Entertainment Magazine

Review #3532: Mad Men 5.11: “The Other Woman”

Posted on the 30 May 2012 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Henry T.

Written by Semi Chellas and Matthew Weiner
Directed by Phil Abraham

It’s all glitz and glamour until someone brings something distasteful up to the surface. When that happens, it has a way of rotting whatever gets in the way. All throughout this episode, I felt as if the walls of Jericho were falling all around the characters. The firm is not flush with money so they have to fight tooth-and-nail for any account they can get their hands on. They do try, befitting what Don said in his speech to rally the troops in the previous episode, but there are costs to getting that golden goose.

Review #3532: Mad Men 5.11: “The Other Woman”

It’s fascinating just to see how all of this builds up in the space of the episode. All of the subplots start with something small, whether it’s Don getting increasingly frustrated that he can’t come up with the right pitch to win Jaguar, or Pete having a conversation with an influential man on the account that turns to the possibility of prostituting out Joan, or Peggy shooting the breeze with an old friend. All of them build with momentum and become more complicated situations as the episode advances, until they are all capped by events that will change the course of the series from here on out. It’s amazing to me that the show continues to bring about surprises within such simple plot points and what could be construed as a gimmick (the same scene with different perspectives), but this is why “Mad Men” remains one of the best shows on television.

As a viewer, I totally expected that the task of landing the Jaguar account would be a hard task. I don’t quite think Don saw it that way when he made that speech to the firm before Christmas in the last episode. The creative team has nothing in their pocket initially, and it’s making Don irritable. He knows they’re good enough to eventually get it, but at the moment, they only have some cliched taglines. It gets so bad that he takes his work home with him and tentatively asks Megan what ideas she might have. It’s almost as if he’s trying to lure her back to SCDP. That draws resistance from Megan and results in yet another fight.

Sometimes, it feels like Don doesn’t know exactly what his wife wants, and Megan seems firm on staying with the acting course. The conversation the two of them have at home after the fight is a lot more cordial, but that may have been because the audition she went to wasn’t what she expected from the industry. It wasn’t about her acting ability, but the way she looks. Megan still straddles the two worlds of acting and advertising, but isn’t committed to one in a full way yet. She still has some talent for the advertising part, ultimately giving the rough beginnings of what eventually becomes Don’s pitch to Jaguar. Landing the account becomes a delicate juggling act for Don, and the result is that he misses important things like the partners out-voting him on using Joan as a bargaining chip when he leaves the partners’ meeting, or that Peggy comes up with the Chevalier Blanc tagline on the spot and could’ve been useful in the Jaguar meetings.

His outright dismissal of Peggy at the beginning (which has some echoes of “The Suitcase” from last season) leads to her seeking out a better offer from a rival agency about a higher position. The end result is that he loses Peggy, the one person he took care of during their time in the agency together, and also Joan is diminished somewhat in his eyes. Joan was the one person he thought had ironclad integrity, and she took money to sell herself to a disgusting pig for a small ownership stake in the company. Does the ends really justify the means in that case? That had to be the one question ringing through Don’s ears when he looked at Joan and Peggy in this episode.

There was a time when I felt sorry for how pathetic Pete acts throughout the series. He’s a petulant child who doesn’t get his way all the time and pouts about it to anyone who listens. Here, he graduates to a genuine sleazeball by suggesting that Joan spend one night with Herb in exchange for a vote in the firm’s favor for Jaguar. I felt dirty just watching the parts where Pete hesitatingly asks Joan to prostitute herself for the firm. The partners’ meeting plays that out. Don is dead set against it and storms out of the room. Pete then asks the other senior partners what they think, and they’re somewhat amenable to the arrangement.

If the firm weren’t in such dire straits right now, they would have never considered the idea. Lane speaks to Joan, and gives her an offer she at least has to think about. Given that she’s now a divorcee single mom with a home that’s falling apart, the offer would do enough that she’d be taken care of for the rest of her life. I saw it as sullying Lane and Joan’s close relationship a bit. Lane has money troubles so he may not be the best person to ask what to do when a large sum of cash is laid at your feet. It’s absolutely clear why Herb would be infatuated with Joan (and seemed to speak to the male viewers of this series who constantly objectify Christina Hendricks), but asking her to spend one night with him is a step too far.

Don knows this when he finds out about the offer of partnership stake, and goes over to Joan’s apartment to stop her from potentially making a mistake. The episode cleverly frames this scene well when it’s revealed that she has already spent the night with Herb before Don got to the apartment. The consequences of which are reflected in his stare of disappointment at Joan, again a woman he deeply respects, when everyone finds out the firm has landed the Jaguar account. The ultimate irony is that the pitch is very good on its own. They could have landed the account with Joan prostituting herself. There’s no going back now, and they’re all a little damaged by the things they had to do to get Jaguar. How long is the good feeling going to last? I think it won’t be long before everything collapses. Don knows what Joan did, and it may not be long before the other partners know as well. A Jaguar, according to the creative staff at SCDP, is something “beautiful to truly own.” That beauty, that shine, is finite. It only takes a little bit of rot to diminish that pristine beauty.

I don’t know where the series goes from here. This was an incredibly complicated and dense episode, with unseen events sure to reverberate through the rest of the series. Peggy is now at a rival agency, finally letting go of the chain she had tethered to Don. She leaves the firm with this mix of sadness, regret, and optimism (her small smile as she entered the elevator told as much), and I do wonder how much of her we’ll see in the future. Peggy had become integral to the fabric of the series, but her career had stalled somewhat at SCDP. She had to make a change.

I’m wondering if anyone else at SCDP will act so boldly. They seem boxed in by the firm, trapped in their own ambitions. Don has nothing else in his life but the office, with Megan diving deeper into her acting career. His kiss of Peggy’s hand was a tender goodbye to a cherished colleague, but felt more like a cry for help the longer he held the kiss. Pete forced his way into being a junior partner, and is probably going to get more power now that he’s going to be congratulated for being integral to getting the Jaguar account. Joan has bought herself financial security with the 5% partnership stake. I don’t know how they will live with themselves after both of them compromised their integrity in such a big way. Money is the root of all evil and doesn’t buy happiness, as the cliches both go. This episode demonstrated those philosophies to a tee.

Grade: 10/10

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