this is less "analysis" than "outright gushing" but I can't help it. Just beautiful work.

- Sterling's Gold: Line of the night doesn't go to Roger. An odd thing for a title bearing his name. Instead, it falls to Pete Campbell, whose "I'm using all of my energy putting my foot down!" is nearly as good as, "Hells bells, Trudy! That is final!" The lesson, as always: yelling at Alison Brie is comedic gold.

- A happy return to "freelancer" Dale, another "always kinda sometimes" member of SterlingCoo creative, as played by Mark Kelly. I can't remember the last time I remember seeing him. Oh yes, that's right...

Tune In Next Week For…

Carnage. Pure and simple.

 

Images courtesy of AMC / Lions Gate Entertainment

 

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Mike Anton is the Editor-In-Chief at The Inclusive. Mike writes movie reviews and interview pieces for The Film Stage as well as screenplays, sketches, and the like. He lives in New York City and though he's an avid beard and flannel enthusiast, he does not consider himself a hipster. Contact him at mike.anton[at]theinclusive.net or @mpants