It was a code of Don’s from the very first episode of Season One: Don’t get involved with your secretary. Your daughter’s schoolteacher, clients’ wives, clients themselves (hello, Rachel Mencken!)—these are all fine flings to have, but not the woman posted outside your office. Peggy Olson learned this right away. Jane Siegel was on every other Sterling Cooper male’s radar, yet Don baldly told Ken Cosgrove that he’d never so much as look at a new secretary until they’d managed to last a month on the job.
And then we got to Season Four.
It almost felt as though Matthew Weiner has been building to this story arc since S1E1. We had Peggy, the off-limits secretary who rose to copywriter and Draper protégé, fighting for respect at every turn. At the complete opposite end of the spectrum we had Jane, the seemingly off-limits secretary who flirted her way into the hearts of the boys, out of the good graces of Joan, and finally into the heart (well, sort of) and home of Roger Sterling.
In the characters of Allison and Megan, we see flashes of both Peggy and Jane—Secretary 2.0. Allison was shut out of the Jane path by Don—although Allison’s affection for Don was genuine and idealistic until after the Christmas party fiasco; she was never as calculatingly feminine as Jane. Following the humiliation of being treated essentially as an office prostitute by Don, Allison does her best to cope, remaining in touch with her own complicated feelings and emotions only to have them shot down by Peggy, who’s channeling her inner Draper. Realizing the damage she’s doing to herself staying in Don’s SCDP, Allison seizes control of her life and makes the move to the “women’s magazine.”
I’m not sure this decision got the attention it deserved. Peggy and Faye have thus far been the poster children for the women’s movement, while Allison was written as a bit of a weepy yes-sir type. For her, of all people, to break out of the mold and stand up to Don and his asshattery (hurling the most succinct condemnation ever at him in the process: “I don’t say this easily, but you’re not a good person!”) is quite something. Plus, she got to throw an ashtray and break things on her way out. Nice!
The departure of budding feminist Allison eventually (rest in peace, Miss Blankenship) brings us to Megan, the Montreal beauty with the unfortunate teeth (although truth be told, I never noticed anything awry with her teeth until a male friend of mine pointed it out). Megan, who is taking the Jane route while apparently wanting more to do with the Peggy route. Megan, who hasn’t yet seen Don at his worst (as Peggy and Allison have), and loves the man she thinks he is and could be—and yes, I do think she’s in love with him (at least, the version of him that she’s familiar with). She seemed to genuinely enjoy being part of his life on the California trip, but from that slight look of panic in her eyes when Don proposed, she also knew (unlike Don) that vacation is vacation and that once the trip ended things should have gone back to normal. After all, Megan had already flatly stated before their first tryst that she separates work and personal life.
How could she say no, though? She’ll have financial security and, doubtless, job security as well–I don’t think Megan will be a stay-at-home wife. She’ll be with a man she thinks she loves, and that she’s been interested in for an eternity. If it weren’t so utterly warped (poor Faye!), this story could be a fairy tale.
And for his part, Don Draper will be with a woman who’s great with kids (she likes being around children! How strange for a Mad Men character…), fluent in French, attentive to everything (the Clio thanks her), humble (self-deprecating to a fault, actually), young, attractive…frankly, Megan might be too good for Don. The power dynamic between the two is a bit uncomfortable to watch, and I’m not sure what will happen should Megan discover Don cheating on her (as you know he will).
But then, there’s always the chance that Megan is in fact the most calculating of all the aforementioned women, playing a part to the hilt to get exactly what she wants—in which case she’d be the female Don Draper. Season Five just got a lot more interesting.
–By Ivy Ashe