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"Mad Men" Episode 11 Review and Recap: "The Other Woman," Something Beautiful You Can Cruelly Own

Television
by Beth Hanna
May 28, 2012 6:30 AM
9 Comments
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AMC "Mad Men"

Every season of "Mad Men" has an iconic episode. In Season 1, it's "The Wheel." In Season 4, "The Suitcase." In Season 5, I was confident it would be "Mystery Date." And then I saw "The Other Woman." Spoilers ahead!

What happened:

The Sterling Cooper Draper Price team is busily working on the perfect Jaguar pitch.

Peggy is excluded -- Don "can't put a girl on Jaguar."

Pete and Ken dine with the head of Jaguar's dealer association, Herb. The unctuous Herb is quite taken with Joan, and suggests that SCDP arrange an evening for him to get to know her. Pete sees this as a factor that could make or break the Jaguar account.

Pete approaches Joan about this highly delicate (read: incredibly insulting) situation. Joan is understandably outraged: "You're talking about prostitution... I don't think you could afford it." Pete explains that SCDP will lose Jaguar if Herb doesn't get his night with Joan, though Herb technically made no such threat.

Pete then approaches the partners. The array of reactions to Pete's attempt at "very high level of business" pimping is fascinating. Roger is jealous, and claims that Herb can "take a walk." Lane is concerned for Joan, but more concerned at the extra expense such an arrangement could cause for SCDP -- and that would dig him deeper in his embezzlement hole. Don is disgusted with the idea, and walks out of the room before the remaining four decide to tempt Joan with a handsome reward if she complies with Herb's wishes.

The scenes between Joan and Lane this season have all been excellent, and this episode is no exception. In a manipulative move, Lane offers Joan $50K to sleep with Herb, but then craftily back-peddles, suggesting that such a sum might not truly satisfy her. Perhaps a 5% partnership would ultimately be better for her and her child. Notice how the dangling bait of a possible partnership frees Lane of actually paying Joan anything upfront. Joan is humiliated that this situation has obviously been discussed behind her back by the men of the company. Importantly, she assumes that all partners are comfortable with paying her to sleep with Herb -- including Don, with whom she feels a kinship. Yet the lure of being a partner has caught her attention.

Joan tells Pete she wants a "not silent" 5% partnership of the company. Once Pete is confronted with the plan taking effect, he has no idea how to manage it. He awkwardly bumbles something about "calling Herb, who can call Joan." Usually Joan is the one to handle sensitive matters -- finessing Megan's departure from SCDP, hiring Don an elderly secretary in Season 4 who won't tempt him. After five seasons of smoothing over all things awkward, Joan is sure as hell not going to do it now: "Figure something out! Do I have to do it all?!"

Meanwhile, Peggy is feeling under-appreciated, and takes two meetings. The first is with Freddy Rumsen, who advises she look for work elsewhere, and offers his help. The second is with Ted Chaough from rival ad company CGC, who knows a good hire when he sees one. He offers Peggy a cool $19K, plus the title of copy chief -- if she decides on the spot.

The astounding time jumping from "Faraway Places" returns in this episode. Don visits Joan at home to try to dissuade her from having sex with Herb. Joan, wearing a robe and seemingly staying in for the night, is deeply moved that Don never backed the decision to convince her into sex work. (In an episode brimming with amazing lines, my favorite was Don's, in reference to Joan's mother: "Say goodnight to your friend." He has no idea who Gail is, or that she has become Joan's live-in nanny and full-time support system.)

There is a crosscutting sequence. Don and the team breeze into the Jaguar dealership the next morning, and Don delivers Ginsberg's "Something Beautiful You Can Truly Own" pitch. As Don talks to the Jag clients about "natural longing for the other thing," we see Joan submitting to Herb the night before. It's heartbreaking. And then a repetition of a scene: We again see Don come to Joan's apartment and try to dissuade her from having sex with Herb. We realize that, upon Don's visit, Joan's night with Herb has already happened -- she's about to take a shower to wash off a disgust that can never be cleaned away. Don the Super Man has arrived too late, and he doesn't even know it.

SCDP lands Jaguar. Celebration is in order, but Don isn't in the mood when he understands that Joan has become a partner, and the price she has paid to get it. Peggy confronts Don in his office, and tells him she accepted the position at CGC. Don doesn't believe her at first, but gradually it dawns on him when she won't accept a counter-offer. "There's no number." In an act of grief-stricken desperation or balls-out manipulation -- or both -- Don kisses Peggy's hand for a long moment.

Peggy steps into the SCDP elevator as The Kinks' "You Really Got Me" plays on the soundtrack. Her tears have dried. (Ours haven't.)

"The Other Woman":

The theme of mistresses and bought women is prevalent in this week's episode. The ad team knows they want to compare the "beautiful but unreliable" Jaguar to a businessman's mistress, but it's important they don't use the word. That would expose too much, and stir up too much guilt in the buyer. Don doesn't even like the idea, particularly after he's heard the scheme Pete's concocted for Joan: "The mistress thing is vulgar."

Part of Pete's vehement spearheading of the Herb-Joan situation has to stem from his own stinging lack of a mistress. He can't have Beth, and he'll be damned if he can't get Herb what he wants. The Jaguar account is now Pete's sole lifeforce -- he hates his home, hates his relation to those in the office, and hates himself. He must get Jaguar, even if it means resorting to pimping. And he hasn't given up on having a woman on the side. As he tells Trudy, he wants an apartment in the city, using the pretense of the nightly "epic poem" (ha!) he undergoes to get back to the suburbs from mid-town.

Megan's storyline in this episode is interesting as related to the mistress concept. When she and her friend crash SCDP in the evening on their way to an audition, Megan sequesters Don in his office for sex. Perhaps after contemplating the difference between Jaguars and Buicks, Megan feels the need to add naughty secrecy to her and Don's sex life -- much as a mistress would. Meanwhile, Megan's friend paws her way across the brainstorming table, ass up, giving the copywriters a show.

At her callback audition for "Little Murders," Megan is told to turn around, so that the all-male casting directors can assess the goods. If Megan gets the part (which would have her rehearsing in Boston for three months), the audience would be paying to see a good-looking woman on stage.

Peggy has her own relationship with money in this episode. First, Don cruelly chucks cash in her face when she complains about Ginsberg reassuming the head of the Chevalier Blanc account. We also see the written sum that Peggy is ultimately offered by CGC, when she and Ted pass the bargaining sheet back and forth across the table. Notice how she dolls herself up in that scene. This was a great callback to "At the Codfish Ball," when Peggy thinks Abe will propose to her over dinner: "Here I am," she seems to be saying, "All dressed up and ready for your offer."

Joan's relationship to the mistress theme brings up a complicated issue. How is being a mistress different than being a prostitute in the world of "Mad Men"? Of course there's the literal answer. But there's such a monetary element to having a mistress -- the apartment, the finery -- and all with the implication that there will be no blabbing, no hope of commitment. Joan was Roger Sterling's mistress, and in this episode she acted as SCDP's mistress and prostitute. I hated that she had to become a partner in that way. But I'm riveted to see what she does with her sorrowfully won position of power.

Bits and pieces:

  • Pete reads "Goodnight Moon" to Tammy! I loved that he mentions hating the "cemetery" suburbs because there are no goodnight sounds.
  • No bonuses this year for the SCDP partners. Lane is screwed.
  • The relationship between Joan and her mom is so believably complex. Gail can be withering ("Why don't you hire a colored girl?" -- cringe-worthy) but then, a beat later, offers Joan her chair to sit down.
  • Don and Megan have issues. Regardless of whether Megan ends up rehearsing in Boston for three months, her point about Don not wanting her to succeed seems accurate. 
  • Second best line of the episode: "How about: 'Jaguar, It's Your Problem, Not Mine.'"

Other ideas or interpretations? Thoughts about the episode?

Television
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More: Television, TV Reviews, AMC, Mad Men

9 Comments

  • Jerren | May 30, 2012 6:51 PMReply

    Hi. This might be too late (considering the episode aired a few days ago), but I just wanted to thank you for the reviews and for the time and effort you put into answering all comments. I really like--nay, LOVE--the sense of community you're building here. I think it's cool to see someone actually want to interact with others on the web, rather than just get hits from an article and be done with it. Anyway, keep it up. This space is becoming a Mad Men oasis. Thanks for that!

  • Beth Hanna | May 31, 2012 7:18 PM

    "Mad Men oasis"! Love it!

  • R.Scott | May 29, 2012 4:08 PMReply

    Is just me or did Ginsberg turn a creepy corner with his attitude toward Megan? And just after that he comes up with the line about beauty you can own.

  • Beth Hanna | May 29, 2012 4:20 PM

    @R. Scott -- Agreed. Ginsberg always had an animosity towards Megan when she was a copywriter, never missing a moment to make some jab at how she was the boss' wife. I think there's a sexual component to his animosity, too. Of course Megan is very pretty and most men lust after her on the show. But also, Ginsberg wants to be Don (or a Don figure), and to have all the things that go along with being Don -- one of those "things" being a beautiful wife.

  • Xenia | May 29, 2012 1:12 AMReply

    One of the things that puzzled me most is why Joan did not tell Donn it had been too late? What was the meaning of the look she gave him entering the office as a partner? "I am sorry" or something?

  • Beth Hanna | May 29, 2012 1:54 AM

    @Xenia -- Good question. I think when Don visits Joan in her apartment, she feels ashamed of what she's done, and thus doesn't tell him. But I think this scene is also a complex moment when Joan's playing her cards close to the chest. Once she's gone through with Herb's indecent proposal, she wants to make sure that nothing -- but NOTHING -- comes between her and that 5% partnership. So she keeps quiet, and waits for the partnership to be made official before she reveals to Don what has actually happened. And I don't think her look quite meant "I'm sorry" -- maybe more along of the lines of: "This is what I was offered, and I took it. It's far from ideal, but I'm getting a lot out of it."

  • Ben | May 28, 2012 2:23 PMReply

    Don and Peggy: Don has continuously confided to Peggy that he sees her as an extension of himself; he also told her how much Megan reminds him of her (at the end of Season 4, "she has the same spark"). But these private moments of affection normally occur after Don has lashed out at, and emotionally abused Peggy. Don is consistently both vulnerable yet vehemently cruel to her. It's been an emotional paradox that had been confusing to me until I realized that he really is the same way with Megan. Once Don establishes intimacy with someone, he is truly comfortable enough to deeply hurt them. I think as much as Peggy values her bond with Don, she now understands how she can only stay on this carousel of emotions for so long.

    Pete: Since Season One, we have tagged Pete as the slimy, scuzzy figure in the office. Although through the seasons we've had the chance to see the warmer side of Pete and even develop empathy for him, it came as no surprise last night that the only partner in SCDP worthy of handling such an underhanded affair was Pete.

    The Exchange: As much as it made everyone involved, and especially Joan's skin crawl, I think everyone understood that it was something that needed to be done. It was revealed at the Codfish Ball that none of the heavyweight accounts in New York were willing to dip their toes in the water at SCDP over their messy parting with Lucky Strike. Winning a car account will not only put the company in a different playing field on a fiscal level, but also on a different level of psychological perception to other organizations; they will become a force to be reckoned with from competitors, and they will have "earned" a figurative stamp of approval from a major corporation willing to throw some heavy billings in their direction. Big Auto is about as close as SCDP will get to Big Tobacco. They needed this win, but was the cost really worth it.

  • Beth Hanna | May 28, 2012 11:24 AMReply

    @Vicki -- That's a good point. When it comes right down to it, Joan is a very shrewd businesswoman. I don't think she sees Roger's child support as being worth the control he would then have over her. Even the prospect of $50K isn't a deal closer for her (re: Herb). But she knows that the partnership share in SCDP has lasting value, even if it means degrading herself. I think this episode proves that Joan would ultimately do anything for her baby -- provided the payoff for her and Kevin's two-person family is big enough and worth the heartbreaking sacrifice. God, this episode really killed me.

  • Vicki | May 28, 2012 8:58 AMReply

    Regarding the mistress vs. prostitute issue, it's interesting that Joan turned down Roger's financial child support in favor of being pimped out. Did she do it to get back at Roger for agreeing to sell her? Or did she somehow look on it more favorably than taking money from Roger? If so, why?

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