Polar Opposites

 Posted by on August 20, 2010 at 7:00 am  Season 4
Aug 202010

An area of character development established in “The Rejected” is the idea that Peggy and Pete are beginning to follow diverging cultural paths. A device that drives this point home and links their storylines is the use of two different poles in the set design.  While the window motif taken from the focus group scene (discussed in my previous post) allows characters to see aspects of others more clearly, the pole blocks their view thus creating uncertainly and discomfort.   It’s interesting how Pete and Peggy deal with their respective impediments.

After being told that he must dump Clearasil as a client, Pete is filled with dread at the prospect of facing the the wrath of his father-in-law (who got him the account).  In a moment of frustration, he lays his head on the pole in his office.  Pete’s feelings of uncertainty over his job at SCDP are reinforced when Harry Crane and Lane Pryce both have to clumsily maneuver around that same pole which now acts as a literal obstruction.

This motif is continued for Peggy when she meets Joyce at the loft party. The conversation between Peggy and Joyce’s condescending artist friend is staged so that a different pole is situated in the center of the scene. Like Pete, Peggy is on the defensive as her worth is being questioned by people whose opinions matter to her. 

It’s noteworthy that while Pete seems to struggle with his pole (which is sterile white) almost as one would an adversary, Peggy adapts more easily to her’s (an earthy wooden variety) and even leans on it for support.  Of course, Peggy does express frustration in this episode by pounding her head on a desk.  That she chooses a more direct symbol of her work environment for this act may be telling.  Perhaps this is showing Pete’s angst being directed at the organizational structure of SCDP (hence the pole) whereas Peggy is starting to feel unfulfilled by the job itself (her desk). 

In the end, the cloud of uncertainly lifts and both find themselves accepted by the respective groups they aspire to be a part of.  Pete on the inside of S-C-D-P and Peggy outside of it.   As others have pointed out, these groups seem destined to travel in opposite directions.


  17 Responses to “Polar Opposites”

  1. Another great catch. By the way, check out The Film Experience: http://filmexperience.blogspot.com/2010/08/mmm-je…. Nathaniel also noticed the theme of windows and glass.

  2. Interesting catch, Matt. Let's also include Lane peeking around the pole in Peter's office to remind him about dumping Clearisil.

  3. BTW – how funny is it there's a POLE in Peter's office anyway?!?

  4. #4 B.Cooper… that was so unusual (for TV anyway) that it screamed for attention. FWIW, I did include Lane in the post.

  5. Though Pete and Peggy are going in different directions culturally, they will always be connected by that baby. This connection was illustrated beautifully at the end of the episode, but it was also more subtly referenced earlier in the episode. First Pete, in his blue suit, applies his forehead to a hard surface in reaction to news that is difficult to hear. Later, Peggy, in her blue dress, applies her forehead to her desk after hearing about Pete's impending fatherhood.

  6. Interesting theory.

  7. Also an illustration of the different ways men and women deal with obstructions. Men tend to confront and plow through, women accept and work around them.

  8. I always enjoy your posts Matt.

    Like your insight on the many windows and mirrors this is interesting. We discussed how the characteristics of glass can be used as plot mover and symbolic device – and SCDP is loaded with it! Glass is a barrier but can be a very useful barrier as it allows us to see what’s going on over on the other side while protecting the viewer. Glass allows “the scientists” to analyze the activity of the focus group and provides them a superior status. Allison knows Don is on the other side but she is powerless to do anything about that – the status imbalance echoes the infamous “glass ceiling.” Later, Pete and Peggy can safely share a look at each other but without contact. The very different peers and paths they are choosing are neatly separated by the glass door.

    Seems the poles – the obstructions – serve different purposes for Pete and Peggy. Pete’s obstruction is the Clearasil problem. He has to work around it and in a moment enhanced by the intentional placement of a mirror Pete very deftly works around his obstruction. The big wooden pillar at the loft (a former sweatshop?) is as you say organic and seemingly friendly. It allows Peggy to take some weight off and unspool while taking in the film.

    Interesting that while Pete works around his obstruction in the office, Peggy seems to like to use the new office for its advantages. She is apparently the first to utilize the glass transom for its natural spying advantages and likes to sit on the tables to brainstorm. It makes good sense that Peggy seems the most at home in the new more sterile office home.

  9. Good observation, Matt. I’m always surprised at how things make sense after I read posts like this.

  10. One thing that is pretty cool: both Pete and Peggy are realizing there is more to life than just work. Pete expressed what seemed like genuine joy and amazement upon finding out that Trudy will be having his baby. As much as he rejected fatherhood in Season 2 (or at least — rejecting the idea of exploring it through nontraditional means, like adoption), he now seems really ready to take his next step in his life. We don't know yet what kind of a father he will be, but it's good to see that he's happy about it.

    And Peggy of course is enjoying meeting some new friends and expanding her horizons. That's a good thing too.

  11. "It’s noteworthy that while Pete seems to struggle with his pole (which is sterile white) almost as one would an adversary, Peggy adapts more easily to her’s (an earthy wooden variety) and even leans on it for support."

    I am truly amazed that with a sentence like that, not a single commenter has yet made a dirty joke. The puns are overwhelming me!

  12. #11 Andrew… LOL… to be perfectly honest, I had to combat my own inner Beavis and Butthead while writing it. — heh heh, he said "struggle with his pole" — 🙂

  13. Miss Kim – I noticed another parallel.

    Pete: Tom! Fifteen minutes early.

    Tom: You, too.


    Peggy: No matter how late I come, I always end up waiting for someone.

  14. I still think it's premature to assume Peggy's being Pied Piper'd away from SCDP and what it represents. Her thumping her head against her desk was about the baby news, not her job. Of course there's a correlation between the two, but I didn't read that, at all, as "what was I thinking, choosing a career."

    And I didn't see her as defensive at the downtown party – I wrote elsewhere that she didn't apologize for anything – for her job, for being Catholic, for having a boyfriend. She's just as capable of being critical of them as they are of her. She did show amusement, and perhaps good-natured disapproval, when Joyce said "We all want to see Megan!"

  15. #14 Chris… I wasn't suggesting that Peggy will literally leave SCDP anytime soon (I guess I don't rule it out either). But when she first meets Joyce, she seems more proud (for want of a better term) of her title "Copywriter at SCDP" than she later does at the loft party. That's how I saw it anyway.

    And, of course, staying at a job doesn't mean it's how you want to be defined (I can personally attest to that).

    Finally, Pete's acceptance happens INSIDE the bldg, Peggy's outside. That sure seemed telling to me.

  16. Melissa: good one!

  17. I actually had a slightly different read on Pete and Peggy at the end of this episode. I know most people are saying "oh Pete is establishment and Peggy isn't" but (in light of their shared head banging/blue motif), I think their shared glance through the glass was meant to indicate how SIMILAR they are. Pete looks away from "the establishment" and Peggy looks away from her new counterculture-y friends. No matter how successful Pete is, he'll never quite fit in with that old boys' club because of his progressive views. Similarly, no matter how much experimentation Peggy does, she's NOT going to be part of the counterculture. Neither of them quite fit in where they might want to fit in. I don't disagree with Weiner's interpretation of "Peggy is getting younger while Pete is getting older" (since, from a phase of life angle, this is totally true) but I also don't think that's the same as saying "Peggy is adapting to the times while Pete is sticking with the boys' club."

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