Wow. I almost didn’t stay up for Sunday night’s episode of Mad Men, but I’m so very glad that I did. It was a fantastic hour of television. Mad Men has this unbelievable ability to take a story in every direction I don’t want it to go, yet tell that story in a way that absolutely draws me in. It’s one of the few shows on TV where I simultaneously think “No! Not that!” and “Holy crap, this is good.”
“The Other Woman” was a huge episode, particularly for two of my favorite characters – Joan and Peggy. They’ve both gotten things they want, things they deserve. But they both had to give up something very dear to them to get there.
An Indecent Proposal
Let’s begin with Joan, because this is a storyline that absolutely ripped my heart out. We all know the situation Joan is in. She’s divorcing, something that only Don knows. She’s refusing money from Roger. She is a woman in the 60s, raising a baby on her own and doing very well at her job, yet she’s probably reached a point in her career where she cannot progress any farther.
One of the three men who would be voting on the Jaguar account made it offensively clear to Pete and Ken that his vote could be purchased. Not with dinner or drinks or compliments, but with the attractive redhead who’d shown him around the office. He didn’t want a date with Joan, he wanted her. It was disgusting, and had Don and Roger been taking that dinner it would have ended there. But it wasn’t, it was Pete Campbell who is absolutely atrocious enough of a person to make sure that Ken would not immediately put the kibosh on the proposition, and would take the offer to Joan. Anyone else would have slammed the door on that suggestion, but Pete stuck his foot in to keep it open a crack. And with that crack, with the ability to see what was on the other side, he and the other partners (minus Don) slowly inched it open until they were tempted to walk through.
What an idiot Pete Campbell is, though. Hasn’t he worked with Joan long enough to know how sharp she is? She immediately saw through his little act, the dialogue he’d worked out ahead of time to try and bring up the proposition with Joan. It was all so rehearsed, and Joan quickly shot him down. But one innocent line, something that came across like a coy joke – that Joan didn’t think Pete “could afford it” gave him the opening he was looking for. Pete brought up the situation with the partners, who reacted with varying degrees of disgust. But Pete sold them on the idea that Joan was at least somewhat open to the idea, and that was all the partners needed to begin considering it themselves. That was the crack in the door.
It’s not like the partners all jumped on the “Let’s prostitute Joan to a client” bandwagon. Don was immediately furious – he cares about and respects Joan, and think about how he feels about what his mother had to do for a living. Roger wasn’t happy either – he’s an asshole, but this is Joan. His feelings for Joan are complicated, but she’s the mother of his child. Bert and Lane are both traditional men, and Lane has feelings for Joan that have been made clear.
But, everyone is in a position of desperation. Even Joan feels that getting the Jaguar account would be a major step for their floundering company. Plus she’s a single mom and her refrigerator is broken. And the most desperate of all is Lane, who needs to company to succeed to cover up his immoral business dealings. So he goes to Joan, seemingly to tell her not to do it but then to tell her not to undersell herself. It’s a fascinating move, because it both benefits him and, in a way, Joan. If Joan accepts $50,000 (four times her annual salary), Lane’s jig could be up. Suggesting Joan ask for partnership in the company instead benefits him. But it’s also good for Joan. It’s a move that would change her life, and that’s what’s supposed to sell us on why she would consider it, or agree to it.
Had the execution of this storyline not been so perfect, it wouldn’t have worked. But it all was done with such finesse. The way Joan slapped the man’s hand away from her breasts before turning around for him to unzip her dress. The facial expressions Christina Hendricks made. And most of all, the revelation that Don had visited Joan after, not before. I wonder if what he said would have convinced her not to go through with the arrangement, had he been there in time? Or had she already resigned herself to doing it? Poor Joan.
Don didn’t know whether Joan had gone through with the arrangement when he made his pitch to Jaguar, but he knew it was on the table.
“Oh, this car. This thing, gentlemen. What price would we pay? What behavior would we forgive?”
Those words were obvious, but they were meant to be obvious. And when Don saw Joan enter the room as a full-fledged partner as they received the news that they’d won the account by a landslide, the look on his face was tragic. He’ll never be able to enjoy this victory. Did they win because of his pitch, or Joan’s sacrifice? And on top of that, the pitch itself – “At last: something beautiful you can truly own” – was not Don’s, but Ginsburg’s. He can’t love that.
And the moment was soured in one last way as well. While most of the company and some freelancers were working on the Jaguar pitch, Peggy was supposed to be handling all other business. Don was taking advantage of her, her hard work wasn’t being recognized, and Peggy’s growing dissatisfaction with her position within the company resulted in a move that I think we all dreaded, yet knew had to happen.
You Really Got Me
The moment when Don threw money in Peggy’s face, that was an important moment. It exemplified just how Peggy feels about how she’s been treated lately. It also highlighted the difference between Peggy and Joan, in a way. Joan’s decision, the way she moved up in the world, proved that she can be bought and while I’m OK with the idea that it’s a decision Joan would make, I do think it’s one she’ll always regret. Peggy proved she can’t be bought.
Peggy met with Freddy Rumsen, an old pal who helped her remember what she’s worth. He reminded her that if she were asking Don for advice, if he weren’t directly involved, that Don would tell her to leave too. To go where she’ll shine, where she’ll grow. It’s a tough decision for Peggy, and one I think she wouldn’t have even considered if it weren’t for the money thrown in the face incident. It wasn’t the physically throwing of cash, per say, it was the fact that Peggy received almost no acknowledgement for saving a campaign, and the account would be given back to Ginsburg despite her save.
So Peggy meets with another agency, one that Don hates and one that wants her. They’ll make her copy chief, and offer her $1,000 more than what she requested. And that’s that. Even when Don offers to beat the offer, she stands her ground. Because Peggy refuses to be bought.
The parting of Don and Peggy is both bitter and sweet. Peggy’s words are heartfelt and touching, you can tell she truly appreciates what Don has done for her and is sad to be leaving, even though she knows she has to. Don, at first, is bitter. He tells her two weeks notice isn’t necessary, that there’s a whole room of freelancers waiting to take her place – as though one of them actually could. But then instead of shaking Peggy’s hand, he kisses it – a gesture that, to me, was a peace offering.
One of the good ones
The one thing that didn’t entirely work for me in this episode was the Megan storyline. Yes, the way she was asked to turn around so she could be inspected at her audition was meant to highlight the idea that women are so objectified. But it was too obvious and, frankly, unnecessary. We already had the foil of Joan and Peggy, and the ad campaign that so focused on comparing a car to a woman.
The only way in which it did work was the fact that Don only wants Megan to succeed on his terms, which is that she stays in New York – had she gotten that role, it would have meant eight weeks in Boston. Don lost respect for Joan, who he greatly respected. Don lost Peggy, who he greatly respected. And he’s desperately trying to hold on to Megan, but how much does he respect her? Not enough to realize that she can follow her dreams and still be his wife.
How you feel about this episode will likely come down to whether you believe that the people involved would do the things they did. While of course, certain situations were crafted to reflect a theme (this is a television show, after all) I didn’t think any of the characters were asked to stray too far from what we know of them.
And I feel confident that Peggy won’t be absent from the show, either. Her parting words to Don, “Don’t be a stranger”, felt like a bit of reassurance there. As much as I hate to see her and Don professionally part ways, it did feel like a necessary step for the character and I have faith that the writers wouldn’t have made the move if they didn’t have a plan for how to keep Elisabeth Moss on the show.
There’s a lot to talk about here, so head to the comments and tell me what you thought of the episode.