MAD MEN 5.11: “The Other Woman”

Why is a Jaguar like a woman — specifically, like a mistress? That was the big question torturing the boys at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce as they contended with problems stemming from the real women in their lives: Joan, Peggy and Megan. The guys knew that the Jaguar was pretty yet impractical — like a mistress — but how could they sell that idea?

With the offices of SCDP buzzing with preparations for the big Jaguar pitch, Herb (Gary Basaraba), the head of Jaguar’s auto dealers’ association, told Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) and Ken (Aaron Stanton) his one non-negotiable demand to win SCDP a yes vote from him: spending a night with Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks). And she won’t be taking dictation, if ya know what he means! Of course they do, and while is Ken is grossed out; Pete sees this as just another negotiation.

So Pete took the slimy proposal, covered it in more slime and pitched it to Joan, who — after a lifetime of dealing with sleazy men — retained enough composure to not slap Pete silly before kicking him out. Pete explained the Jaguar problem to the partners, and an indignant Don (Jon Hamm) stormed out. The rest of the guys essentially punted, allowing Pete to muscle through a proposal to pay Joanie $50,000 to sleep with the creep. Realizing a cash payment would expose his embezzlement, Lane (Jared Harris) told Joan to ask for a partnership with a voting interest instead, which she did.

Meanwhile, Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) saved yet another account with quick-thinking, and once again got no credit from Don. Then, during lunch, old colleague Freddy Rumsen (Joel Murray) suggested she quit, so he set up a meeting with Don’s nemesis, Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm) — who offered her a job at Cutler Gleason & Chaough on the spot at twice her asking price. Of course she accepted it.

Don discovered that Megan’s (Jessica Paré) latest audition would take her to Boston if she won the part, so he freaked and forbid her from taking it, sparking a fight. When Don found out about the offer to Joan he rushed to her apartment and begged her not to sleep with Herb, because he can win the account on merit, and if he can’t then who wants to be in business with those creeps anyway? Don didn’t know it, but he was too late.

Based on an idea from Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) — the Jaguar as something beautiful that a man can truly own — Don’s pitch blew Jaguar away, and SCDP landed the account. But Don didn’t want to celebrate when he learned that Joan did the deed. And then Peggy chose that moment to tell Don she was quitting. He melted down in an instant, and ultimately told her to skip the two-weeks notice and leave immediately. Which she did. With a smile on her face.

Well, this episode was certainly on the nose, wasn’t it? Everyone who has a job sometimes feels like a prostitute, but Joan was actually asked to literally be one. Although, with a $50,000 price tag, she was probably technically more of a call girl. This incident raises all sorts of political flags about female power, which are probably best left to female pundits to hash out, but that won’t stop me from blathering on at least a little bit. It was clear that when Lane suggested a partnership could set her and her baby up for life, that struck a nerve with Joan. I could see the wheels turning in her head: a couple of hours of debasing herself could mean a secure life and an education for her child. And mothers everywhere are always saying they would do anything for their children — though, admittedly, that’s usually in the context of killing someone, not… hooking up with him.

Switching gears, I have to say the men did not acquit themselves particularly well. The partners were only too happy to let Pete take the lead here; no one wanted to be seen as using Joanie, and yet everyone was clearly thinking how nice it would be to land Jaguar. Pete was the primary force behind this “Let’s Pimp Joan” movement — it was ludicrous for him to go to Joan with the idea, and positively evil to bring it to the partners — and the stuff he has done this season (like lust after a high school girl and patronize a whorehouse in the same episode, or cheat on his wife) have already proven him to be pretty detestable. His actions here demonstrate that he has not yet reached the bottom, but he is close. For a guy who is obsessed with gaining recognition and respect, he certainly doesn’t treat others — especially women — with respect himself. At this point in the season, I expect the female viewership to say, “Of course Pete is in favor of this sick plan” because they don’t expect anything more from him. It’s hard to fathom how Pete thinks this gambit will pay off in praise for himself, unless he thinks that sealing the deal with Joan will be what ultimately secures Jaguar, the account he feels he personally resurrected. In which case, maybe he should have been the one to service Herb?

Someone who was definitely looking out for herself was Peggy. It feels a bit like the entire series has been building toward the moment when the little bird we met on her first day back in the first episode finally spreads her wings and leaves the nest. But her moment of triumph was overshadowed by the Jaguar “win.” Peggy’s character has always been about the outsider trying to win on her own terms, and while she eked out tiny, unacknowledged wins, Joan hit the jackpot — the partnership Peggy has always craved as an unspoken goal — by playing the traditional role (in this instance) of chattel for the males to use in their power struggles. Disgust and guilt made Jaguar an empty win for Don, and, in a way, Joan’s reward kind of blunted Peggy’s individual achievement. It kind of says that even though Peggy escaped the secretarial pool via talent and moxie, that doesn’t mean the culture will change at SCDP. Just consider the callous way Don treated Peggy — literally throwing money in her face after she complained about not getting credit for saving the Arrow Shirts account — this week. He saw her resignation as a ploy to win a raise. But what about that kiss goodbye? The way he held his lips on her hand for so long was… inappropriate? Creepy? A passive-aggressive acknowledgement of everything she has contributed to SCDP? All of the above?

The “Women’s Lib” movement is still some years off, as evidenced by a glimpse of Megan’s call-back for the play; the producers were more interested in how she looked — forcing her to spin around so they could judge her butt — than whether she could act. And, ironically, that standard is still very much a factor in today’s entertainment industry.

A final thought: Christina Hendricks will probably get an Emmy nomination for her subtle work this episode.

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