Here be spoilers for the latest episode of Mad Men. You’ve been warned.
Last night, about fifteen minutes into the new Mad Men episode “The Other Woman,” I felt compelled to send out a Tweet of disbelief:
I feel it’s still a fair question. By that point, Pete Campbell had already asked Joan Harris to sleep with a Jaguar executive to guarantee a campaign for Sterling Cooper Draper Price. Don Draper pulled Peggy Olsen off another campaign–women can’t possibly sell to Jaguar–and threw money at her to get her to shut up.
Sure, I loved it when Joan and Peggy were in control of their interoffice dynamics in the past through wit and sexuality, but this was a forced affront during stressful times. This was no Peggy convincing Roger Sterling to give her a huge bonus for covering for an absent Michael Ginsberg for a last minute copy. This was Don, her mentor, throwing money at her to buy her silence. Literally. He threw money at her face.
Joan’s situation is even more upsetting. We’ve known since season one that Joan has used her body to get what she wants at the office. She was head of the secretarial department because she was smart and desirable. Roger is the actual father of her baby and she puts the other men like Don in their place when they pursue her. She orchestrates her life and takes the risks that work for her.
For Pete–desperate, depressed, and dissatisfied with his place in the world–to promise a co-worker off to a client as a prostitute is unconscionable. This man is sleazy, but that’s low even by his now bottomless standards. He twisted the situation again and again to paint himself as the victim and convince his desperate partners to go along with his plan.With the exception of Don, all of Joan’s allies dropped her when they could see the Jaguar money really filling up their bank accounts. Bert Cooper seemed to turn around the quickest at Pete’s proposal during a closed door partner meeting. Roger followed suit expressing his disappointment before leaving it up to Joan. Lane Pryce seemed like he wasn’t going along with the plan until he visited Joan and essentially negotiated a partnership deal for her.
Don was the voice of reason, but as the only acting ad person on the SCDP staff, he didn’t have the time to fight as hard as he could. He assumed that his utter disgust at Pete’s proposal would be enough to convince his partners to shut him down. He was wrong. He didn’t find out that Joan agreed on the condition of partnership until the night of her Jaguar meeting.
Joan is visibly shaken when she realizes that Pete was lying about the “unanimous” decision to push for the one night stand. Don is one of her oldest allies at the company and he thought the entire thing was terrible. Had she known before, she might have settled for running payroll and knowing that Pete would have to atone for his mistakes later. Now, because she was lied to, she has to defend herself even harder when she walks into her first partner’s only meeting at SCDP. There is no back pedaling. She slept with a client to get to the top.
I could go deeper with this. Megan Draper was treated like a piece of meat by the casting directors at a big callback and Don treated her like a piece of property when she explained what the job entailed. Peggy was treated like a child when she considered switching agencies by every person she dealt with, Don included. There’s a lot more to unpack and I’ll let the regular Mad Men recapers handle it.
The thing with Matt Weiner is that everything happens for a reason. Even if it’s forced by outside circumstances–Betty Francis (nee Draper) wouldn’t have gained all that weight if January Jones wasn’t pregnant, Weiner has a method to his madness.
From the start of the season, Don has been pushed further and further out of his comfort zone. He doesn’t understand everything his new wife Megan does. He’s not as sharp on the advertising trends as the irritating Ginsberg or even his protege Peggy. People are not listening to him as much in the office and the women he encounters outside the office have more power than ever.Pushing away all the women he has cared for over the course of the series beyond his control is an interesting direction for this character. Don still views himself as a womanizer. Even after symbolically murdering one of his ex-mistresses in a fevered state, he still pursued Joan and other women. The difference is their response. They don’t need Don to feel good. Don needs them to feel worthwhile. With Joan, Peggy, Megan, Betty, and even his daughter Sally able to make choices on their own (for better or worse), what power does he have as a man anymore?
I predict we’ll see that fall out next week. This week was all about the women of SCDP making hard choices to get ahead. Peggy had the easiest time because no one was paying attention to her. Had Don found out she wanted to jump ship from SCDP, he would have stopped her before she could make one phone call. Megan only had to fight against Don and she has been winning the household arguments by any means necessary.
Joan had it the hardest. Her decision impacted her body and her psyche. She would have to commit an act of prostitution that lets her advance in the company. The difficulty is compounded when she assumes everyone in the office is willing to sell her to the highest bidder to pick up a contract. Don, the only character who could stop her, is absent again.
Megan’s the only one who gets to accuse Don of disappearing for his own benefit, but the speech could apply to the three female leads of Mad Men right now. Where is the man who routinely saved SCDP and why is he allowing the women he once protected to be put in harm’s way now?
So did Mad Men really go there? Yes. With great style comes great responsibility. The cross-cuts between Joan’s meeting with the Jaguar executive and Don’s pitch were heartbreaking. You realize that Joan actually went through with it and that she clearly didn’t need to. Don will pull through if the campaign is there and Joan will always be there to support him. He just didn’t need the assist this time.
What are your thoughts on “The Other Woman?” I really want to know how people responded to this. Sound off below.