It’s ladies night on Mad Men as both Joan (Christina Hendricks) and Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) make huge career moves. But is this a case of women doing it for themselves, or are they trying to prove something to the men?
Let’s bitch it out…
TVAngie is away this week presenting at a conference, so I’m pitch-hitting for her. Unfortunately my knowledge of Mad Men is not as thorough as hers, so I apologize in advance if this recap is less thoughtful than what you’re accustomed to! Now, with that caveat out of the way, let’s break down ‘The Other Woman.’
I’m unsure of where to begin as this episode marks huge milestones for both Joan and Peggy. I guess we’ll start with Joan since her storyline is so closely tied to the successful outcome of the Jaguar account. After Herb Rennet, the head of the dealer’s association, demands Joan as part of the deal, Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) tries to negotiate an Indecent Proposal deal. Initially Joan is outraged, but after Lane (Jared Harris) suggests a different offer – 5% partnership in the company – she reconsiders. It’s important, however, that in between these meetings, we see Joan and her mother at home with a broken fridge. Joan is in a man’s position as the single breadwinner for her family, but she’s still not in charge of her life. There’s also a financial implication involved in her home-life: with this new deal, Lane is correct in inferring that she will now be able to look after her family without fear of how much something like a fridge repair might cost.
Hendricks – as always – sells Joan’s decision like nobody’s business. Initially her scene with Don (Jon Hamm) – when he comes to visit her to tell her not to go through with it – feels melancholy (and just a little hot). I agree with TVAngie: these two have a pretty significant connection when they’re together. When he goes to leave and she tenderly caresses his face, I almost wanted him to jump in the shower with her. It’s only later, when we see the scene repeated again from her perspective, that we truly understand why she’s so touched: Don arrives after she has already slept with Herb. She’s already made her decision, but it’s meaningful to her that he is the lone partner who cares enough to tell her to say no without selfishly having ulterior motives (unlike Pete and Lane, who both admit that they’re thinking of themselves).
While the intercutting of Don’s presentation to the Jaguar executives and Joan’s affair with Herb is a little too on the nose for my taste, I still appreciated the irony. Here’s Don presenting a great tagline – “Jaguar: At last, something you can truly own” – to Herb, the man who already bought his flesh – that supposedly unobtainable object that every man wants. What’s being said here, though? Because as much as ’The Other Woman’ proves that women can make something for themselves in this man’s world, ultimately Joan still sells herself into prostitution for a 5% stake. It’s especially challenging to watch from a modern perspective because we (as in society) like to fool ourselves into thinking that a woman wouldn’t need to do this in this day and age. But Mad Men has always been adept at showing us the darker side of modern life, and just because it’s set in the sixties doesn’t mean that these issues aren’t still relevant. At the end of the day Joan didn’t sleep with Herb because she felt pressured by Pete, or Lane. Nor does she do it out of spite for Roger (John Slattery). She does it because she is looking out for herself and her son.
Which brings us to Peggy. I’ll admit that I’ve missed the majority of Peggy’s growth because I’m a few seasons behind, but I’ve always appreciated her relationship with Don. And now that’s come to an end as Peggy decides to leave SCDP. Interestingly, though, there’s men at the heart of this decision, too: she decides to begin shopping around after lunch with a friend (who suggests he’ll try to take her place if she leaves). More telling is her first scenes, when she single handedly saves an account only to have Don remind her it’s already Ginsberg’s (Ben Feldman) account and then throw money at her face. It’s a completely rude moment that Don verbally repeats when she resigns. He doesn’t understand that the job isn’t just about money for Peggy (evidenced by the headhunter, who suggests that her work is personal – there are no cliches). And so, in the midst of the celebratory party – where Joan celebrates the Jaguar account as a partner with “the men”, Peggy makes a quiet exit alone with only the ding of the elevator witnessing her happy smile.
- There’s a third woman in all of this, as well, as Megan (Jessica Pare) auditions for a play and makes the callback. How hilarious is Don’s reaction to the suggestion that she would be gone to Boston for rehearsals for three months? Is he lying when he says that he doesn’t want her to fail, or does he really simply not understand that the women in his life are unafraid to uproot their lives to pursue their dreams? It’s significant that the Jaguar pitch is all about the titular ‘Other Woman’ – the one thing that men can’t have – as well as money. These are the things that drive men. This episode clearly shows us a world in which women not only can play this game, but that they will go after things that they can have and the money is a secondary bonus.
- Revisiting Joan, does it make her storyline more upsetting to hear Roger exclaim that the other pitches weren’t even close? Is that just something Jaguar lied about, or would SCDP have landed the account with or without this sordid series of actions?
- How significant is it that we see how much both Joan and Peggy “sell” for? Does Joan’s $50 thousand role in landing Jaguar (more than four times her annual take home) seem more or less significant than learning that Peggy abandons SCDP for $19 grand?
- Finally, Lane manages to squeak by without being discovered for another week. I did love the little comments about no bonuses, as well as the way Lane squirms when Pete suggests getting an extension of their line of credit to pay out Joan for the dirty deed. Oh Lane…this can only come back to bite you in the ass. His line to Joan – after proposing the 5% deal – is very revealing, though: once he settled for less than he was worth and now he regrets it. It’s an important lesson for Joan, who doesn’t make this mistake, as well as him (considering his current situation).
So that’s Mad Men. Where can we go with the final two episodes? Will Peggy regret this decision? What will Joan do with her increased stakehold in the company? And do you think Megan will land the part (or even want it considering it was all about objectifying her body)? I didn’t even get to address the scene when she arrives in her “audition” dress for an office quickie while her friend Julie crawls and growls along the table for the sexual pleasure of the other copywriters!
Mad Men airs Sundays at 10pm EST on AMC