Mad Men Season 5 Episode 11 – The Other Woman

All of the action on tonight’s episode of Mad Men was centred around Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s pitch to Jaguar cars for their business, but the real developments were concerned with the progression of the female characters. Set in the 1960s, one of the primary focuses of the show has been gender inequality and the treatment of women as second-class citizens in all aspects of life. The struggle to gain acceptance in a man’s world on the series has been portrayed primarily through the career development of Peggy Olson, though Joan Harris and Megan Draper are also strong women, who have shown this season they are willing to defend themselves and their rights.

Freelancers have been brought in to SCDP to work on the Jaguar presentation, as Don will not put Peggy in the line of fire with chauvinistic men from the car company, leaving her to cover everything else. Miss Olson finds herself literally on the outside looking in on the biggest development at the firm and has to witness a Roger Sterling-bought lunch of lobsters being delivered to the conference room to the cheers of all the guys – even Ginsberg, although I thought shellfish was not kosher. When Chevalier Blanc calls into the office to pull their advertising slots, Peggy proves her worth by coming up with a new spot set in Paris that convinces the client to spend more money, rather than less. However, when this news is taken to Don, he speaks of Ginsberg being free to make the trip once Jaguar is complete – much to the chagrin of his protegé, who rightly believes she deserves the plaudits – and benefits – from the increase in business. Draper’s response is to toss some cash at Peggy so that she can go to Paris – treating her no differently to how the other partners act towards Joan in the other major storyline of the episode – which only adds to her fury.

A conversation with Fred Rumsen – former Sterling Cooper employee and the first person there to see her potential – convinces Peggy to search other offers. One comes from Ted Chaough – Don’s want-to-be nemesis from last season – who is willing to pay her more than she originally asks for, thus making Miss Olson feel valued and giving her the recognition she has craved. When she informs Draper of her decision to move on for the good of her career, he acts no differently than before and only tries to throw money at her – though this time not literally at least – in the form of counter-offer. It is not good enough for Peggy and, by the end of the hour, she has picked up a few possessions and is on her way out of the agency with a smile – soundtracked by The Kinks “You Really Got Me” and the destiny of being SCDP’s competition. In the season 3 finale, Don told his mentee that, if she decided not to join them in their new agency, he would spend the rest of his life trying to hire her. It remains to be seen if he will be able to forego his anger at Peggy’s perceived treachery to now follow through on that promise.

As Peggy – the first female copywriter at Sterling Cooper – departs, so Joan Harris became the first woman to make partner at SCDP, though her route to the position was not the one she would have chosen. At a meeting with one of the heads of the Dealer Association, Herb Rennett, Ken Cosgrove and Pete Campbell discover that his price for support of their pitch with Jaguar is a night with their office manager. Although Ken is ready to dismiss the notion as completely unacceptable, Pete – of course – wants to win the business more than he cares about any ethical issues and takes the suggestion to Joan. Seeing through his salesman’s patter, Mrs. Harris ejects him from her office, but this does not deter Campbell from approaching the other partners with the idea. Don is completely against such a move and walks out of the meeting, declaring they can win without Herb’s support; Roger is in favour, if it does not personally cost him; Bert Cooper only talks of the importance of the agency having a car company as a client; while Lane Pryce is trying to secure his Christmas bonus, as last week he prematurely wrote himself the check and paid off his tax bill with it. When Campbell suggests that he extend their credit line so that they can make an offer to Joan – a move the Englishman already made with the bank to fund his subterfuge – Lane has to think on his feet and approaches Joan himself. Being more subtle than Campbell, Pryce acts as if he is concerned with what is best for her and, if she were to go through with it, states that her best course would be to demand a partnership and 5% stake of SCDP, not just a one-off payment.

Although he is only doing this in the interest of self-preservation, Lane convinces Joan and she takes this non-negotiable deal to Pete, agreeing to go through with it. She does this with the belief that all of the partners had been in agreement of offering her cash to do so in the first place, but Don was not aware that the conversation had continued after he had left the room and when he discovers that Mrs. Harris is going through with the encounter with Herb, he rushes to her apartment in an attempt to dissuade her from doing so. Joan seems to be convinced not to go through with it and is touched by Don’s caring, calling him one of the good guys, but as we watch the pitch to Jaguar, we also see her meeting Herb in a hotel room. At the end of the scene, it is revealed that Draper arrived too late, as she had already got back from the rendezvous.

Don is disappointed when Joan comes in to a gathering of the partners as they receive the phone call from Jaguar telling them they have won the business – the question is whether his upset is that she spent the night with Herb, or because it might have been Joan’s body which won the account, rather than his presentation. Last week’s episode showed a strong chemistry between the two of them and I believe that, although Draper always wants his pitches to be the reason the agency succeeds, his chagrin was more to do with his fondness for Joan. During the meeting with Jaguar, Draper may have ostensibly been talking about their car products, but when he spoke about something you admire and want over a long-period of time, it seemed as though Mrs. Harris was what he was thinking about.

In the early seasons of the show, Don appeared to have his pick of women and was in control of all aspects of his life. Now: Peggy is resigning to join the competition; Joan is spending the night with a client to make partner; and Megan is auditioning for roles that would take her away from him to Boston for three months. However, most of this was avoidable: Miss. Olson should have been given more respect and power a long time ago; Mrs. Harris was worthy of being his equal at the agency from the very beginning; and, well acting jobs are where they are so not much he could have done about Megan, except for Don actually supporting her dream, as he has claimed he does.

A few other thoughts on the episode:

  • Although Pete Campbell’s work is improving with the acquisition of Jaguar, he is still unsatisfied with his home-life – he tells Trudy that he wants to get an apartment in the city, claiming it would be for his work, but she dismisses the idea and tells him they should be trying for a second child. The idea of having a place to stay in Manhattan was one Pete got from Howard, his “friend” on the train whose wife he slept with in Lady Lazarus.
  • Once again, it is Ginsberg who is able to come up with the best idea for the Jaguar presentation – his line of “Jaguar: at last something beautiful you can actually own” forced Don to smile wryly as he realised how good it was. It was still an impressive pitch by Draper, if not quite at the level of “The Carousel” from Season 1.
  • Try as he might to protect them, Lane may have to accept defeat on the Christmas bonuses, as Bert Cooper tells him that next year will be the time for extravagance. Joan’s new-found position of strength may well be consolidated if she discovers his deception and reveals it to the other partners.
  • Ken Cosgrove is perhaps the nicest character on the show and it was a shame that Peggy was mean to him – and made fun of his story writing – when he checked she was okay after Don had thrown money at her. The two of them had a pact that if one of them was leaving the firm, they would ensure that the other would go as well, yet Peggy was willing to abscond without so much of a thought for her supposed friend.

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