Today I learned that Peggy Olson and Sir Ian McKellen share a birthday. Like, an exact birthday. They are the same age.
How do we know this?
Sir Ian’s Wikipedia confirms it: 25 May, 1939 (age 82).
(Let’s stop here for a moment and collectively wonder, how does Wikipedia even get this information? Did they obtain a copy of his birth certificate? Do they take the word of a close friend or close-enough relative? Did Ian McKellen himself field a phone call from a Wikimedia fact checker? Did he have to stifle a Jesus Christ I am busy understanding Beckett how did you get this number to just get them off his back and say, “… yeah. I was born on 25 May, 1939.”?)
Peggy Olson was also born on May 25, 1939. I can write it like that because she’s American.
Who the heck is Peggy Olson? you may be wondering to yourself.
Only the copy chief of Sterling Cooper Draper Price Cutler Gleason and Chaough. Who could have starred in her own episode of I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant. Who could bring back knit pantsuits with a single wide shot. Who could possibly have had fleeting sexual chemistry with a strapping Colin Hanks dressed as a priest.
Peggy Olson is a fictional character played by Elizabeth Moss on Mad Men.
(Of all the Mount Rushmore shows from the Gilded Age of TV, Mad Men is always the last one to get a mention. Important but not watershed. Mad Men is Teddy Roosevelt. Tucked away in the corner, obscured in Jefferson’s [The Wire] shadow.) (Sopranos is Washington, obviously. Breaking Bad is Lincoln. Don’t expect me to sit here and explain this to you. It’s science.) (I happen to share a birthday with Teddy Roosevelt but we really can’t get into that now.)
Mad Men happens to be my favorite television show. The characters are awful people in the most glorious of ways. Blame it on the trauma, I love them all dearly.
Possibly the best episode of the series – inarguably the best bottle episode ever created in the history of TV – is season four, episode seven of Mad Men: “The Suitcase.” (It is also the episode in the exact CENTER of the series. Episode 46 of 92. Goddamn you, Matthew Weiner.)
In “The Suitcase,” the enigmatic Donald Draper is avoiding what he knows will be a bad phone call. The plucky Peggy Olson is heading out to have a romantic dinner with that wet loaf of bread she calls a boyfriend, Mark. Don is not happy with the work for Samsonite. (Suitcase!) Peggy stays working with Don, even though everyone else has left the office already. She is at once being naïve assuming Don will find her time valuable, for which she will inevitably complain, and also unconsciously indulging in the workaholic side of her self-fulfilled prophecy, of which she really loves. Mark resents both the former and the latter, and they break up over the phone when Peggy is so late for dinner that his FORTY BUCKS has gone to waste! (Break out your inflation calculator for this show, folks, or you will never stop laughing when people emphatically announce what things cost. Which happens a lot.)
Anyway. We’re not here to recap.
The frame narrative of “The Suitcase” is of the infamous second fight between Sonny Liston and Cassius Clay. Everyone has left the office already because they’re off to watch the fight on closed circuit TV. Mark is taking Peggy out to dinner because it’s her birthday. And what day is it? May 25, 1965!
But how do we know how old Peggy is?! Well! Earlier in the episode, Meghan the Receptionist asks Peggy this question directly, and she replies, “26.” Meghan reacts with an impressed smile at the Single and Fabulous Exclamation Point copywriter, “Oh, you’re doing well, aren’t you?” Peggy is proud of herself.
Moments later in the same scene, when Mrs. Trudy Vogel Dyckman Campbell, obtuse about the waist from an on-purpose pregnancy, learns that Peggy is 26, her response is, “Well… 26 is still *very* young.” The condescension is devastating. Peggy is less proud of herself.
I mean… feminism, right?
From here it’s simple subtraction, my friends. 1965 – 26 = 1939. Peggy Olson and Sir Ian McKellen were born on the exact same day.
(Have I told you my favorite movies are The Lord of the Rings?)
Upon this realization, it’s not a far leap to immediately imagine that Gandalf the Grey and Peggy the Pantsuit are peers. Maybe acquaintances… friends, even!
Sitting in the booth at the Greek diner, waxing philosophical about finding purpose through work, eventually discussing the death of a loved one. Peggy tells Gandalf that she watched her father die in front of her, while they were watching sports on TV. Gandalf replies, “Yeah… I don’t have a father because I’m a kind of immortal being that was sort of just, like, there one day? Like I wasn’t born so much as I just was, you know? But, I have watched a lot of people die right in front of me. So… I kind of get it.”
Peggy doesn’t really know what to say, so she just nods. Nibbles on a pickle. She glances up at the painting on the wall.
“Why is there a dog in the Parthenon?” she asks.
Gandalf looks up. “That’s a roach,” he says. “Let’s go somewhere darker.”
They get up to leave.
“Speaking of somewhere darker, did I ever tell you about the time when I was in the Mines of Moria?” Gandalf says, dropping cash on the table.
“Yeah,” Peggy says, scooting out of the booth. “You tell that one a lot, actually.”