One of the strangely fascinating subplots of Mad Men has been the courtship of secretary-cum-copywriter Peggy Olson by a number of figures in the ad-man universe. Despite her plain figure and combative personality, Peggy managed to take up with account executives Pete Campbell (in a one-night stand) and Duck Phillips (after his ouster from the firm), a dweeb she dumps on her own birthday (whom she falsely told she was a virgin), a rando here and there, a hippie who disapproves of her capitalistic career, and a quick smooch with Ted at CGC.
Peggy is clearly written as a sort of container for the motivations and conflicts of 60’s feminism. She eschews the soft-power (and sexed-up) path of Joan Holloway, notwithstanding her regrettable soiree with the unctuous Campbell, and begins a climb up the ladder laced with counterculture. Later, her contrast with Megan Draper nee Calvet, who can’t decide if she wants to be a kept woman or a working girl, provides further unspoken irony.
Duck, the onetime Sterling Cooper account manager, is in several ways the anti-Don – a recovering alcoholic in his unhidden past, aggressive, outwardly petulant, athletically gifted, a real war hero against Don’s assumed identity, and a socially-weak but cheerful suave against Don’s effective devilish charm. At the end of season 2, Duck’s political maneuvering got Sterling Cooper sold out of financial trouble and got him fired at the same time. He then tried to recruit Pete and Peggy to his new gig, but only succeeding in recruiting Peggy into a discreet affair.
In the season 3 episode “The Grown-Ups,” Duck puts on a short game clinic when he phones Peggy during the workday while she is discussing work in her office with Paul Kinsey.
Bzzzt. “Mr. Herman on line 1.” (Herman is Duck’s real first name)
Duck doesn’t introduce himself, instead leading with alpha by making a demand. “I’m right around the corner at the Elysee. Room 531.”
Peggy takes an exasperated breath and offers a refusal. “I’m in the middle of something.” Duck is unfazed.
“Peewee, sweetheart – it’s been three weeks. You can get room service. I think they have a Monte Cristo sandwich, you loooove that.” First he whines and appeals to her sense of obligation to her lover, then throws a bone to her sensuous side – not only is sex on offer, but I’LL make YOU a sandwich!
“I’m having lunch with Kurt and Smitty.” Peggy digs in on her logistical excuse.
“They’re a couple of homos. Tell them you have plans.” Still unmoved by her rejections, Duck decries the manhood of her coworkers and offers her a way out. Peggy blushes, and Paul notices and grins at her.
Peggy says reluctantly, “it’s kind of short notice.” Now the excuses are getting weaker; she’s hooked and turning things more into a test of “if you’re such a stud, give me a reason to say yes.” Duck is up to the challenge.
“Come on, creative – be creative.” Duck hangs up. (Here “creative” is a term for the staff that generates ad content.)
This is the slickest line in the rap. He’s successfully played her most important identity against her – her position as an ad copywriter. He implies that if she doesn’t weasel her way out of work to bang him at the hotel, she’s not only disappointing him, but failing in the definition of her job: to persuade people with carefully-crafted words.
“…I have to go to the printer,” Peggy tells Paul, who is not fooled.
“I know a nooner when I hear one…” he intones suggestively.
“You’re disgusting!” Peggy says with shame.
Her final shot is clearly laced with solipsism. Here she is, about to play hooky from work for a quickie, and she dares to talk down to a coworker who’s figured out the game she’s playing.
In a certain point of view, Paul has committed an error on the female chessboard. Athol Kay noted in his first book that one of the elements of earning that special romantic bond with a woman was “keeping her secrets” – specifically her sexual secrets, creating a safe-space environment for her to be the sexual woman she wants to be. It’s part alpha, part beta, but a very effective signal that you’ve earned a woman’s trust. I have certainly found that when it comes to communicating with women (whether you are hot and heavy or not), discretion is the rule of the day. Paul broke that discretion.
On the other hand, though, Peggy’s pearl-clutching outrage may be a bit of a fitness test in its own right. Paul’s not going to tell anybody else, and he’s practically winking at her when he says it, as if to communicate “have a good time, you naughty girl!” He’s smart enough to figure things out, and smart enough to tease her about it without confrontation. Peggy is embarrassed, but certainly not shamed.