A joy of the current TV season is that one of the medium’s
finest actresses, Elisabeth Moss, has key roles in two of the finest series in
recent memory — “Mad Men,” now in its sixth season, and Jane Campion’s “Top of
the Lake.” While the athletic, hardened
Kiwi detective Robin Griffin and sharp-as-a-tack ‘60s Mad Woman Peggy Olson are worlds,
eras and professions away from one another, there are striking
similarities between the two characters.
1. Accent-uate the positive. One of the great details from the fifth season of “Mad Men” is Peggy Olson’s slip into her native New Yawkuh accent when chatting with Ginsberg in the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Usually she keeps her accent neutral and her elocution elegant while at work, and then brings out the “Ma!” when visiting her Brooklyn home. Moss’ dexterity with dialects is of course on display in “Top of the Lake,” where she boasts a fairly good Kiwi accent. Interestingly, Robin was raised in Laketop, New Zealand, but has been living for many years in Australia, so the more detail-oriented question remains whether Moss is in fact accurately channeling a New-Zealander-who’s-lived-half-her-life-in-Sydney accent. This my Yankee ear cannot tell.
2. The Big C. That would be Catholicism. While the
Catholic religion doesn’t play a major role (or even a minor one) in “Top of
the Lake,” I was struck by Robin’s salient comment in last week’s fourth
episode when she (SPOILER alert) reveals that she was impregnated by her four teen
rapists, and subsequently had a baby girl. She put the child up for adoption,
but succinctly explains that she didn’t abort it because of her “Catholic
mother.” While Peggy in the first season of “Mad Men” becomes pregnant under
very different circumstances (she has a consensual tryst with Pete Campbell),
she too puts the child up for adoption. In Peggy’s case, it’s too late to
consider the option of an abortion — she goes into labor without realizing her
substantial weight gain is an actual pregnancy — but her Roman-Catholic family’s
judgment looms over her, particularly that of her resentful sister, after the illegitimate child is given up.
3. Young woman, big job. With the perennially
unemployed or underemployed young women of “Girls” recently buzzing about the
TV stratosphere, it’s refreshing to see Moss’ Peggy Olson and Robin Griffin handling
high-responsibility dream jobs — and not buckling under pressure — at
relatively young ages. The comparison between Robin and the BBC’s “Prime
Suspect” sleuth Jane Tennison (a career-defining Helen Mirren) is apt, but
remember that when we meet DCI Tennison she is about 10 to 15 years older, albeit
higher in rank, than her modern “Top of the Lake” counterpart. Both Robin and Peggy embody ambitious,
fast-rising women, unafraid to speak their mind and push projects in new,
innovative directions, despite facing roadblocks. Which leads me to…
4. Shouldering the boys’ club. Peggy’s not only working
her way through the thicket of condescending, hardy-har-har men in the 1960s
advertising world, she’s also working in a field that caters to men’s desires
(or indirectly, via the “women want what men want” concept). This was
exemplified nicely in the Season Six premiere, when Peggy, now sitting in an
elevated position at Ted Chaough’s agency, faces three men and displays a shrewd
knowledge of what Super Bowl viewers — a “drunk, loud male audience” — want
in an ad. Meanwhile, Robin is apparently conducting her investigation of Tui
Mitcham’s disappearance on an exclusively male police team, dealing with
smirking cops during her presentations, a detective-sergeant who plainly doesn’t
understand the severity of her past trauma (or how it should have been dealt with
from an enforcement standpoint), and a general lack of concern for the missing
5. Ambiguous sexual tension with an older male
authority figure. Detective-sergeant Al Parker’s interest in Robin has deeply malevolent
undertones, especially following the suspiciously potent red wine he offers her
at a two-person dinner party. Meanwhile, Peggy’s past work relationship with
Don Draper, which was a fascinating mix of flirty, friendly and paternal, had
viewers wondering season after season if a Don-Peggy hookup was on the horizon.
(Thankfully, it wasn’t.) In both cases, Moss’ characters seem to inspire intimidation
and familiarity in her bosses, which manifests in vague to explicit sexual
interest. With Peggy’s agency move, it looks like Ted Chaough may very well fill
Don’s shoes in this regard.
What say you, TOH-ers? Noticed any other interesting similarities between Moss’ Peggy and Robin?
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