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Episode 11 - The Other Woman

1 June 2012

Credit AMC

This was a tremendous episode. Quite how good it was depends on whether you believe Joan would have done what she did and indeed if the partners would have stood by and accepted it. Let’s return to that issue at the end of the review.

Without it complicating things, everything else was pretty spectacular. The moral conflict played out in highly watchable fashion with Pete at his most sleazy bringing the offer to Joan in a “I don’t want to do this manner” and then pushing her into it. He then goes to the other partners and puts a big spin on things by claiming that Joan was happy to consider it.

Lane’s feelings for Joan and financial dilemmas put him in quite the Pontius Pilate situation. It wasn’t clear which weighed more heavily on him as he went to give her advice. In a way his suggestion of a partnership was a kind and sensible idea. However it felt like he was just desperate to stop her from being offered cash that he had already spent fixing his tax issues.

We also had the issue of Don walking out of the room. Since SCDP was formed he has felt like he is in charge. He is the one superstar the company has and with last year’s cigarette advert he demonstrated his belief that he should be allowed to make final decisions. So when he storms out of the meeting he assumes that the discussion is over. He doesn’t count on Pete’s growing influence and the desperation of the other men to land Jaguar.

With all these obstacles nicely cleared out of the way Joan decides to go through with it. Her acting was excellent as she steeled herself against the nagging of her conscience and slept with Herb. The pitch to Jaguar perfectly dovetailed with its campaign based on likening the car to a beautiful woman. The idea of telling men they could finally own the mistress that eludes them in real life is its own sleazy concept that taps into the dark side of male psychology just as Herb takes those thoughts to their logical extent.

The pitch is won and no one will ever know what it was that sealed it. As Joan is asked to lead the men out to celebrate a very uncomfortable set of smiles cover the acceptance of how she has become one of them. The trick of showing us Don’s plea for her not to do it out of order was clever. It made her eye closing look of disappointment take on a whole new meaning.

While Joan took the path that a soon to be divorced, single mother might take toward financial security, Peggy took another. Clearly this story was intended to show us that just as some women were breaking through glass ceilings, others were forced to do things in an old fashioned way. What was deeply sad for Joan was a wonderful moment for Peggy. She hasn’t seriously considered leaving Don. She has always feared that another boss wouldn’t give her the opportunities that he has. However times have changed and now it seems like without this move Don won’t ever see her as the way she wants to be. She is not allowed on the Jaguar pitch because the car world is a boy’s club. She is left to handle all other business but when she succeeds she is insulted or ignored.

When Teddy Chaough offers her both money and respect (instead of throwing it at her) she realises that Don isn’t the only one who will help her career. It’s a brave move and she gets up her nerve to tell Don. The scene that followed was beautifully written and acted. Alan Sepinwall referred to Don, essentially, going through the five stages of grief as Peggy quits. It’s an apt description as Don denies, gets angry, bargains and then heads into grief as he realises that she really is leaving. The hand kiss was brilliant. Earlier Joan refused to shake Pete’s hand when he offered it. Now Don also refuses. Instead of a shake he kisses her hand in a moment that was touching and then instantly desperate and pathetic. Don has already lost Meagan at work, lost something from Joan and now Peggy is going too. Work is about to become a much lonelier place for him and you can feel the regret he has at losing her.

Both the Joan and Peggy stories were emotive and executed with aplomb. I was tingling with anticipation and amazement throughout. The question now comes back though: was the Joan story realistic? I have seen debate on an epic scale unleashed on other websites about this and I see no easy answer.

Whenever a character does something extreme like this my instinct is to assume that it was done for story purposes and wasn’t a true reflection of the nature of that character. However people aren’t often given indecent proposals which would literally change their financial and professional future in one swoop. Can we all say with confidence we wouldn’t have done something similar? Joan is now facing life without a husband, a fate very different in 1967 than it would be in 2012. She also works at a firm where the riches of partnership would never be extended to her.

It’s worth considering her past history with Roger. She slept with the boss and although we never saw that directly affecting her career it certainly can’t have hurt. I should also mention that the initial pitch to Lane’s Jaguar contact saw the SDCP partners visit a whorehouse. It’s a very different situation when it’s someone you know of course, but the fact that sex was a prominent part of negotiations already tells you something.

Given all that does it make the situation more believable? Maybe. Pete’s manipulations helped oil the wheels of plot too. He told the partners that Joan was amenable and then told her that the partners were all happy with the idea.

Despite all of that though it seemed odd that we didn’t get any Roger and Joan scene. Would Roger really wash his hands of the decision the way he did? Especially as Joan then became a partner. We got no scene where Joan was welcomed aboard or introduced to the rest of the staff with this new position of authority. There was clearly no time for it all but that does somewhat take away from what an epic story this could have been. As mentioned above I could also imagine the partners not wanting to embarrass themselves or her by bringing up this shady business at all.

The C story in the episode saw Meagan go for an audition and meet the depressing reality that the casting agents were more concerned with her figure than her acting skills. We probably could have done without it frankly. The situation of women was already adequately addressed and the time could have been spent on Joan. It also meant Meagan and Don had yet another row which was then quickly resolved.

So how do I sum this up? I should note for the record that it has been a deeply sexual and sensational season so far. Practically every episode has involved some sort of sex act being key to the plot.

The episode was far from perfect but I would say it was the most dramatic episode of Mad Men from the two seasons I have covered. It presented and executed a story about two women with great skill and emotive power. I was gripped and despite the flaws still think it was quite the achievement.

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  • I do think it's Joan's character. It upsets me that after marrying a guy who raped and getting out of that marriage, she hasn't seemed to learned from that experience. Not yet, at least.

    Roger however was too easily swayed to agree/wipe his hand of the situation. Roger's protective to Joan almost to an extreme. I believe he'd be just as much against this as Don if not more so, especially since he knows Kevin is his baby. I did appreciate that he was first on Don's side till Pete lied/said Joan would do it if she was paid, but I really wanted more.

    P.S. I need Pete to get punched again or Trudy needs to leave him, love to hate is now being to turn into outright loathing.

    Posted by Derek, 01/06/2012 6:00pm (5 years ago)

  • Solid episode overall. I was as a woman so appalled at the suggestion but understood the dramatic underpinnngs and accepted that in MM's world this had a real possibility. I think Meghan's audition highlighted this nicely and backlit the idea of women using their sex(uality) to manipulate men for their own gain. Whether an account or a part. What is the difference? Would Joan have made a different decision if she had spoken to Don before she went through with it? I'm sure she saw the partnership's value and understood the value of the Jaquar account to the company and I would like to think that she would or at least could have declined for a one time windfall of $50K. Afterall she chose the company over her marriage.

    Viewer score: 80 / 100

    Posted by Yogabon, 01/06/2012 2:11am (5 years ago)

  • i like to add a few things about joan story.
    one of the side's of the "mad men" is showing how men and their opinion and judgments influence women's life(unfairly).Joan faces a big dilemma it was not just a financial issue.
    she was in a weak place because of divorce and you noticed that in previous episode.and we all know its easier to make a bad decision when we are sad.
    she thoughts lane really cares for her but he told her to go through with it.
    do you notice when she asked for roger's opinion?maybe she doesnt love him but he's the father of her child for god's sake!
    and don,well Don's opinion is important to every one!
    so she thought her friend,her child's father,the man she thinks like her,3 important men in her life along with every one else(pete/cooper),considered her for a prostitution.
    she didnt want to anyone knows about a suggestion at a first place,now she finds out they're ok with that!!!!!!
    and pete convinced her that they wont get the account if she doesnt sleep with that man.so top of all of that,she will be responsible for agency's failure.
    yes,at the end we all were disappointed...but it's mad men...it's not something you see to give you hope about life.it's not a series that tell you: hey be happy...good always win!

    Posted by maryam, 31/05/2012 10:42pm (5 years ago)

  • One of Mad Men's finest hours. Powerful, tragic, fantastic.

    Viewer score: 88 / 100

    Posted by jeremy, 29/05/2012 1:56am (5 years ago)

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