MAD MEN Recap 10: The Other Woman

Girl, you really got me going, you got me so I don't know what I'm doing.

nullThe Other Woman may be the most disturbing episode of Mad Men ever. We've seen bad things happen to characters we love, some of their own doing. We've seen Don drink himself into a stupor, Roger lie the company almost into ruin, and Lane embezzle. We've seen the way both ambition and love can cause people to sacrifice themselves, but has anyone suffered more than Joan, or sacrificed more?

The fans have gone back and forth on Pete this season. In my recap for Signal 30, I called Pete a shit. I got some blowback from fans for that, and indeed, in subsequent episodes, Pete has again appeared more sympathetic. His pathetic adoration of Howard's wife, Beth, in Dark Shadows, touched people's hearts. But now I think more people will agree with my earlier assessment. Pete is a low-life and a shit, not just because he asked Joan to prostitute herself, but because he insisted there was nothing wrong with asking. Watch:

When Joan said "You couldn't afford it," it was not, in fact, a counter-offer, but a way of shutting Pete down; only Pete's insensitivity made him think otherwise. Pete takes seriously the old joke, often attributed to Winston Churchill: Churchill is said to have approached a lady at a party and ask, "Madame, would you sleep with me for one million pounds?" She agreed that she would. "Would you sleep with me for ten pounds?" he asked.  "Certainly not! What kind of girl do you think I am?" "Madame," he answered "We have already established what you are. Now we are merely discussing price." (I've read various versions of this story, with different price points.)

The joke has a serious underpinning, as so many jokes do. All women are whores, we are being told, and are merely negotiating price. Joan literally prostitutes herself for a partnership, but Gail, who "raised her to be admired," has been prostituting herself in her own way to Apollo, in exchange for household repairs. Megan must prostitute herself in a small way, by being displayed. Turning around and showing her ass has little or nothing to do with the callback; she thought she was safe because the director was "a fairy," but with three men on the couch it's clear she doesn't feel safe at all. At the office, her friend Julia is happy to sexually display herself to a roomful of writers in the hopes of getting a job as a Jaguar girl.

Even Peggy had money thrown at her, quite literally, and even Peggy knows she has to sell a woman's sexuality (Lady Godiva, "as naked as we are allowed to make her") to keep an account.

The most telling, most obvious, quote about the theme of this episode is what Don says in the Jaguar pitch, right down to the tagline:

Oh, this car. This thing, gentlemen. What price would we pay, what behavior would we forgive, if they weren’t pretty, if they weren’t temperamental, if they weren’t beyond our reach and a little out of our control? Would we love them like we do? Jaguar: At last something beautiful you can truly own.

While women are being prostituted, bought, and sold because they are things, the way beautiful, temperamental cars are things, men imagine they are the ones who suffer, because sometimes they can't quite control the transaction. The tagline itself is shown as being born from anger at women: Ginsberg sees Julia prancing and says "She just comes and goes as she pleases. Huh."

Why shouldn't she? I mean, she's human, isn't she? Isn't that what humans do—use self-will to make their own decisions? But to Ginsberg and many other men, a woman isn't a human, she's an object of desire, and her ability to make herself desirable and then still have self-will is enraging. To Ginsberg, the lyrics of the closing song (You Really Got Me by the Kinks) make him mad: "You really got me going" is something women do to men, which men can't control.

It's disturbing. The whole episode is disturbing, and Semi Chellas and Matt Weiner pull no punches, juxtaposing every inner cringe Joan experiences with the pitch so that there is no doubt they are the same thing. Don wants to control Megan and keep her home, Pete wants to control Trudy and 'put his foot down', his greatest anger being simply that he cannot get her to obey him, that she wants things he doesn't want. Pete, who wants a prostitute in a brothel to treat him like her king, cannot abide the fact that any woman has self-will. This is the same Pete who, in Episode 1.05: 5G, asked Trudy to sleep with an editor in order to get him published—no wonder he thinks Joan shouldn't be insulted.

But there's another quote that speaks to the heart of women being bought and sold. In the conference call about Chevalier Blanc, the client asks, "Why would a woman buy a man anything for Valentine’s Day?"

Why indeed? Valentine's Day is transactional: A man buys flowers or perfume or jewelry, a woman responds with sex. Men are the subjects, they have self-will; they make their selection and choose the purchase price, while women are the objects being purchased.

I could write for hours about this episode, but we really have to talk about Peggy.

Her decision has been a long time coming, and may be necessary. I mean, people didn't job-hop in the 1960s the way they do now, but advertising was its own animal, and as a career decision this was probably one hundred percent right.

Here's the thing: in business, you sell yourself. Ted Chauogh wants to hire Don's protégé, and he negotiates with Peggy over price and title. It's not sexual; Peggy's gender is not part of the transaction. Yet the negotiation perfectly parallels what Joan did with a percentage and a partnership. We all do sell ourselves for work, for ambition, to succeed.

Certainly a lot of feminist and other theory would tell us it's all prostitution: Marriage, dating, Valentine's Day, casting couches, and every other transaction in which men are the buyers. But when we look at it that way, we can forget how painful this particular act of prostitution is for Joan, and let's not forget that. Last episode we saw her say she has some control at work, and how important that's been for her. This wasn't just a sexual transaction, it was one that stripped Joan of her sense of control, of self-ownership, and left a dark place behind her eyes, brilliant portrayed by Christina Hendricks.

Meanwhile, Peggy sacrificed love for ambition, because truly, she and Don love each other: Watch him kiss her hand, and her choke up in response:

This clip parallels the end of Episode 4.07: The Suitcase. Don kisses the hand that he held then, he honors the love they share. But as Roger said last episode, it's every man for himself, there can be no loyalty in business.

Some additional thoughts:

  • Welcome back, Dale! Mark Kelly played copywriter Dale in one episode of each of the first three seasons, and was last seen stripped to his t-shirt after getting spattered with blood in Episode 3.06: Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency.
  • I'm giving quote of the week to Pete, because "It’s an epic poem for me to get home" is a gorgeous bit of hyperbole.
  • Ted Chaough, Freddy Rumsen, and a call back to Tom Vogel all in one episode (plus Dale). This season has been so great about connecting the dots to past seasons.

Deborah Lipp is the co-owner of Basket of Kisses, whose motto is "smart discussion about smart television." She is the author of six books, including "The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book."

Watch Mad Men Moments, a series of videos on Mad Men, produced by Indiewire Press Play.

22 thoughts on “MAD MEN RECAP 10: THE OTHER WOMAN”

  1. Wonderful recap Deborah. I know everyone is abuzz about Joan, but "we really have to talk about Peggy"!! I cried, I literally cried. I didn't think she could do it. I was so mad at Don when he threw that money in her face, but he's been mean to her before. I don't want to live in a MM world where Don doesn't have Peggy to be his conscience! Bold, brilliant episode. P.S. I'm really mad at Roger too.


  2. I think "she comes and goes as she pleases" (which was definitely a reference to Megan) had nothing to do with resentment or anger or bewilderment that a woman should have that power. I think it was simply the "aha" moment — the inspiration for the ad. Seeing the way Megan comes and goes and relating it to how this must affect Don, and, by extension how all "beautiful things" affect the men who attempt to own them, gave him the tagline. But it also gave him teh way "in". He didn't even bother to pitch it to the room — he just went straight to Don and described Don's own life to him in such a way as to make the "rightness" of the ad concept indisputable. I actually gave a little yelp of pleasure over that line, and over Don's reaction to it, because it was such a brilliantly clever little bit of writing and acting business.


  3. Sunday night’s episode was a game changer. Is this really the end of Peggy Olson at SCDP? How do the office dynamics change now that Joan is a partner? Will there be lingering resentment over how the firm won over Jaguar? We discuss all this and more on the latest Mad Cast podcast.


  4. Hi Matt, et al

    Appreciate all your wonderful words… this was the pitch perfect moment of Mad Men.

    just a mention:

    you need watch this ep again:

    "Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency"

    and then this

    "Guy Walks into a Psychiatrist's Office…

    So, this is the majestic episode.


  5. I lived in NYC for a while when I was just out of college, studying dance and trying to perform. Women at that time would sleep with managers of restaurants to get waitress gigs (I didn't, but I know some friends that did). It was that damn competitive to get a waitress job. Then, of course, there was the "casting couch." Some famous choreographers used that technique prior to hiring company members. This was real life, not a television show. In comparison, Joan has been compensated quite well. I did find this episode disturbing. But the situations I'm describing were true, not a fictional television show.


  6. I agree with most of Deborah Lip's comments. I'm surprised no one mentioned the parallel to Joan reactions when she was raped by Dr. Harris: in both cases she assumed a blank expression and then moved about as if she had vacated her body.


  7. I have always liked Pete. Don't know why.

    On the subject of prostitution, since it was, and still is, a male dominated society, it can be argued that women have always had to prostitute themselves to get things from men. Having said that, this was not the first time Joan has prostituted herself to get what she wants. She knows she has a killer body, and she uses it. Just as her mom did with Apollo. The difference this time, was that she wasn't in control.

    In the abstract, I am not so sure anyone should be offended at Pete's offer, as long as it's ONLY a business offer, and her job doesn't depend on it. As long as she has the right to say no, without any consequences, what's the big deal?

    It's amazing how nice Don treats some of the women he isn't sleeping with (ie his friend in California and Joan). There is definitely a nice guy under there trying to get out.

    I will say this, about this current season of MM. Up until last night, it has bored me to tears. I don't care about the soap opera. I care about watching the creative part of SCDP work, and up until last night, we saw precious little of that, particularly from Don. It's a shame that there are only 2 eps left, now that they FINALLY made it interesting. In fact, I have been so disappointed by the season thus far, I feel cheated.


  8. Throughout every season of Mad Men, I failed to see how Pete was a "shit", but after this episode, almost everything he said made me cringe. I hated seeing how he tried to manipulate Joan in her office, and that look on her face, she knew exactly what he was trying to do.

    One thing I was curious about was, what do you think Joans glance at Peggy as she left SCDP meant?


  9. Another marvelous episode in an unstoppable season. Thanks for the recapitulation, Deborah!

    Special notice is due to the production/costume design in "The Other Woman." The emerald colors of the necklace and Joan's robe — The blood reds of Herb's smoking jacket and bedcovers.

    The juxtaposed paths of Joan and Peggy are reaching a beautiful diversion. (A disgusting one, but you know what I mean.) All of these women are working to get what they deserve and paying such high prices — all in their personal lives. Joan is soliciting herself in order to reach security. Peggy is forfeiting a private existence for professional success, and it's seems to be what she wants at the moment. And the predicted ramifications of any progress for Megan are not pretty. To top it all off, Weiner&co. are probably smirking as so many viewers (myself included) cringe at Joan's solicitation while Sterling, Draper and others have used sex for the same type of result. Joan seems to own her partnership. She is confident. Am I wrong in thinking that this confidence could be rooted in her having to watch as these men fool around for so many years? The whole situation is lined with miles of careful, albeit disturbing, subtext. The final 20 minutes were produced with excellence. And this gender dynamic is complex to say the least. Peggy and Joan are both succeeding professionally at a personal cost. Like you say, it's all transactional. It's all business. Weiner&co. have been pushing that all season. It's both necessary and impossible to leave your work at work.


  10. I can't agree with your Pete hate and I don't think his actions in this episode justify your negative reaction to him in Signal 30.

    He's far more complicated than the little shit you think he is.

    At least he was an honest whore (and make no mistake, Pete has no problem with this because Pete is already a whore for business). No one but Don walked out of the room. Don — who propagates to the MASSES the objectification of women — he gets to keep the higher moral ground with Joan because its someone he likes.


  11. I was bounced from Deborah's site for making the same inference about Peggy that Deborah makes here. No complaints, it's her site.

    But one quick suggestion: it's not just women who are prostitutes, everyone has a price. When Sterling put on the Santa suit for Lee Garner, he was flat out whoring. Our Presidential candidates do it every day of the week, dropping their ideals for money at fundraisers.


  12. "Ted Chaough, Freddy Rumsen, and a call back to Tom Vogel all in one episode (plus Dale). This season has been so great about connecting the dots to past seasons."

    But where is Bryan Batt (Sal)?


  13. TF and Emilia, there was a problem in editing. My editor here at Press Play is absolutely fantastic and does a great job every week. But this week he inadvertently changed my meaning. Where I originally wrote "a lot of feminist and other theory," we ended up with simply "feminist theory."

    Naturally, feminist theory is not monolithic: There are multiple theories. In addition, I didn't mean to imply that *only* feminists would make this assessment. My intention was that *some* feminist *and other* theorists think this. It is not a swipe at feminism: Indeed, I am a feminist.

    What is the end goal? Change the world we live in so that it's no longer patriarchal and so that relationships are between equals. I don't expect ever to see that goal.


  14. "Certainly feminist theory would tell us it's all prostitution: Marriage, dating, Valentine's Day, casting couches, and every other transaction in which men are the buyers."

    So what is the point, then? Or the end goal of feminist theory… That women ought to only be in same-sex relationships? Remain single? Work exclusively with/for other women? …Otherwise they are being victimized?


  15. Why the broadbrush swipe at feminists? "Certainly feminist theory would tell us it's all prostitution"

    There are a very few fringe feminist that would tell you that love and marraige are the same as prostitution, the rest of us have regular lives and relationships that don't fit your cartoonish version of feminists.


  16. Ooops… did not see that there was a page two to your writings, so what I wrote seems rather redundant to what your thoughts were. Sorry for that. but agreed: could write a whole book on this episode. One other thought about Peggy. Her costumes have been so funky this whole season, but she seemed to exhibit a fashion paradigm shift the minute she met with the other agency and then when she went to give notice. Seems that she is truly entering the work place as a more mature woman. Let's not forget, she's been living with Abe as well now for a bit of time.


  17. Without knowing what the last episodes will be (is it almost the end of the season already?) I think this will be the episode that gets submitted to the award shows for best drama, writing, etc. This was a remarkable show and harkens back to the layers of character interpretation as seen in previous episodes in earlier seasons. Pete has always been inhabited a middle child syndrome: he is never as good as his brother, can never live up to his father's expectations. Trudy, early on in their marriage, exhibited the bravado Pete should have had at the office the early years of his career; she was the one strategizing what he should do to get ahead in Sterling Cooper and then at SCDP. At work, he is constantly shot down by Don and others. Asks for the bigger office, gets shot down, flirts with the girl in Signal 30 – shot down for a younger guy. One night stand with Beth, for which he fancies himself having a long term torrid affair – no go. Gets into a fight with Lane and loses. Even his bragging rights to his hifi set isn't met with the awe of his colleagues that I think he was expecting. He is always hoping to arrive at a false sense of accomplishment, imagined by him because he pits himself against a preconceived notion of what he should have or should be when he looks around and sees other men, men that he wonders why they get all the breaks but not himself. He reminds me of Iago in Othello, scheming and plotting to overthrow. And he puts Joan into the role of courtesan. There are so many layers to Pete as a character and Vincent K plays it magnificently. Don, as the only one, who really sees a paradigm shift amongst all the women in his life: Joan, Peggy, Megan, (Sally, for that matter – she is becoming a teenager!) or even when he speaks to the groupie at the Stones concert: "We worry about you". Yes, it was meant in a generational sense, but Don is looking around and seeing the women in his world moving ahead. This episode hightlights the season's poster, the two mannequins with the man dressed but the woman naked. I have spoken to many friends and on one level, this series is about the women and their roles in the workplace, and their evolution. Last week it was the frail receptionist telling Joan "you can't do that", a reference I believe, to the beginning of legislation in the workplace and it is Joan this week, going back to the world's oldest profession and with no recourse to file any kind of complaint. She is the complaint department; who would she take her issue up with, the men who have just voted unanimously to whore her out… oh, but only if it's ok with her? Is Peggy a prostitute in this episode as well, naming her price, getting it met and then getting to turn down another offer from Don? So one has a pimp and one manages her own affairs? Ginsburg is infatuated with Megan, first the $15 she owes him, then his voyeuristic stalking as she heads into Don's office… his connection to Don is already a bit creepy. Thinking he is as good as Don, but with a tinge of sarcasm to his respect towards Don and others. He almost reminds me of Pete, in his watching everyone around him going places he isn't and having a bitterness about it. But out of his envy (if you want to call it that) comes the inspiration for the Jaguar ad; he can not get the beautiful Megan. He can not get Don's respect or be treated as Don's equal. He puts himself in the ad as the man who could possibly get the car, although he can't get the life. And so here is Ginsburg placing himself in the ad and yet it is Peggy who is told she is so talented because with each ad, she puts herself in it. Sorry for the long diatribe. I believe this episode has so many layers and so many relationships going on, but I had to speak to these right now.


  18. I am glad you called this episode because I was at first very angry and then nauseous the whole time. I said outloud to my family (all men) "There's two partners that love her; they won't let her do this." And then Roger started talking and then Lane.

    Is there no disappointment that Joan won't be asked to bear in this show? Rape, a boy-man husband, people who underestimate her brains and now, being asked to be a prostitute? Her only saving grace (beyond that of a mother's sacrifice which, in the end, is what she did because she sure as hell didn't do it for the company) is Don. The look on her face when he told her he never agreed, his answer gave her strength. And then she allowed him to believe that nothing would happen and by the time he found out, it was done.

    It felt like dump on women night but maybe that was to remind us of the time we are watching in the coldest, cruelest terms.

    Don tossing money in Peggy's face even as she created more business for the firm.
    That idiot Julia who thought crawling on the table.
    Megan getting her "I'm an actress" comeuppance by having to twirl and swirl for the guys on the couch.

    At least we have Trudy who will not take any of Pete's crap.

    Oh and now, Peggy, who will take her pride and her talent, and leave. Even Don's kiss on her hand doesn't negate the minute-before-arrogance of him believing that every woman has a price.

    Very painful stuff.


  19. Your interpretation of Ginsberg is completely off. When he said "she comes and goes as she pleases" he wasn't even looking at the prancing girl, he was staring at Don's office door after Megan had arrived. Although I can't think of any examples of how he has blatantly stood up for women, he's not easily amused by photos of dead women and prancing girls.


  20. Was Joan forced to prostitute herself or what? If she wasn't . . . then she has no one else but herself to blame for acquiring a partnership in that manner.


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