Mad Men s5 ep 11

Every season of Mad Men has one episode which is just that bit better than the others, its knockout blow, its ‘The Suitcase‘ or ‘Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency‘. ‘The Other Woman’, I think, is it for season 5.

SCDP is still intent on winning the Jaguar account, although the first thing I noticed about the opening scene, in which the creatives bat ideas around, is that Peggy isn’t in the room with them; she’s nominally in charge of all the firm’s non-Jag work, but that’s hardly the same. Pete, meantime, has a conversation with Herb, a Jaguar salesman who will be part of the selection process, during which it’s made clear that the price of Herb’s support is an “evening” with Joan. From here in, toxic though he is and repellant though the idea is, you’d have to say Pete plays a blinder: the way in which he turns the impossible into the inevitable is a masterclass in manipulation. Joan isn’t quite as definitive as she needed to be in closing the topic down, and ultimately names her price; Pete marginalises Don, the only partner to be irrevocably against the idea, and gets the others to agree.

Don then finds out what’s been going on and visits Joan’s apartment, trying to persuade her not to go through with it. This is, of course, a fantastic Don/Joan scene, although that goes without saying by now. And what follows is even better, as Don pitches to the Jaguar team, interspersed with Joan’s evening with Herb. There’s a bit of a twist as well: Mad Men doesn’t often use tricksy storytelling methods, which means that when it does you can be confident there’s a reason for it, and what it does here is to heighten our sympathy for both Don and Joan. He’s the good guy this time, and Joan – well, would she have gone through with it had Don’s visit predated her leaving the house?

This all contrasts in a number of ways with what’s happening to Peggy: Don is a very long way from being the good guy is in his dealings with her, and the moment when he throws money at her is as cruel as anything we’ve seen from him in a while. Peggy feels under-appreciated, so decides to see what she might be worth in her marketplace, and ultimately receives a job offer from Don’s old enemy Ted Chaough.

And although it’s a quiet week for Megan, there are, again, a couple of scenes which suggest both that her marriage to Don is both salvageable and doomed, depending how you want to read them: Don’s down on her winning a part in a play, because she’d need to go out of town, but then they appear to reconcile after a deeply uncomfortable callback, during which it’s hinted that there might be a casting couch in the room.

It all comes together brilliantly: Don’s pitch to Jaguar is, like last week’s speech in the office, a reminder that while his creative powers might be on the wane, his persuasive powers aren’t, although he could be forgiven for wondering whether he would have won the business had it not been for Joan. So he’s unhappy anyway, both for Joan and for himself; whereupon Peggy breaks the news to him that she’s leaving, and is emboldened by the news that Joan’s been made a partner. To start with Don’s a bit of a jerk about Peggy’s resignation, but then he realises that it’s not a negotiation, and says goodbye: this scene, frankly, is the best of the season so far, and it’s a highpoint for both Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss. Hamm, in particular, looks as if his heart is breaking. (Apparently Moss wasn’t told that Hamm would hold onto her hand and not let go; her tears thereafter were unfeigned.) But then she takes one last look at SCDP and leaves, and that smile to no-one at the end suggests that she’s doing the right thing.

Where this episode will fit into your personal Mad Men hall-of-fame probably depends on just how convincing you found Joan’s behaviour – putting the morality of the whole thing aside, was it something that Mrs Harris would do? Looking back on the episode now I’m not sure myself, but I bought it in the moment, and that’s probably enough. Where it leaves the show is another matter: Joan as partner isn’t a problem, because she runs the place anyway, but how comfortable will she be in partnership with a group of men who know how she got there? And the show can’t afford to lose Peggy, even if SCDP has. I wonder whether we might see another realignment of personnel before the end of the season. Once again, though, this was Mad Men at the top of its form, which is to say that it’s on a level no other show on TV can match.


4 thoughts on “Mad Men s5 ep 11

  1. Snoskred May 30, 2012 / 10:36 am

    hmm. I hated it. From beginning to end, I thought this episode was awful with one exception – Joan’s blue flower dress was awfully pretty.

    So we’ve gone from Don the man-whore to Joan the partner-whore. And I think the question for me is why does this bother me so much? Good television is meant to make you think. I’m not sure it is meant to make you want to put your fist through the television.

    I’m pretty angry and I wonder if it is just me. I’m angry at the guy that even asked in the first place. I’m angry at Pete for asking Joan. I’m angry at the partners for voting yes. I’m angry at Lane for not beating the cr*p out of Pete. again, for even suggesting it. I’m angry at Roger for allowing the mother of his child to be put in such a position.

    The only person I’m not angry with is Joan because I can certainly understand her reasons for what she did..

    Good on Peggy for getting the heck out of there, she should have done it a long time ago.

    I’m going to do some googling and see if anyone else is as mad as me..

  2. Jed Bartlet May 30, 2012 / 3:35 pm

    You’ll find quite a few people who are, Snoskred, although most of the anger/disappointment seems to be re the way in which Joan was written this week, and specifically the question of whether she would get to that point so quickly after Pete makes the approach. Which I’m troubled by as well.

    As for the men: I can totally see Pete doing it. He’s done worse. Lane, of course, is now in a situation in which the most important thing in his life is the financial wellbeing of SCDP, because he’s now put himself at serious risk of losing his job and going to jail. That might well outweigh his affection for Joan, and in any event he tries to buy his conscience off by suggesting terms to Joan. Bert’s so inscrutable that there’s no way of knowing how he’ll jump.

    Roger’s position is more difficult to parse. Joan’s been a bit snarky with him recently, but that wouldn’t be enough for him to endorse something like this.

    As for Peggy – she is indeed better off out of there, but she only knows the half of it. It might well have been the case that her mind was made up, but her resolve can only have been stiffened by the Jaguar party and the news of Joan’s promotion. If she knew why Joan was getting promoted, I don’t think she’d even have given Don the chance to say goodbye.

  3. CJ Cregg June 16, 2012 / 7:14 pm

    I thought it was brilliantly written but very upsetting to watch for the most part, but then that was the point. It’s always been a running theme of Mad Men that these men treat women and women’s bodies as something to be used and played with – think of the recent brothel scene as just one example – so I think there was a sad sort of logic in them going ahead with it. I was glad Don was so against it – but that again fits in with his attitudes towards the women close to him. If Don respects you, he cares about you and he’s protective towards you – hence his deeply moving scenes with both Joan and Peggy. I was only really surprised by Roger but then I guess the difference is Roger cares, but doesn’t really respect the women in his life. That’s why he didn’t like it but went along with it.

    Pete obviously just needs to be exterminated. He must be the most loathsome character on tv.

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