In a game-changing episode, Peggy and Joan make momentous decisions, and Don makes the big pitch to Jaguar

By Adam B. Vary
Updated May 28, 2012 at 09:59 AM EDT
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Jordin Althaus/AMC

Mad Men

S5 E10
type
  • TV Show
network
  • AMC

Pardon me, I’m still in recovery. For a show that has prided itself on its sly subtlety (with the occasional foot mauling), last night’s episode of Mad Men was like a punch to the gut, followed by a nice roundhouse to the jaw, then a kick in the groin, followed by a steady stream of tears. Peggy quit. Don won Jaguar. Joan prostituted herself for a partnership in SCDP. And Pete discovered vast new depths in which to slither. I gasped more times than I can count, holding my mouth to my hand like a mid-afternoon soaps fiend, shocked and often appalled and occasionally heartbroken. For anyone who’s complained of late that precious little has been happening on this show since its killer first few episodes, I give you “The Other Woman.”

Because, really, the groundwork for so much of what happened last night was laid from the very start of the season. Peggy’s discontent stemmed all the way back to that first confrontation at Don’s birthday party, exploding most recently after Megan left SCDP just before the Cool Whip pitch. Pete’s easy depravity began after his teenage driving schoolmate spurned him for a young, tanned jock, and sunk deeper still after screwing his commuter colleague’s wife. The screws began to tighten on Joan’s life after she kicked her lousy husband out, and the pressure only increased after he had the nerve to serve her with divorce papers. As for Don, after spending so much of the season in a post-marital haze, he finally snapped back into his old self, for good and ill.

We opened in January, 1967. Just about six weeks had passed since Don gave his rousing St. Krishna’s Day speech to the troops, rallying them to the cause of winning the Jaguar account. And now? Don, Ginsberg, Stan, and three no-name freelancers were sitting in the conference room, surrounded by Jaguar bric-a-brac, still without a tagline. The campaign, Don would explain later to Megan, was about turning the knock against Jaguar — the damn things break down all the time — into a positive, using the gorgeous XK-E as the flagship for the campaign: This car is the one you get to enjoy on the side. This car is your fun, flashy, temperamental mistress. This car is “The Other Woman.” (Loved Megan’s astute, pointed reaction: “So, a wife is like a Buick in the garage?”)

It was a savvy idea. There was just one problem: “The client doesn’t want to hear the word ‘mistress,'” explained Don. Everything else about the word, though, was fair game — staggeringly so.

Herb Rennet (Gary Basaraba), the hefty owner of most of the Jaguar dealerships in the tri-state area, and one of three votes on who would win the account, had a very special request of Pete and Ken: Joan. “Built like a B-52,” he said, swirling his dark cognac. “I sure would like the opportunity to get to know her better.” Why not ask her out, asked Pete, wary of where the conversation was going. “Nah. I’m kind of shy,” Herb said, before laying out the stakes in stark terms. If Joan spent the night with him, he’d be happy. If not? “Well, no guarantees in life, right?” The request was so brazen, and delivered with such ease, that it felt as if the show had time-jumped back to the bracing sexism of its first season. A lot may be changing, but in a certain part of the world, not much had changed at all. It turns out, Lane’s ex-pat buddy was just the tip of the slimeball iceberg in the automotive world.

NEXT PAGE: Pete presents Herb’s offer to Joan

Ken was disgusted, and resigned to the fact the this was a line in the sand they would not cross. Pete, alas, had long since passed the line, having tasted the fruit of the forbidden woman himself, and become fixated on getting another bite. The next day, clad in an uncharacteristically jet black suit, Pete came in early. “I feel like I shouldn’t even bring this up,” Pete said to Joan, totally bringing it up. “In fact, I don’t know how to bring this up,” he continued, doing a fine job of bringing it up. “We’re going to lose Jaguar unless an arrangement is made and it involves you, and, well, Herb….It was quite conditional. A night with you, or no vote.” Joan was naturally indignant. But Pete kept pushing: “It seems to me that there’s something that could be worth a sacrifice. We’re talking about a night in your life. We’ve all had nights in our lives where we’ve made mistakes for free.” Wow, Pete. Wow.

Joan laid out her answer for Pete in her own stark terms — “You’re talking about prostitution” — but that did not dissuade him from delivering his coup de grace. “Do you consider Cleopatra a prostitute?” he asked as if it was flattery. “She was a queen. What would it take to make you a queen?”

Joan could have said, “Nothing.” She could have said, “Get the f— out of my office.” She could have taken the pen hanging from her neck and stabbed Pete in the eye. But Joan was a woman raised to be admired, and instead she gave Pete exactly what he was looking for: An opening. “I don’t think you could afford it,” she said. Granted, it was a tiny rhetorical opening, but it was all Pete needed.

Later that day, Pete briefed his partners on the proposition with devastating precision. He let everyone express their outrage at the request. He coolly explained that all Herb needed to do was say he couldn’t sell cars with their campaign, and the marketing rep and factory rep wouldn’t fight him. He characterized Joan’s reaction as “more amused than shocked,” and let the idea of bringing her “the right amount” trail off and burrow into everyone’s heads. “She said she’d do it?” asked Roger, incredulous. “She said we couldn’t afford it,” answered Pete, making Joan’s words sound like a price tag instead of a dismissal.

Don was absolutely against it. Joan had husband in Vietnam — awesome he didn’t betray her divorce here — and a kid at home. Besides, their work would win the day on its own merits. That was that. He left in a huff, slamming the door, giving Pete yet another opening. “How does everyone else feel?” he asked, floating a $50,000 offer to Joan before anyone had a chance to weigh in. Roger, still stricken by the idea that Joan would ever consider doing this, failed her. “I’m not going to stand in the way, but I’m not paying for it,” he said. Pete suggested sacrificing the Christmas bonuses for Joan’s…fee, as well as extending the company’s credit line. Without knowing it, Pete had cornered Lane, who muttered something about looking into the financial viability of the idea. Bert, Roger, and Lane left the office still disturbed by the conversation — “Don’t fool yourself,” said Roger, “this is some very dirty business” — but, in the end, Pete had won them over to his side, however begrudgingly. If it wasn’t such an utterly reprehensible act, I would almost be impressed at the skill with which he brought it off.

NEXT PAGE: Joan makes her choice, and Ginsberg cracks the Jaguar code — thanks to Megan

Pete wasn’t alone, though, in expertly executing some self-serving slight-of-hand. Desperate to save the Christmas bonus funds he’d laundered embezzled (my bad), Lane stepped into Joan’s office on the pretense of trying to talk her out of taking the offer. He floated the $50,000 by way of arguing that spending that much would be disastrous for the company. Joan was appalled that there had been any further discussion — especially that Roger had been involved — but, ever the realist, she also knew what that money would mean for her: “It’s four times what I make in a year.” Lane, though, had a different idea. Using a personal confession as a preamble — “every time someone’s asked me what I’ve wanted, I’ve never told them the truth” — he urged her to up her ask to a full, voting partnership, with a five percent stake in the company. Now that could “take care of a woman and a child for a lifetime.”

The implication, I think, was that at some point off camera, Joan had told Lane of her impending divorce, and he wasn’t afraid of playing that card to hook her. Did it matter that Lane genuinely cared for Joan’s well being, whereas Pete did not? Or that Lane wasn’t all that aware of how manipulative he was being, whereas Pete relished in it? I submit it didn’t. “Here I was thinking you were trying to stop this because you have feelings for me,” Joan said to Lane, facing yet another man trying to make her into the company whore. What was more devastating is that Joan let them.

With her mother barely any help at home — “Just hire someone, get a colored girl in here, they’re used to being bossed around” — and Joan convinced still that her infant son made her radioactive to all potential suitors, Joan made her decision. Clad in a dark, business-like dress with a red-jaguar print collar, she went to Pete’s office the day before the presentation, and echoed Lane’s request. “There’s no negotiation,” she said, her voice cold and empty. “I want documents by the end of the day.” Her only small victory: Denying Pete’s attempt at a handshake to close the deal.

Don, meanwhile, was still vexed by the Jaguar pitch, until an impromptu visit by Megan en route to her big audition sparked an idea — not in Don, but in Ginsberg. While Megan built up her confidence by letting her audition dress turn on her husband (and then some), Ginsberg observed, keenly, that Megan “just comes and goes as she pleases.” It was as if Ginsberg used that little bit of insight to intuit the next scene between Don and Megan, with Megan getting a callback, Don learning landing the gig would mean Megan relocating to Boston for three months, and Megan storming off when Don told her that would never happen. (I’m bumfuzzled, meanwhile, by Megan’s friend suddenly crawling on the conference table like a sexy jaguar, offering her body up as sexual caffeine for the dog-tired writers. It seemed to come out of nowhere, and felt grossly unnecessary other than to demonstrate Ginsberg’s laser focus on Don. I’d also note the suggestion that Ginsberg’s a latent homosexual, but I’m thinking he’s more like Mad Men‘s version of the asexual Sheldon Cooper — and who here ever expected a Mad Men recap to allude to The Big Bang Theory?)

From that initial observation about Don and Megan, Ginsberg made a true leap of inspiration, and pitched what ended up being the winning campaign to Don. Yes, Don’s disgust with Herb the Perv had put the kibosh on the whole “mistress” angle, but Ginsberg had been thinking about “the a–hole” who was going to buy the XK-E. He already has a bunch of beautiful things, or thinks he will one day. “One way or another, what he has isn’t enough,” said Ginsberg, speaking about his boss to his boss’ face and getting away with it. To sell this car to that kind of man, then, the tagline needed to be: “Jaguar. At last, something beautiful you can truly own.” Don closed his eyes and smiled. Eureka! They’d found it.

The campaign certainly resonated with Pete, what with Trudy c–k-blocking his attempts to get an apartment in New York (even if she remains oblivious to how awful her husband truly is, Trudy ain’t no fool). Pete felt confident telling Don that “all other impediments” had been removed from creative’s concept winning the day. Don’s gaze turned cold. Pete, savoring the victory, told Don the vote was four to zero in favor of Joan’s ask. “You abstained in absentia. The conversation doesn’t end just because you leave the room.” Don rushed out, but not before Pete twisted the knife: “It was her idea.”

NEXT PAGE: Don tries to ride to Joan’s last-minute rescue

Don may have snapped at his wife and Peggy (more on that in a bit), but now that the pitch was in solid shape, at least he would not forsake Joan. He showed up at her home. “I wanted to tell you it’s not worth it,” he told Joan. “If we don’t get Jaguar, so what? Who wants to be in business with people like that?” Joan was gobsmacked, and needed a moment to recover. At first, we were led to believe it was solely due to realizing that, despite what Pete had told her, Don hadn’t been on board. She took his face in her hands. “You’re a good one, aren’t you?”

But on the day of the pitch, we learned the real reason Joan was so staggered. As we listened to Don speak of deep beauty arousing deep emotions — of our natural longing for the unattainable, speeding by, just out of reach — we witnessed Joan go through with it: Arrive at Herb’s hotel room; accept his gift of a necklace with an emerald stone; endure Herb’s maladroit attempts at flattery (“I feel like a sultan of Arabia and my tent is graced with Helen of Troy”); keep Herb’s hand from groping her breasts, turning instead to slowly unzip her dress; and slink out of Herb’s bed after he had the nerve to tell her, “You’re a hell of a gal.”

“Oh, this car,” said Don in his pitch, “this thing, gentlemen — what price would we pay? What behavior would we forgive? If they weren’t pretty, if they weren’t temperamental, if they weren’t beyond our reach and a little out of our control, would we love them like we do?” The real thrill of seeing Don at long last back in full control of his faculties as an ad man was undercut by the ugly misogyny of the sentiment behind his words, words made flesh by Joan’s agonizing night. And then to learn that even Don’s heroic attempt to stop her was futile — that she had just come home from doing the deed when he arrived at her apartment — was almost too much for me to bear. My stomach sank watching Christina Hendricks again in that conversation with Don, her wide eyes full of weary remorse, knowing what that look really meant.

Much like her friend’s off-putting display in the conference room, the episode did not need to underline the point with Megan’s callback, in which three male strangers appreciated her audition dress for all the wrong reasons. But her subsequent talk with Don held what seemed to me to be an ominous moment. She told him she didn’t get the part, and gently reminded him that while she would choose him over acting, she would hate him for it. “You know I don’t want you to fail,” he assured her. “Good,” she said. “Because I’m not going to.” I don’t think she’s going to fail either. In fact, I get the distinct feeling that before the season is out, Don is going to have to decide whether he can let his wife pursue her dreams if it means giving up some (or all) of his own happiness.

But for the time being, there’s plenty to celebrate. The next day, the news began to trickle in that the other agencies in the hunt for Jaguar had been turned down. The phone rang for Roger. “I want all the partners in my office!” he commanded, and Don appeared mystified, and even hurt, when in walked Joan. But there was no time for recriminations. SCDP had won Jaguar. As the champagne popped outside, Pete needed names immediately so they could staff up for the work ahead. Lane panicked, asking to get a sense of the scope of the campaign, pushing Bert to say the words Lane least wanted to hear: “Is this about the bonuses again? There are no bonuses this year.” You better believe this ain’t going to end well for good ole Lane.

NEXT PAGE: Don goes too far with Peggy

While everyone who wasn’t Lane or Don was celebrating winning the life-changing account, Peggy had some life-changing news of her own. The moment had in truth been a long time coming, but we’ll just step back to the beginning of the episode and re-trace it from there. With everyone else hammering away at the Jaguar pitch, Don had entrusted Peggy to run the creative on all the other business. On one hand, it meant Peggy enjoyed more responsibility and autonomy than she’d ever had before. On the other hand, it meant Peggy endured seeing everyone else work on the ruby ring campaign whilst feasting upon lobster furnished by the Palm.

Peggy, however, was never one to shrink from a challenge. So she soldiered on, sitting in on a call with Chevalier Blanc Cologne, even though it was Ginsberg’s account, to keep them from pulling their ad now that sales had dropped off after the holidays. Harry noted Valentine’s Day was just around the corner, but the Chevalier suit was unimpressed: “Why would a woman buy anything for a man on Valentine’s Day?” Cue Peggy, demonstrating just why she is who she is, coming up on the spot with a brilliant re-imaginging of the A Hard Day’s Night spot for Chevalier. This time, Lady Godiva would save the leather-jacketed hero from his onslaught of screaming girls. The tagline: “It’s something about how… ‘The right woman loves Chevalier Blanc.'” Peggy’s triumph was smaller than Don’s return to fighting form, sure, but at least her pitch wasn’t cut with male chauvinism. (Yeah, Lady Godiva would be nude, but she was the hero of the piece, not the man.) Ken was so impressed, he gave Peggy a standing ovation.

Don, however, was not impressed — or, at least, he was still steaming over Herb the Perv. So when Peggy, Harry, and Ken delivered the good news to Don — including the ad’s new Parisian location — Don grumbled about being happy to get Ginsberg out of the office for the shoot. Peggy protested that it was her idea, and Don blew up. In front of Ken and Harry, he grabbed a wad of money from his pocket and threw it at her face, hitting her in the eye. “Jesus, Peggy, you know what, you want to go to Paris, here, go to Paris!”

The rest of the episode tried to build up some suspense over whether Don’s actions would push Peggy to leave the agency. First Ken tried to console her, promising he’d sweep her away to another firm, but Peggy was still raw, licking her wounds, and in no mood for her “stupid pact” with Ken: “Save your fiction for your stories.” Later, she caught up with her old mentor, Freddie Rumsen (good to see ya, Freddie!), who urged her to think like a businessperson and move on: “You’d let [Don] know you’re not some secretary from Brooklyn who’s dying to help out.” Again, Peggy hedged, her emotional connection to Don appearing to hold her back.

But there was little doubt in my mind that Don had done irrevocable damage to his relationship with Peggy, and that it was only a matter of whether Peggy would leave in this episode, or the next two. To have Peggy’s suitor be Don’s professional nemesis Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm) was a nice touch, but I don’t know if he needed to lay it on quite so thick, talking about being a “transparent eyeball” and not wanting a writer “who treat this like math,” saying all the right things about Peggy’s talents for avoiding cliché — and then up her salary quote by $1,000 (or just under $6,500 in 2010 dollars) with a promise of a meal at the chi chi French restaurant La Caravelle on her first day. Suffice it to say, Ted’s pitch was also a winner. “I think I need a chocolate shake,” said Peggy, who sounded like she was going to throw up.

NEXT PAGE: Peggy leaves Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce

The next day, the good news of the Jaguar account got in the way of Peggy giving Don the bad news, but only for a moment. Soured on the win after discovering Joan’s decision, Don was in no mood to celebrate. “You really have no idea when things are good, do you?” said Peggy, before walking with Don into his office, her eyes wide. He poured her a drink. She told him she needed to have a serious talk, and he thought it meant wanting to join the Jaguar account. “I can’t put a girl on Jaguar,” he sighed. “These car guys — I just can’t.” It’s not that, Peggy assured him. “Is this about Joan being made partner?” asked Don, inadvertently making Peggy’s task a little bit easier, since of course she had no idea about any of Joan’s situation.

Peggy downed her drink. “I want you to know that the day you saw something in me, my whole life changed,” she said, barely getting the words out. “And since then, it’s been my privilege to not only be at your side but to be treated like a protégé and for you to be my mentor and my champion.” Don had barely been any of these things for Peggy for the better part of a year, but I was suddenly reminded of the last meaningful moment in Don’s office between these two, when Don was more vulnerable, more emotionally naked, than he’d been with, well, anyone. The memory filled me with heavy, true ambivalence, wanting very much for Peggy to move on, and yet hoping somehow Don could win her back.

Don sat back in his chair. “But?”

“But I think I’ve reached a point where it’s time for me to have a new experience,” she said carefully. (I wonder if she’d written this out, maybe practiced the script with Abe the night before.) “I’m giving my notice. I’ve accepted another offer.” Don was disbelieving. He leaned forward. “Look, it’s been crazy around here, and I know I’ve taken you for granted, and, frankly, I’m impressed,” he said, turning on the Don Draper charm. “You finally picked the right moment to ask for a raise.”

It was too little, too late. “It’s time for me to move on,” said Peggy, softly, but firmly. “It wasn’t easy.”

“Oh, I’m sure it wasn’t,” said Don, with a mix of sarcasm and sincerity, the news finally sinking in. He asked where she was going, and Peggy knew there was no softening this blow. “Cutler Gleason and Chaough.”

Anger and hurt coursed through Don’s face. “Perfect. Well. Let’s pretend I’m not responsible for every single good thing that’s ever happened to you. And you tell me the number, or make one up, and I’ll beat it.” But there was no amount of money Don could throw at Peggy, literally or figuratively, that was going to win her back. “There’s no number,” she said, the kind of clear-cut language Joan should have used with Pete. “I’m sorry, but you know this is what you would do.” It was over. The only thing Don could do was to tell her the customary two weeks notice wasn’t necessary. She could — should — leave immediately.

“I understand,” Peggy said. She went in to shake Don’s hand, and, yup, I’m misting up now just thinking of what happened next: Don clasped her hand, and kissed it, slowly, as if in prayer. Tears streamed down Peggy’s face. She pulled her hand away, and her next words barely escaped her throat: “Don’t be a stranger.” (Elizabeth Moss, let your Emmy campaign start now.) Don, meanwhile, was so overcome with emotion, I was afraid that vein in his forehead was going to explode. Peggy grabbed a few things from her office — her thermos, her mug — and walked down the hall and out the door, with nary a goodbye to anyone. Joan was the only one to see her leave, but her expression was so enigmatic, I couldn’t tell if Joan knew Peggy was leaving leaving, and if she did, whether she was happy about it or not.

Wait, holy crap, you guys, Peggy quit the firm. I stand by what said before, that I knew Peggy would be leaving. But watching her grin as she entered the elevator over the Kinks anthem to the spellbinding power of women, “You Really Got Me,” I’m still in shock that she did it. Leaving the only job she’s ever known was likely the best thing for her, but I cannot fathom the idea of Mad Men without Peggy Olson. I dearly, desperately hope we will track her life outside of SCDP, perhaps see her pitch against Don, maybe even win business from him. The ’60s as we’ve come to know them really have invaded this show — life is changing, rapidly, disruptively, hurtling in new and alarming directions. There are only two episodes left, and I daresay we’re only in for more change before the season’s out, not less.

Your turn. What did you make of “The Other Woman”?

Episode Recaps

Mad Men

Jon Hamm stars as Don Draper in the Emmy-winning ’60s-set drama
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  • TV Show
seasons
  • 7
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  • In Season
network
  • AMC
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