It wasn't just Peggy's pantsuit--which she wore brilliantly in her final scene of Mad Men's sixth finale--rather, it was this entire season that made me think Elisabeth Moss' performance, her affectionate, vulnerable rendering of Peggy Olson, deserves a series of its own.
Back to the pantsuit scene: When we see Peggy claim Don's office, the camera zooms in on the back of her head while she's staring out the window in Don Draper (Jon Hamm) fashion. In cinematic terms, showcasing the back of a character's head should evoke a sense of danger, as if the character is being hunted. For Don, it seemed it was his childhood that was about to shove him off the ledge. For Peggy, I think it's about her own duality: her need for power and authority among men; yet, also desiring male affection.
Throughout this season, I couldn't help but think how Peggy might grow and evolve under the care of new writers. If the final season of Mad Men begins in 1969, then perhaps season one of my proposed spinoff should start in 1970. The 1970s--the era of third-wave feminism--brought about Roe v. Wade, the Equal Rights Amendment, consciousness-raising groups, excited protesting, female folk music, and powerful icons like Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem. Among women, there were further tensions as feminism failed to graciously embrace black and queer women.
How would Peggy react to the tension between the feminist movement and her ambition? Would she continue on her path--a female Don Draper--perhaps wittily insulting the men she worked with, starting affairs to land big accounts--or would she join her sisters in the streets, burning the proverbial bra? One thing she'd have is a choice.
Of course a spinoff would need a bit more than Peggy hitting the streets with a picket sign; she'd need a companion. I vote for Megan (Jessica Pare). Megan, like Peggy, is poised for growth. She's young enough to escape Don Draper, virtually untouched by his abrasive, selfish companionship--her exuberance will vivaciously endure. I see her leaving the world of acting for activism, perhaps becoming an undercover reporter, unleashing provocative stories à la Steinem's "Playboy Bunny" exposé. Also, in my spinoff, she has an affair with a woman if only to compensate for the inauthentic female proposition scene in season six.
Finally, Sally (Kiernan Shipka) would of course be welcomed into our new world. How does the daughter of Don and Betty progress and grow? Will she turn to self-medicating--drinking, smoking, promiscuity--just like her daddy-o? Or will she become a famous writer by selling a memoir about her troubled childhood?
Already I sense a collective worry, panic -- how would these characters live without Don Draper at the center, calling all the shots? Perhaps Don Draper will have died by then, and in a sense each character will grapple with his ghost. Sometimes the patriarch has to die before the ones among him are reborn. Some of the best television shows begin when the father has died--I'm thinking of Six Feet Under and, to some degree, Weeds. More mainstream examples would be Revenge and Brothers and Sisters. While Don may not be literally dead, his presence would merely be a framing device for all three of these characters to merge and come to life once more.
Recently, at a conference, I was lucky enough to hear Elisabeth Moss speak about her role as Peggy. During the Q&A, I asked her what she thought about the prospect of a Peggy & Megan show: She lit up and agreed it was a great concept and that I should go with it.
In that spirit, let me reinforce: There should be life after Mad Men. Matthew Weiner has skillfully, dazzlingly cultivated these complex characters. And now I'd like to take them further. So, here's my pitch: I'd like to be a writer for this new series I've dreamt up. And if I could have it all, I'd invite Lena Dunham, Gloria Steinem, Ellen DeGeneres, and A.M. Homes.
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