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Friday, 5 of March of 2021

Mad Men – “The Other Woman”

“You’ve just seen that unattainable object speed by, just out of reach. Because they do that, don’t they? Beautiful things.”

Don kisses Peggy on the top of her hand.

These two are really into hands.

Ah, remember the halcyon days when Pete had even some tattered shreds of redeeming qualities? Did those days ever exist?

Pete’s cartoonish villainy aside (seriously, when the facial hair boom of the ’70s hits, he’s the only one that’s going to be sporting a Snidely Whiplash), the title of this episode harkens back to last season’s “The Beautiful Girls.” While we don’t have Ms. Blankenship (God rest her soul), Dr Faye (understandably), and Sally Draper (not understandably), we focus on the women at SCDP that represent the “mistress,” literally and figuratively, and catch up with some of the ladies we last saw in positions of upward mobility. And they still are. Depending on how you look at it.

And sometimes that filter has to be pretty disgusting to see it.

Did I mention that Pete is the living worst? Because he is.

Let’s look at the literal first with Joan because I want to get Pete’s slime out of the way. No, Pete didn’t get to sleep with Joan (as if) but Pete did pimp her out to a (married) high-ranking member at Jaguar who would decide the car’s advertising agency. Joanie’s story is a little murky since we cross some boundaries I’m not entirely convinced she would cross. As she willingly concedes to do this thing, this thing being the penis attached to a gross man at Jaguar America, for a stake in the company, you wonder where her conniving is. Is this the same Joan that used to wander the aisles of Sterling-Cooper, nothing but confidence stuffed into a flattering dress? Is this the same woman who told her husband to leave when he chose the welfare of his fellow soldiers over her?

From a different perspective, there is empowerment here that she may have used to convince herself that this was a thing she could do. In one evening, she could go from being the queen of the peons with no established power to a voting partner. Even if the creative is a hit, Joan could know, from Pete’s manipulation and Lane’s encouragement, she was instrumental in making SCDP a better place, even if it means offering her fancies this insidious man. She did. She brought the business home. So to speak.

The empowerment is the only angle I can see that Joan would even field this whole thing, particularly since she see’s it coming and even addresses it when Pete brings it up. He planted the seed but Joan watched him do it all the way and even let Lane water it. She let this thing grow. Sexual politics involving Joan have always been complicated since she’s always been in control of her situation, except for the one nagging time she was raped at work. She offered the same look on her face when she removed her dress for the Hairy Grossness in the hotel as she did with Greg on the floor in Don’s office. The only way I can look at this and make it make sense is by connecting these two as ways of her to improve to a higher eschalon, financially and socially. With Greg, allowing that to happen eventually led her to the traditional dream: being a wife, eventually a mother, and being looked after by an upstanding man in the community. This evening, this festering parody of a Sopranos character gets to look at her lovelies because she wants to gain toward a more progressive goal, one where sister is doing it for herself.

It’s revolting and you can see her regret when she looks at herself in the mirror. But there’s a softer side when she sees Don tell her that she doesn’t have to do it after she already did. Just as much as she’s doing this for her own position, she’s doing it for a company and a man she can believe in. He may not want it like this but, if she can offer this to him, she will and she does.

It’s a tender moment between Joan and Don when he pays her a visit at home in an episode where coming home lacks a lot of tenderness. The focus on Megan is short and sweet but contributes to the overall theme of women being treated like things (it’s, of course, no accident that the quote from above ends on a shot of Joan, just about to hide the salami, as he lands with “beautiful things”) as she is, maybe accidentally, auditioning to be a thing. Don’s presentation to Jaguar involves a mention of men flipping through the pages of Playboy and Esquire, skipping the “flesh” and seeing an add for a thing they can actually own, this car. The rest of it are things, too, just none of which they can materially possess.

Megan for most of the episode resists a yoke she feels Don is trying to put on her, one that keeps her at home and crushes her dreams. As she tries out for gigs, building confidence, trying to suppress the rejections and disappointments in the recent past, she gets to the final cut of a process only for the men in charge of casting to tell her to step forward and turn around. They want her model her body. For them, she is that thing that can’t be possessed but can be splayed across the stage for people to dream about possessing. All the arguments about this being her dream, about what the “job” is, about the craft, are washed away by a group of men that would hire her based on if shorty’s got a booty.

Lastly, and the opposite of least, is our girl Peggy in what is the culmination of her seasonal arc. After a season of falling short of being Don, being slighted by Don himself, getting replaced on major accounts by an advertising slogan savant (while being the lead on every other account), and constantly enduring the chaos and demoralization that comes with being in such an abusive relationship as she has with SCDP, she finally gives her notice.

While it’s disappointing that she’s so cold to Cosgrove, since he’s not the problem, it’s satisfying to see Peggy understand that she’ll never get out from Don’s shadow until she makes him notice and she can’t be Don when Don is still calling her shots. Peggy has always been Don’s other woman, no matter who was most meaningful woman of his romantic life. Peggy gets him. Which is how she knows what Don would do in her situation. Despite having all the responsibility she can handle and being the person Don’s can trust even if he never comes out and says it, she’s hit a glass ceiling that has nothing to do with her gender.

It’s important that Don makes time for Peggy, pulling her into his office when everyone else is celebrating. Sure, he doesn’t feel much like celebrating after the other partners went behind his back to convince Joan into, ostensibly, prostitution. But he makes time for her and even admires her momentarily while he thinks she’s finally got the guts to ask for what she wants. But she wants out. It’s the only way she can be who she wants to be. And Don’s fallen face, combined with the lingering kiss on the top of her hand (or her fingers — did he kiss the ring?) shows that he reacted exactly like she knew he would. You need to shake Don’s world in order to get his attention. And the sudden absence of that strength in his department, in his life (which is his department), is enough to bring him to his knees. Two weeks is too long to draw out the goodbye so she leaves effective immediately without even so much as a nod to her other role model, Joan, who isn’t so much a role model for Peggy anymore.

The thing about Peggy’s departure is that, and maybe I’m getting senitmental because I have that Evanescence song stuck in my head after watching the exorcist routine from So You Think You Can Dance, this may be a test of what Don said he would do in “Sit Down. Shut the Door.” Will Don spend the rest of his life trying to hire Peggy back? She knew, even then, that this relationship she had with Don was abusive. But she followed him anyway and went as far as she could.

The trip is that she does the thing that “other women” aren’t known to do and that is to walk out on her own strength. She strikes out on her own, wiggles out from under the thumb of the person pinning her in second place, and even gets the validation she always wanted from Don, even if he doesn’t say the words.

There’s no scene where the strong women step on the elevator together. Peggy does it by herself. Because, even if all the upwardly-bold women were together in “The Beautiful Girls,” Peggy is the only one no long under the pressure of her oppresser. She walks out with a smile to a nondiegetic soundtrack of the The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”. Well done, Peggy. Well done.

Other things:

  • Pete is the worst. I mean, seriously, the worst. He’s walking a fine line between soap opera villain and Joffrey from Game of Thrones. The “queen” bit from Pete might have been the worst thing he’s ever said to anyone. And, on top of that, he’s a jackass to his wife about needing an apartment in the city so he can shove himself into more house fraus. He had that one episode this season that made you feel for him and, after that, it’s been all dastardliness short of handing Cosgrove a grenadier bomb inside of a cake.
  • I love that Cosgrove is still the opposite, even still naive to the fact that Joan would ever offer her body to that creep show just to get Jaguar on board. Also: does the pact work in reverse? Is Cosgrove going to follow Peggy to her new firm?
  • There is no one sadder than Lane.
  • Are we supposed to assume that Ginsberg is the Beautiful Mind of advertising? Granted, the performance of Megan’s friend on the table was embarrassing and even I had to turn away a little bit but — is he a space alien?
  • This is Don’s first pitch I’ve actually liked in a long time. He hasn’t hit in a long time.
  • Emerald does look good on Joan.
  • “I feel like a sultan of Arabia my tent is graced with Helen of Troy.” “Those are two different stories.” But both stories of people being held against their will.
  • No one that says “let me see ’em” deserves to see ’em.
  • How many people immediately thought that the missing elevator from a few episodes back was going to come back and Peggy was about to step into a shaft?

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