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Joan and Peggy in the New Episode of Mad Men

The Post-Draper World? 

Joan and Peggy in Mad Men, Season 7, “Time Zones”


 7 joan and peggy


Warning: Spoiler Alert for Episode 1 of Season 7


The long wait is over, and the days of obsessive commentary about new episodes of AMC’s Mad Men have returned at last.

In a post last Friday, I argued that although we naturally adopt a Drapercentric perspective, the show’s new season would likely highlight the ascent of Joan Harris and Peggy Olson at Sterling Cooper & Partners (SC&P).  Last night’s episode did.  It’s now late January, 1969, and Don remains suspended from SC&P.  As Maureen Ryan notes on HuffPostTV,

“Isn’t it interesting that it’s eight minutes into the episode before we see Don?”

Indeed, the first episode, “Time Zones,” showed Joan building on the momentum of her success in Season 6.  Armed with the lucrative Avon account and as indispensable as ever in managing the daily affairs of the office, Joan displayed impressive firefighting skills in this episode.  She saved (at least for the time being) SC&P’s account with Butler Footwear.  We see Joan improvise fearlessly.

She tries calming and hand-holding the now-frantic “Cyclops” Ken Cosgrove, who has taken over Pete Campbell’s office and is swamped with the business of managing Chevy and many other accounts.  Despite Ken’s brusqueness (he calls Joan’s ideas “dumb” and responds to an incoming call by whining, “I don’t have time to take a crap!”), Joan seems to have a handle on how to deal with an impending meeting with Butler Footwear’s new marketing director.


“Shiver me timbers” – Ken Cosgrove, Season 6 casualty of Chevy 

When said meeting goes awry and the young whippersnapper announces his intention to pull the account and rely on in-house advertising, Joan recovers her poise and seeks out a business school advertising expert.

Butler Footwear Marketing director

The new face of male chauvinism – a martyr for shoes? 

The mutual respect of their conversation – Joan seeking tips on how to use up-to-date business school vernacular, the professor’s pleasant surprise at finding someone to explain the intricacies of the fees vs. commissions pay structure (one first discussed on the show by Lane Pryce in Season 5, after the agency landed Jaguar) – marks how far Joan has come.  We share her wry satisfaction when she tells the note-taking professor that although she will explain the fees issue, “you’re going to need another pad.”

Even more satisfying is Joan’s phone call to her Butler bête noire, in which she schools him on the facts of advertising life (namely, that the shoe company cannot deal with TV and print media the way SC&P can, and – thanks to the counterculture and fashion changes – shoes will simply have to endure a slump in sales for a time, and there is no magic bullet).  Joan’s self-possession and zeal to get things right serves her well here, and her virtuoso performance augers well for the rest of Season 7.

Peggy, of course, had a much rougher go of it last night: she now works for a Creative Director whose shortcomings are different than those of the mercurial Don Draper or the swooning Ted Chaough.  As Maureen Ryan puts it,“The creative side of the firm is now an autocracy run by a dolt in a Mr. Rogers sweater.”  Lou Avery, Draper’s nemesis and replacement at SC&P, does little to hide either his creative complacency or his contempt for Draper’s old protégé, telling Peggy, “I don’t care what you think,” and “I guess I’m immune to your charms.”

Peggy Olson


By the end of the episode, Peggy – now a landlord at her apartment – drops to her knees in tears, and we share her mixture of pain and frustration.  That said, don’t cry for Peggy.  This is a momentary lapse caused as much by the pain of seeing Ted again as he flies in from California as it is by a temporary setback at the office.  Peggy Olson is playing a long game.

So, too, is MoS.  Check back soon for more on this season’s inaugural episode and its place in the longer history of Mad Men.







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5 Responses »

  1. I have always “naturally” adopted a Peggy-centric perspective in watching Mad Men, actually. From day one I have been very invested in her story. So it broke my heart to see her in this new situation. Peggy has always been the character that in many ways redeemed Don — in his relationship with her, he transcended much bullshit and was truer with her, even as he taught her to play the same game (“you will be surprised at how much it never happened”).

    Both Peggy and Joan, but especially Peggy, given her investment in a sense of meritocracy, are hitting the glass ceiling. I take hope in your idea that Peggy is playing a long game – one could argue that most professional women were, working hard and waiting for someone – usually some man — to recognize their talents and move them ahead — just not ahead of them. I’m very curious to see how her story is going to play out this season.

    • wordpress won’t let me edit: the line was “it will shock you how much it never happened.” apologies for lax citation of text…

    • Excellent point, Kate! Many folks have seen Peggy as the central character all along. I think this season, she might do something like orchestrate Don’s return (or Ted’s) to oust Avery, and then push the top guy out at some point to take over as Creative Director herself. Maybe with an assist from Joan?


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