No, But He’s Renting It
Well, last week I asked for more Peggy, and boy did I get her! Peggy is always surrounded by images of what it is to be a woman – Joan sticking to her station but making it work in a man’s world; Trudi hanging on to her husband despite Peggy’s affair with him; and now Dr. Faye, the educated, self-assured career woman. While Peggy flounders, these women – who choose paths she would never choose – nevertheless manage to walk with more confidence than she does. She is constantly searching – finding success in unlikely places, but stumbling into it whenever she does. This seeker quality to her character has hung around as a background theme for the show, but it’s never been picked up quite so explicitly as it was this week. A world of all kinds of experimentation seems open to Peggy now, and I can’t wait to see what she does with it.
With Joyce’s arrival (who by the way is hilariously creepy in The United States of Tara and just brilliant here), we definitely have the seeds for some sexual experimentation. Or perhaps Peggy will leave her safe, matrimony-bound boyfriend for a more dangerous (but nevertheless sweet) artsy writer. As she had to go into the closet to kiss the boy, I had to wonder if we had some symbolism going on. I don’t think we’re going down the Peggy-becomes-a-lesbian path – that feels a little too heavy-handed. But she also had some flirtatious moments with Joyce, and the two did share an appreciation for the female nudes in the elevator, so I think we at least have the possibility that Peggy might try on something new…if only to see what it’s like.
At the very least, we got to see a stark departure from her relations with boys like Pete. It’s not like the last couple of seasons have really played up the tension between these two. But as Peggy ran off with the free-spirits while Pete stood in the foyer with the suits and they shared what was actually a pretty sweet glance at each other, I realized how much their relationship has been a central narrative of the show. Again, like Peggy, this relationship has been largely explored in the background, providing a deeper current for other stories without ever getting its own telling. It’s funny that I only saw this so clearly in the moment where Peggy and Pete seemed to smile good-bye to each other; as their romantic relationship marked its official end. But I suppose that’s how it is in life – sometimes we don’t know what was there until we finally notice it’s gone.
As Peggy searches, I think we’re going to get more odd moments too, like her fast switch from sympathetic to downright mean with Allison. I can only imagine she was mourning the man Don has become – taking her anger out on the one with whom he became it. And I sure do hope we get some more of her antics as her story unfolds – in a show that usually serves its humour up in zingy one-liners and its poignant desperation in the visuals, watching Peggy climb up on her sideboard to catch a glimpse of a crumbling Don was pretty funny. But then she got the zinger in too! “He doesn’t own your vagina,” a shocking enough statement, but Peggy’s totally cool and surprisingly quick, “No, but he’s renting it” reminded us just how great she can be!
Ok, so what do you think was going on with the old couple and the pears and the ‘We’ll discuss it inside”? And what did you make of the fact that Dr. Faye’s research re-produced the same tired matrimony-plan for Ponds as Freddie had suggested?
Yes, I loved this episode, especially because of the focus on Peggy! But also the way that so many other themes and motifs from the episode circled around her, above all the question: how do we tap into something new if no one knows yet that they want it?
This theme was played out explicitly in the Ponds advertising case study and the clash between Don and Faye. Faye works her magic and ends up agreeing with Freddy – woman want to buy products they think will make them more attractive to men. It was an interesting touch that Don rejects this approach because it is too old-fashioned (welcome to 1925), especially since he takes a similar line with Allison, suggesting that her problem with his drunken come on is a sign of immaturity or prudishness, instead of a reasonable response to sexual harassment and overall caddishness (and while I am sorry to see Allison go, her exit was pitch perfect). Don of course defends his opinion on creative grounds: he wants to create new desire – teach people to want new things instead of just giving into their easy assumptions. Here we have a whole new model for advertising and for advanced capitalism in general – products created and marketed to generate new desires that will fuel their own existence.And it is a gesture to what the cowboy Don of episode 1 might be up to.
I loved that the new desire in question has to do with women’s self-empowerment and self-identity outside of matrimony. Peggy isn’t just writing copy for Ponds, she is on a process of self-discovery. What does it mean to luxuriate in a beauty routine just for the sake of enjoying it? For the ritual? [Peggy is really drawn to these ritual pitches. Remember her popsicle as eucharist pitch from a few seasons ago? She does remind us this episode, after all, that she is Catholic…]. Right now she can only imagine this in terms of new products to fit an old life-style. But her voyage into the fringe arts culture of New York circa 1965 suggests, as you point out, that there are whole new vistas of self-discovery possible. The show has flirted with 60s bohemia, but never really taken us inside this cultural ferment. I would LOVE it if Peggy were the way in to this part of the 60s.
The Ponds campaign also raises the recurring theme of matrimony itself – what are its goods and its limitations? We watch Don’s life slowly devolving post-marriage at the same time as we watch the next generation in Pete and Ken step up to the plate. They are so earnest in their desire for the connubial bliss that still seems like the icing on the cake of their middle-class professional WASPy lives (the look of utter childlike amazement and delight on Pete’s eyes when he learns he will be a father endeared him to me all over again). But as we know now, the divorce rate is about to spike through the roof and if Don and Betty can’t make it, what chance do these marriages have, unless they to are ready for some potential re-examination. In this way, Peggy’s journey into a different subset of New York is a foil to matrimony in general. Which is also how I read the old couple at the end: I think we (through Don) are supposed to find them appealing in some way (after all that time, they are not coming home to an empty apartment) and utterly frustrating (the grating repetition of daily life with one person echoed in the senseless question about the pears). Which is worse: to grow old alone, or to grow old only caring about the pears?
I am going on far too long, but in complete agreement with your point about Peggy and Pete as a key to the show, I loved the formal similarities between them this episode: each of them slowly knocking their heads on a hard surface in frustration at the social roles they have been given [and to be even more of a formalist geek, how awesome was the use of the white column in Pete’s office – an intrusion of modernity out of place with his sweet, but soon to be outdated ideals of the good life. Notice how Lane was partially obscured by it when offering his congratulations on Pete’s impending fatherhood].
Maybe it is also a sign of the changing times that I am not nearly as interested in Don as I used to be. The future after all does not that way lie.
My life is very…