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Mad Men Season 5 Ep. 11 ‘The Other Woman’ Recap

As always, spoilers are lurking about. So gird you loins or get out of the way.

If you ever needed confirmation (as if the previous four seasons weren’t enough) that being a woman in sixties sucked ass 90 to 95 percent of the time, then last night’s Mad Men provided some compelling evidence.

Entitled “The Other Woman,” an appropriate subtitle could have been “Misogyny on Parade,” or Ginsberg’s tagline for Jaguar: “At last. Something beautiful you can truly own.” Beautiful, temperamental, unattainable things–in this case women, were the focus in this episode, with notions of mistresses and money thrown in for good measure. The underlying question Mad Men’s female characters seemed to be asking themselves was “How much am I worth?” And each of them tries to answer it in their own way.

Continuing with last week’s “The Christmas Waltz,” the coveted Jaguar account is still in play, and all of SCDP’s creative muscle  is going to into landing it. But after Herb, the head of the dealers’ association, has expressed a desire to “date” Joan, it seems a bigger sacrificed must be made.

Pete, never short on ruthless ambition, lays it out to Joan: if you don’t sleep with Herb, we won’t get Jaguar. Joan, rightly appalled, cuts Pete down with a few sharp remarks and sends him on his way. Though that’s not the end of it, as the partners stage a meeting to discuss whether to go through it. Classy isn’t it? However sleazy his logic and condescending his statements come off, at least Pete is upfront about what he’s asking her to do. Lane, though upset upon hearing the news, is too invested in protecting himself and the company–everyone still thinks the Christmas bonuses are actually bonuses–to truly be a genuine friend. He gently advises her to demand a stake in the company and become a partner, but it still comes off as “if you’re going to be a ho, be a smart ho.” Only Don, no stranger to employing the services of ladies of the night, tries to convince Joan not to do it. Unfortunately for him, it’s too late: in a brilliant slice of editing, it’s revealed that by the time Don stops by her apartment, Joan has already done the deed.

The whole sequence of Joan’s tryst (if you want to call it that, since tryst implies some semblance of fun) with Herb, set alongside Don’s Jaguar pitch, is riddled with deep sadness and is devastating to watch. Even though Joan is no stranger to extramarital affairs and the occasional one night stand, she has always maintained her sense of control, her rape at the hands of Greg notwithstanding.  Which in a way, makes this even sadder: with Greg she was forced to give up her power; this time she chose to give it away. Now a soon-to-be divorcee and single mother, she may feel doesn’t have the luxury of turning away a man’s affection or his money, no matter how repulsive she may find him. Perhaps she fears, like her mother so eloquently put it, that she’s “drying up inside.”

Of course she could’ve gone back to Roger and accepted his offer to help with Kevin, but after learning he didn’t walk out of the “pimp out Joan” pow wow–hey at least he refused to pay for it– she undoubtedly felt betrayed, and mentally closed the door on that option. Christina Hendricks does a superb job of showing Joan’s inner anguish without hardly saying a word. Joan being Joan, she’ll most likely push this incident, like many others, back into her mind and keep it moving. In the end she may have chosen to go ahead with the plan because she wanted a sense of security, which none of the men in her life–Roger, Lane, Greg–have ever been able to offer her.

Joan’s action may have also inadvertently emboldened Peggy’s decision to leave SCDP; the look on her face almost screams “that’s strike three” when Don tells her Joan’s become a partner in the company. Then again, her departure has been a long time coming. Everyone’s working on the Jaguar account, except for Peggy, and although Don has given her control over all of the other accounts, she is still treated like a second-rate employee, or, as Freddy Rumsen put it, “a girl from Brooklyn who’s just helping out.” The shot of Peggy staring longingly at the trays of lobster sums up how she’s been treated this season: everyone else gets to gorge on gourmet, while she’s left scrounging for scraps.

Her humiliation continues when she’s asked to fill in for Ginsberg, who’s at work on the Jaguar account, to have a conference call with Chevalier Blanc cologne and pose as the junior copy writer for the man she discovered.  But things really hit the fan when she single-handedly salvages the account then expresses dissatisfaction when told to her hand over her idea to Ginsberg. In what will definitely go down as one of the show’s top ten shocking moments, Don pulls a few bills out of his pocket and decides to make it rain by tossing them in Peggy’s face, his anger over the the partners’ discussion to prostitute Joan completely blinding him to the fact he’s just taken swan dive into the lake of misogyny himself. It’s also clearly a metaphor for the mistress/money theme–Joan is a valuable commodity and important to Don, while Peggy has been reduced to being the other woman. Ken tries to console Peggy and reminds of her of their pact, but she’s too through with SCDP, and cuts him down with the line “save the fiction for your stories.”

It’s a shame Ken had to bear the brunt of her anger, as he has been one of her biggest supporters. After discussing her future with Freddy, Peggy takes a meeting with Don’s rival Ted Chaough of Cutler Gleason and Chaough, who gushes about her work and offers her $1,000 more in salary than she asked for. Chaough’s open-minded attitude could be the real thing, but he could be using her as a pawn to get back at Don. His lines–”You know how much you’ll do it for,” and “you didn’t make me wait” also conjure up the mistress/money theme again. Peggy eventually breaks the news the Don, who even then is still distracted by the news SCDP landed the account, as well as how Joan suddenly became a partner.

The whole scene between the two, from the dialogue (“You finally picked the right time to ask for a raise–it’s still all about the money isn’t Don?) to Jon Hamm clutching Peggy’s hand before she leaves to Elizabeth Moss’s gut wrenching goodbye of “don’t be a stranger,” is one of the best of the season, if not the whole series. When Peggy tells Don she’s going to Chaough–the enemy–you can see the transformation in his face. Recalling last season’s “The Suitcase,” Don cruelly tries to pull a “that’s what the money is for” moment, saying “Let’s pretend that I’m not responsible for every good thing that’s ever happened to you.” Ouch. But Peggy is undeterred; unlike Joan, there is no price. Over the toasts and cheers of everyone else, she gathers her things and walks out of the office, noticed by no one. But that’s fine–she’s been invisible for a long time now.

Megan can’t seem to decide if she wants to be a Jaguar, or in her words, a Buick. (i.e. the wife). She’s almost borderline offended when Don tells her about the Jaguar-as-mistress angle they’ve been working on. Perhaps she was annoyed that Don, again, was asking her about advertising and ignoring her acting ambitions; or her anxiety about his own storied history of philandering could have been rearing its ugly head. Either way, she quickly leaves the room to go focus on an upcoming audition.

But then when she and an actress friend visit the office, she turns aggressive and sexual, seducing Don in his office with an ease that would have been alien to her when she still worked there. Ginsberg, who shuns the sex kitten, or Jaguar(there’s that word again:) act Megan’s friend is putting on for the boys, still shows his chauvinistic colors when he says in an almost mystified tone  “she just comes and goes as she pleases.”

While it may intrigue Ginsberg, her independent streak continues to rankle Don, who forbids Megan from traveling to Boston for rehearsals for a Broadway show before she even lands the gig. In an gruffer echo of Ginsberg–not to mention his mother/abandonment issues–Don yells “Just keep doing whatever the hell you want!” as she storms out. Megan has her own prostitute moment when the men at the audition coldly ask her to turn around so they can see her goodies in her best casting call dress. The two makeup later on, and Don reassures her that he’s rooting for her success, but I’m still not convinced he truly means it. And now that Peggy’s left him and he’s seen a few cracks in Joan’s armor, who knows what will happen Megan finally lands a gig.

Megan may be strong-willed, but even she’s willing to give up her dream, even if may cause her to hate her husband, as she confesses to Don. In that sense, she’s just as trapped by as Joan, because she’s willing to conform to a man’s expectations, regardless of the emotional or psychological cost to her self-worth. In that way, she’s like Betty, or her mother Marie. It’d be wise for Don to fully get behind Megan’s ambitions, if he really wants their relationship to work.

In the end though, only Peggy, standing alone at the elevator and smiling to herself as she leaves SCDP behind, is truly free.

–Other Notes

–Dawn spoke a couple of words this episode. YAY! *Note the sarcasm.*

–Trudy may have been spared Joan’s fate, but she’s still being devalued and lied to by the man in her life, even she doesn’t know the full extent of it. Something tells me Pete will be getting that apartment in Manhattan, and, if Beth isn’t willing, the mistress to along with it. He’s going ruin his marriage even if it kills him.

–How will the writers’ continue to link Peggy to Don and the rest of SCDP now that she’s gone? Obviously that’s more of a season six question, but it’ll be interesting to see how the link their worlds together. Folks don’t seem to get along too well once they detach themselves (or get detached) from Don’s life; how Peggy fares at her new firm will probably be a big story arc next season.

So what did you think of ‘The Other Woman?’ Discuss.


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