Mad Men, Season Five, Episode Eleven, "The Other Woman"
Well, this episode certainly redeemed the show, quality-wise, after the lousy one of last week. Joan and Peggy have always been at very different points on the spectrum of means for women to get ahead in business: Joan--despite being highly-intelligent and talented--has often used her sex appeal and Peggy has--despite Joan's advice in the show's very first episode--gone for using her brains and talent. Those differences were highlighted in heartbreaking ways in this installment. Season Five has repeatedly driven home the theme of commodification in American culture and this episode developed that motif masterfully. Advertising is all about selling and buying, and for decades has used sexy women and cars to create male consumers' desire for a product. This thoughtful script constructs a scenario to demonstrate how in the world of business and advertising, sexy women=cars; they are the objects to be bought and sold. AND, it uses advertising itself to critique that idea.
Both Joan and Peggy have furthered their careers tonight: Joan is now a partner at SCDP and Peggy has a new job as a chief copywriter for another agency at quite a good salary. One could argue that Peggy, too, had to sell herself--that everyone has to sell themselves in business. When Pete first pitches the idea to Joan, she says, "You're talkng about prostitution." "I'm talking about business--at a very high level," he retorts. Business=prostitution. But, anyone who thinks that Joan's transaction is not qualitatively different from Peggy's or any other person's business transactions has only to look at her eyes when Herb, the head of the Jaguar dealers' association, begins to undress her and when he talks to her in bed after they've had sex. Her eyes glaze over and focus nowhere; she is gone. This is a woman who was raped by her own fiancee. She knows what coerced sex is. And, this is it. She's not raped, but she is coerced. Not technically, of course. Bert Cooper even tells Pete Campbell, "Let her know she can still say 'no.'" But, the feminist philosopher, Marilyn Frye, has written of coercion that it involves someone being offered two bad options, the least bad of which is the one that the offerer wants the other to accept. This is what the partners do to Joan with their offer. She can either sleep with this man or tell the office why they have lost the account--on account of her. She can sleep with this man and get something that will really benefit her family. Joan knows that, despite her skills and contributions to the company, she'll never be made partner and have the kind of financial stability she and her son need. It's 1967. Yes, she'll be just another in a long line of women who slept their way up the ladder, but she will get up that ladder. So, she's chosen. No big deal. That's what Pete Campbell thinks: "We've come too far and are too close to turning this place into what it should be," he tells the partners minus Don. "Now, we're going to walk away? Over what?" This is nothing, he basically says. Roger--Joan's former lover and father of her child--terms it "dirty business," but won't stop it. Only Don--Don Draper, the former user of women extraordinaire--knows different and refuses to participate in the agency-as-pimp-enterprise. And, he's right--just look at Joan's eyes.
Don's pitch to the Jaguar men is fascinating. He develops the tag line that Michael Ginsberg came up with: "At Last. Something Beautiful You Can Truly Own." Michael and Don seem to have developed a rapport. Perhaps it comes from them intuitively knowing that they both have a troubled and secret past/childhood. Neither is bluebooded like Roger and Pete. Neither really fits in. This gives each an edge. I love Ginsberg's introduction of his idea to Don: "I kept imagining the asshole who's going to want this car." He, like Don, knows that for some people "nothing's enough." Don and Michael feel disdain for these people. They're the cynical ad men that Megan rails against earlier in the season. But, Don also has some profound psychological understanding of people. He understands desire and how he can use people's desire to his and his clients' advantage. But,in this pitch, he masterfully speaks truth about desire and how to work with it to sell cars AND critique his audience at the same time. He opens up talking about beauty: "when deep beauty is encountered, it arouses deep emotions. Because it creates a desire--as it is, by nature, unattainable." These beautiful things are always out of reach. The camera keeps cutting from Don's pitch to the scene of Joan with Herb in his hotel room the night before. And Don is explicitly targetting his campaign to those men who lust after just women's bodies. "I thought about a man of some means, reading Playboy or Esquire and flipping past the flesh to the shiny, painted curves of this car." At one level, we're supposed to see Joan as the beautiful "thing" that is desired--like the car. Herb--listening to Don's pitch--seems pretty pleased with himself. He is likely thinking that he got the woman he wanted and can have any Jaguar he wants. He sees himself as different than the man to whom Don is aiming the campaign, the man "who can have the Jaguar," but not the beautiful woman. And this is what advertisers always have to do--flatter their audience members. But, Don is also skewering Herb--whom he hopes he has kept Joan away from. For Don isn't just talking about beautiful women here. He refers to "deep beauty." Refers to "deep beauty" in the context of an ad about Jaguars--a car that he has admitted to others that he doesn't like. He doesn't think Jaguars are beautiful. And if they do have any beauty, it is just surface beauty. Joan, on the other hand, has the "deep beauty" that Don names. And, Don knows that Joan is deeply beautiful. We saw it in his interactions with her last episode. We saw it in his defense of her and his pleas not to sleep with Herb--who only sees her surface beauty. Joan's deep beauty has aroused deep emotions in Don--and they are not emotions that lead him to try to bed her. He is set apart from the other men in the episode in this recognition and it is a sign of how much his character has evolved. His reaction to his wife, who wants not only to pursue her dream, but perhaps to do it in a different city for awhile is at first to try to quash her. But then with Megan, too, he realizes that he cannot do that. And, this emerges in his pitch as well. He moves, at the end, from talking about cars to talking about Megan: "Oh, this car, this thing...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?" He's coming to recognize that women aren't necessarily his to control. Not Megan. And not Peggy either.
The scene between Peggy and Don was moving. She decided to take the high road and decide first if she really wanted to pursue another position, not just use it to "throw in Don's face" and get more respect and a raise. She made a good choice for her career, I think, and a good move to show Don that she's serious. Despite his arrogant "Let's pretend I'm not responsible for every good thing that ever happened to you," he seems stunned and saddened to have her go. When he took her proffered hand and kissed it, he seemed to be expressing his feeling for her and, perhaps, acknwledging some of her "deep beauty" that he can never truly possess. And, he lets her go. She, like Megan, is beyond his control. Don is in the process of becoming a liberated man, even as the women in his life are still constrained by the sexism they swim in.
I feel so sad for Joan and I will miss Peggy. I hope she's not off the show completely.