Countdown to Mad Men: The Ups and Downs of Peggy Olson

Each day this week, I’ll attempt to offer an in-depth look at Mad Men's core characters by highlighting the five moments that have defined, so far, their arcs, along with predictions of what might happen to them in the coming season. After all, between the Beatles coming to the United States, the Civil Rights Act, and the expansion of the Vietnam War, 1964 can only make for some majorly dramatic television.

,p> In today's installment, we'll study the arc of copywriter Peggy Olson. (And in case you missed it, here's Monday's edition about Roger Sterling.)

1. The Career-Driven Woman

Episode: Season 1's “Smoke Gets in your Eyes
Peggy learned quickly (read: her first day on the job) that her new career as a secretary at Sterling Cooper came with a load of new challenges. Perhaps not knowing better, she allied herself with the unreliable Pete Campbell. It was during the scene when she, uh, accepted Campbell into her apartment after he'd been out celebrating his own bachelor party that her life became professionally and personally complicated.

2. A Basket of Kisses

Episodes: Season 1's "Babylon," "Red in the Face," "Indian Summer," and "The Wheel"
Three little words—“basket of kisses”—were all it took to transform Peggy's career. After testing Belle Jolie lipsticks with the rest of the secretaries and poetically describing the wastebasket full of blotting tissues, she showed she had a way with words—and earned herself a chance to help with the Belle Jolie campaign. Peggy went on to get a raise, a better desk, and a promotion from "just another secretary" to junior copywriter.

3. The Birth of Pete Campbell's Baby

Episodes: Season 1's "The Wheel," and Season 2's "The New Girl"
Peggy didn't realize (or refused to believe) that she was pregnant with Pete’s baby until the point she actually went into labor. The fact that she chose to not act as the baby’s mother was no doubt in part because she took Don Draper’s advice to heart. "This never happened," Draper told her. "It will shock you how much it never happened." And a new life in which Peggy was inextricably linked to both Pete and Don began.

4. The Dress, the Hair, and Bob Dylan

Episodes: Season 2's "Maidenform," "The Jet Set," and "The Mountain King"
Post-baby, Peggy decided not to become a victim of circumstance, and took control of her life. She played up her sex appeal, started showing some cleavage, and even let Kurt chop her hair before going to see Dylan in the Village. The new makeover gave her the confidence to let Pete know that she could have shamed him into her life, but decided it wasn’t worth it. Who else got chills when she told Pete, "I had your baby, and I gave it away"?

5. Peggy Takes a Hit

Episode: Season 3's "My Old Kentucky Home"
After getting high for the first time with Paul and Smitty one Saturday afternoon at the office, Peggy made a declaration to her concerned middle-aged secretary, Olive: "I am going to get to do everything you want from me." This exchange could easily have been read as a metaphor for the progression of feminism. Olive, a smart and capable woman was at once frustrated and supportive of Peggy’s freedoms. The next few big life decisions Peggy makes will likely have everything to do with her own idea of her self worth and not what society dictates.

Which leaves us where?
Peggy—who's been living it up in Manhattan, taken a lover, and demanded that her colleagues appreciate her worth—is definitely on an upswing.

Peggy gets really into the Rolling Stones (their first album was released on April 16, 1964), demands to be put on the 1964 World's Fair account, and meets a new man while out celebrating the signing of the Civil Rights Act.

What do you think will happen to Peggy Olson in Season 4?

Comments (4)
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Jul 23, 2010
@HelloStuart: I think she put Pete in his place back in Season 3.

I agree Peggy is definitely on an upswing with the world seemingly at her feet. This season we're going to see her back against the wall (figuritively, not litterally) in a lot of different situations while she adjusts to this new found power switch, and she's going to have to make a lot of tough decisions (some will be right and some will be wrong). By the end of the series however I see her at the top running her own business.
Jul 22, 2010
There are times when I think that Peggy is me. Here's hoping that she finds whatever she's looking for.
Jul 21, 2010
Peggy rocks!
Jul 20, 2010
From what I've read, Season 4 starts in November 1964, so your prediction might be a bit off. My best assumption is that she'll finally put Pete is his place.

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