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'Mad Men' recap: Season 5, Episode 11, 'The Other Woman'

Prostitution

"Don't be a stranger" -- Peggy Olson

I went to a wedding a few weeks ago, and the conversation at my table, as it often does, turned to "Mad Men."

A few guests were very adamant about Season 5; "lackluster" and "disappointing" were the most commonly used words. I've been back and forth about this season, but have always thought there has been more good moments than bad.

After last week's glaring misstep, I was getting worried. But tonight's beyond-excellent episode, which ranks right up there with episodes "The Suitcase" and "Shut the Door. Have a Seat," in terms of raw powerful storytelling, has reeled me back in.

It's not just that so much happened as SCDP feverishly prepped for the Big Jaguar Pitch. It's that everything happened in such a compelling way.

It's a few days before the crew has to pitch to Jaguar, in what Don has deemed a potential turning point for the agency. They need this thing, and need it now. Don has assembled a group of freelancers and Michael Ginsberg to brainstorm and things don't seem to be going well.

"Jaguar: The mistress who'll do things your wife wont."

"Jaguar: You'll love it when you're in it."

These are not Don Draper-approved taglines. At one point Don, in between drinks (he's drinking more than usual, which says something) yells "Get me some lines!" and you really feel his pain.

In the meantime, Pete and Ken have a schmoozing dinner with Herb, the head of the Dealers Association who is one of the deciding votes on which agency gets the Jaguar deal.

Herb makes it smarmy-clear (in terms that smarmy-Pete can understand) that he wants a night with Joan because she has red hair, is built like a B-52 and is, well, Joan.

The good-hearted Ken tries to play the "she's married" card and is disgusted by Herb's offer (Ken's a sensitive writer, after all, and actually acts like a human being). Pete, shockingly, is open to the proposition.

Ultimately, Ken succumbs to the pressure of wanting to land this big account: "Well, we wanted to be in the car business," he says. Ew. This pimp chat is part of being in the car business?

The next day, Pete goes to talk to Joan about what went down and does so in a very business-like way, even though it really is prostitution. And Joan is nobody's hooker.

"We're going to lose Jaguar unless an arrangement is made. And it involves you and Herb," Pete says.

"You're unbelievable," is Joan's understatement of the season. And Pete Campbell reaches a new low.

"You're talking about prostitution!" Joan says.

"I'm talking about business at a very high level. Was Cleopatra a prostitute? She was a queen. What would it take to make you a queen?" Pete says. See what I mean? New low.

"You couldn't afford it," Joan says.

At this point, I thought the discussion would stop, but Pete actually has the gall to call a freaking partners meeting to vote on the possible Herb-Joan merger.

"You have some nerve to even ask her!" Lane says. Don is similarly disgusted, voices his disdain and leaves the office without participating in the vote.

The worst offender is perhaps Roger Sterling, who at first seems upset but then when hearing that Pete wants to pay Joan $50,000 for her services, can only say, "I'm not going to stand in the way, but I'm not paying it." Really, Roger?

It's not surprising then when Lane goes to talk to Joan about how much money she could make, the first thing an embarrassed Joan asks is, "Roger Sterling participated in this discussion??" Gross.

Fans of Joan we're probably all thinking that she would in now way do this. First of all, she has to sleep with a dude named Herb, which I don't think anyone recommends. Secondly, she's Joan Harris and Joan Harris does not do this.

But after her chat with Lane, Joan decides she can do this, but it comes with a tremendous power play: She tells Pete she wants a partnership, and not a silent one. She wants 5 percent of the business. She wants documents by the end of the day.

Pete agrees, and actually offers his hand out for a shake (Pete Campbell No Soul Moment No. 45 of this episode) which Joan refuses to accept.

"Which one is he?" Joan asks, looking out at the Jaguar people.

"He's not bad," Pete responds.

"He's doing this," is Joan's counter.

It must be noted that in between these scenes, we see Pete read "Goodnight Moon" to his daughter at home and it does nothing to erase his boundless misogyny. He's also unfeeling when it goes to Trudy stressing that she wants a second child, when all he wants is his own apartment in Manhattan to work on the Jaguar deal, when we all know what that means is "his own apartment to fantasize about Rory Gilmore."

Moving on, Pete tells Don that the deal with Joan has gone through and Don is outraged. They finally have a good pitch for Jaguar, courtesy of Ginsberg ("At last, something beautiful you can truly own") but even without it, Don wouldn't stand for this.

Don goes to Joan's apartment to tell her not to do this. "I want to tell you it's not worth it. Who wants to be in business with people like that?" he says.

It's probably all that Joan wanted to here, someone doing, you know, the right thing instead of treating her like some sort of salable commodity available to the highest bidder.

"You're one of the good ones" she says and caresses his cheek.

You think this all went down before the big pitch, and that Joan will not go through with it. But in an inspired bit of editing, you later learn that Joan slept with Herb BEFORE Don got there -- he just missed her. Gut-wrenchingly perfect storytelling here. Heartbreaking and surprising, especially coming after Don and Joan's loving connection displayed in last week's episode.

Ultimately, thanks to Ginsberg's idea and Don's pitch-perfect sale, SCDP lands Jaguar. The best part of this episode: Joan entering the room with the other partners to hear the news and the look of utter shock and sadness Don gives her.

He's in no room to celebrate, but his day is about to get worse. He's losing Peggy.

Even though Peggy quitting has seemingly seemed inevitable this season (she's been pretty much unhappy the entire time, working on minor clients and getting ignored and taking advantage of by Don), there was no way to prepare for her actually telling Don, her mentor, her biggest advocate, that she's moving to another agency.

Earlier in the episode, Peggy and her team ran into Don office's to tell him news that she made a big save with men's cologne Chevalier Blanc, which was considering pulling their ads. This was in the middle of Don's big stress about Jaguar, and in the heat of the moment, Don throws money at Peggy's face and tells her to go to Paris if she wants to.

It seems to be the final straw. Peggy seeks the advice of SCDP escapee Freddy Rumsen (good to see you, Freddy!) who recommends that she moves on, take meetings, find a place that will respect and appreciate her.

It all happens so quickly. She meets with a rival agency, requests that she be made copy chief with an $18,000/yr. salary. The guy bumps it up $1,000 and she accepts.

After the company gets the call about Jaguar, and Don's accompanying empty feeling when he learns about Joan, he hopes for a calm moment in his office with Peggy.

He makes her a drink. She launches into a well-thought out statement. "That day you saw something in me, my life changed," she begins. "You treated me like a protege ... you were my mentor and champion, but...

"I think I've reached a point where its time for me to have a new experience. I'm giving my notice."

She's saying all the right things, but the emotional weight of the whole thing becomes overwhelming, especially after Don interprets this as her picking the right time to ask for a raise.

"I'm serious. It wasn't easy," Peggy says.

Tears -- tears! -- well up in Don Draper's eyes. He grabs her hand and gently kisses it. She starts to cry.

So does the viewer.

"Don't be stranger," she says and leaves. Is this really goodbye, even as Peggy looks back at the office she help built and smiles widely.

Peggy Olson, what a woman. Joan Harris, what a woman.

 

 

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