When Peggy’s Catholic Brooklyn family erupted last week, it was a reminder of how very much she’d been repressing at work. The escalating nuttiness at home and Peggy’s utter placidness in the office seemed just more proof that Peggy is the only other Sterling Cooper employee with anything approaching Don’s lockjaw discretion. But, Jesus Christ (sorry, priest played by Tom Hanks’s son), we didn’t know the connection went this deep.
This week, Mad Men was the Don & Peggy show — so let’s quickly dispense with watercooler gossip about the rest of the cast: Joan got engaged to her doctor beau — and couldn’t stop flashing her rock in everyone’s face (infuriating Roger Sterling, who threatened to “paddle” her). A new secretary arrived outside Don’s office — and couldn’t stop flashing her tits in everyone’s face (infuriating Ken Cosgrove, who seems more pathetic than ever). And Pete passed a fertility test — and couldn’t stop throwing his results in his wife’s face (infuriating a woman who becomes less of a caricature with each episode).
The real story kicks in with a phone call. Bobbi Barrett is drunk at Sardi’s and wants to meet with Don, who says he’s busy working — but by now we know that this excuse is practically a code word for “Be right there, without my pants.” So Don arrives, orders raw meat for his man-eating lover and a cute salad to soothe his middle-aged neurosis. Then they get fershnickered, but not before Don’s lovely season-one lover, Ms. Mencken, reappears with date and sternly reintroduces herself as “Mrs. Katz.” (Ouch.) She takes a look at Bobbi and levels them both with one line: “You two enjoy …working together.”
The uncomfortable silence spurs on some drunk, existential chitchat. “What the hell do you like?” Bobbi asks. “The answer is so huge,” answers Don, as close as he gets to being stoned. Turns out he likes the ocean well enough, so Don and Bobbi hit the road to have sex on the beach at Bobbi’s getaway. They’re both sucking liquor from a bottle in the front seat of the car when Bobbi says, “I feel so good.” And Don says, like a dead man, “I feel nothing.” This is a moment for Hamm’s Emmy reel: Heart-stoppingly cold, but delivered with all kinds of pregnant meaning, it also just so happens to sum up so much of Don’s life — just before he crashes the car.
AMC saves a few bucks with a cheap edit from swerving lights to the car in a ditch; Bobbi and Don are banged up but alive. Only, Don is arrested for just hitting the legal blood-alcohol limit of .15 percent (double New York’s current limit, for all you trivia fetishists), and he doesn’t have the $150 fine handy. So like some Democratic primary voter, Don literally has to decide who he can trust to answer that 3 a.m. phone call. It’s definitely not his wife — or even Roger Sterling, who owes him. It’s the only person who truly understands the value of a kept secret: Peggy.
In one of the show’s most stunningly understated moments, Peggy shows up at the police station wearing white gloves and tells Don that she’s brought 110 dollars. Then, since Bobbi has a black eye, Peggy takes her back to her house, in a sly riff on Billy Wilder’s The Apartment. The Peggy-Bobbi dynamic is far less fascinating than the flashbacks it triggers: Peggy remembers her post-delivery days in a mental institution, where she was diagnosed with a “psychoneurotic disorder” because she couldn’t admit to having a child. Now we finally know why the child was taken from her and how she was able to keep her job after disappearing: Don tracked her down and arrived at her bedside to tell her the one thing that had worked so well, until recently, for himself: Repress everything. (Or, as Shirley MacLaine says in the last line of The Apartment: “Shut up and deal.”) “Get out of here and move forward,” Don says grimly, in his second Emmy moment of the night. “This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened.”
Now we know that Peggy wasn’t just devoted to Don because he gave her that big break. But are Peggy and Don now even? They are, according to Bobbi Barrett, who tells Peggy to stop trying to be a man and take on the “powerful business” of being a woman — admonishing her that “you’re never going to get that corner office until you start treating Don as an equal.”
The Early Results
For everyone who hoped that Peggy would get a story line as riveting as Don’s — this is it. Peggy’s not just a tragic figure anymore, she’s a player. When she drops the formality in her last line to Mr. Draper — “Thank you, Don” — that final word plays as startling and aggressive as Don’s infamous crotch grab. If Peggy were a superhero (and she might something of one), this episode would be her origin story.