Doing it her way has never been easy for Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss). For subtle but understandable reasons to me as a psychoanalyst, Peggy needs Don and yet hates herself (and him) for it. She’s just not as self-assured as she thinks she should be. Then, again, neither is Don Draper (Jon Hamm). They share this. Especially, where love comes into the picture. Season 7 Episode 5 ended with Don triumphantly flagging down a cab … the line “everybody knows you’ve been stepping on my toes” from Waylon Jennings’s song, “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line,” playing in the background after his Phillip Morris coup. Is Don back? It looks like he is in Mad Men Season 7 Episode 6. As “The Strategy” begins, Peggy isn’t so sure she likes this.
Yes, Peggy’s competitive. Yes, she’s mad at Don – thinking he might at least be partly responsible for Ted leaving her. And, yes, Don’s talent threatens her security about her own ideas. Lou Avery’s demeaning nature in past episodes hasn’t helped. But, there’s more to it than that. Peggy isn’t really as confident as she wants to appear. The fact that Peggy feels very much alone doesn’t help at all. She’s always been alone, just like Don.
Peggy’s Always Been Alone Just Like Don
Peggy had no one to count on in her family. She doesn’t fit into the traditional lower-middle-class Catholic culture of her mother, sister, and brother-in-law. They just don’t get her. And, as we saw in the early seasons of Mad Men, she’s never had any real mothering or parental understanding of who she is; she’s pretty much had to go it alone in everything she’s done. While climbing the corporate ladder from Don’s secretary to chief copywriter, Peggy’s simultaneously faced a steep uphill journey to learn about sex, love, family, and her place as a woman in a changing society.
Yet, in her secret pregnancy crisis, who was there for her? Don. When she had Don’s support—or Duck’s or Ted’s—she didn’t doubt herself quite so much. With Don and Ted both gone and her difficulties with Lou Avery, Peggy’s struggled with more self-doubt than she wants to believe she has. She doesn’t like to need anyone. She’s been hurt and disappointed every time she tried. That includes Don. Now he’s back. Is he a competitor or a supporter? Can she trust him not to take something else away? She’s not so sure about that.
Can Anyone Be Trusted To Help?
Then comes their dance – in more ways than one. Is the pitch for Burger Chef any good at all? She doesn’t think so. She doesn’t believe Don when he says it is. What does he have up his sleeve? She suspects he must be out to undermine her for his own gain. Yet, after all their jockeying with each other, she breaks down and turns to the old Don Draper—the one who was sort of like a Dad, something else she never had. Against her all-too “independent spirit” and fear that he will, once again, fail her, she asks his advice. When he tells her: “That’s the job … living in the not-knowing,” Peggy breaks down. What she really doesn’t know is how to get love.
Against the backdrop of Bob Benson playing into Joan’s deepest fears that she’ll never find the love she’s looking for by offering her a sham marriage, Peggy cries, opening up to Don: “I just turned 30 … In Detroit, I looked in the windows of so many station wagons, what did I do wrong?” She’s disillusioned about trusting the possibilities of family. Don is too. Amidst his despair at Megan leaving him and New York once again (has a fondue pot ever been so ominous?), he shares one of his own biggest worries: “That I don’t have anyone.”
Different Kinds of “I’ll Do It My Way”
It’s a touching scene where both are in the raw, emotional moment with each other. They understand each other perhaps more than anyone else in their lives, and they know at an unspoken level that they are both lonely, lonely people. They always have been, having to do it their ways; making it entirely on their own. There’s a big difference between the kind of “I’ll do it my way” that is a lonely journey because there is no one there. Or an “I’ll do it my way” that comes from a kind of confidence born out of togetherness and support, ideally given by family.
Family is what neither Peggy nor Don had, and what neither really trusts. Yet, family is what both need. Everyone does. And, family is what Peggy longs for. It’s what Sterling Cooper used to be before the likes of Lou Avery and Jim Cutler. And, it is family she’ll give Burger Chef – the idea that their food will appeal to many varieties and different sorts of families.
As the curtain falls on Don, Peggy, and Pete sitting in a cameo shot at one of the Burger Chef tables among all the other “family” groupings – I have to ask myself this: with Roger and Joan disgruntled about the direction SCP is going, will the end of Mad Men find another change? Will the original Sterling Cooper family come back together again? Maybe that’s just my fantasy of a happy family reunion, but it’s a good one, isn’t it?