Mad Men – The Other Woman
We often talk of our things in female terms, we refer to those objects that we men own or have built as if they were women: boats, buildings, bridges, guns and automobiles. These anthropomorphic malapropisms, these turns of phrase form the thematic core of this weeks episode and it’s talk of sports cars, sexual deviance and male dominance; there is even a scene in which Trudy refers to the entire isle of Manhattan as Pete’s mistress, the other woman in their marriage. This may seem on the surface like a small topic for the show to tackle, a rather meaningless set of metaphors, but when you see them extended towards their extreme as they are in this episode you see that this could not be further from the truth; that their implications are intimately effecting and tragic in the extreme. In short, The Other Woman is a beauty, she’s one of the best episodes that the show has offered yet.
That title, The Other Woman is on point, talking as it is about both the car at the center of the episode and Don’s chain-link series of women, each of whom is seen as an ‘other’ by another deeper along the line. As this is Don’s show these women have all been defined in relation to him: Betty is his wife, Peggy is his protege, Joan is his unattainable equal and Megan is his new woman, his second chance at happiness; they are but shattered, scattered reflections of him. Not so any more though, this week all of the women in the world of Mad Men rebelled, daring to take their lives and differentiate them from the paths set forth in Don’s internal Dictionary.
The biggest change in the cast dynamic over the past few seasons is of course the outing of the old wife in favour of the younger, slimmer model in Megan. Though no one has much missed Betty Megan’s massive presence this year has been seen as coming at the expense of the shows Other Women and thus it has still been garnering much fan ire online; vicarious jealousy. She has though made the most of this screen time, coming into her own as a character every bit as complex as her veteran compatriots and her story this week was simply another step in this direction. Don took her on because she wasn’t weak easily wrapped up in wallpaper like Betty, but these same independent traits have been coming back to haunt him all year round; he loves her verve and vivaciousness when he is behind the wheel but at that speed it only takes a single rock or ditch to throw the whole thing into a tailspin.
This week Megan comes out and says in no uncertain terms that she wont be driven by Don any more, that she is an independent woman, a smart car if you will and even though this is exactly what he wanted it still destroys him a little. She has not only left the half of his life that takes place within the walls of the office, but now she is setting up her own second section in the theatre and somewhere in there she crossed his threshold of tolerable independence. Don is still only near the start of that journey though, he still has a lot of hurt and heartbreak to experience there and so its too hard to say either way what it will all mean. I’m not being pessimistic, it’s just that – to use Megan’s words – he’s a man who’s only good at auditions, the trouble truly starts when he gets the part andnthis particular play is still only in previews.
The only exception to this of course comes in the short statured form of his once protege Peggy. In a way Peggy is the woman that has been with him – the real him – the longest and perhaps this is because she is the one that he has the most tangible control over, given that it is contractual, him being her boss and all. So when she turns around and takes a meeting with another firm and doesn’t do it just so that she can use it against him as leverage in a later debate he truly breaks down, but this isn’t a sad moment, because really he deserved it. He had become entitled, he felt that because she owed him he owned her and thus she was unoffendable. Just as we treat our cars and couches and counter top benches badly sometimes, only to come back later to clean them till they were as good as new Don felt that he could simply wipe away all of his misdeeds with Peggy but that simply wasn’t the case, she is wearing still the scars of every wounding word and lash struck punishment that he threw her way unprovoked and she simply won’t take that any more.
The straw that broke her back was – and I don’t think this is just me having a dirty mind – the literal money shot that came midway through the episode; where, instead of the tender love that she had expected Peggy was hit crudely in the face by a wad of bills. It was sex, money, power and puerile wordplay all rendered perfectly into a single two second shot that two my mind summed up the entire episode better than this whole review has thus far. That Don wouldn’t shake her hand as she left, choosing instead to kiss it; denoting her as a woman first and a friend, employee and equal second sums up his thoughts similarly. Sexual politics have always been a big part of the show, but wow this week really took things to the next level on this front. Yes Peggy and Megan had some interesting scenes and some powerful moments but it was the Joan plot that all of us are going to remember.
She’s a red hot model, that Joan, we’ve known it all along and so has the show but this week it took all of that past ogling and slapped us in the face with it. There is so much to be said about the meaning of the firms men pimping her out in order to get an account that I really don’t know where to start, so I will instead speak about the emotional impact. The tragedy of the reveal that Don came too late was terrifically handled; it had all the impact and metaphor of Shakespeare’s late act miscommunications but delivered them in that subtle Mad Men way. By the time that Don got to her it was already too late; his good words may have restored her respect for these men and through them herself had he come just a few hours earlier, but now this big win of his has been broken and Joan, well her whole life, her whole character has been corrupted. And for what? The company as it is now known will probably self-destruct by the end of the season thanks to the Anglophiles creative accounting; she should have taken the 50k cash.
That whole storyline made for brutal viewing; each shot of Christina’s cold, glassy eyes a punch in the gut and yet the way that they wrote it was just so compelling. The conversations that she had with both Pete and Lane were fantastic, each of them trying to forward their own intentions without ever saying them outright, as if the misdirection made the act somehow less sinful. In Don’s world he would have made it their for a third, honest briefing and stopped her from going through with it, then he would have sold the pitch anyway and saved the firm, Megan passing the audition using his advice and Peggy kneeling by his desk slavering him with praise. This is what he wants from and for these women and he is, as Joan says, ‘one of the good ones’.
In striving for sexual equality and independence women have to make brave moves, they have to take chances and sometimes these will blow up in their faces ( not a euphemism, though…) but sometimes they will succeed. When you really think about it, as bad as it was to watch this failure, two out of three actually ain’t bad; as a whole the women of this world are now better off than they were before, they are making steps forward. We just need to remember to mourn the martyrs left in the wake of this most dramatic of wars; she was a terrifying but truly necessary one.