Mrs. Abe Drexler

 Posted by on January 20, 2013 at 5:50 am  Mad Men, Season 5
Jan 202013


Peggy has, in the immortal words of Laura Nyro, the Wedding Bell Blues. At least that’s what we’re led to believe in At the Codfish Ball, in which Peggy gets a decidedly nontraditional proposal from her boyfriend, Abe, and is told off by her ultra-traditional mother for accepting it and letting Abe move in. And make no mistake about it; we’re meant to believe that Mom is right, that Peggy is somehow getting rooked by not being offered marriage by Abe.

Sure, Joan tells Peggy she thinks it’s romantic that they’re “shacking up.” And it’s likely that Joan means it, because Joan has never kissed Peggy’s ass before and she’s not about to start now, and also because Joan now knows from experience that a piece of paper means squat-all if you’re married to a douche who thinks of you as nothing more than a show-pony punchboard, if he even comes home at all. But Peggy’s “I do” (when asked by Abe post-non-proposal if she wants to order her dinner), and her crestfallen look after her Mom tells her to go live with cats for the rest of her life rather than be a “fallen woman,” is the real tell here. What’s best for Peggy, and what she really wants, is marriage and babies, and she’s only settling for Abe because she thinks she can’t do better. Right?

Yeah, I don’t know. Somehow I find it hard to buy this as the take-away message here. After all, in S5 alone, we’ve had a veritable parade of women either dumping their terrible husbands (Joan, Jane), quietly swallowing the shit they’re fed by them (Trudy, Rebecca), or passive-aggressively acting out their frustrations over their mistreatment by them (Marie, Beth, Betty if you count residual frustration from Don). And even Megan, who is probably more content with her husband right now than any of those women, had to deal with being abandoned in a parking lot six hours from home in Far Away Places, and admits to Don that she will grow to hate him if he continues to object to her career choice. What woman has a truly happy marriage on this show? Cynthia? Anyone else?

But even more than that, the very final scene in S5 shows Peggy deliriously happy in a tacky motel room all by herself, complete with copulating dogs in the parking lot, because she finally got to go on a plane at company expense to get there. Does she really want to give all that up, right now, to marry Abe and start cranking out the babies? And why exactly is a “practice marriage” bad for Peggy, anyway? She might feel the pull of Catholic guilt, as evidenced by the clash with her mother, but she has lived the last six years of her life as a cutting-edge person, a ’70s woman before the ’70s have actually happened. Isn’t she using him for practice, too?

Besides, Abe will not magically turn into a great husband for Peggy just by marrying her. Whatever problems he has with her spending too much time at work will not go away once they are hitched, unless she acquiesces to his demands that she curtail her work hours. And as his wife, she would be expected to reproduce (an expectation which Megan and Jane were largely spared by being married to much older men), and once that second child is born, if not sooner, it would dramatically change the dynamic between them, by thrusting Peggy into a more dependent role. It’s not like she’s going to be able to get Mrs. Olson to come over and babysit the kinder while she goes to work, unless Abe, God forbid, passes away. (Nor does Abe seem much for being a house-husband.) And it’s not like Mrs. Olson wouldn’t give Peggy about a million times more grief than she’s getting now if Peggy wound up divorced, or even if Peggy stayed married but put the kiddos in daycare.

I can believe, however, that Peggy very much wanted to be asked for her hand in marriage, so she could feel pretty and desirable. (That pink dress! Will Peggy ever wear that color again?) Witness how surprised she was that Joan had experienced being dumped and treated badly by men; she has it in her head that conventionally beautiful women don’t have that happen to them, that if she was prettier, she’d be treated like a queen. But a wedding is not a marriage, and a marriage is not a guarantee of real love and respect. And isn’t this the show that tells us over and over again, “Be careful what you wish for”? Maybe Peggy could do better than shacking up with Abe, but she could also do a hell of a lot better than marrying him.


  30 Responses to “Mrs. Abe Drexler”

  1. “show-pony punchboard”, I love it.

  2. Peggy is slowly finding out that what she thinks she’s supposed to want, is not what she really wants.
    Ilove Pegs because she is distaff Don to me, from my male-centric view. “You have everything. And so MUCH of it”. She wants to be him.
    DD is married cause that what you did back then. Pegs is disappointed that she deep down doesn’t want the traditionalist thing, but will adapt to accept, validate her true wants. She walked away from Don, something INCONCEIVABLE in her mind years before. She wants her credit, respect, abd ain’ t gonna wait forever to get it. Goodbye, Daddy.
    Pegs wants the shallow validation of being asked for her hand. She probably will need to marry to ultimately come to the realization that marriage is not going to make her prettier, or Joan-hot in her man’s eyes, and will probably move on (forward).
    Peg is the modern woman, wrapped in her mom’s traditional torment. Slowly, she will come a long way, baby. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)
    She is so ahead of the pack, with the catholic guilt that she doesn’t want to leave everyone behind, handcuffing her a bit.
    Peg will make the heretofore unreal choice of marrying when she wants to, because it will feel right.
    Abe will never feel right. He will be HER test case.

  3. The post made me start thinking about the unmarried women on the show, since Don does not discriminate as to marital status when he gets involved with women. First we saw Midge, and we know what happened to her. Then we saw Rachel, who bent to expectations and married. (I don’t count the research type in the first couple of episodes, because we really didn’t know if she was married or not, but her characterization certainly implied that no man would have her.)

    Then there’s Suzanne Farrell. When Don’s marriage dissolved, I really thought he would go back to her, but when he didn’t, I wondered why. Maybe because he just wasn’t ready. And yet then he chose Faye, who is the most conventional career-woman type on the show. Peggy wants to be Faye more than she wants to be Don. She sees Faye as the epitome of everything she is working toward. And Faye wants to be in a fufilling relationship without giving up the career she has carefully built and the image she is trying to project to the world.

    And there’s Miss Blankenship. Miss Blankenship seems to me to be the most unconventional character on the show, to date. When Bert Cooper called her an astronaut, he was telling the truth. She obviously lived her life on her own terms, without a nod to the convention that tugs at Joan, Faye and Peggy. And Suzanne, too, who thought she was getting into a fling and ended up wanting more.

    I’ve also been thinking that the fact that there really aren’t a lot of “happy” marriages on the show illustrates Don’s pitch to Dow (I think it was) that happiness is just something you get that makes you want more happiness. It’s never enough. And that leads to the need to keep searching.

    I don’t know what will happen with Peggy and Abe next season, but I’m thinking it won’t be pretty. I think she’ll move on, just as she did when she left SCDP. (Unless Abe is a surrogate for Matt Weiner, in which case he may be elevated beyond what could be normally hoped for in the characterization. Though I’ve been thinking that Ginsberg is Weiner’s surrogate, which could leave Abe on the sidelines.)

    Ah, speculation. Thanks for starting me off on it.

    • Every character is more a less a surrogate for writers. I don’t think Weiner has inserted one Jew into the story to act out all of his unrealized desires. And I don’t know what the problem is with Abe. He’s intelligent, he and Peggy have some kind of intellectual connection, and he handles Peggy’s workaholic nature better than what would be typical of a man of that era. I’m not saying they won’t outgrow each other. Peggy’s mother made a pretty astute observation at the end of that dinner – most people don’t marry the first person they move in with, but I don’t think Abe needs to be a villain for her to eventually move on.

  4. I laughed at the title of the post! As my proto-feminist hero, I just don’t picture Peggy changing her name.

    I agree that Peggy’s disappointment at Abe’s non-proposal was more due to insecurity and self-doubt than to aspirations of married life. “I don’t want to end up alone” is a lot different from saying “I really want to be married to this guy.”

    I don’t think she wants to be a wife; rather, she wants to know that she’s not defective and that she’s worth someone’s love. And I don’t think she’s interested in children; rather, she wants to know that she is not condemned to being a “barren old widow” due to what happened to her in the past.

    Frankly I’m happy for her co-habitation situation. By avoiding marriage, there’s a lot of questions she doesn’t have to answer: Will I change my name? Do we have to have children now? Am I being a good enough wife (on top of being a good enough copywriter/daughter/etc.)? There’s so much more out there for her to explore.

    • I think the idea of Peggy living in sin with a non committal boyfriend is a pretty smart storytelling device. A year and a half/two years in with Abe, and she would be having to question marriage, babies, etc, and would have to make a somewhat definitive decision about that path. But, by positioning Abe as just a happy go lucky guy who wants to wake up with his gal, go to work, have a dinner and keep it at that, Peggy has time and space to continue that career growth/arc.

      It would be interesting to explore Peggy’s real feelings about having a kid. Is she just scarred from the experience at 19, or does she really want to have a baby, but in the future. Pete once asked her if she wanted to have kids, and she said, “someday.” However, we saw in A Little Kiss that holding a baby was akin to holding a bomb with the look of fear in her eyes.

      • Abe will dump Peggy to marry a Jewish girl and I am seriously hoping that Stan and her other buddies talked some sense into her. Abe hasn’t been in the story since Codfish Ball. Peggy getting pregnant with Pete’s baby was a secret. Living with a man you’re not married to would stigmatize her and make it harder to find someone else after he leaves. I thought Lane and Rebecca really loved eachother. There are lots of affectionate scenes between them. Lane obviously had problems. Don wants Megan to have kids, he even mentioned it on their honeymoon. I think Megan working with Don was fun for him but he really is traditional and would want Megan to be a wife at home. I don’t think Megan’s acting career is going anywhere. Don was right when he said that she didn’t need to do commercials since she didn’t need the money. Megan is desperate enough to scam a friend and manipulate her husband just to be in a commercial–she doesn’t have the resolve to do it on her own. Also Megan is 26 and looked to old to be in a fairy tale. She’s a beautiful young woman, not a girl.

        • By the late 1960s, I don’t think Peggy is going to have to worry about being “stigmatized” by having lived with a boyfriend. Having a baby after not even knowing she was pregnant, and winding up in a mental hospital, would probably be more stigmatizing than that. But the right guy isn’t going to hold any of that against her. If he does, she’s way better off with serial monogamy anyway.

          And Lane was a pretty terrible husband this year, what with keeping Dolores’ picture in his wallet where he knew Rebecca would find it after he was gone, and keeping her in the dark about finances and the other things he was going through. Rebecca can be kind of a snobbish jerk, but this year she was actually pretty understanding (when she probably shouldn’t have been). They really should never have been married at all, they were a pretty severe mismatch.

          As for Don wanting Megan to be a housewife, I think that theory was kind of blown to bits in The Phantom, when he realized she would be miserable (and in turn, make him miserable) if she wasn’t allowed to perform. When Marie suggested to him that Megan would become a perfectly compliant wifey once she realized she wasn’t going to make it, he didn’t buy it at all. Now, whether he will start resenting her for having a career outside of advertising, or whether they will drift apart now that they have very little left in common, remains to be seen. But I think he is starting to get that Megan is not an extension of himself.

          • Well said, Meowser.

          • “keeping Dolores’ picture in his wallet where he knew Rebecca would find it”

            This was pretty nasty. Makes one wonder why he chose to add insult to Rebecca’s grief.

            He didn’t “forget” – he was careful to assure his financial affairs were in order before checking out for good. He was careful to send a message to Don with his “boilerplate” resignation (and unknowingly to Cooper).

            (BTW, that resignation never saw the light of day, and I’m sure that Cooper and Draper restored the funds for the embezzlement check. The reward amounted to a cool $175,000)

          • Don’s words and actions can be unrelated.

    • That’s kind of what I love about that picture. She has Kevin thrust into her arms, and she looks at him like he’s an 8-pound brick, like, what the hell am I doing with this thing? Just like she did when she held (who turned out to be) her nephew in her lap in church in Flight 1, and his squalling just kind of made her roll her eyes in impatience. Peggy could potentially be a great mom to an older kid, like say 7 or 8 and up, but she is going to need a lot of help with the baby stuff if she’s going that route.

      • That reminds me of one of my friends who was about to deliver her first child. The doctor asked her if she wanted anesthesia or to go natural, and she said she wanted to be asleep for the birth, and she didn’t want to be awakened until the kid was at least 5.

  5. Marriage? Babies? Peggy is still in her 20’s and I know when I was her age, I liked working and going out with my hipster friends and having fun, marriage wasn’t even in my vocabulary. However, by my 30’s I was ready to settle down. I have a feeling she may have the same trajectory.

    • People in their late 20s (a few years pre-baby-boom), who were teenagers in the 1950s, were in kind of an interesting shadow zone in the late 1960s. They were just a little too old to be hippies, but their lives were much more colored by the counterculture than those of most people over 30. But Peggy and Megan are just a couple of years older than my parents, and they are still of the generation that was expected to get married young and start families. When they were kids, or even young adults, 26 or 27 was OLD to be a first-time (official) mother. Thirty-five (as Joan was when she had Kevin) was downright ancient. That would all change drastically in the ’70s.

      • Not so much in the south. Maybe on the west or east coast in big cities, but not in small cities in the south. America was much more regionalized then.

        • How old is Peggy going to be in Season 6…28/29?

          • She turned 26 in The Suitcase, which was late May 1965. So at the end of S5, she was just about to turn 28.

          • March 1960; Peggy is 20, brand new out of secretarial school, feeling like “the dessert” at lunch with the accounts guys, earning $35/week (no wonder she lived with a roomie in Brooklyn).

            Jan 1967: She’s 27, chief copywriter at CCG, kicking butt on her copywriting team, earning 20G’s.

            She sure came a long way in seven short years!

        • Interesting commentary on Codfish Ball on the S5 DVDs by MW, to the effect that for Abe, asking Peggy to move in is really a big deal to him. For him, this is a major commitment, and he’s not just thinking, “Eh, it’ll do for now.” It’s a statement that he doesn’t want to sleep with anyone else, and for him that’s a major rite of passage.

          Whether or not he loves Peggy (or vice versa), isn’t really clear, but the secondary issue here is, can Abe really love anybody? Because if he can’t, even if he gets married to a Nice Jewish Girl, it’s not likely to last. And as long as he’s in the poorly paying career he’s in, he’s going to need a woman to have her own income, which means that she’s going to have sectors of her life that don’t concern him. He’d have to “sell out” in order to be a sole provider for a family (i.e. marry a woman who doesn’t have a paying job). Right now, it’s likely he can’t even imagine that.

      • “(having children at Thirty-five)was downright ancient. That would all change drastically in the ’70s.”

        My folks seemed kind of ancient to me (what does a kid know?).

        My mother was 34 in 1958 when I was born (the eldest of three), and 40 when my little brother was born.

        Dad was, respectively, 42 and 48.

        Perhaps they were ahead of their time.

        • Oh, there were later-in-life parents then, to be sure. But…your parents were older than Peggy, Megan, or, for that matter, my parents. Those people who were teenagers in the 1950s or early 1960s got pretty strong messages about marrying and starting a family very young, especially if they weren’t going to college. (Peggy didn’t go to college, nor did my parents.) Even a lot of college students were getting married while they were still in school! The “old maid at 21” thing hit that particular cohort really hard.

  6. Peggy reminds me of Sally Rodgers from “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Both characters say they want to get married, but I don’t believe it for a second. They are married to thier work, but aren’t ready to admit it to themselves, much less the outside world.

  7. Luckily Abe is somewhat more non-conformist than some of the other guys she could be with (remember Mark? I’m trying to forget….). I feel like he wouldn’t pressure her to have babies right away, and he also doesn’t really seem settled enough, in terms of career and income, to want to be having kids.

    Regardless though, I don’t see their relationship lasting forever.

    • I sure hope he would not be enough of a loser to pressure her to have kids without being married. I have been stuck on the Peggy being stigmatized aspect but people were also much more strict about intermarriage back then. Abe isn’t willing to defy his family by marrying a woman who’s not Jewish, otherwise he would have asked Peggy to marry him. He was really going on a limb by saying he wanted to be with her all the time then not proposing marriage. It is practically a guarantee that he *doesn’t* want to marry her.

      • Pure speculation. We have no knowledge re Abe’s relationship with his family; how beholden he may be to their preferences, let alone whether they have any preferences in these regards.
        We do know that the intermarraige issue is a definite concern for Peg’s mother ( perhaps not her sister ), but we have no idea of Abe’s ( or his family’s ) ideas or concerns.

        • This is *all* pure speculation.

        • I agree, Rav Go Teach. We’ve barely been told anything about Abe’s family, except that he has a sister who picked him up from jail once. 🙂 Since religion, culture, and guilt have been explored so heavily with Peggy’s character, I’ve often wondered whether the writers would want to “go there” with Abe, too.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.