Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Nitpicking Peggy Olson

Don't get me wrong. I LOVE Mad Men. But something about Peggy Olson just... bugs me. Maybe I'm too close to the Catholic thing, but I just don't believe that a Catholic girl in the 1960s would do the things Peggy does. Not that there weren't Catholic girls sleeping around and getting pregnant in 1962. But doing so as seemingly guilt free as Peggy?

And even if Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) were to be so "liberated," I find it even more doubtful that, having given birth, she would be able to forget about the child so easily and continue on pursuing a career. Back then, for right or wrong, a girl would consider her life forever altered by this unintended pregnancy, perhaps even "ruined." She would be stuck in Peggy's outer borough, now forever a mom. I just don't buy Peggy's attempts at moving at this stage to Manhattan.

As my friends in the past few days have discussed this past Sunday's episode, "The Arrangements," everyone seems to be coming down really hard on Mrs. Olson. They read this week's scene where Peggy tells her mother about wanting to get her own apartment in Manhattan as the older woman's resentful attempts to stifle Peggy's burgeoning independence and liberation. And yes, I agree, Mrs. Olson was quite passive-aggressive and cruel. But here's the thing -- can you blame her? Her daughter Peggy has proven that the moment she is given free reign, she gets indiscriminately pregnant -- and worse yet, is in denial about it right through the moment she gives birth, unable to care for herself or the child. Peggy has shown not only questionable judgment, but questionable sanity as well. Shouldn't we empathize with Mrs. Olson for fearing what will happen if she lets her clearly judgment-impaired daughter so far out of her sight?

I guess my point is, I don't root for the character as much as many fans seem to, because at the core of it I often don't believe that a Peggy Olson would exist in her time. She often seems to be a cipher, a device for the show's writers through which to illustrate the week's theme of sexism, of filial duty, etc. And here's where I get nitpicky, but these little details are the types of things the show is supposedly famous for getting right, and this one from this
past episode rang false enough to pull me out of the story:

Norway is not a Catholic country. It's overwhelmingly Lutheran-Protestant. In fact, Catholics make up less than 1% of the population; there are fewer Catholics than Muslims. We've seen how Catholic Peggy's mother and family are -- again, it seems to me, merely as a device to show the Church in America and its influence over the times. But had the writers been more careful, they might have named the family something other than Olson, to make their ethnic/religious combination more likely.

Still, I used to try to rationalize, maybe Peggy's mother is of another ethnicity, which would explain the Catholic roots. However in Sunday's episode, she tries to appeal to her mother by saying her new roommate is also Norwegian. (Peggy's lie really is a hilarious little payoff from the writers, since we know the roommate is of Swedish descent.) So wouldn't that mean Mom is also Norwegian? Otherwise, why would Peggy think the lie would assuage her?

I certainly look forward to seeing what happens with Peggy in episodes -- and seasons -- to come. I hope she achieves great things, because I'd love to see what happens in a place like Sterling Cooper when a woman really does have some power and some say. I just wish "Peggy" were a little more believable all along the way.

1 comment:

  1. I have too much affection for Peggy to be too critical, but you make a good point about the Scandinavian-Catholic disconnect.