What an episode! We laughed, we cried, we called for Pete Campbell’s head on a platter, and then we cried some more.
Seriously, somebody kill this guy.
Since we assume you watched too, instead of a straight recap we’re discussing the parts of “The Other Woman” we found most interesting. Be sure to join in in the comments, and cast your vote in our Mad Men Hunger Games!
I always wanna be by your side
This episode clearly focused on the disgusting objectification of the Mad Women we love the most. Peggy gets a wad of cash thrown at her face by Don. Megan’s independence as Don’s wife serves as the inspiration for Ginsberg’s “ownership of women” pitch. And Joan (JOAN!!!) is literally used as a bargaining chip by terrible, rotten Pete Campbell. However, amongst all this talk of form, beautiful curves and women you can’t control, we were given a function counterpoint. Clearly there is a conflict between the three most important women in Don’s work life and their own desire to be self-sufficient and self-functioning.
As demonstrated week after week in Don’s whining about her quitting, Megan being Don’s real-life wife hasn’t been satisfying enough for him. When Megan was at the office, the place he always treated as a home actually became his home. While she walked away from SCDP, Don has still been able to bounce ideas off her. This week, however, showed Don a glimpse into what his life will be like if Megan actually becomes a professional actress. If she is given the chance to really pursue her career, she will no longer be waiting at home for Don, ready to help him process whatever happened in his day. Her desired function is in conflict with the way that Don sees her functioning in his life.
For weeks we’ve seen Peggy grow increasingly dissatisfied with her present and future at SCDP. Who wasn’t bummed out on her behalf when watching her watch Ginsberg and the tray of lobster from the other side of the glass conference room (by the same token, who wasn’t psyched to see Freddy Rumsen and Ted Chaough sing her praises)? Peggy feels that her potential is stifled by her current function at SCDP, so she explores other options. Having successfully struck a deal with a rival agency, Cutler Gleason and Chaough, Peggy breaks the news to Don that she’s leaving and we see Don mourn the loss of his office confidant, someone who he clearly has grown attached to and relies on. By pursuing her potential outside of the walls of SCDP, Peggy is severing her ties to Don and is disrupting her function in his work life.
Lastly, and most tragically, we see Joan pushed by circumstance, and by Pete’s strategic recap of events, to view her own function as entirely based on her sex appeal. Unlike Megan and Peggy, whose roles in Don’s life are fairly defined (wife and mentee, respectively), it’s tougher to figure out what function Joan will no longer serve for Don. Unlike so many other women we’ve met on Mad Men, Joan’s function in Don’s life is not as an object, so it’s possible that he’s upset that others are redefining her role in a way that he wouldn’t. Additionally, it seems that the friendship and alliance we saw between them last week has now been tainted. Whatever their 13-year relationship is at the office, there’s no way that either of them will be able to work together without knowing what Joan had to do to become partner (and what she had to do to win Jaguar, an account that we have repeatedly been told is truly going to define the agency).
The parallel between Joan’s situation and Sal Romano’s was really interesting to me. Both are instances where a client is controlling the future of a SCDP employee, and both involve a controversial sexual attraction. Sal lost his job by refusing the advances of Lee Garner Jr., and while I doubt that Joan would ever be fired by saying no to Herb, she clearly gained professionally by saying yes.
Additionally, while I’m curious to see how the office as a whole reacts to Peggy’s departure, I especially want to see Ken’s take on the news. He outwardly appreciated her when no one else did and frequently took the pride in her success that Don should have always shown. On top of that, Ken genuinely needed her and wanted to continue a partnership, whether at SCDP or elsewhere. Clearly, Don isn’t the only one losing out by Peggy leaving.
THIS SCENE. THE FEELINGS.
Because you’re worth it.
“The Other Woman” reminded us why Mad Men sits head and perfectly tailored shoulders above the rest of television: It was funny in some parts, poignant in others, and downright heartbreaking—all while managing to move the plot forward and remain true to its characters. A lesser show would have had Joan throwing the money back in Roger’s face, or Peggy falling apart in Don’s office, but Mad Men—like its resident Brit Lane Pryce—doesn’t pull any punches.
It makes sense that in an episode about ownership—owning cars, owning people, owning your place in the world—there was so much explicit talk about worth and value, though it was as cringe-inducing to watch as Harry Crane in a feather boa. When the chips were down, our two leading ladies were both asked to put a price tag on their careers and self-respect—and they both did it. While it might seem unfair to compare Peggy’s new job offer to Joan’s, it’s clear that Matt Weiner wanted us to view them that way (along with the pitch for the Jaguar account and Megan’s audition—the themes in this episode were incorporated seamlessly). Peggy, who is feeling devalued, has to decide how much money it will take for her to leave the man who inspired her in her career and the office who gave her her start; Joan, who is feeling devalued, has to decide how much money it will take for her to stay there. Both women, with the help of platonic male friends, negotiate a deal and accept it, despite Don’s protests.
But money is only one way to calculate worth (though while we’re on the subject, Peggy’s asking price of $19,000 is equivalent to $125,000 today, and we can only guess that Joan will end up with more than that). While we got to see Peggy triumphantly board the elevator and move on to bigger things, we also had to see Joan looking sad even while she announces the Jaguar account—presumably because she realizes that her copartners value her more for being “built like a B-52” than they do her 13 years of exemplary service. For someone who identifies so strongly with her work and her position in the office, it’s likely Joan cares more about their opinion of her and her performance than she does about the money.
Let’s review their reactions to Rennett’s proposition of her then, just for good measure: Bert, who’s checked out most of the time, unsurprisingly checks out here as well, only remarking that Joan “can still say no” when he clearly doesn’t mean it. Pete (who, lest we forget, once encouraged his own wife to use sex in order to get her ex to publish one of his short stories) turns out to be the grimy little pimp Lane said he was, manipulating the facts at every turn to convince Joan take the offer. Roger (ROGER!), the father of Joan’s child and the resident big spender at SCDP, says he’s fine with it as long as it doesn’t cost him anything (he’ll spend money on Ginsberg, but when it comes to the supposed love of his life he’s all tapped out I guess). Lane, in a move that I found sympathetic but others found calculating, gets real with Joan and tells her to ask for a percentage of the business. Don, ever the lone wolf, is against this “transaction,” but his reasons are unclear. Is it because he cares about Joan, because he cares about the creative integrity of his work, or because using sex to get ahead is his thing? (Remember, Don has banged multiple clients—and their wives—in past seasons. Why is this so different?) Whatever the reasons behind the various reactions (the reason behind Roger’s: He’s the worst) Joan may be a partner on paper, but the moves she had to make to get there ensure that she’ll never be an equal in their eyes.
The fact that Joan and Peggy’s evaluations—as determined by them and by those around them—are so multifaceted and complex speaks yet again to how fucking good this episode was. As viewers, we’re left conflicted in both instances, able to understand why these women made the choices they did while at the same time wishing they hadn’t. And if you’re like me, you were also left with eyes full of tears, because I cried like Baby Gene Draper during the last scene—a scene that called back to Peggy and Don’s first handholding encounter in the pilot episode, because this show is just that good.
All this talk of evaluation and we didn’t even get to Megan! In the audition scene, she was silenced by men and asked to show off her ass instead. Acting and advertising: not that different, sadly.
What happened with Joan’s mom and Apollo the handyman? Are we to assume she seduced him and that’s why he’s not allowed to come back to their apartment? The more we learn about Mrs. Holloway, the more insight we get into Joan as well.
Ginsberg gives me the creeps. When he commented that Megan “goes where she pleases” we yet again glimpsed the misogyny we’ve seen from him a few times this season. With Peggy gone, who’ll put the brakes on his he-man woman-hating ad campaigns? I don’t trust that dude.
Yeah, thanks for the necklace Herb.
Game of Thrones
Given that Sunday nights are when I cram in roughly three hours’ worth of must-see viewing, it’s a little surprising that it was only this week that comparasions between Game of Thrones and Mad Men became, in my mind, inescapable.
It’s not just that last nights’ episodes of both involved epic faceoffs—in GoT, at the battle of Blackwater; on Mad Men, at the Jaguar dealership as well as within the ranks of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. And it’s not even that Joffrey Baratheon and Pete Campbell are currently neck in puny neck for the title of Worst Person Ever (Under-40 Division): Both are weaselly, whining little shits who believe the world owes them something; both are inherent cowards, drafting others to do their dirty work; and both have recently been delivered a much-needed blow to the face, and could definitely do with a few more.
No, last night’s bit of intertextual foreshadowing came courtesy of Cersei Lannister, GoT’s fading queen. Squirreled away for the duration of the battle at King’s Landing, Cersei starts mixing booze and dramatic proclamations like a Westerosian Courtney Love, ultimately telling Sansa that “a woman’s most powerful weapon is what’s between her legs.” That bit of queenly wisdom didn’t go anywhere in the rest of the episode, occupied as it was with men slicing each other’s limbs off, but boy did it play out on Mad Men, with its themes of women navigating both acceptance of and pushback against their treatment as institutional chattel.
Joan’s storyline, of course, was the most stomach-turning and heartbreaking of the night. And with the two other women key to the episode, Peggy and Megan, “The Other Woman” told the story of what so many women were expected to sacrifice in workplaces like SCDP—or, judging by the “yeah, that’s how it was” comments on many a Mad Men recap, 1960s workplaces in general.
In Joan’s case, the sacrifice is dignity and bodily agency. As Ken Cosgrove pointed out, Pete made the conscious choice to attempt to pimp out his coworker, and, because he’s an unredeemable shitheel, further heaped on her the burden of refusal—telling her, when she laughed at the outrageous proposition, that she should be the one to tell the partners that there was no deal. (Seriously, can we get some of Cersei’s deadly nightshade into Pete’s afternoon scotch? Fuck that guy.) And while it’s worth making the case that Herb Rennett, the oily Jaguar dealership association guy, was sacrificing his own dignity by buying a night with a woman who’d otherwise never look twice at him, none of the men, save Don, see a problem with it. (To wit, this tiny, perfect exchange in Joan’s office: Pete: “[Herb]’s not that bad.” Joan: “He’s doing this.”)
Meanwhile, Peggy realized that she had been expected to sacrifice so much of her ambition and creativity for the sake of blatantly sexist industry professionals that she had been, in a sense, Stockholm Syndromed to expect little more. The scene at episode’s beginning, when she looks longingly into the office where a cart of lobster is being wheeled in to feed the creatives on the Jaguar account is the setup, but it’s not until she meets with Don’s rival, Ted Chaough, that we really get the kicker—Peggy’s become so used to being treated like “the girl” at SCDP that she’s unprepared for a job offer that values her as *more* than just the girl. (How awesome, too, the the closing scene kicked out the jams in Peggy’s honor to the Kinks’ “Girl You Really Got Me.”) I’m curious to see how Peggy maintains a presence in Mad Men going forward, since in a way she’s been the central character since the first episode, bringing audiences along with her into this strange new world.
The entire thrust of SCDP’s winning campaign slogan—”Jaguar: At last, something beautiful you can truly own”—is a paean to male wish-fulfillment, not simply about staking a claim to something other men openly envy, but about doing so with no sacrifice to oneself. (Unless you’re talking about the sacrifice of pouring thousands of dollars into maintaining and repairing the notoriously temperamental car.) And that brings us to Megan, Don’s temperamental wife, who will always be, in some sense, “the other woman.”
Like Joan, Megan is asked to sacrifice some dignity for a chance at what she really wants in her career: We get a glimpse of her at an audition, being asked to display her miniskirted self for a wolfishly arrayed room of men. Without seeing what comes next, the later revelation that she didn’t get the part leaves questions hanging—was she, too, placed in the position of bargaining sex for success? If so, she’s lucky that, unlike Joan, her livelihood doesn’t depend on that bargain. If not, she still has another bargain to weigh: whether sacrificing what she loves—acting—for who she loves—Don—is worth it. Especially because she’d be sacrificing in service to a hypocrite who wants to, as she points out, “disappear for work whenever [he] wants,” and have a wife with a ton of ambition and talent but an equal willingness to drop all of it on his say-so.
It’s hard to say yet whether any of the women are on a clear side of a cost-benefit analysis of last night’s developments. Maybe we’ll find out next week. Until then, as Pete Campbell might say to his unsuspecting baby daughter, “Goodnight, room. Goodnight, moon. Goodnight, everyone’s dark, stinking, corrupted soul.”
In an episode with some excellent lines, Joan’s mother and her acerbic misanthropy once again stands out in a crowded field: “He’s a baby. He doesn’t need to know that we all wish his father was dead.”
Notable Historical/Cultural References: Johnny Carson, Goodnight Moon, La Caravelle
Inappropriate Office Behavior: PETE CAMPBELL GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE. You too, Roger.