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Culture, Recaps, Television

Mad Men: Season 5, Episode 11

I think that “The Other Woman” ranks up there with season three’s triumphant finale “Shut the Door, Have a Seat,” and season four’s wrenching “The Suitcase,” in terms of indelible storytelling. To me, “The Other Woman” was as much an exploration of the worth of women as it was about the character of men.

One Last Look

Joan has become the first female partner in Sterling Cooper’s history. She was not promoted because she has worked there for 13 years and without her everything would fall to pieces. Pete unsurprisingly acts like a creep, and has no qualms about using Joan as a bartering chip in the Jaguar deal, prostituting her out to the head of the dealer’s association.

Having already privately extended the company’s line of credit to save his own skin, Lane comes to her with a counter offer of partnership in the company to avoid having to give her 50 grand for her trouble.

And Joan, having courageously decided to raise Kevin on her own without any financial assistance from Roger, sees the long road and limited options ahead of her and devastatingly takes the deal.  Don is too late to stop her and he doesn’t even know it.

Don and Joan’s impromptu trip to the Jaguar dealership and their Christmas Waltz-scored comiseration session at the bar after Greg served her with divorce papers last week was one of the highlights of the season.  And not just because Joan stunningly took out her frustration on the model Mohawk plane and Meredith’s general idiocy. The scenes that the two shared together reminded me a lot of Don and Peggy’s soul-baring interaction’s in “The Suitcase.”

I can only think of a few other times Jon Hamm and Christina Hendricks have been on screen alone together. In season four after Don’s brief affair with Allison blows up and Joan has to man his phone, and in season three after Guy Mackendrick is injured in the John Deere incident.

I’ve always thought Don and Joan were kindred spirits. They both have these almost mythic persona’s that have been built up around them, Don as the untouchable creative genius and Joan as SCDP’s bombshell (for lack of a better term) queen of all she surveys. When they were around each other, they could let that wall drop a little bit. It’s hard to say where their relationship will go from here.

And Peggy has left the building altogether to go work for Ted Chaough, who before this we had only seen as Don’s smarmy nemesis. In another echo of “The Suitcase,” and Don and Peggy’s “you never say thank you,” “that’s what the money is for” exchange, Don literally throws cash in Peggy’s face when she wants if not all the credit, at least some acknowledgement for averting the crisis with Chevalier Blanc.

It’s the last straw, and she doesn’t want to be Don’s taken-for-granted punching bag anymore.  After taking out her anger on an undeserving Ken (who had cheered her on during the conference call),who references their pact again, she has lunch with Freddy Rumsen to talk about her future. And it was a good choice because if you think about it, Freddy helped her become the success she is today.

All the way back in season one, he was still off the wagon, but was smart enough to know that Peggy could work on the Belle Jolie campaign. When he truly hit rock bottom and couldn’t get it together to deliver a pitch to Samsonite, he got fired and Peggy got his position and his office.

Unlike a lot of the men of Sterling Cooper, Freddy was able to admit his failings to himself and others. He got the help he needed and he’s better for it. He tells Peggy that if Don wasn’t the one involved, he would tell her to leave too.

“The Other Woman” was an utterly heartbreaking episode, especially at the end when Don wouldn’t let go of Peggy’s hand.  It kept very much with theme of this season, that there’s no turning back now.

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