Spoiler Alert: Do not read, if you have not cringed over Peggy's behavior in "Mad Men" Season 7, Episode 2, "A Day's Work."
It ain't easy for a woman in the workplace in 1969. There's sexism, disrespect and fat old lumps who yell at you even though you skipped lunch to buy their wives perfume. But this week finally took some strides in the right direction, when things shuffled out to land Joan an account man's position and Dawn a job as head of personnel. By the end of "A Day's Work," there was an exuberance in watching both Joan and Dawn smile over their new offices. Heck, even that dopey lady with the "Hairspray" situation got a promotion. It seemed like all of the ladies at SC&P were rising in the ranks, except Peggy, whose character development can be best summed up in a screen shot of her own pouty grimace.
Last season especially, there was a long running discussion about the prevalence of spiritual twins in the "Mad Men" universe -- folks who seem to be connected as almost the inverse of one another, in which one succeeds the other fails. By the end of Season 6, there was a clear track distancing the wailing Don and ascendant Peggy. Upon conclusion of the finale in Don's office, we left our heroine literally wearing the pants, only to revisit her in the control of a listless lump of a boss, whose job she could be doing herself (and better, mind you).
Now, that listless lump (Lou Avery) has proved himself to be a somewhat villainous lump. Blatantly mistreating Dawn and serving up a complete lack of empathy for Sally upon her confused visit, we got a glimpse of something nasty in the man whose functionality initially seemed limited to being in Peggy's way. This is a man who is as vindictive as he is mediocre -- willing to use his power to undercut those around him, but with no interest in overachieving. With "A Day's Work," there was a clear line drawn, not as we might have hoped between a sinking Don and rising Peggy, but between Peggy the cruel yet useless Mr. Avery. In the past, we have seen Peggy struggle to fully grasp the tricky beast known as human interaction, but those cringe-worthy scenes are always coupled with at least glimpses of her killing it professionally. Last night, we got a heavy does of the cringing, but nothing even vaguely resembling professional success.
For Peggy, the presiding lady boss stereotypes (that she is a "bitch" or a "spinster") are a constant battle. As she rode up -- figuratively over the course of six seasons and literally on the elevator -- the men surrounding her couldn't help but crack jokes. Yeah, she has a date for Valentine's Day. "February 14: masturbate gloomily," Ginsberg says, before Stan laughs that the flowers were a gift from her cat. Peggy rails against this stereotypes, jumping at the opportunity to tell Ted off (when she believes the flowers are from him), because, for her, Ted symbolizes all of the flourishes of romance that she has been more than happy to go without. In the heat of her confusion over the long stem roses and crystal vase, she vindicates her choice for success over love (or anything even vaguely resembling a social life), only to conclude the episode becoming exactly the spinster bitch that Ginsberg and Stan imagine her to be.
It's not that there's no valor in choosing work over a social life. Although, at this point, Peggy has essentially taken a spear to the gut (sorry, Abe) from every potential ally she has in the office -- and not just when it comes to crappy, sexist men. Think of her unwillingness to also help the women around her. Though she eventually comes around, she is initially begrudging when Joan requests help with the Avon account in Season 6. Last night, she had Shirley moved, because she was embarrassed by her own hot mess of actions. There's still time, of course, but the Peggy we are watching develop is not defined by personal success, but the baseless cruelty she is willing to execute in order to get it.
For Peggy, the entirety of "A Day's Work" felt like Peggy outsmarting herself. She emotionally overcompensated for every moment of tension, ultimately diminishing not only others' respect for her, but her respect for herself. It's as if she has built up such a stalwart defense for the professional roadblocks that her main obstacle now is the interiority of her own frustrations. And that's understandable. Our Peggy has had to grapple with her fair share of career-oriented garbage to land herself where she is now. It would be a real shame, now that she's there, if she continues to get in her own way. There are plenty episodes left before the curtain closes on SC&P for good, so here's hoping that last night was merely some stumbling and that Peggy can abide by her own misattributed scolding of Shirley and just "grow up."