“Something beautiful you can truly own” – A Recap of Mad Men’s “The Other Woman”

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“At last, something beautiful you can truly own.”

These haunting words comprised the tagline for the Jaguar pitch Don Draper made at the climax of the tour de force hour of television that was “The Other Woman.”  On the surface, they speak to human nature, and its often unquenchable desire to seek spiritual fulfillment through superficial means, be it wealth, material possessions, or physical attractiveness.

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However, “The Other Woman” takes this deceptively simplistic concept to a much deeper level, by posing to viewers a very serious question, one which we are all destined to face in our lives at one time or another.  Namely,  what price are you willing to pay to get what you want out of life?  And is there ever a point where the personal sacrifices necessary for achievement outweigh the rewards?

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Let’s review, shall we?

“Let them eat lobster.”

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Last week’s “Christmas Waltz,” ended rather triumphantly, with a newly re-energized and determined Don rousing his battle-weary troops, inspiring them all to work as hard as they could, and do whatever it took to win the Jaguar account for SCDP.  He described landing the account as a “defining moment for the agency.”  (Little did he know how prophetic those words would end up being.)

By the time we return to SCDP this week, it’s evident that some of the inspirational luster of Don’s speech has already started to fade.  The ad men are tired, restless, and growing increasingly jaded about their prospective client . . . a car that, though admirably beautiful and enviably expensive, has so far proven to be woefully unreliable.  In short, a Jaguar is the kind of date you wouldn’t think twice about inviting into your bed.  But you probably would hesitate, before bringing it home to meet the parents.

(Speaking of price tags, I wonder how much Jaquar paid for the product placement it’s received these past two episodes.  Whatever it was,  I’d probably ask for my money back.)

Hungry and tired, the ad men are thrilled when a massive order of lobster arrives in the conference room to provide them with some much-needed sustenance, after a hard day’s work.  But not Peggy.  She doesn’t get any lobster, because she’s working on  SCDP’s 25 or so other accounts, and NOT Jaguar.  She gets a two-day old tuna sandwich from the nose-picking street vendor downstairs.

(I don’t know.  This part seemed a little heavy handed for me.  I mean, it’s not that big of an office.  And, from the looks of it, about 7/8ths of the entire company was working on the Jaguar Account.  How hard would it have been to offer a little lobster tail to the 5 or 6 people still working on other accounts?  Also . . . um . . . isn’t SCDP a bit cash poor now?  Wouldn’t it have made more sense to forgo the lobster, in exchange for those “Christmas Bonuses” that Lane won’t shut up about?)

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“I sure would like the opportunity to get to know her better.”

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While the working stiffs at SCDP were busy eating lobster, Account Men, Ken and Pete were forced to shovel down some serious crow, when they learned that their ability to land the Jaguar account had less to do with their firm’s advertising prowess, and more to do with what was underneath Joan Holloway’s dress.  Jaguar’s pudgy dumpling of an executive definitely made no bones about what and who he needed SCDP to do in order to gain his business.  (And, honestly, if that’s how Jaguar makes its business decisions, it’s no wonder the cars are “unreliable.”)  Poor Ken Cosgrove!  The look on his face, when Scummy McScumbag proposed he be allowed to boink Joan, as a “perk” of using SCDP to advertise his product, was like someone had just clubbed a baby seal right in front of him . . .

Lately, I’ve come to the conclusion that Kenny Cosgrove is actually the moral compass of Mad Men.

This would explain why he hardly ever has any lines . . .

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Pete on the other hand has never been one to look a pimp horse in the mouth.  So, of course, he only feigns mild distaste with the idea, when he not-so-tactfully broaches the subject with Joan in her office, the following day.

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Like the seasoned pimp that he is,  Pete blustered his way toward Joan’s desk, boldly demanding that she name her price, without the slightest hint of hesitation or remorse in his voice.  He does so in a way that drastically downplays the extent of what he is asking her to do, and what her agreeing to do it would say about the company for which they both have chosen to work.  “We’re talking about a night in your life. We’ve all had nights in our lives where we’ve made mistakes for free,”  Pete reasons.  (How very Indecent Proposal of him.)

And lord knows, if anybody knows a thing or two about making “free” mistakes it’s Pete Campbell . . .

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What’s depressing is that the moment Pete broaches this subject with Joan, he has already singlehandedly taken his firm down the path to moral ruin.  Regardless of what comes after, SCDP has just become the kind of firm that’s willing to entertain these kind of offers to obtain business.  And Joan, who has spent over a decade of her life working tirelessly for the company, will never again be able to shake the fact that her bosses and colleagues value the almighty dollar over her self-respect and well-being.

In short, not all rapes happen in the bedroom . . .

But we’ve all come to expect this from Pete.  What was more disturbing, to me anyway, was the way the other partners reacted, when Pete broached the subject with them.  Bert Cooper, who, in the past, has often chastized his fellow co-workers for the ways in which their own greed and selfishness have negatively impacted the business, only uttered a few feeble words in protest, before following the herd.

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Roger Sterling, who — many times in the past, has claimed to “love” Joan, and whose modus operandi all season has been to throw money at any and all problems that stand in his way — only seemed interested in whether he would be the one to have to pony up the payment for Joan’s Jaguar prostitution fee.

Shameful!

And then there was Lane, who gamely proposed that Joan request a partnership stake in the company, as opposed to the $50,000 lump sum initially offered by Pete . . . not because he truly cared about Joan’s well being . . . but because he knew the large payment would bankrupt the already over-extended firm, while exposing his own criminal actions in the process.

In fact, Joan’s only champion at the executive table seemed to be Don, who stormed out of the meeting in a huff at the suggestion, wrongfully assuming that his obvious refusal to consider the matter would be enough to put the subject to rest.  He wouldn’t learn until later on in the episode just how wrong he truly was . . .

“You wanna go to Paris?”

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Elsewhere at SCDP, Peggy displayed her penchant for Don Draper style extemporaneous brilliance, when she came up with a new winning ending to a struggling ad campaign, off the while on the phone with the clients.  The advertisement was meant to be shot in Paris.  And Peggy, as originator of the idea, in the first place, rightfully requested the right to make the trip.  Don balked at the idea, claiming that the account was Ginsberg’s, and he would be making the trip in her place.  When Harry, Ken and Peggy urged him to reconsider, Don rudely tossed a wad of cash in Peggy’s face, inadvertently treating his erstwhile protege like the call girl, he so valiantly refused to allow Joan to be.

Oh, Don!  When even HARRY CRANE thinks you are treating women badly, you KNOW you douchedom levels have just reached Mach 5 . . .

Always the gentleman, Ken Cosgrove rushes to comfort Peggy, even going as far as to offer to leave the firm with her, if Don doesn’t reconsider his treatment of her.  But Peggy refuses to be comforted by her friend and colleague.  After all, there’s only one person’s approval she’s always been seeking at SCDP.  And it’s not Ken Cosgrove’s . . .

Don’s and Peggy’s relationship has always been complex, with Don’s treatment of the younger woman alternating between shockingly callous (“That’s what the money is for!”) and remarkably kind (“I will spend the rest of my life trying to hire you back.”)  In some ways, I think the familiarity that has developed between Don and Peggy over the past few seasons, coupled with Don’s at-least-to-some-extent rightful belief that she owes her career to him, are what has led to the gradual souring of their relationship this season.  Don often thinks of Peggy like his own daughter .  . . a daughter, who he can scold, chastize, and challenge, in ways that he can’t with other colleagues, because he knows deep down they love one another, and can relate to one another on a more personal level . . . also . . . quite frankly, he signs her checks.

But what Don never really understood about Peggy was that it was never about the money, or even about being the boss’ fair-haired girl.  For Peggy, what truly drove her at SCDP was a genuine love for what she was doing, and the drive to obtain the respect and recognition for her work, she felt she rightfully deserved.  Each time Don took Peggy’s talents for granted . . . each time he passed her over for an opportunity, or slighted her good work, brought her closer and closer to the decision she made at the end of the episode.  But ultimately, it was her old pal Freddy Rumsen, the first man at the firm to truly recognize her talents, who made her realize just how valuable of a commodity she had become in the industry, and what opportunities might become available to her, if she only had the courage to pursue them.

“I haven’t decided if you are really ambitious, ballerina, or if you just like to complain?”  Freddy muses, while at lunch, with a highly distraught Peggy.  Sometimes it takes the people who know us best, to show us what’s been in our hearts all along.  When Don Draper’s slimy adversary Ken Chaough courts Peggy with 1,000 more than her asking price, and the much coveted title of “Copy Chief,” I think Peggy is less wowed by the financial sum she is offered, and more enticed by the prospect of working for someone who sees her not as a protege, or even a beloved child, but as an intellectual equal, and smart business acquisition to boot.

Speaking of smart business acquisitions . . .

“She just comes and goes as she pleases.”

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Don is both shocked and more than a bit hurt, when his wife fails to consult him about taking an audition which, if she gets the the part, would require her to live apart from him for months at a stretch.  Later she goes on to say that, if he told her she couldn’t take the job, she would turn it down, but would probably hate him for it.

Megan continues to prove that she’s the one wearing the skinny jeans in the family, when she arrives at Don’s office in search of a quick pre-audition quickie to “up her confidence.”  (Interestingly enough, it’s Megan’s sex kitten-like brazenness that ultimately inspires a morally aghast Ginsberg to come up with the tagline for Don Draper’s ultimate Jaguar pitch.)

But then, it’s Megan’s turn to get her ego taken down a few pegs, when she arrives at her audition, and the men on the other end of the casting couch are more interested in what’s underneath her dress, than the words that are coming out of her mouth . . .

“You’re one of the good ones, aren’t you?”

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A little older, and substantially less naive about the inner desires of men / the ways of the world, Joan Holloway seems to have reached her decision regarding the Indecent Proposal made to her earlier by Pete, and somewhat seconded by Lane.  With an air of confidence that belies the inner turmoil she is obviously feeling, images of her repeated mistreatment by her soon-to-be ex husband ripe in her mind, Joan demands her five-percent stake in the company.  Pete’s response is smug and self-satisfied, with just the slightest hint of remorse.  “He’s not that bad,” Pete offers, wrongly assuming that Joan’s suitor’s lack of total hideousness will somehow soften the blow of what she’s about to do.

“He’s doing this,” Joan replies, matter-of-factly.

When Don hears that the rest of the partners went behind his back to orchestrate this agreement he is horrified, particularly in light of the tender moments he and Joan shared the week before.  With a sense of purpose, and a surprising amount of concern for his colleague, Don rushes to Joan’s home, begging her not to go through with this, telling her that he was 100% against it from the beginning, and that sacrificing her own integrity and the company’s for a single account is simply not worth the price.

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There’s a wistfulness in Joan’s face, as she listens to Don’s words that makes more sense later on in the episode.  For a woman who has been used and mistreated by men her entire life . . . a woman who has been taught by her own mother, that a woman’s greatest ambition should be to be “admired,” Joan is seeing, for the first time, a man who truly cares about her . . . someone who is willing to go to the mat for her . . . to fight for her . . . to put his own career and financial security on the line for her well-being.  She’s touched, honored, and impressed by this man with whom she’s never had a romantic history, but with whom she shares a history nonetheless . . .

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We don’t get to see the aftermath of that scene . . . how Joan responds, after Don walks out that door.  Instead, we are treated to an interplay between Don’s riveting, and yet, slightly disheartening, in light of recent events, Jaguar pitch about man’s elusive desire to “own” unattainable “beautiful things,” be them overpriced unreliable cars, or strong smart single mothers, who are willing to do what they can to provide for their children, even if it means sacrificing their own sense of self . . .

As a viewer, it’s incredibly hard to see Joan make this sacrifice . . . a woman who has always been the steadfast and sturdy rock, of SCDP . . . the unofficial mother of the gang.  She put her trust in her colleagues, and they let her down, by putting her in the position to entertain an offer she simply couldn’t refuse.  Of course, it’s even more heartbreaking, when we learn the truth about Don’s last ditch effort to get Joan to reconsider her decision.   Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that he was too late . . . that by the time Don arrived on Joan’s doorstep, the deed was already done.  Joan just couldn’t bring herself to tell him.

Had Don arrived earlier, would it have made a difference in Joan’s decision?  Perhaps not.  But now viewers will inevitably always be left wondering, and so will Joan . . .

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 “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”

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Learning that SCDP landed the Jaguar account is a highly bittersweet moment for Don, particularly when he learns, based on Joan’s sudden presence at the partner’s meeting, what she sacrificed to achieve it.  Now, he’ll never know whether he could have won the account on the merit’s of his pitching skills alone.  Far from being in the partying mood, Don finds himself surprisingly eager to engage in a personal conversation with Peggy, the only woman remaining in his life, who he truly believes he understands.  Little does he know that Peggy is about to turn his world upside down.  “You really don’t know when things are good, do you?”  Peggy inquires, clearly talking about more than the landing of the Jaguar account.

Anyone who’s ever left a job before, can relate to Peggy in this moment . . . the mixture of fear,  guilt, excitement, and sadness, coursing through her veins, as she thanks Don for seeing something in her that no one else did . . . for changing her life . . . and, finally, for making it possible for her to chart out a new path for herself.  At first, Don can’t take Peggy seriously.  This is the one woman Don thought would never leave him.  Once again, he wrongly assumes that this discussion is about money, as he blithely asks Peggy to name her price, echoing Pete’s discussion with Joan earlier in the episode.

But Peggy can’t be bought or swayed.  Her decision is final.  And when Don realizes that, his reaction is surprisingly emotional.  In fact, the only time we’ve really ever seen Don get this emotional was when he learned that Anna Draper died, last season . . . Ironically, Peggy was with him in that moment too . . .

On the surface, Don is his cocksure self, telling Peggy not to bother with her two week notice, since there are tons of freelancers out in the hall waiting to take her place.  But all that bluster falls away, when Peggy goes to give him that final handshake.  Barely concealed tears welling up in his eyes, Don grabs her hand, and kisses it repeatedly, refusing to let go, as Peggy looks away tearfully, both embarrassed and touched by this show of emotion by her father figure, her colleague, and the man who was once her hero.  For Don, the act is one mixed with emotion, caring, and just a hint of desperation.  It harkens back to the pilot episode, in which Peggy grabbed Don’s hand, in a feeble attempt to seduce him, and he brutally rebuffed her.  It also harkens back to that moment in “The Suitcase,” when Don grabs Peggy’s hand, while she offers him solace after a long and difficult night.  Like Joan’s hand on Don’s cheek, earlier in the episode, the hand kiss is a simple gesture.  But one that is frought with so much history and meaning.

On the way out of the office for the last time, Peggy catches Joan’s eyes, and the two share a meaningful look.  Here are two strong, very different women, having recently both made bold and life-changing decisions, ones that will inevitably lead them down very different paths.  Then, Peggy sighs and turns toward the elevator, waiting to take that final step.  When she does, she smiles, ready to face whatever comes next.  And despite all the tragedy, turmoil, and disappointments that filled the episode, how could you not root for an ending like that?

[www.juliekushner.com][FangirlsForever]

2 Comments

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2 responses to ““Something beautiful you can truly own” – A Recap of Mad Men’s “The Other Woman”

  1. Amazon Annie

    Wow this recap was awesome. I loved the episode it was filled with surprises and difficult choices for the women. But again, I always like the episodes better after I have read your recap. BRAVO! To you and to the strong women of MAD MED

    • Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting, Amazon Annie. I’m so glad you enjoyed the recap. I know it’s been a while since I’ve given Mad Men its full recap due. But I was simply too inspired by this episode not to write about it. (I guess that sounds strange . . . that I was inspired by an episode that seemed to present such a bleak view of the way men view women in the workplace. :))

      You are right. “The Other Woman,” posed a lot of really interesting questions about morality, success, and what it means to be a strong woman, in a world dominated by men, like the one in which Joan, Peggy, and, to a lesser extent Megan inhabit. It’s the kind of episode you could spend months discussing, and still only barely scratch the surface of the issues presented here.

      Not to mention the acting in this episode was spectacular all around. In fact, it ranked right up there with last season’s “The Suitcase.” Something tells me this will be the episode that many of Mad Men’s cast and crew will be submitting for Emmy consideration. 🙂

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