Mad Men Mondays: I’m Peggy Olson and I want to smoke some marijuana

During the third season of Mad Men Feministing writers will offer some of our thoughts on feminist moments, scenes, and themes in the new episodes in order to start a discussion about these topics in our community. *WARNING: Lots of spoilers follow.
Derby Day and “going back in time.”
Change was once again central to this episode, but this time the focus was on class in a way it hasn’t been on Mad Men before. We got to see old money performing class in a way that is quickly becoming antiquated and the complexities of living as an upwardly mobile person uncomfortable in a world one wasn’t born into. All of this while perched precariously at the end of the American dream that defined the 1950s. I think this will quickly become one of my favorite Mad Men episodes, an hour of television so layered I’ll be able to return to it again for new ideas and insights. -Jos
I spent this whole episode jotting stuff down like “Peggy is tough” and “Pete and his wife scare me”, so I’m definitely going to have to watch it again! - Jessica
Joan and Jane’s subtext confrontation.
Did anyone else find Jane’s attempt to one up Joan a little too on the nose? There was just no subtlety to anything she said, like she was trying too hard. And then ending the conversation with an attempt at a classic Joan walk away? No one can do that better than Joan. To me this conversation hinted at Jane’s inability to play the class role she’s been thrown into, something that became incredibly clear later in the episode. -Jos
You know, I think you’re right – that it was meant to display how uncomfortable she is in her new rich wife role.  And of course that awkwardness was only exacerbated by her drunkenness towards the end of the show.  It made me even more aware of how young she is, as well – she seemed like a little kid to me.  Also, Joan rocks. - Jessica
Peggy and her secretary Olive.
This episode was full of character pairings I found absolutely fascinating. Olive represents what Peggy should have become – she dresses in a way reminiscent of season 1 Peggy, has been a secretary all her life, and feels strongly about the divide between secretaries and their bosses… or more accurately the divide between women and men, and she needs to be reminded that she works for Peggy. Olive thinks she needs to protect this young woman, but Peggy really does seem to be on top of things. -Jos
When Peggy says to Olive, “you are scared aren’t you???” she is touching on the fear of Peggy becoming like the men and the level of discomfort and confusion Olive is feeling with a woman in a position of power. -Samhita
I really loved the exchange between Olive and Peggy – highness aside, it really was a sweet moment.  And I just can’t get over how much more I love Peggy with each passing episode.  From her disdain for the sexism of dudes in her office to her calling them out on only asking her about “brassieres, body odor and make up,” she is just kicking ass lately. And hey, she says it: “I’m in a very good place right now.”  Couldn’t agree more. – Jessica

“Fashion was the only law, pleasure was the only pursuit, and the splendor of dress and furniture was the only distinction of the citizens of Antioch.” – The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Mad Men seldom feels this on the nose with its literary references. Then there were very direct lines about money and happiness, a reference to the end of Camelot in the mention of Jackie Kennedy’s pregnancy (which would end in tragedy), and quoting The Hollow Men. I have to assume this was a deliberate choice to telegraph clearly that everyone feels they are in a transitional moment. -Jos
Joan and Greg.
I am really hoping this episode was setting up the fact that Joan is going to divorce her rapist husband. From the argument over place-settings to her conversation with the other wives in the kitchen to Greg making her perform like a dancing bear, the entire dinner-party sequence made it seem like their relationship is not going to last. -Ann
The potential for violence was palpable during their first scene together, with Greg yanking the vacuum cord out of the wall and doubting Joan’s ability to have an original thought (“Who told you that?”). I am glad the writers will not let us see the two of them together, or even hear them talked about as a couple, without the fact that Greg raped Joan at the front of our minds. It felt like Joan has learned to manage Greg’s temper through too much experience. I enjoyed watching him shrink to the pathetic fraction of a person he is throughout the course of the party. I just hope Joan acts on the knowledge that he’s not going to give her access to the status (and probably family) she wants and gets him the hell out of her life. -Jos
Ann, I literally emailed “dancing bear” to myself as I was watching the accordion moment.  So ridic.  I’m not as optimistic that this is a set-up to her leaving him (though that certainly would be lovely).  It feels more to me a kind of reality check from all of the pseudo-dreamy stuff going on with the rich folks in the show.  I think that the older woman who came to dinner – can’t remember her name – embodied that as well, especially when she straight up tells her not to have a baby. – Jessica
Sally steals Gene’s five dollars.
I was really intrigued by the dynamic between Carla and Gene in this storyline. There was a constant racial tension, and Gene certainly showed himself to be an ignorant white man. But there seemed to be a connection between the two of them, I think because they are both given less credit than they deserve and are both in vulnerable positions. Gene showed he’s more aware than he is given credit for by figuring out quickly that Sally stole his money and that her guilt was punishment enough. Carla probably knows more about the dynamics of the Draper household than anyone else and knows how to manage them, too. She really could have been in danger here – I doubt anyone would blink about firing a black maid. But she handled the situation perfectly. The two of them seemed to connect during this process, both knowing what was happening and at some point seeming to silently agree on the best course of action. -Jos

“I’m Peggy Olson and I want to smoke some marijuana.”
Best. Line. Ever. – Jessica
“How do you know what I’ll like. You never ask me how I feel about anything except braziers and body odor and makeup.”
Go Peggy! While last season explored the trials and tribulations of trying to get formal recognition for her work (the new job, the new title, the new office, her own secretary), this season we get to see Peggy navigate the boy’s club in more complex ways. While it might be possible to watch last season and declare that women no longer face those barriers in the workplace (i.e. they are not automatically shunted to the secretary pool), Peggy’s workplace storyline this season rings true for women in male-dominated workplaces even today. She obviously recognizes that, when it comes to being successful at work, out-of-office bonding is just as important as your in-office performance. (I think about female Wall Street employees who filed lawsuits about their male colleagues taking clients out to strip clubs, and exclusionary work-related social scenes like the Augusta golf club.) Still, like so many women who succeed in male-dominated work environments, Peggy prides herself on being able to hang with the boys. A woman doing drugs? Very transgressive. She’s also the only one who manages to think up a great ad campaign after an afternoon of smoking pot. It’s great seeing her in “a really good place,” exuding so much confidence and kicking ass at her job. -Ann
I worry when I see some of the parallels between Peggy and Don, and experimenting with pot was an obvious reference to Don doing the same in season 1. But Peggy is “in a very good place right now” and it’s great to watch her starting to claim her own power. She’s putting up less and less with her coworker’s sexist expectations – yes, she went to get the blender, but she protested and that is a big step. She rolled her eyes at Jeffrey’s “sweetheart” before clearly stating what she wanted in one of the most awesome lines ever. Peggy is claiming her own voice, claiming her own space, and coming up with great ad ideas while high. She rocks. -Jos
I have nothing to add but never-ending love for Peggy and the writers who are making her so bad-ass. – Jessica
Roger Sterling performs “My Old Kentucky Home” in blackface.
The first of three performances in an episode about class performance. Making us watch this whole long blackface routine was painful, and I can definitely understand why the writers made that choice. Roger is a throwback to an older generation of money, and this number served both to show that his time is ending (though blackface has by no means gone away) and to underline the racism that supports his wealth. -Jos
Roger is indeed a throwback, and his blatant racism is echoed in this episode by Betty’s father, who suspects Carla has stolen his $5. Both men are relics of another era whose time is ending. I took the exchange between Roger and Don at the end of the episode (where Don tells Roger that people think he’s a fool) to not only be a reference to his very young wife, but also his straightforward racism. -Ann
I suppose the scene in blackface was supposed to make us uncomfortable, but frankly I thought it was overkill and lacked any real context. I hate when racial signifiers are thrown in for shock value and never addressed, especially when they are super fucked up. -Samhita
Betty’s flirtation.
This gave the impression that Betty is still very much not over Don’s cheating. It’s also clear she is feeling insecure about her looks now that she is pregnant, and is hungry for the flattery. -Ann
I kind of love Betty’s random flirty (and previously sexifying) relationships with men.  It’s clear that she needs the flattery to be sure – but she also strikes me as refreshingly honest and, well…almost more herself when she’s talking to a stranger than when she’s talking to Don. – Jessica
“Code pink” at Greg’s hospital.
I had no idea this was a meaning of the term! Made me wonder if the antiwar group was named as a tongue-in-cheek reference. -Ann
Ann, I was wondering the same thing! Hey audience, just in case you hadn’t noticed, Greg doesn’t care about women’s consent. -Jos
Pete and Trudy’s dance routine.
Just when you thought Pete couldn’t possibly look any more like Pee-Wee Herman! Seriously, though. Pete cares so deeply about earning Don’s respect, and this dance sequence will probably not go over well with Don. I don’t think his concept of “successful head of client services” includes jazz hands. -Ann
Performance number two. Again Pete and Trudy are performing a certain class role through their dance – they both know how to do this and do it well. But watching the over-rehearsed routine I got more and more uncomfortable – feels like they’re trying too hard, feels too rigid and put on. -Jos
But they are doing the Charleston!!! -Samhita
Kinsey: “We almost died.” Smitty: “But we didn’t.”
What this episode was all about, in my opinion. Last season our characters went through the Cuban missile crisis. They really thought the world was going to end. It didn’t go out with a bang, and now everyone is navigating how to be in a post-armageddon world. -Jos
Joan plays the accordion and sings “C’est Magnifique.”
Can we pause for a sec and note how awesome it is that Joan plays the accordion? Wowza. -Ann
The third performance of the night, and a very different one from the previous two. The situation is incredibly uncomfortable – Joan has just realized that she brings Greg’s status up, not the other way around, and that he is desperate and pathetic. When the conversation really takes a sour turn Greg panics and practically begs Joan to distract everyone. Though it should be a really embarrassing situation, Joan pulls it off beautifully. -Jos
Again, the first thing I thought of was a dancing bear in this scene.  She’s wonderful, no doubt, but her ability to perform – whether through setting the table correctly or entertaining the guests – makes me really sad for all women, because it was (and is) so necessary. – Jessica

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • chocolatepie

    I also love the message that Peggy while high is more productive than two of her male coworkers while straight.
    There’s an interesting dynamic between Peggy and the men that’s very different from their interactions with the secretaries, who they *know* are beneath them. They’re not quite sure how to view Peggy yet, but you can often see how impressed they are with her guts (when she shows up at the strip club, for one!), even if they don’t say anything.

  • MediaCzech

    Did Sterling sing the “darky version” of the song?
    Yes, KY’s a little off…

  • Mama Mia

    I also thought it was interesting that the song Joan sang was about what to do to have a happy marriage, as she was smoothing things over for her husband, and presumably keeping her marriage smooth.

  • Tara K.

    Mad Men makes my head spin.
    The tension in the opening scene with Joan’s husband was ferociously executed. I think this episode could be called the “Class & Women” episode. It really sought to develop each female character a little.
    And does anyone else absolutely marvel at how historically accurate the show is with not just fashion but ever little detail?? Specifically getting the makeup trends down to the year. The women have all transitioned from the red lips for season one to the bare lips and heavy liquid eyeliner — very Briggite Bardot-ish looking for Betty, sans voluminous hair. The fashion and how women perform gender is such an important part of the core of the show. The shift in colors and shapes really follows in synch with women veering away from ideas of innocence, cupcake perfection, and form-over-function.

  • Lilitu

    When Peggy says to Olive, “you are scared aren’t you???” she is touching on the fear of Peggy becoming like the men and the level of discomfort and confusion Olive is feeling with a woman in a position of power. -Samhita

    I saw this dialogue very differently. I thought Peggy was touching on Olive’s fear that Peggy would fail. That the first female copywriter at Sterling Cooper would get taken down by the establishment. That Peggy had to be so much more careful than the men, because any slip-up in her behavior would be treated as so much worse than it would be for a man. I think Olive really does want Peggy to succeed, and is nervous on her behalf because she knows how easily the men in charge can kill the dream.

  • Haley Leibovitz

    I also interpreted that moment in this way. It explains why Olive came in on a Saturday to be there for Peggy when no other secretary came in that day. Olive cares deeply for Peggy’s future and wants her to succeed to the point of reminding her who she is and how much harder she will have to work.
    I hope we get to hear more from Olive.

  • RacyT

    On Roger’s stupid performance: when Don and Betty were entering the party, I’m pretty sure the band was playing an upbeat, jazzy version of “Swing low, sweet chariot,” which made me bristle — why would this be played for a bunch of rich, over-privileged white people? Would they even know the song or was it just appropriation? Then Roger did his thing and it all made sense…

  • Mama Mia

    Yes, this is how I saw that, too. In fact, Olive said something like “If you are here, I am here” which was on one level about being at the office on a Saturday, but on another level about being supportive and helping her succeed, and maybe even as far as “If you succeed, I succeed.”
    I also thought a key scene for Olive was the bit about protecting Peggy’s purse. She kept it safe when Peggy wasn’t paying attention to it, and warned her about someone stealing it. Peggy responded that there was no one there, but Olive frowned, as if to say, of course there is someone here, the guys down the hall. At first I thought it was about protecting her femininity, since a purse is a female article. But then I thought more and decided it is about the core of Peggy’s identity: the proof of who Peggy is- her ID cards, her money, the keys to her house- all that is contained in the purse, and Olive was warning her that other people don’t care if she loses the essence of who she is. To me it was a big warning to Peggy, and I saw it as foreshadowing that Peggy might not recognize what she must protect about herself.

  • argolis

    Agreed. It reminded me of a scene from the first season when Peggy tells Joan, “I just realized something. You think you’re being helpful.”
    There is no maliciousness in Olive’s reminders of propriety and vigilance. I sensed something very maternal about her. That scene felt like a generation of daughters assuring their mothers, “Don’t worry about me. I am going to get to do everything you want for me.” Honestly, it brought me to tears.

  • argolis

    This episode is exactly why I get so annoyed Joan fangirls. People fawned over her for her sassiness in the secretarial pool and her curvy body, but more than any other female character, Joan plays by the rules. Don’t get me wrong. She’s intelligent and strong and gracious, but it bothers me when people fail to see past her queen bee facade.
    There is such a perfect scene in season two where Joan is sitting by herself on her bed at the end of the day and pulls her bra strap down and and begins to massage the angry red marks left on her skin. It’s just a perfect explanation of her character.
    I’m just so in love with Peggy. Her intelligence and steadfastness and clarity and honesty. God. I can’t remember the last time I admired a young female character on television like I do Peggy.

  • argolis

    Holy shit. I went to school in Kentucky so I knew that the original version was really offensive, but the lyrics were only changed in 1986?!?
    That just blows my mind. Were people singing the “darkies” version before football games then too?

  • davenj

    This episode seems to me to be the complement of the first season’s episode “The Marriage of Figaro”.
    Both use a literary framing device (in this case “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, which could easily have been an alternate title). Both center around a party. Both feature the isolation that comes from Draper being a man apart, on the outside looking in. They’re a bit more on the nose this time, using his scene at the bar with the older man.
    But most importantly both episodes bring up divorce. In this case Roger Sterling’s re-marriage is the focal point of the entire Derby Day, and while Roger’s happy there’s the entire subtext of whether or not he should have married someone so young, or been so open about it.
    Both episodes really highlight the thoughts about divorce being made more public, using parties as the lens.

  • ohmyheavens

    Not really. Women of America weren’t swooning over Brigitte Bardot, they were still crazy about Jackie and other Hollywood actress like Elizabeth Taylor. Bette’s hair was not voluminous it was pulled back in a bun, all of the women’s hair was carefully coiffed, not the sexy bedroom hair of Bardot that would become the rage in the mid-60s.
    Ann- I don’t think Don’s confrontation with Roger had anything to do with his racism. The confrontation has been building up since last season. Don to a degree has always thought of Roger as a hack, and this was the best opportunity to let him know.
    And that dance wasn’t about earning Don’s respect it was about earning Roger’s. It was Roger’s party. Pete isn’t sure whose respect he’d prefer. Roger has all of the money and status but Don is more compotent.

  • Tara K.

    I’m not sure you understood my comment. I said their makeup looked like Bardot — not that they were swooning. (I do understand historical timelines, gratsi.) And I said she was without (sans) voluminous hair.

  • Ann

    Because I was so curious, I asked Dana Balicki, who works for Code Pink, about the origins of the group’s name…

    the term codepink is a medical/emergency term usually attributed to baby theft at a hospital. kinda creepy.
    our use of the term is a riff off of the color-coded terror alert system (that apparently may be nixed soon by the obama admin)

  • cato

    Some of my recording was cut off, so maybe I missed a crucial part, but wasn’t the last scene a really important one – Don and Betty finally making up? I thought it showed she had forgiven him.

  • wax_ghost

    I really doubt that Joan is going to leave her rapist fiance (they’re not married yet, are they?). If she did, she would be even more stuck at Sterling Cooper watching Jane parade around in a role that I think Joan herself wanted more than she is willing to admit.
    But I think we should also talk about Greg keeping things from her. When the other two doctors brought up his failure in a particular surgery and Joan pressed for details, he said something along the lines of “I didn’t want to worry Joan.” It made me think of the phrase, “Don’t worry your pretty little head,” and all of the condescension plus assumption of stupidity that goes into that.
    Also, I was reading on another blog that accordions were the most prevalent instrument for lower-class families in that era, while pianos were more common for upper class or upper middle class families, so by making her perform like that, Greg also forced her to reveal her original class rather than the one she is aspiring to. That must have been embarrassing….

  • Gnatalby

    I think you guys skipped a performance: Kinsey and drug dealer’s a Capella number.

  • Lilitu

    They are married. This episode was set in May of ’63 and Joan said last season that the wedding was set for Christmas 1962. She just hasn’t been able to quit her job yet because Greg’s earning so little.
    That is a really interesting fact about the accordion, and a subtext I wouldn’t have gotten.

  • Jos

    You’re right, I totally did! My bad. It was another fascinating moment about class performance, too. Kinsey’s background as a scholarship student had just been outed, he was feeling incredibly vulnerable, and he rescued the moment by performing in a way he’d learned at a privileged institution and reconnecting with Jeffrey through that shared song.