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Posted at 3:52 PM ET, 08/16/2010

'Mad Men': Who was this week's empowered heroine -- Allison or Peggy?

By Jen Chaney

Peggy Olson -- proud copywriter for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and a woman largely succeeding every day at a man's game -- broke away from her suit-and-tied work environment to hang out with some '60s-era counter-cultural hipsters during Sunday's episode of "Mad Men." Is this just one more reason why Peggy is, as Popeater contends, "the real 'Mad Men' heroine"?

While I admire Peggy for a number of reasons, I'd say our Miss Olson still has some baggage to deal with before she can fully emerge as a bona fide heroine. In fact, based solely on the events that transpired in this most recent "Mad Men" installment (title: "The Rejected"), I'd say the real heroine of the show is Allison, Don Draper's now former secretary (and one-night stand) and a woman who -- as the video above demonstrates -- isn't afraid to throw an incredibly heavy cigarette dispenser at her boss's head when the moment calls for it.

Yes, Allison lost it after a Pond's focus group turned into the sort of weepy, female-bonding session that, in modern times, would send most women on a journey of self-discovery through Italy, India and Bali. Were her tears a little unprofessional? Sure.

But that ever-reliable secretary -- the one whose work Don described as "sparkling" -- kept her hurt and disappointment over her boss's dismissive, post-sexual-encounter treatment bottled up for several weeks. It was bound to spill over eventually. The fact that it did, and she let it, shows that she is in touch with her feelings, processing them and taking action.

And by taking action, I mean: a. trying to confide in Peggy (more on that in a minute), b. telling Don that she can't continue pretending they didn't sleep together (a concept, BTW, that Don can't grasp since he is the Pretender -- seriously, that Foo Fighters song is totally about him); c. deciding to find another job; and d. aiming a cigarette dispenser straight for Don's dapper skull.

Obviously chucking potentially injury-inducing objects at another person, particularly one's supervisor, is never advisable. But when Don had the gall to ask Allison to write her own recommendation letter, I don't think there was a perpetually put-upon employee watching -- male or female -- who didn't cheer when she very nearly clonked Mr. Draper right in the noggin. The words she spoke afterward were even more hurtful than the concussion Don might have incurred if that desktop doohickey had actually made contact. "You are not a good person!" Aliison blurted out.

As we know, that fear -- that he is really a bad guy with a heart that's at least two sizes too small -- is what keeps Don awake at night. And by awake, I mean alert long enough to craft a two-sentence apology to Allison on his typewriter, crumple it up, then pass out in a drunken stupor on his bachelor pad sofa.

So, to recap: Allison came to terms with her feelings, told Don where to go and marched out of the office, most likely to accept that magazine position she mentioned and start working for a woman. That's right, a woman, presumably the sort of mentor who won't get wasted at the company Christmas party, leave her keys at the office, force Allison to bring her keys all the way to her sad, little apartment, then seduce her into a sexual encounter. Presumably.

Now to that confrontation with Peggy. Allison opened up to her female colleague, thinking that the former secretary to Don Draper would know exactly how she felt. But once Peggy realized what Allison was implying about the nature of her relationship with Don, the woman who went from dowdy bangs to swellegant flip 'do immediately turned firm and cold.

"Your problem is not my problem," she said. "And honestly, you should get over it."

Peggy never slept with Don. So maybe she was trying to draw some definitive line in the ad agency sand, to make it clear that she wouldn't do what Allison had done. (To be fair, Allison could -- and should -- have said no to Don's advances. It's just hard when he looks so darn handsome and his breath smells so much like a warm, cozy distillery.)

But Peggy's sudden snap into judgmental territory struck me as more of a defense mechanism, and evidence that she really has the capacity to become as dismissive and blunt as the men around her. Let's be honest: Allison's problem has been Peggy's problem. At one time, albeit under different circumstances, Peggy definitely grappled with Don's fickle and often withholding nature. And -- perhaps more to the point -- Peggy has certainly done some skinny dipping in the company swimming pool.

Which brings us to Peggy and Pete. Peggy demonstrated a measure of class by issuing a sincere congratulations to Pete after hearing the obviously upsetting news that he and wife Trudy are expecting. But she was clearly repressing some lingering emotion -- Sadness?Jealousy? Guilt? -- related to the child she and Pete conceived and the fact that Peggy isn't remotely ready to start a family.

By episode's end, she seemed to have made her choice. As her knowing glance with Pete implied -- a glance Peggy sent his way, notably, while standing outside the glass doors of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce -- she plans, for now, to enjoy being young, unmarried, capable of kissing writers unexpectedly in closets during sudden police raids and as smart as any of the mad men around her. I admire her for that.

But Peggy's still got some unresolved feelings she isn't acknowledging. Like her old boss, Don, she's shoving her most troubling secrets as far into her private, interior corners as she can, and turning on that tough exterior, even when that means being unflinchingly unsupportive to a fellow woman. But I suspect that, like Allison, she won't really be able to move on until she lets all her grief, anger and disappointment spill out.

Translation: I have a feeling this won't be the last time we -- or perhaps some people very close to them -- are reminded that Pete and Peggy very nearly became parents.

By Jen Chaney  | August 16, 2010; 3:52 PM ET
Categories:  TV  | Tags:  Mad Men  
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Comments

Allison was no more empowered by hurling that ashtray at Don then Peggy was when she dismissively tut-tutted Freddy Rumson who, *accurately* observed that the goal of women of that age was marriage. Sure, Allison quit in a pique, but to what end? Unlike Peggy, who is succeeding in a man's world (although her being on the outside looking in at a hallway pow wow with SCDP and Vicks execs. was telling in more than just the pete/peggy way), Allison will still be in a subservient role, regardless of the gender of the person who is pressing the buzzer and calling her in for more ice. What Allison was upset about was that her infatuation with/for Don was unrequited and their one-night fling was barely a notch in DD's belt but meant *everything* to her.

Aside from Peggy, the writers of MM firmly place the women in the second class, they might as well be pressing the up and down buttons on the elevators. Joan could read scripts, but Harry never considered her for the full-time job. Her husband views her as someone who "files papers." Betty went from being a bird in Don's gilded cage to one in Henry's. Jane Sterling is a spoiled young woman and Bert's sister is an old, spoiled woman. Bobbi Barret throws sharp elbows and 'acts like a man' (and instructs Peggy to stop acting like a girl in dealing with DD).

Women's liberation/empowerment is barely on the radar, even in 1965, and Allison's departure from SCDP is just another example of the man keeping them down ...

Posted by: terrapin31590us | August 16, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

And that, boys and girls (well, mostly boys) is the reason that you shouldn't sleep with your secretary.

Yes, I know you're both adults and you both make a conscious decision decision to do "it", but if it happens, that reasonable, level-headed secretary will turn into an emotional 12-year old who, at best, will just tell her buddies and maybe make a scene at work (see above). If you are married, she can wreck your personal life as well as your professional life.

Why is it that so many women suddenly turn into children when sex is involved? A drunken one-night encounter is what it is.

Posted by: robertjonezz | August 17, 2010 8:38 AM | Report abuse

Alison totally overreacted. Did she think they were starting a relationship when they slept together? She could have said no. And Peggy was right, she should have let it go. Peggy is much more the heroine. She is making it in a mans world and Allison is simply running away.

Posted by: moelv2000 | August 17, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Running away from that agency is not a bad thing. Life continues on. I think Allison was right in quitting because Don's behavior toward her was making her uncomfortable. However, I wish she hadn't pouted, cried and thrown her little emotional tantrum.

For 3 years, Allison has been nothing but professional, anticipating Don's every need and I got the sense she had become a friend of sorts to him since his divorce. Even a kind, sweet, young, giving soul like Allison should have seen that Don was turning into a real jerky drunk since his divorce. How could she not? And then to have sex with him and expect him to respond the way SHE wanted him to? Expectations vs. who people really are again.

I would have much preferred it if she had become angry instead of being reduced to a crying school girl. Cutting Mr. Draper down with sharp words would have been just as effective as spilling all the tears. Since the personality of Allison was never really shown, it could have been written that way, but then I suppose the reason it was written the way it was, was to to show how far DD has descended; the audience would really really dislike him if he could reduce this kind, sweet, innocent vulnerable person to tears and hurt her so.

I think Allison's actress did a very good job with the material she was given, but I did not like the way she was written out.

Allison as the empowered one? Not for me.

Posted by: MMAddict | August 17, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Running away from that agency is not a bad thing. Life continues on. I think Allison was right in quitting because Don's behavior toward her was making her uncomfortable. However, I wish she hadn't pouted, cried and thrown her little emotional tantrum.

For 3 years, Allison has been nothing but professional, anticipating Don's every need and I got the sense she had become a friend of sorts to him since his divorce. Even a kind, sweet, young, giving soul like Allison should have seen that Don was turning into a real jerky drunk since his divorce. How could she not? And then to have sex with him and expect him to respond the way SHE wanted him to? Expectations vs. who people really are again.

I would have much preferred it if she had become angry instead of being reduced to a crying school girl. Cutting Mr. Draper down with sharp words would have been just as effective as spilling all the tears. Since the personality of Allison was never really shown, it could have been written that way, but then I suppose the reason it was written the way it was, was to to show how far DD has descended; the audience would really really dislike him if he could reduce this kind, sweet, innocent vulnerable person to tears and hurt her so.

I think Allison's actress did a very good job with the material she was given, but I did not like the way she was written out.

Allison as the empowered one? Not for me.

Posted by: MMAddict | August 17, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

I don't think Don is a bad guy, he just has his own code that isn't conventional or politically correct. With Allison, he violated his code and paid the price. Before this encounter, Don hasn't ever had sex with the female employees - even though he clearly could have - beginning with Peggy (see season 1). Don may be the only man with a pulse at SCDP who hasn't screwed Joan.

Ironically, if it had been Don who had gone to Allison's and screwed her when she was to drunk to even stand up, women would be writing in and questioning Allison's ability to consent to sex and calling Don a rapist.

Instead, Don is supposedly a villian because he had consensual sex with a sober and willing co-worker. His crime seems to be that he didn't turn the one-night drunken encounter into some kind of relationship that met Allison's expectations.

If you think Allison is a heroine you are probably not old enough watch this show. It's past your bedtime anyway and you've got all those Justin Bieber magazines to read.

Posted by: robertjonezz | August 19, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

I LIKE that Allison didn't shove her humiliation down into a tiny little corner of her heart and pretend like IT DIDN'T HAPPEN. And no, she wasn't expecting marriage or a relationship, she was expecting acknowledgement, and she didn't get it. She came clean to Don that she felt humiliated, taking her part of the responsibility and saying it was a mistake, and it would be best to leave. In fact, she'd looked at other jobs, and all she wanted was him to take the time and write a recommendation, and when he couldn't even muster that she had every right to be offended, after all she had dutifully worked as his secretary for three years and at been at Sterling Cooper for two more before that, that warrants at least five minutes of your time to write a recommendation.

Compare this to Peggy, who did the deed with Pete (twice), carried his child, and carried on as though nothing happened. I see Allison as the stronger, healthier of the two. I admire that she was able to stun the unflappable Don Draper. Who else has ever called him out on it like she did?

Posted by: saphojunkie | August 20, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

This episode was ultimately about the choices we make that affect our future specifically those of the professional women of SCDP. Peggy has made her choice that she will continue being young and having fun (rejecting the marriage race that her contemporaries may have chosen). Allison at the spur of the moment decided to move her relationship (yes with a big nudge from her drunk boss)with Don to the boss with benefits realm. And because she wanted more, she could not keep up the facade that nothing happened between them. I think that almost knocking him sensless with a cigarette holder was a little too much for the time (really? and who pays for the cracked glass partition when the agency is stuggling for money?). We keep seeing the downfall of Don and his vices (too much sex, alcoholism, the pathological lying etc) as inevitable and perhaps shocking. But Don's spiraling out of control is a plus for the women of the agency like Peggy and Joan who will no doubt pick up the slack for the weaker sex. What has the world come to when Roger, Pete and Harry are the only ones in the office with some semblance of normalcy outside the office?. Gentleman shall we begin 1965??

Posted by: sunnyside1 | August 22, 2010 9:12 AM | Report abuse

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