Mad (Wo)Men: "Whatever can be on your mind?"

The close of the fourth season of Mad Men may contain one of my favorite scenes from the series—a scene that did not last much longer than a minute. I’m talking, of course, about the scene between Joan and Peggy after hearing that Don Draper got engaged to his 25-year-old secretary, Megan.

It’s taken four seasons, but the show has finally given us two female characters that I genuinely care about. The journey, at least in my opinion, has been a little rough.

Elisabeth Moss has always been excellent in the role, but I found the character of Peggy painful to watch for the first couple seasons. During her start at Sterling Cooper, she was constantly the butt of jokes by the ad men she worked for, mostly because she was not viewed as being “classically pretty” like the other secretaries.

Although I admired Peggy’s work ethic, allowing her to become the first female copywriter at Sterling Cooper since World War II, I still didn’t understand a lot of the personal decisions she made. Sleeping with Duck Phillips? A little unsure of who she was personally and still finding her way professionally, I found it hard to sympathize with her, but all that has changed in the span of a season.

Peggy has never been hesitant to voice her opinions to Don, but this season it became clear how much Don thinks of Peggy as an equal. The episode, “The Suitcase,” solidified the character of Peggy Olson. She confides to Don that she knows what she’s supposed to want, but how none of it seems as important [to her] as what happens in the office. Peggy, despite her personal choices (after all, we all have foibles), is the 1960s career woman, who continues to fight for equal footing in a man’s world.

I love that Don and Peggy’s relationship took on a more personal tenor this season. Not only will Peggy voice her opinions about work to Don, but she feels comfortable questioning his personal decisions as well. And he’s comfortable enough with Peggy to let her without flying off the handle.

The great thing about Mad Men is a viewer may see a character one way, but later on their actions and choices reveal he or she to be different, perhaps more complex than the audience may have originally observed. This certainly seems to be the case with Joan Holloway (now Harris). In the first season, it’s clear that as the office manager at Sterling Cooper, Joan is the “queen bee” among the women of the office. She seems to be the 1960s version of a “mean girl,” since she often makes fun of Peggy for her prudish wardrobe and lifestyle.

At first it seems that the goal for this ‘Marilyn’ is to marry wealthy so that she can quit Sterling Cooper and become a housewife, but we’ve seen that Joan is not that simple. During the second season, Joan becomes engaged to Greg, a doctor, and it seems she will have the epitome of every girl’s dream. Although Joan is happy with her engagement, she’s afraid that quitting the world of Sterling Cooper will result in her being a bored and lonely housewife. When she offers to help Harry Crane read soap opera scripts to determine ad placement, she finds herself enjoying the work. Hoping that Harry will require her help full-time, Joan is disappointed when a few days later, Harry hires a clueless man to take over her ad placement duties.

This season, as the new firm of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is on the verge of collapse, Lane Pryce tells Joan that because of her dedication and hard work, the (male) partners have promoted her to Director of Agency Operations. However, because of the firm’s financial troubles, he cannot offer her a salary bump. Joan takes this in stride, but later, alone with Peggy, her fellow in the trenches, complains about how if there was any celebration about her promotion, it must have been “while (she) was pushing the mail cart.” Joan also tells Peggy that she learned a long time ago that she wasn’t going to get satisfaction from her job. Peggy replies, “That’s bullshit!” Whether she is calling Joan on her fib or saying that Don’s engagement is not long for this world, it’s an interesting statement on what these women of 1965 put up with in the work place.

As long as Matt Weiner & Co. keep writing scenes like the one from Sunday night's finale, I'll keep watching.