The Mad Men Project: Week 10

by Colin McGuire. 0 Comments

“‘The Other Woman'” appears to be the darkest episode of this series to date” is a line written below by one of our writers that might go unnoticed if you aren’t paying attention, though it should be as poignant as any other thing you’ll read. “Obviously the best episode of the year,” Mark wrote in an email to me earlier this week, stating the obvious in precisely the type of concise way that line needed to be uttered. “What an episode, eh? I must say, I’m starting to believe more in Tyler’s ‘Lane will off himself’ theory. Perhaps his suicide will open the door for Peggy to come back as partner, making for an epic estrogen-fueled faceoff with Joan?” That was what Adam asked when he sent over his contribution to the past week’s episode. 

And these were just the men. “The Other Woman” gave us The One Great Episode A Season “Mad Men” has usually been good for. We all remember “The Wheel” and how poignant Don’s slideshow presentation was in season one (and as a side — did anyone else see a few similarities between that particular scene and the back and forth between Joan sleeping with the executive and Don selling Jaguar this week?). The fourth season threw almost everyone for a loop when Don up and proposed to Megan, essentially changing the landscape of the show in a matter of 45 seconds. And less we forget how the overnight coup from Roger, Don, Lane, Pete, Joan and Peggy left us wondering how season four would turn out after they packed their stuff and began a business in a hotel room at the end of season three. 

This show might never end up being better than the final 15 minutes of last week’s episode. The single tear down Peggy’s face was priceless. The flash-back/flash-forward presentation of Joan sleeping the company’s way into Jaguar’s heart and Don rushing to her apartment to try and save the day. The continuous money problems that Lane can’t seem to get a grasp of, even on a discretionary level. Pete’s scheming. Freddy’s double chin. Megan’s failures. This episode finally brought the season full circle and now we wait to see what these final two weeks might bring. 

Even so, I’ll add this: Joan and Peggy both left in season three. Don had to beg Peggy back then, and it worked. Joan wanted a family, and we see how that turned out. My point is this: You can’t cry wolf this much before you begin to lose credibility. Maybe the Peggy/Don sequence was so poignant because we all knew that if she was going to leave then, she could never come back. So … if she does somehow return … for a second time … somewhere down the line … that character’s power would be utterly negated for the rest of the series and as far as I’m concerned, the show would be over. You’re taking a chance here, “Mad Men” writers. You’ve done a good job at saving face so far this season and as you’ll see next week (note: tease for next week!), you’ve done enough to erase the memories of the early missteps this season has provided. But you can’t screw this one up, guys. You just can’t. 

But as always, enough about me. Let’s see what our board of experts had to say …

Adam Campbell (Blog) – Roger Sterling

“Don’t fool yourself — this is some very dirty business.”

Who better to make this utterance than Mr. Roger Sterling? He’s epitomized the seamier side of Madison Avenue, and last week we saw the Golden Age of Advertising portrayed in the most sleazy and cynical light so far. While Roger didn’t play much of a role in the proceedings as one might assume, it was more interesting to see what he didn’t do in this case.

When Pete brought to the partners the idea of whoring out Joan in exchange for Jaguar, there were several great shots of the consternation writ on both Roger and Lane’s faces. Surely Roger, the man who’s roamed Joan’s magnificent hillsides, conceived her son and looked on with jealousy as she received flowers from other men would angrily rise up in the interest of his own vanity (and perhaps even Joan’s honor) to stop this immoral bartering from taking place, right? Nope. This time it’s Don and (to a lesser extent) Lane fleeing toward the moral high ground. Roger certainly looks troubled by the situation, but in the end, his only resistance to the plan is a refusal to finance Joan’s recompense. However, this move seems more about practicality than chivalry, as the proposed $50,000 in finders fees and commission would be the pinnacle of the bribes that Roger’s been doling out all season. Nevertheless, when Lane comes to Joan to renegotiate the offer, she is surprised to learn Roger was on board with the plan.

But on second glance, Roger’s course of action isn’t so shocking. Last week, this writer made the statement that Joan was the only woman Roger truly loved. While Roger might love Joan more than he’s “loved” Mona, Jane and others, it’s clear his love for the prestige of the industry he was born into will always supersede any libidinous longing or matters of the heart. Pete’s passionate argument that “We’ve come too far and are too close to turning this place into what it should be” spoke louder to Roger than any voluptuous redhead ever could. Even if Roger’s work ethic is severely lacking, there’s no denying his hopes and dreams for the business his father built with Bert Cooper. “The Other Woman” was an apt title for several reasons, but for Roger Sterling, any woman will remain a mistress to his ambitions.

Julie Ciaramella (TwitterBlog) – Megan Draper

This week, “Mad Men” focused on its three main female characters, and we saw Megan’s conviction and belief in herself. Since quitting at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, she’s struggled to gain a foothold in the acting world. When Don says to her, “You’re very good at auditions,” she replies, “Not as good as the girls who get parts.”

Her luck may be about to change, though. Megan has a callback for a play in Boston, and she and Don come to blows over it. If she gets the part, Megan will be gone for eight weeks, and Don tells her to forget about it. Megan knows Don doesn’t take her ambitions seriously: “What do you think this is? Do you think I’m going to be a singing waitress and put on a show in a laundry room?” she snaps at him.

She wants to be an actress, and she’s going to do what it takes to fulfill that dream. Before Don storms out of the room, Megan says, “You never thought about it because you didn’t expect me to make it.” He really didn’t. He supported her — that’s what someone who’s a good husband, or at least trying to be one, should do — but he held on to the idea that maybe she’d return to advertising after acting proved to be too difficult. Don isn’t used to having a wife who expresses her hopes and dreams for the future, who puts her own needs ahead of his. He never would have had a conversation like this with Betty. Sure, Betty and Don argued, but not like this, and probably because Betty couldn’t envision a future for herself beyond being a wife and mother, no matter how much she may have wanted to.

At Megan’s audition, we don’t see her showcase her acting skills — she’s merely asked to turn around for the men in the room. She’s on display, and you can sense her discomfort mixing with her eagerness to please and her desire for the part. She does what they ask of her, but by the end of the episode we still don’t know if she’ll be headed to Boston.

The moment toward the end of the episode with Don and Megan on the couch is one of the most poignant moments they’ve had all season. Megan reveals that if she had to choose between leaving for work and Don, she’d choose Don.

“You know I don’t want you to fail,” Don says.

“Good. Because I’m not going to,” she responds.

You have to root for a character like that. Megan wants to act, and she was willing to give up something steady — her job at SCDP — for the uncertainty of a future in a new career. While at times this season it’s seemed like the writers didn’t know what to do with her, Megan is now on her own journey after leaving SCDP. And she just may be strong enough to succeed.

Mark Zeltner (TwitterBlog and Blog) – Don Draper

“So, a wife is like a Buick in the garage.”

Women are infinitely more complex and interesting than men. Of course that complexity is what makes them fascinating, enticing and incredibly maddening to the average man. Don Draper is no average man and he has spent his life seducing and manipulating women, but ultimately, he demonstrates no more knowledge of what makes women tick than the average schmo. From his wife, to his co-worker, to his protégé, Don is repeatedly surprised by the women in his life. When it comes to women, nothing is as simple as it seems.

The gulf between Draper and his wife continues to escalate. In a discussion about the Jaguar account he deftly compares wives to clunky American sedans while equating mistresses with sleek, elusive beauty. He continues to spar with Megan about her desire to pursue her acting career and is amazed to find out that Broadway plays actually work out the kinks in cities other than New York. His surprise either indicates that he is completely ignorant of how the theater works, or, as Megan suspects, it never occurred to him that she might succeed. When Megan fails to get the part, Don is supportive in a condescending way. It is easy to be supportive when you know you aren’t risking anything.

Draper’s protective stance toward Joan is in surprising contrast to his attitude toward his wife. Of all the men in the office to be dismissive of Pete’s attempt to pimp Joan out to a Jaguar executive, Don seems the least likely candidate. The argument could be made that part of Draper’s insistence that they get the account on the merit of their work is simply professional vanity. But his visit to Joan’s apartment to tell her that “it isn’t worth it” betrays an actual affection for her and a greater respect for women than his past behavior might indicate. His shock at realizing Joan has gone through with the deal sours the Jaguar victory.

Draper’s most shocking encounter with a woman involves his protégé, Peggy. After basically ignoring her for weeks and then throwing money in her face in misguided anger over the frustrations of the Jaguar campaign, he is shocked that she has decided to seek employment elsewhere. “Well, let’s pretend that I’m not responsible for every single good thing that’s ever happened to you. What’s the number?” he asks. But there isn’t a number. This relationship has run its course and it’s time to move on. When Don grabs and gently kisses Peggy’s outstretched hand at the end of the conversation, he is demonstrating more emotion than he ever did over his divorce or any of his dealings with Megan. The vulnerability he works constantly to conceal pores out in a moment that is uncomfortable for Peggy and the audience. Of all the shocks and disappointments from women that Don has endured, this one was the hardest to swallow.

Courtney Pomeroy (TwitterTwitterBlogBlog) – Joan Harris

They don’t have much in common, but both Joan and Peggy had career aspirations beyond “secretary,” and both achieved them. Still, neither was ever quite happy with their role at SCDP. Fortunately, opportunities for both of them to change their circumstances came along in “The Other Woman.”

Unfortunately for Joan, hers took the form of a hairy, overweight man who may or may not have had SCDP’s future success clutched in his sweaty meat hooks, along with an emerald necklace to offer her in return for sex.

Joan’s story line, that of a willingly single, working mother in the 1960s, has been largely ignored in favor of episodes about Betty Francis’s struggle to keep her jowls in check, Megan Draper’s whining and Pete Campbell’s pathetic attempts at extramarital affairs so far this season. This episode, and to an extent, last week’s, brought Mrs. Harris’s much more substantial problems back into the spotlight.

She recently got served with divorce papers, she’s depending on her grouchy mother’s help so she can continue to work with a baby at home, and, as far as the audience knows, she still hasn’t received a raise to go along with the promotion Lane handed her last season. Still, when slimy Pete walked into her office with the news that landing Jaguar might depend on her … assets … viewers probably expected that she’d react by slapping him across his smug little face. But it turns out Joan craves the kind of control and independence that, for her, could only come along with being named a partner in the company. And a means to that end required losing a bit of her well-protected dignity.

On Sunday, Peggy discovered that moving up means moving on. But Joan’s value to the company is invested time, not creative talent. As good as she is at what she does, it’s hard to believe that another agency would ever take her on and offer a prestigious title and raise, like Peggy received. And she knows it. Which is why, when an opportunity for advancement within SCDP popped up, she felt the need to don a dress with a very low neckline and take it.

A lot of viewers likely lost respect for every high-up at the company except for Don in “The Other Woman.” Bert, Pete, Lane and especially Roger — because he has a child with Joan — all came across as horrible human beings in the episode, more loudly and clearly than they ever have before. They were fine with essentially acting as pimps for their busty colleague if it meant landing a car account.

It seems fair that viewers should feel the same disgust toward Joan because she was the one who actually carried out the prostitution or, as Pete would say, the “business at a very high level.” The men in the situation, however, were aiming to land an account that will put more money in their bank accounts but probably not change their lives all that much in the end. For Joan, the decision may change her whole future, and Kevin’s, for the better.

For that reason, she is not even close to the most detestable person in the partners’ circle. But ultimately, unlike Peggy, she has a number. Similar to a shiny new Jaguar in the pages of a men’s magazine, Joan can be bought. Maybe future episodes will show us if it was worth it.

Tyler Hannah – Pete Campbell

“The Other Woman” appears to be the darkest episode of this series to date.  The dabbling in the flesh trade by Sterling Cooper Draper Price (and now Harris) bejeweled the great many juxtapositions in this episode, to wit:  Pete and Don, Don and Joan, Peggy and Don, good and evil, light and dark, and Freddy Rumsen and his endless cup of coffee.Pete, the pimp. Who would have thought that our wunderkind would have sunk so low? Currently, he is prostituting those in the office for the sake of the company. A company which, by the way, will make anyone a partner so long as they are proven worthy. Peter Campbell would sell his own mother if the price was right, but, for the time being, he will have to settle for hustling Joan in order to land the Jaguar account.

Pete does not want this account simply for the prestige and earnings that it will likely bring the office. Rather, he wants this account as pretext for leasing an apartment in Manhattan. This, he mentions to Trudy in order to avoid the “epic poem” of his commute from work. However, it is patently clear that Pete wants a place where he can romp free and continue his filth-mongering uninhibited.

By day, Peter Campbell is a slick account executive who will stoop no higher than necessary to land an account, pandering human beings in exchange for business. By night, he is the Ward Cleaver of the suburbs, reading “Goodnight, Moon” to his innocent, angelic child — a model father and doting husband. Indeed, a far cry from a superhero. All scathe aside, Campbell’s confidence level has grown while at SCDP(&H). Not simply bravado and showmanship, Peter must be touted for his well-honed self-assuredness and poise, because only he could successfully ask of Joan that she surrender herself to depravity.

Human nature is to yearn for the unobtainable, to covet the inaccessible. Don’s pitch to Jaguar was essentially his marriage to Megan. Despite the fact that he could cut a check for a new XKE, Don cannot truly obtain the Megan Drapers or the Peggy Olsons of the world. Therefore, Don and Pete, like most of us, will continue to fling themselves at the machinery of society in the vain attempt to grasp a hold of the unattainable, whether it be an expensive sports car, an attractive member of the opposite sex, or a sixth season with high ratings.

Cristina Moreno (TwitterTumblrWebsite) – Peggy Olson

This week’s episode was ugly. Compelling, but disgusting just the same. The currents of power, sex, and greed that run through the series came to a head, leaving our characters to make some critical decisions. Peggy’s storyline mirrored Joan’s in a lot of ways and while their respective outcomes seem drastically different, both women are changed by the choices they made.

Peggy’s decision was about her future at SCDP. She had many successes on her journey to becoming a copywriter, but this season has showcased her failures. Peggy made some mistakes (her verbal diarrhea in the premiere) and had what seemed to be a creative block going on. She was shot down after drowning herself in the Heinz campaign and watched as the men around her continued to rise while she hit another wall in her career. In this episode, it seemed like she was heading back on the right track again, finalizing accounts and coming up with a brilliant on-the-spot pitch for Chevalier Blanc because Ginsberg (who is working on the Jaguar account) was unavailable. Though Ken and Harry showered her with praise in front of Don, she failed to get the recognition she deserved. When she brings this up to Don, he, in an act so demoralizing and offensive, throws money in her face (an interesting parallel to Joan being bribed into prostitution). Verbal abuse is one thing, but this was embarrassing and utterly disrespectful.

While Peggy deals with it (though later takes some of her anger out on Ken), it is something that helps propel her to take a step toward something new. When Freddy Rumsen wonders if she is ambitious or just likes to complain, Peggy answers honestly, “Why can’t I be both?” She says it with a smile, but it’s a true reflection of her duality. Either way, she pursues a lead that brings her to Ted Chaough, Don’s top rival, who not only agrees to match her salary price, but ups it by a thousand dollars. At his firm, she’ll be a copy chief, seemingly supported by a creative staff who are in it for the right reasons, rather than a group of men who would pimp out one of their most beloved employees to score an account.

When Peggy meets with Don to offer her resignation, she thanks him sincerely for all that he’s done for her. Don reacts in disbelief, then anger, and finally sadness. He yells and offers her a raise. He dismisses her and then kisses her hand. All through it, Peggy stands her ground bravely, knowing that if she doesn’t leave now, she never will, and with a final goodbye, she walks out of SCDP with her head held high, ready for whatever is next. Bon voyage, Peggy.

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