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Emmys 2011: Making a Case for Elisabeth Moss

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Sep 01, 2011 | 5:10am EDT

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Elisabeth MossThere is zero shock or awe in the knowledge that Elisabeth Moss secured an Emmy nomination for her role on Mad Men this year. The woman had one hell of a season. She’s up against a few heavyweights in the realm of leading ladies in television drama – specifically Juliana Margulies (The Good Wife) and Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) – but if you take a look at Season 4 of Mad Men, it’s obvious Moss is the one who should be taking home a shiny, golden trophy on Sept. 18.

Peggy Olsen has been a key character since the first episode of AMC’s crown jewel of a series and she’s only continued to intrigue audiences as the series progresses. While Peggy certainly started as a green, unsure young girl among the ad men of Madison Avenue, she quickly gained a foothold in what was truly a man’s world. Like her character, Moss started out a bit more timidly. She slowly broke into her layered character and now that we’ve reached Season 4, the actress is simply killing it.

Season 4 deals Moss more than a few curveballs as an actor – the number of changes and struggles her character sees rival those of Don Draper, who’s the star of the series. Moss handles these copious challenges adeptly and adroitly, delivering Peggy’s struggles and dilemmas with a thin veil of bravado draped over them. We see Peggy tussle with the idea of sexual freedom, her own political and cultural consciousness, the balance between work and relationships, conflicts with men in the office as a result of her gender and various other perils that accompany being one of the first career women to begin breaking down the mile-high gender barrier in the corporate world. While her character jumps from one distinct concept to another, Moss juggles it all beautifully.

Moss adds a layer of realism to Peggy that is necessary to keep her from simply being a shining beacon of women’s issues. She’s flawed; she’s not always right; and even though she’s technically blazing a new path for women, she’s still selfish. She still wants credit for her work – not because she’s a woman, but because she wants the glory. It’s this distinction that Moss delivers perfectly. Peggy may be making great strides as a woman in a man’s world, but her actions are not selfless. She is no Susan B. Anthony. Peggy is making progress for herself, not for womankind, but she’s more than willing to use the difficulty her gender presents her with as an excuse and as a topic for cathartic lamentation. Moss is able to tread this line without making her character unsympathetic – a less-skilled actress could not pull off this incredibly delicate balance.

Finally, in episode called “The Suitcase,” which is in many critics’ opinions the best episode of Season 4 and possibly of the whole series, we find Peggy and Don in a sort of bottle episode on the night of her birthday. The episode itself is up for an Emmy for writing, but if you ask me, it could also serve as a succinct case for Moss receiving the Emmy this year. I won’t regale you on all the happenings of the episode because if you don’t remember them, you should just allow yourself the joy of watching it again, but the main idea is that Peggy and Don end up working through the night in his office together. In time, both of their characters and all of their flaws are completely unraveled. Everything is laid bare; Don’s just lost someone very dear to him and Peggy is realizing the difficulties her life choices have created. The episode itself is so unembellished that the only way to anchor it is in the actors’ performances. There are no flashy ad campaigns or presentations, no lavish dinners or fabulous 60s fashions, no sexual encounters or innuendos. Everything is raw and bare and the entire weight of the episode can be attributed to three things: Jon Hamm’s acting, the writing and Elisabeth Moss.

She may be up against a tough crowd, but it’s high time Moss received her just rewards. She’s a force to be reckoned with on Mad Men, and just as her character is begging for the recognition she’s earned, I’m begging for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences to give Moss the recognition she’s so clearly earned.

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