NOTE: Spoilers for the most recent episode of Mad Men ahead. This isn’t a proper recap, though. For those you should go here and here.
I am a big fan of television. I believe it is where a lot of the very best stories are being told these days. Throughout my life I’ve read a few books that screamed to be adapted into film—The Secret History by Donna Tartt and Divergent by Veronica Roth being two of them. I’ve seen even fewer movies I enjoyed enough that I wished I could read them in book form. Pan’s Labyrinth is the main film I can think of that affected me in such a way.
But I have a long list of television shows which I would absolutely love to read as books. And at the top of that list is AMC’s Mad Men. It is definitely one of those shows that you have to watch the whole way through. I tried watching a random episode in Season 2 years ago and found it boring. But when I went back to Season 1 and got a strong sense of who these characters were, I knew I would follow them anywhere.
Like the writing of Richard Yates, Mad Men beautifully encapsulates big ideas about the 1960s and society as a whole within its characters. Don, Megan, Peggy, Joan, and many of the other characters all represent different walks of life—some specific to their period and some that are just as relatable today.
Don started out as the brilliant kid with new ideas, and for a time Peggy was that person on the show. But Mad Men proves time and time again that you never get to be that person for long. Don was working as a salesman at a fur company and Peggy was fresh out of secretarial school before they were “discovered.” It may have been due to the fact that their previous careers had nothing to do with advertising that they were so good at it. Now that they’ve been in advertising so long, they can’t see the world outside anymore and it’s started to affect their work.
Being out of touch with the current generation has been a prominent theme throughout Mad Men’s later seasons. It’s an increasingly relatable theme today—with how quickly technology is advancing these days even kids in their early twenties like me start feeling behind the times. In some of the wonderful Mad Men recaps out there, I’ve seen a lot of discussion of the men in the show and how little they relate to the swinging sixties. Peggy is often of lumped into this group of Out-of-Touchers since she’s been doing so poorly at work this season.
But I don’t think Peggy’s out of touch. I think she’s been working too much and needs to take a good look around outside the office. That’s the key difference between Peggy and Don this season. Even now that Don is married to young, hip Megan and gets his daily dose of the free-thinking, experimental sixties mentality from her, he still doesn’t get it. Whereas I think if Peggy let herself out of the office cage more often, she would.
There was evidence of this in a conversation between Peggy and Joan in Mad Men’s most recent episode. Don’s talented copywriter wife has just left Sterling Cooper Draper Price to pursue acting—an act that astounds Peggy and Don. But Joan isn’t surprised. “Did you know that he met Betty Draper doing a print ad?” she asks with a smug smile. “Did you know that she was a model? That’s the kind of girl that Don marries.” Joan thinks Megan is just being a typical second wife, and that she’ll be “a failing actress with a rich husband.”
But Peggy doesn’t agree. She’s willing to entertain the idea that Megan is just “one of those girls” who is good at everything. And here is where Peggy shows that she’s still just as perceptive about society’s wants and changes as she ever was.
For a long time people thought that if you were good at something, it was clearly what you were supposed to do. But in the sixties, gangs of teenagers started thinking they could be rock stars whether they’d previously shown any skill with a guitar or not. In a revolution that is still going on to this day, people began to have the dreams before they had the skills and knowhow to back them up. Now people are feeling less and less walled in by their careers to the extent that there are people like Donald Glover who rap, act, and do standup comedy.
The fact that Peggy can see that far forward and admit that a person could succeed in more than one field shows that her creative vision hasn’t left her. It’s just momentarily misplaced. I hope she gets out of that skyscraper sometime soon and finds it, preferably with Abe because I like him.