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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Mad Men: "The Other Woman:

“The Other Woman” isn’t one of our beloved trio of female characters in the spotlight tonight. (Sorry, Trudy, your four lines of dialogue don’t quite elevate you onto this Mount Rushmore.) Instead, The Other Woman is a concept, an elusive, utterly insane notion of a Woman as Man wants her. This episode of Mad Men follows Joan, Megan, and Peggy as they all consciously try or try not to become the women the men of the show want them to be.

I think the quintessential scene in “The Other Woman” is the one in the conference room where Ginsberg hits on the tagline for Jaguar. Consider the setting. Megan’s friend is provocatively cavorting on the table to the delight of the freelance copywriters. She’s simultaneously sexualizing herself and submitting herself to the desires of the men around her. Ginsberg, who I really think might be an alien, is the only one not fixated on her. He’s observing the scene at a remove, which allows him to recognize the exact thing the Jaguar represents, it’s a beautiful thing which a man can not only own, but control. It’s truly his, in a way nothing else he wants can be.

Ginsberg might be the one who sees how men want to possess women, but it’s the other men who personify the wish. First and foremost is Jaguar’s creepy dealership president, who thinks Joan Harris is a prime cut of tenderloin he can point at and ask for at the butcher’s shop. The way Pete and the other partners, minus an absent Don, openly discuss the possibility of giving the guy what he wants makes for an incredibly icky, disturbing scene, second only to the smarmy way Pete first presents the offer to Joan, trying to make her out to be at fault for the loss of the account should she refuse. Pete seems to be taking revenge on womankind for Beth Dawes’ refusal to sleep with him on his own terms (remember his lament: “Why do they get to decide what’s going to happen?”)

While it’s tempting to applaud Don for his refusal to even entertain the possibility of Joan joining the world’s oldest, and his own mother’s profession, and to rue his, alas!, belated trip to the Harris home to stop it, Don doesn’t exactly crown himself with glory at home. You would think someone as, at least formerly, attuned to the creative life would realize that breaking into showbiz might require a little time away from the bright lights of Broadway. So it seems Megan might have been right when she yelled at Don for assuming she would fail at her “hobby”. I think we’re seeing here the divergence between what Don wants and what he thinks he wants. In Megan he’s trying unsuccessfully to merge the free-spirit of his mistresses, like Midge, with the housewife he had in Betty. That’s not going to end well. Who knows how Don will react if Megan ever lets him know what the casting calls are really like, with the leering eyes and all?

Don also breaks the camel’s back with the last straw of throwing money in Peggy’s face. (Is that what the money is for?) Peggy has been woefully underserved this season, and it seems like she’s noticed that too. Roger never buys her lobster, for one thing, and even when she saves Chevalier Blanc, they won’t let her near the car account because it’s still a man’s world baby. So on the advice of a still-sober Freddy Rumson, she decides to look around for a better offer. And really, any place where her boss isn’t someone who thinks he can withhold credit because he knows why she got really fat all that time ago would be better for Peggy.

Where do the women of Mad Men wind up at episode’s end? Megan, who could clearly have helped those freelance boys come to the right answer a lot sooner, is starting to clear space for her own needs inside of her marriage, even as doing so means opening herself up to the harsh judgment of the men who run the theater world. Joan now has the five-percent stake in SCDP that Lane swears will take care of her, baby Kevin, and all the broken refrigerators they can handle, but with that many people (all the partners and presumably Ken. Cosgrove. Accounts.) knowing how she got there, will she be able to handle it? It’s Peggy who comes out the best, descending triumphantly down Chekhov’s elevator shaft to the tune of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” after capturing her tearful farewell to Don with the perfect tagline: “Don’t be a stranger.”

Godpeed, Peggy Olsen, godspeed.

Other thoughts:

-Is this the last we’ll see of Peggy Olsen? I haven’t seen any reports in the press yet, but precedent would suggest that if she does come back it will be fleetingly. (Hopefully not as a member of a religious cult.) But Peggy feels more integral to the show’s story than Sal or Paul ever did. The only characters we’ve ever followed outside of the office are Don’s family, but technically we’re still following Megan after she left SCDP.

-Roger InsertMiddleNameHere Sterling, how could you? You’re only objection to Joanie sleeping with the client is that you don’t want to pay for it? I know you wanted to provide for your child’s future, but not like this, not like this.

-It’s almost as if Lane punching him in the face made Pete an even worse person, no?

-Was Lane encouraging Joan to push for a partnership more for her sake, or to save his goose from being cooked? And will they resolve his embezzlement in the last two episodes?

-How can Trudy Campbell be so innocent as to think that Manhattan is Pete’s “other woman”?

-Don must be feeling unmoored. His wife doesn’t want to be the wife he wants, the woman he most admired has now debased herself for money, and the only other woman he thought he could trust is leaving for his hated rival.

-I was going to point out how no one even considers that any women might buy a car, but then I thought about it and it seems most car commercials, at least for certain cars, are pretty exclusively targeted at men.

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