Mad Women In Refrigerators: How Peggy’s Departure
Is All About Don,
And Why I Am Sad To See Her Go

There can only be one Don Draper, and it isn’t Peggy Olson. (Uh…spoilers.)

Peggy’s departure from Mad Men is presented as this awesome moment where she’s excited because she’s finally going to be valued for her work, and she smiles and cool upbeat music plays (the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”) and she’s like, totally empowered!

Fuck that. I’m supposed to be happy that Peggy is no longer a character whose story arc I get to follow because I can imagine that she stepped into that elevator and went on to succeed in another agency’s creative department? Cutler Gleason and Chaough isn’t the agency we watch every week. Yes, the episode’s implication is that Peggy will succeed — but I won’t get to see her do it.

Why would Mad Men’s writers eliminate Peggy from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce?

In the iTunes “Inside Mad Men” feature, Elizabeth Moss says of Peggy:

She has the capability of being a Don Draper. So there can’t be two of them in the office, you know? She’s gotta go and do her own thing. […]

The thing about Peggy quitting is, that, that was the only way for her to go. She can’t exist under Don’s shadow forever, and she has to fly the coop, she has to go out on her own.

She’s too much like Don, so she has to go? The show’s creators couldn’t figure out a way to present Peggy in her own right? Really?

I have been a Peggy fan from the get-go. She and Joan are the reasons I started watching Mad Men. (I’ll spill more virtual ink on this episode’s treatment of Joan in a future post.) Without these two strong, smart, complicated, women navigating Mad Men’s Man World, this show never would have roped me in.

From Mad Men’s pilot episode, Peggy has been a critical character. She has evolved in spectacular ways, from this

to this

Over the span of four and a half seasons, Peggy has gained experience and confidence; at the outset of Season 5, she’s finally starting to gain some power in the office. And because the writers can’t figure out how to develop her character in conjunction with the Male Protagonist’s character, they’re getting rid of the only female copywriter on the team.

And lo and behold, we viewers are bathed in Don’s manpain. A woman’s departure incites the audience’s empathy for the male protagonist, makes him more interesting, furthers his story arc. Gee, this sounds familiar.

Though Peggy’s departure from the show is not caused by her character’s death, it still smacks of fridging.

Mad Men gets to pat itself on the back for representing fictional systemic sexism in the office, while still benefiting from actual systemic sexism in the editing room. Yes, the show draws attention to gender inequality in the workplace, but it often fails to promote gender equality on the screenspace.

It’s 2012 and we still live in a culture that reduces women to Jaguars and Buicks, to mistresses and wives. And when a woman doesn’t fit neatly into either of those categories, she becomes a problem and must be extirpated.

Get out of the way, Peggy. Make room for Don.

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