Thursday, 31 May 2012

MAD MEN, 5.11 – "The Other Woman"

Thursday, 31 May 2012

This has been a terrific season of Mad Men (how many shows can say that in their fifth year?) and "The Other Woman" marked another delightful highlight. A sublime episode on every level, it was a fascinating study of how women were perceived, exploited and undervalued in the '60s (and perhaps still are to some extent). The core moral dilemma was astutely drawn, as Pete (Vincent Karthesier) discovered that Herb Rennet (Gary Basaraba), head of the Dealers Association and member of Jaguar's selection committee, will guarantee SCDP win the lucrative and prestigious car account if they accept his indecent proposal to sleep with Joan (Christina Hendricks). An outrageous line of thought that stunned the partners, although Pete was already a step ahead in bringing the matter to Joan's attention first—who was amused by the ridiculousness of the situation, yet over the course of this episode came to see the benefit of accepting the dirty deal. But this was Pete as his slimiest; rationalising the whole proposal for his own benefit, not giving a damn about Joan's feelings, despite claiming to.

This was quite an unsettling episode in many ways, making us reconsider our opinion of some major characters. Only Don (Jon Hamm) outright refused to entertain Herb's offer, assuring Joan in person that SCDP can win the Jaguar account on creative merit alone. The others were uncomfortable with it—especially Roger (John Slattery) and Lane (Jared Harris)—but were still willing to let events happen with minimal fuss, almost hoping Joan would swallow her dignity out of company loyalty. Considering Roger's feeling for Joan, hearing him say he just doesn't want to pay for the event to happen out of his own pocket was quite a shock. So much for chivalry.

At least Lane gave Joan some solid career advice (although it also benefited him), suggesting she refuse the $50,000 offer to sleep with Herb and instead ask for a 5% share in the business. So while it was still an awkward and despairing moment when Joan arrived to spend a night with Herb, it means Joan's now a partner in the first after 13 years. But is that really a win, with everyone knowing she got there by selling her body?

On the flipside, a woman with real creative talent slipped through Don's fingers. Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), tired of being mistreated and taken for granted, finally decided to put her career ahead of her sense of loyalty to "mentor" Don, accepting an amazing offer t become rival firm CGC's chief copywriter. That parting moment was perhaps the pinnacle of an already amazing episode, with Don planting a lingering kiss on the hand of Peggy, arguably his best protégé, reducing her to tears (real ones, as it happens, as Moss later revealed she was unaware Hamm would tenderly take her hand like that). The Don/Peggy relationship has been a cornerstone of Mad Men from the start, so it's very interesting to see it change so quickly and dramatically. There's no bad blood, but it'll be interesting to see how Peggy gets on. Will she thrive away from Don with Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm), or have to come back begging for her old job? Will this mean a reduced role for Moss next season? Has Ginsberg supplanted Peggy entirely?

Another fabulous sequence was the Jaguar pitch from Don, armed with Ginsberg's (Ben Feldman) breakthrough idea ("Jaguar. At last, something beautiful you can truly own). I always adore the pitching scenes of Mad Men, mostly because they're genuinely good and don't smell too artificial, and the way this one was interspersed with Joan sleeping with Herb was a masterstroke. Just like the sports car, Joan was a beauty you could own for a price.

There was even a similar objectification for poor Megan (Jennifer Pare) this week, as she attended an audition she'd dutifully prepared for all week, only to discover the panel of men were only really interested in her looks—asking her give them a twirl, rather than impress them with her acting. She didn't get the job, either, which was perhaps a double knock to her confidence.

"The Other Woman" was a remarkable episode. SCDP may have won the Jaguar account, but they sold their soul to do it (which is what Joan represents, in my mind). Don was particularly displeased about hearing the "good news" from Roger, knowing that his excellent pitch was undermined by the likelihood they perhaps only got the account thanks to Joan's self-sacrifice. That look Don gave Joan, when she assembled with the other partners, was one of such confusion and umbrage. Beautifully done.


  • Fantastic to see Freddy Rumsen again, giving Peggy some fatherly advice she decided to take.
  • It's easy to see Don as a voice of reason and champion of women's liberties because of his response to Joan prostituting herself, but let's not forget the insulting moment when he threw money at Peggy's face over what her perceived as her desire to go to Paris for an ad campaign she'd secured. It was misogynistic in its own way, and the moment he lost Peggy as a copywriter.
  • A less in-depth review this week, or so it feels to me. Sorry, I'm just away on holiday and busy with other things until the weekend, but wanted to get this review done to avoid a backlog. And because I just hate seeing the blog sitting idle for too many days. Feel free to comment and continue discussion of anything I probably forgot to mention.
written by Semi Chellas & Matthew Weiner / directed by Phil Abraham / 29 May 2012 / Sky Atlantic