TV Review: Mad Men 5.11, ‘The Other Woman’

Oh, Peggy. Oh, Joan. Two of my favorite characters on TV, and one made a good choice in this episode, and the other made a bad one, and even now, I’m not sure which is which.

Chris Swanson


[rating: 5]

(WARNING: Significant spoilers follow!)

Oh, Peggy. Oh, Joan. Two of my favorite characters on TV, and one made a good choice in this episode, and the other made a bad one, and even now, I’m not sure which is which.

Let’s begin with Joan (Christina Hendricks). She’s been the backbone of SCDP since back in the day before DP were a part of it. And now she finds herself in a situation where a potential client has made an indecent proposal: he’ll support the agency getting the Jaguar contract if Joan sleeps with him. It rather makes one wonder what Jaguar thought of this episode.

We watch as she gets offered $50,000, a not-inconsiderable sum even today. But then Lane (Jared Harris) tells her she should hold out for a partnership and a 5% stake in the firm. He’s doing this for self-serving reasons, of course (he doesn’t want to have to try and extend the firm’s credit and possibly get caught for stealing money), but it’s still the better of two bad choices.

We are at first led to believe that Joan didn’t go through with it, or that she might back out. Don (John Hamm) even visits her at home to try and talk her out of it. But in a beautifully edited scene, we learn that by the time Don came to talk with Joan, she’d already followed through on her choice to sleep with the exec.

Joan’s actions through this episode were interesting and pragmatic, right down to her choice to keep, rather than throw away, the emerald necklace that she was given by the exec. I’m not sure that I would have made the choice she made, but I can understand why she made it. She’d hit a glass ceiling, and there was no way that she was going to advance any higher in the company without doing this or waiting the next decade or so.

Still, it was a brutal choice, and it really showcases how slimy Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) is that he made her aware that it was even a choice. A person of character would have basically told the exec where he could go, and made sure Joan never heard about it. But once the cat was out of the bag, well, while I think Roger, Burt, Lane and the others made a low choice, I can understand why they made it. Basically, this was a storyline that showed no one in the firm at their best, and I liked that.

Meantime, Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) has been feeling more and more unappreciated at the firm. She’s put in charge of all the firm’s business while the Jaguar preparations are made, but then has Don second-guessing her choices. She makes a good pitch to keep a client and then is on the receiving end of a hissy-fit from Don who actually throws money in her face. Yeah, he did that. Stay classy, Don Draper.

Peggy then meets with her old co-worker, Freddy Rumsen (Joel Murray). It’s perhaps worth noting that while Don helped develop Peggy’s career as a copywriter, it was Freddy who first spotted her potential. The two haven’t always head the best of relationships, but they do get along and he’s someone Peggy has at least some respect for. So when he pushes her to look at other firms, she takes him seriously.

Then she meets with Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm), though how you get “Shaw” from that mess of letters is beyond me. She tells him she wants $18,000 per year to come work for CGC. He then offers her even more on the condition that she not interview with anyone else. Peggy is overwhelmed by this, and even as the firm celebrates getting the Jaguar contract, she pulls Don aside and gives her notice.
I really loved the way that John Hamm and Elisabeth Moss handled that scene. Don clearly has deep, non-romantic feelings for Peggy and vice versa, and it’s clear that both of them realize that there should have been a better way to resolve the problem. But it’s also clear that both of them (Peggy more so), realize that at this point, there might be no other option.

It’s been very interesting to see the way that Peggy has grown and changed over the last five years, and I really hope that even if this is the end of Peggy at the firm, it’s not the end of her on the show. I’d really like to see how things go for her at CGC, where she’s being brought in as talent from day one.

But if this is the end of her on the show, at least it’s been a good ride, and it will be very interesting to see how the next two episodes, and the rest of the series, hold up absent one of the show’s strongest, most sympathetic characters.