Thursday, May 31, 2012

Madmen Recap: The Other Woman

I have many regrets.

The main one I've mourned is the fact that I didn't start writing recaps of Mad Men at the beginning of the season.

Honestly, it didn't occur to me at the time.  But after Sunday's episode (which I finally watched last night, since I was delayed by some delightful house guests), I've decided to go ahead and write about the episode anyway, even though we're well-past mid season. 

So here goes.

I love Mad Men. I love the writing, I love that almost every episode gives me plenty to chew on.  Episode 11, "The Other Woman," opened with a meeting between Kenny, Pete, and Herb, the owner of numerous Jaguar dealerships. Sterling Cooper Draper Price is angling the Jaguar account for reasons creative, professional, and fiscal. They need a car. They need momentum. The really, really need money.

The meeting is going well until Herb lets drop that he was quite taken by a certain redhead in the office, and that  an evening with her might cement SCDP's chances with the account. 

Kenny is horrified, skirting the proposition and trying to lure Herb in the direction of other, equally attractive redheads. Certainly, SCDP (And Sterling Cooper before it) has an expense account with which to hire dining companions, party girls, call girls, prostitutes, or what have you.  But that's fair, in Kenny's eyes, because that's what they do. That redhead Herb is referring to is Joan, who has a husband and a baby and much more power at the office than anyone really wants to recognize.

Pete, however, has hung his smarmy existence on winning Jaguar and promises to speak with Joan.  It's for the good of the company, he rationalizes to the other partners.  Surely, if offered enough money, Joan would take one for the team.

Pete approaches Joan in what Matt Zoller Seitz terms "a master class in passive-aggressive wheedling."  He compares her to Cleopatra. She blows him off, saying "you couldn't afford me."

While I think she meant for this to be belittling, Pete took this as a sign that she could be bought. This information is what he takes to an emergency partner's meeting.

Each partner's response is shaded by his own version of Joan. Don sees her as a disappointed wife and mother. Roger sees her as a respected former affair. Bert sees her as a key part of the company, and Lane as friend as well as a crush.

Don storms out, but the other partners agree that the offer could be made. Pete asks Lane to extend the company's line of credit, which he would probably do if he hadn't already for the purpose of embezzling company funds to cover up his British tax fiasco.

Rather than try to scrounge up $50,000, Lane covers his tracks by speaking to Joan himself. Instead of talking her out of taking the money, he proposes that a 5% partnership could set she and her son up for life.

Joan goes home to see that son - and her live-in mother. Joan's mother is more shrewish than usual. Last episode, Joan told Don that she had been "raised to be admired." Indeed, Gail Holloway seems to have mistaken Colette novels for Dr. Spock.

Conversely, you could make a strong argument that Eliza Doolittle is Peggy's literary doppelganger. After being plucked from the obscurity of secretary-hood and encouraged to return to work following the adoption of her's and Pete's out-of-wedlock son, Don Draper has played Henry Higgins to Peggy's Eliza, to the point where he's so accustomed to her face that he's willing to ignore her and treat her badly because he knows she'll take it.

But after lunch with Freddy Eynsford-Hill Rumsen, Peggy is convinced it's time to SCDP in general, Don in Particular. Yes, he's her professional security blanket. No, it's not doing her career any favors. After she wins back Chevalier Blanc Cologne over the phone and off the cuff, we see the Peggy we know, who can root through human nature to find the bit that she needs for an ad campaign. Rather than be impressed, Don gives the account back to Ginsberg and dismisses her rudely.

Peggy takes a meeting with Ted Chaough, a contemporary of Don's at a competing firm. Ted happily hires her on the spot, offering her more money and a better position than she had initially asked for (and she didn't ask - she jotted it down on a notepad which she slid across the table. Nice touch, Pegs). Is he that impressed with her work, or that excited to hire away Don's protege? I suspect a mixture of both, leaning towards the latter. If there's one lesson Peggy's learned the hard way is that a woman in the ad business is not setting herself up for respect. Is it really going to be that different at Cutler Gleason and Chaough? Are her coworkers going to be any more evolved than Stan or Harry or Pete?

And then there's Megan.

I don't get Megan. I thought I kinda got Megan, but then she started to make less and less sense. She left SCDP because it was too cynical. She left it for...acting? Because that's a feel-good profession.  And that whole bit with her and her dad in "At the Codfish Ball" where he chided her for not following her dreams, and we learn that those dreams included the stage.

Yes. I'm fairly certain most communism-leaning intellectuals wish more of their daughters would pursue the stage.

Add to the fact that she's made a good show of wanting a real, healthy-esque marriage with Don, but then she does things like throw him surprise parties and announce that if she gets a roll, she'll be in Boston for three months.

See ya, honey.

For a woman who has made it clear to her husband that she expects complete fidelity (in contrast to his previous marriage), leaving like that is like asking an alcoholic to a wine-tasting.  Just sayin'.

In a parallel sub-plot, we learn that Megan felt objectified by the casting director/writing gentlemen in her short but otherwise bland dress. Okay. There's something increasingly Becky Sharpish about Megan, her need for attention (Zou Bisou, anyone?) and the way she's using Don as a stepping-stool for the life she really wants.

But enough about Megan. We need to talk about Joan.

Joan makes an appointment with Pete. She tells him her terms are a 5% stake, non-silent partnership. He tries to bargain. She holds fast. He assures her the guy's not so bad.

When Don finds out, he races to Joan's apartment to tell her not to do it. Joan, wrapped in a green satin bathrobe, hears him out, cups his cheek, and tells him he's one of the good ones. Pete had neglected to mention that Don had been vehemently against the whole business.  Don assures Joan that their pitch can stand on its own.

As he gives that pitch, speaking eloquently about how Jaguars are the one object of beauty a man can truly own, the camera cuts back to Joan.

Joan, wearing the fur Roger gave her back when they were affair-ing, shows up at a door. Herb answers. He's gauche and awkward, saying that he feels like he, the sheikh, has Helen of Troy in his tent.

"Those are two different stories," Joan points out.

You hope that she'll walk away. But when he basically asks to get the show on the road, Joan's face is heartbreakingly resolute.

For years, Joan has been the subject of small prostitutions. Accepting presents as Roger Sterling's mistress. Wearing the red dress for holiday parties. Pouring drinks while hiking her hiney up just so. Charming clients. Trading a rape at the hands of her fiance for the marriage to a doctor, the life that she thought she wanted.

Considering her upbringing, it's impressive that Joan isn't the highest-paid call girl in Manhattan. But her job as office manager, where she sits in her office listening to people's problems a la Deanna Troi, still isn't enough.

Since being served divorce papers at the office, Joan knows she's off her game. She used to be modern and sexy, but now her clothes and hair are dated. She has a baby at home. She feels insecure at work.

Accepting Herb was another step down a familiar rabbit hole for Joan. The twist of the knife comes when we find that show-runner Matthew Weiner pulled a bit of timeline sleight of hand. Moments after Joan returns home from her night with Herb, we see the scene with Don.

He hadn't arrived in time.

Would it have changed her mind? Probably not. Joan is nothing if not practical. Being the office Geisha hasn't given her the job security she had in mind.

When she shows up for the next Partner's meeting, Don's face is a complex mixture of sadness, hurt, disgust, and respect. He hates it. He gets it.

Too hurt to celebrate winning Jaguar, Don retreats to his office. Peggy catches him, explaining in a carefully worded speech how much he has done for her, but it is time to move on.

In a scene that will remind every Mad Men viewer of the "Suitcase" episode, Don starts out playing it like she's angling for a raise. They he tries charm, followed by anger.

Finally he lands on reverent loss.  In a scene no one's forgetting anytime soon, he clutches Peggy's hand to his lips in a gesture of reverence, sorrow, and respect. They're both crying. Peggy tucks her hand away and walks away.

She gathers her things and walks down the office hallway. Everyone is celebrating the Jaguar win. Joan notices Peggy but doesn't pursue her. Peggy steps onto the elevator to The Kink's "You Really Got Me" with a small smile on her face.

Is she smiling because she's glad to move on? Smiling because she's finally gotten Don's attention?

I think both.

I hope she likes her flower shop.

Did you see the episode? What did you think? How did you respond?

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