Peggy’s relationship with Don has always had that father-daughter angle, and there are even some similarities between her and Sally. Both are stubborn but autonomous women who used to revere Don but can recently look at a more vulnerable side of him. Peggy is not just under pressure to perfect the Burger Chef proposal so that she lands the gig, but she is also forced to make sure Don is happy. If Don is not happy – if the father presence in her life is not impressed – she is not living up to her potential. As much as Peggy wants to be the mother and the anchor of the creative team, Pete explains that she cannot be the emotional member and the authoritative member of the group. (I loved watching Moss quiver from the smarmy line, “You know she’s as good as any woman in this business,” as it felt less like a promotion than a back-handed compliment.)
Late in “The Strategy,” Peggy and Don sit in her office, trying to polish off a new idea for the campaign. Peggy reveals she has taken the mom’s side because she gives them too much credit. After turning 30 and without a child of her own – except for that pesky kid she made with Pete and gave away for adoption close to a decade ago – she has quite the affection for the mom driving the station wagon in the opening scene. Instead of having children occupying her time, she has work. In addition, like the way she frets over her work, Peggy can relate to a woman who could use some relief by ordering fast food take-out. The commercial Peggy describes in her pitch meeting is her fantasy of what life could be like, as well as her suggestion to make her mother a working parent.
While her behaviour this season has led some writers, including this one, to question Peggy’s personality as a mainly harsh-toned, power-hungry woman who has behaved melodramatically and treats other characters with unwarranted disdain, it is a relief to see her open up to Don here. Their two-person scene was a fantastic throwback to their impending deadline and personal attacks in “The Suitcase,” which will probably be remembered by many as the series’ finest episode. This creative rabble-rousing, however, ends with a dance; appropriately, the very forceful creative leaders sway to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”
Meanwhile, not involved in this intimate family affair this week is Bob Benson, who shows up at the offices and tempts Joan with another day on the town with her boy, Kevin. However, he tries to bridge into another kind of family: that of the Harris clan. Benson seems like a dependable and upbeat man who can treat Joan and her son well, but only every so often. Joan has realized that Bob is gay and rejects his advances to get married to her and provide a father figure for Kevin. Staying with the motif of family that the episode both celebrates and deconstructs, Joan tells him that she cannot agree to it, since she wants love. (Join the club, Peggy would think.) Even though Joan has not been a major character this season, this shade of vulnerability and purpose sets her up for a strong closing arc. Hopefully, we will leave the series with her in a fulfilled relationship.
Mad Men has always been a show focused more on the work of the characters than their families. The folks that Peggy imagines in her idyllic ad bears no resemblance to any of the people we have met over seven seasons. Regardless, by framing Don, Peggy and Pete together as a kind of family unit, Abraham and writer Semi Chellas realize something about how all three of those characters connect. From this idea (and ideal) of the three characters as a sort of family, we can elaborate on how similar they are. Peggy wishes for a happy family. Pete is not sold on the idea of family, since he has lost a grasp on his. Don is just happy to be seating and eating with company he enjoys. It is a masterful shot, one that bring added dimension to both the performances and the writing.