Monday, May 28, 2012

"Mad Men" recap: Ladies' night

Spoilers for this week's episode of "Mad Men" below. Don't click through if you don't want to know.

Well, that was absolutely devastating, wasn't it? In a single hour, Don Draper deals with the possibility of his wife leaving for three months, with his failure to prevent a woman he admires from doing something she'll likely regret, and with the departure of his protege and confidant. At the end, even though Don gets the Jaguar account, it feels like he's lost more than he's gained.

But even though all the decisions made by the women in this episode affect Don in some way, it really was about the women themselves taking charge of their lives and their careers. Even the Jaguar is feminized and sexualized in the agency's campaign, and turned into an a beautiful woman that fulfills the one function in a man's life that a flesh and blood female can't -- it can be possessed.

But none of the women in Don's life can be possessed or controlled. Megan balked at Don's attempts to make her into a female version of himself (though she was quite good at it) and instead is throwing herself into a career that will likely take her away from him for long periods of time. In fact, her independence and bravado in marching into the office for a pre-audition quickie are what inspires Ginsberg to come up with the Jaguar campaign. Everyone else is watching Megan's attention-hungry buddy pretend to be a Jaguar, while Ginsberg watches Don being toyed with by his wife and realizes that even his powerful boss probably wishes he could fully own his young bride.

Meanwhile, the other lady that Don nourished creatively is also leaving, though that probably has a lot to do with Don's behavior toward her. We've watched him trat her like a verbal punching bag for a few seasons now and his flinging the money in her face turns out to be the last straw. Peggy flourished under Don's tutelage, but, with his repeated refusal to show her the respect she craves, she feels she'll be better-suited at another agency (Oh, and Jon Hamm's nearly imperceptible wince at learning that Peggy is leaving to work for his obnoxious rival Teddy Chaough was absolutely perfect).

And then there's Joan. Sigh. Joan is a character who just seems bound and determined to break our hearts, isn't she? Though she's smarter than most of the men she works with and strong in so many ways, she's still been brainwashed by the mores of the time into undervaluing herself. She marries the odious Greg because she feels she has to be married to have value in society. Even after kicking Greg to the curb, she still hasn't shaken her tendency to sell herself short. And, of course, here, she's literally selling herself -- trading sex to the Jaguar dealer (heretofore referred to as the Jag-off) for his support on the account. She does it partly for financial security -- which is somewhat understandable, as she's a single mother of a young son in 1966 -- but she also decides to trade herself because her feelings have been hurt. She feels the men at the firm have let her down by treating her like a commodity.

At first, she's appalled when Pete approaches the idea, but can laugh it off because, well, it's Pete and everyone expects him to be creepy and disrespectful. But when Lane approaches her with the partnership idea, she releases that, he, too would be willing to trade her. Even Roger (whose support is far more grudging than Lane makes it sound) is willing to prostitute the mother of his child. So Joan decides to go through with the trade, leading to the most heart-breaking moment in this episode -- and, quite possibly in the history of this show.

Don finds out about the partnership deal and rushes to Joan's apartment to stop her. What follows is beautifully touching moment when Joan realizes one of the partners didn't let her down; that Don categorically rejected the idea of turning Joan out and the others voted in his absence. Don, her hero, came through for her. The admiration and tenderness on Christina Hendricks's face during this scene are just beautiful. But then, despite Don's speech, JOAN SLEEPS WITH THE JAGUAR GUY ANYWAY!!! At first, I was confused. Why was she doing this? She doesn't want to do it, and she knows she has the support of one of the more powerful and persuasive men at the firm. Well, as we learn in a crushing flashback, it turns out that Don was too late. His visit to the Harris digs took place AFTER her assignation with the Jag-off. Ugh. My guts are in knots just thinking about it.

And, of course, Don doesn't know he was too late, so, when he sees her in the partners meeting and realizes what happened, he feels ineffectual and heart-broken. And then, about two minutes later, Peggy takes the shattered pieces of his heart and does the Mexican hat dance on them. Oh, "Mad Men," why must you hurt me so?

Sigh. Anyway, here are some more thoughts on "The Other Woman":
  • Yay, Freddy Rumsen! Good to see Joel Murray back as Peggy's other mentor -- the one who treats her with affection and kindness. I like that Freddy is still in Peggy's life, and that he functions as a father figure to her in persuading her to leave the firm. Yeah, he's pretty open about the fact that he'll be gunning for her job once she leaves, but his encouragement of her ambition seems largely altruistic.
  • Also, when did older men stop calling young women "ballerina"? I kind of dig that as a term of endearment. It's much sweeter than "princess."
  • Lots of great reaction work from Jon Hamm in this episode -- from his sad look at Joan during the partners meeting to his admiring bitterness when Ginsberg, once again, comes up with a brilliant idea. And this one was actually brilliant, as opposed to the Sno-ball idea (which was cute -- and better than Don's pitch -- but not as awesome as everyone seemed to think). But probably my favorite wordless Hamm moment was him taking Peggy's extended hand and kissing it tenderly. Oof.
  • So, is Peggy going to take Ken with her? It doesn't look like it. What about their pact? Did she break it during her blow-up after the money-tossing? What will become of Ken? Will no one think of Ken Cosgrove??
  • Good Lord Pete is a weasel, isn't he? Not only is he the only one who would brazenly pitch the Jaguar proposition to Joan, but his method of doing it is really insulting -- acting like her refusal would make losing the Jaguar account her fault. He's equally crummy to Trudy, pitching the idea of an apartment in the city -- which we know he'll use in the manner of his creepy train buddy. If he continues to treat Trudy this way, here's hoping she picks up a guy in the parking lot of the station.
  • Wonder if Megan is having any second thoughts about that acting career after that call-back, in which she was basically treated as a piece of meat.


Bill Scurry said...

I thought that the idea of Peggy jumping ship was brought up abruptly, with little or no consideration. Even after we've seen her dealing with Don's disrespect, I never got the impression it was enough to drive her out the door. Here, it all occurs within 15 minutes. I mean, it makes sense, but storywise -- where are they going to go with this?

Also, it's nice to see David Milch veteran Gary Basaraba playing the Jaguar dealer.

Iscreen said...

While I am with you in wondering where this is going (Elisabeth Moss is basically the female lead -- they aren't just writing her out, I hope), I don't think it was abrupt. Remember, when they were forming the new agency Peggy was hesitant about joining because of the way Don treated her. He was able to sell her on staying, but she was seriously considering bailing then. Now, she has a few more years experience under her belt, Don's gotten increasingly dismissive of her and she has a bright young copywriter who can take her place creatively (and Freddy, of course, is willing to return to the leadership position he was in when she met him).
So I didn't really find it surprising. However, if Peggy goes the way of Sal, then I'll not only be shocked, I'll be mutinous.

Ms Andisue said...

I'm with you there - if Moss actually leaves the show I'll be so upset! However, her parting line, "Don't be a stranger", leads me to believe that we will be seeing Peggy again. She may just need a well deserved break. Funny, I don't miss January Jones at all but I'd really miss Moss. We'll have to wait and see.