Last night’s Mad Men may have been all about that business, but Twitter was all about Peggy Olson and Stan Rizzo. Over the last four seasons, the hateship turned friendship turned occasional inappropriate flirtation between copy chief and art director has been the subject of “shipping” in the Mad Men fan community. But every time the two share an intimate moment, Stan sticks his foot in his mouth — until last night. After they stumble onto the topic of kids, Stan (naturally) brings up Peggy’s spinsterdom, she ends up revealing her secret baby to him, and he acts like an evolved adult male for once. The scene was so emotionally nuanced, and with so much left unsaid, it made you wonder: Is Stan finally mature enough to be more than Peggy’s work husband? Is this Matthew Weiner’s unexpected endgame for Peggy Olson, Mad Men‘s careerist heroine?
In the words of Stan himself, during his first attempt to bed Peggy, “It’s the end of the world, baby.” Anything is possible, and with each passing episode, that feels more and more true. With McCann absorbing Sterling Cooper and Partners, the future looks more and more unsure for the agency’s non-partners. And Peggy and Stan are looking out for each other more than ever, working as a unit in their own decisions much like they do on their accounts. She’s going to McCann and tells him he should too, that everything will be OK. “I’m so dumb I believe you,” he tells her. They’re probably 15 feet away from each other, but over the phone from their respective offices, neither can catch the other smiling. Finally, someone sees Peggy, and accepts her the way she is — ugly past and naked ambition included.
For people who are obsessive and confident within their professional lives but remain a little unsure of themselves personally, the work-husband-and-wife dynamic can be a new and powerful (albeit confusing) way of interacting openly with the opposite sex. Sure, Stan was a world-class asshat when he materialized in Season 4 and called Peggy “the smuggest bitch in the world,” but it’s only because he was challenged by — and thus embarrassed by — a woman. But Peggy and Stan have both changed a lot since “Waldorf Stories,” the Season 4 episode where Peggy calls Stan’s bluff on being a prude who hates her body, gets naked, and subsequently gives him a boner.
Since then, Peggy’s loosened up, Stan’s adopted a hippie bro lifestyle, and now they meet somewhere in the middle, likely passing a doobie back and forth while arguing over taglines. Since turning 30, Peggy has been haunted by what it means to want it all; it’s why she forced herself to date again. But when you’re so consumed with your work, the idea of a romantic partner who not only does what you do, but who is as dedicated to it as you are, can be very appealing. It would be the most fitting way for Peggy to have it all without having to downplay her hard-earned career success and power for fear of emasculating her partner. Stan has seen Peggy at her ugliest moments, like when she spurs a competition over Heinz between SC&P and CGC using gossip he mentioned to her as a friend. And chances are, he still loves her. (Plus he’s somehow turned into a total fox this season.)
This is not to say Stan’s totally enlightened now — look at how he treated Pima Ryan just two weeks ago. He’s intimidated by her strength, so he insults her; Pima sees right through him, however, telling Peggy that Stan hates himself (fact). Later, Stan can’t keep his hands off Pima after she insults him right back, regarding both his work and his taste in women. (“She’s not worthy of you,” Pima says of the beautiful and buxom Elaine, who may be out of the picture based on a comment Stan makes this week.) Sex and power are a complicated combination for someone like Stan, whose playboy antics have always defined him, particularly in moments of vulnerability.
The first time Peggy rejects his advances, in the Season 4 episode “Chinese Wall” (above), he claims he was “trying to do [her] a favor” after she admits she’s nervous before a big Playtex presentation. The second time Stan tries to have sex with Peggy, while they’re all severely drugged out working on Chevy, in Season 6 highlight “The Crash,” he rattles off what seems to be an excuse for his behavior after she finally pushes him away: his cousin recently died in combat. “C’mon, I need this,” he tells her. Just what every girl wants to hear! He saves it a little when he makes his infamous “you’ve got a great ass” comment to Peggy, who accepts it with a subtle smile. Later in the episode, she leaves the office in a huff after seeing Stan having sex with Frank Gleason’s hippie daughter. Her excuse was that she had a boyfriend, not that she didn’t want to. “There was a moment there where as an audience, you wonder, is there maybe a little bit of a two-way street here?” Jay R. Ferguson, who plays Stan, said at the time regarding Peggy and this scene. Stan made it look like he just wanted to get laid by anyone, probably because he didn’t want to look so rejected — let alone by his superior and friend.
Now, even Stan’s insults hint at his respect for Peggy: “You couldn’t have done all that you’ve done otherwise,” he tells her this week regarding children. She doesn’t need to say much to reveal the truth to him (they get each other, you know?), and in return he does his best to be sensitive and supportive even though she’d prefer to stay strong. I imagine her instinct to brush it off is something he knows, and accepts, about her too. It’s worth remembering that Stan’s reaction may not have been the norm for many men in those days, and that for all his machismo posturing, he’s just a man in a floral scarf, wanting to be accepted right back.