Mad Men is one of television’s greatest shows ever. Not only did the series recreate 1950s and 60s America in painstaking detail, it gave us some fantastic characters and storylines. Peggy Olson is one of those characters. She more than holds her own in the good old boys club that is the advertising industry, working her way up from Don Draper’s secretary to becoming the chief copywriter at Sterling Cooper & Partners.
To push her way up in her career, Peggy made some brilliant decisions and provided insight like no other character could. Like any person, however, she also made her share of mistakes. Here is a list of 5 Times Peggy Olson Was a Genius (and 5 Times She Wasn’t).
10 Genius: Mark Your Man
Not long into her tenure at Sterling Cooper as a secretary, the Belle Jolie lipstick account lands in the firm’s lap. Freddy Rumsen and the executives have the secretarial pool try different colors to see what they like. Afterwards, Peggy tells Freddy that girls don’t want to be a color in a box. They want to stand out.
Her feedback gets her noticed by Don and he brings her on to write copy for the account. Don uses her words in the successful pitch meeting and Peggy earns a promotion to copywriter, the first step in her successful career.
9 Not Genius: Annie
Peggy’s first true account as a copywriter is for the Relax-a-Cizor, initially claimed to be a weight loss device by its creators. During a casting call with Ken Cosgrove, they come down to two women, Rita, who oozes confidence despite not being conventionally attractive, and Annie, the kind of girl likely to be found in a magazine centerfold.
Peggy chooses Annie. Annie, however, proves to have zero ability to portray confidence in her voice. Rita ultimately gets the job and Ken hands her a little wisdom, “Women like [Annie] are never confident.” Annie has shaped herself to fit expectations, while Rita loves her body despite its imperfections.
8 Genius: Leaving Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce
Sometimes you have to move on. Her years under Don Draper changed her life. She went from being a secretary expected to fill the role women were supposed to fill in the advertising industry up to that point to the top member of the firm’s creative team. The atmosphere surrounding the firm, however, wore on her and she accepted a job at a competing firm.
Leaving, as the scene when she gives notice to Don proves, is not easy for her. It was the right decision, as Ted Chaugh gave her the chance to run the copywriting team. She also needed a change of scenery.
7 Not Genius: Affair With Ted Chaough
It’s not hard to understand why Peggy develops feelings for Ted. He is a straight shooter, a nice guy with a pleasant smile. He treats her fairly at work and gives her credit when it is due. Given the misogynist men she deals with on a near-constant basis, Ted must be a breath of fresh air.
At the same time, getting involved with one’s boss rarely turns out positively. The chances grow even smaller when said boss is married. That is a no-fly zone. She flew and then she crashed and burned.
6 Genius: Buying An Apartment Building
To understand why this is genius one would have to look at New York property values in the late 60s and early 70s. That is when George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees and revitalized them. Earlier in the series, the men behind the new Madison Square Garden want to be seen as kickstarting a new age for New York City.
Peggy’s purchase may seem odd for a person in her career, yet if history is any indicator, her investment likely turned into a gold mine. She also seems to be a pretty capable landlord, so her tenants also have it good.
5 Not Genius: Abe
Looking for romance outside the workplace was a wise choice considering her past indiscretions with married men, but Abe proves to be yet another man who does not understand her career. He believes that corporations are bad and that she should not be helping them sell their goods to the public. Maybe his suspicions about capitalism are warranted. His desire to control her career and steer it to a path of his liking, however, is not.
Peggy never seems to get it right when it comes to finding the right men.
4 Genius: Asking For Her Own Office
Having been told that she should either be grateful to have her position as a copywriter or that she is in playing by “their” (read men) rules, Peggy had been silent about the feeling that she wasn’t being taken seriously when she had to share an office with a large printing machine. Eventually, she had enough and Freddy Rumsen’s dismissal left an open spot.
Peggy went to Roger Sterling and said she wanted Freddy’s old office. He said it was hers, adding that there were “30 men” too afraid to ask him for it.
3 Not Genius: Affair With Duck Phillips
Duck is shown to be a semi-capable account man and uses his connections to engineer a merger with a larger British advertising firm. He is, however, not without his demons, namely alcohol. It destroyed his marriage and he had to give it up so he could have a second chance at a good career and life.
Unfortunately, he had already fallen off the wagon by the time they got involved. His life was gradually falling apart. Duck was also her boss at Sterling Cooper. The relationship was doomed from the start.
2 Genius: Rejecting Pete Campbell’s Proposal
At the close of Season 2, Pete is unhappy in his marriage. He comes into Peggy’s office and lays it all on the line to her, telling her that he should have married her when he had the chance, that he loved her and wanted to be with her. Rather than accept his offer, Peggy explains that she could have used her pregnancy to guilt him into marrying her, so she could have him in his life forever, then says she had their baby and gave it up for adoption. She proceeds to leave him in the office.
To accept would have been to repeat her biggest mistake in the series.
1 Not Genius: Affair With Pete Campbell
While Peggy’s decision making when it comes to men is suspect throughout most of the show’s run, her absolute worst decision was to give in to Pete Campbell’s advances. What she sees in him is a mystery. He has just gotten married and has yet to mature beyond the emotional level of a dude in a fraternity.
Sleeping with Pete leads to disastrous results. She gets pregnant and gives the baby up for adoption. The events harden her and set the pattern for her later poor relationship choices. Pete, after all, was her first.