On last night’s Mad Men (Season 5, Episode 9: “Dark Shadows”), Michael Ginsberg wound up alienating Peggy and Don, two of his superiors, because he had better ideas and smarter copy. While that would annoy pretty much any boss, it particularly annoys Peggy and Don, whose entire identity is based on their unique talents. If they’re not the smartest person in the room, who are they?

For Peggy, she not only has to prove that her ideas are brilliant — she has to prove that they’re brilliant, not just for a woman, but compared to all the men, too. Plus, she works harder than just about anyone in the office, except maybe Don. Maybe. Don just sweats less.

So for her protege to suddenly start outshining her in every possible way, especially since Ginsberg is wildly different from Peggy. For starters, he’s a man. But the main difference is that Ginsberg’s way of brainstorming, as we discovered, is to throw every single possible idea, good or bad, on a sheet of paper until you have a folder full. From the obvious to the absurd, from the goofy to the sincere, his transition from spitball idea to coherent visual narrative makes advertising look easy.

Peggy, lately, makes advertising look difficult. The bruised ego after failing to snag Heinz; the late nights spent hunched over her typewriter in the dark; the indignation after Roger offered Ginsberg a paid side gig instead of using her again: Peggy can’t seem to do anything right anymore. And even Don is noticing. He made one of his stinky-cheese faces at her idea for Sno Ball, and he was upset after she flubbed the lines for their Cool Whip skit.

Is Peggy, whose storyline has been subtle this season, quietly losing her touch? Is advertising meant for Ginsbergs, who effortlessly throw stuff on the wall until something magically sticks? Or is it like most other professions, where hard work is what pays off? Sure, Peggy has Abe. But who is Peggy without advertising?

Someone even she denies knowing. Hopefully she pulls it together before Ginsberg figures it out.

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Watch the next episode of Mad Men on Sunday, May 20 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.

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