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'Mad Men' recap: Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce ... and Harris?!

Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) poses for a gallery

Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) poses for a gallery portrait of "Mad Men", Season 5. Credit: AMC

Now we move on to "The Other Woman," the 11th episode of "Mad Men's" fifth season and just two more to go. So much happened of consequence over these 60-plus minutes that it's hard to know where to start except with the obvious: This was about prostitution, or — to add a bit more subtlety to the equation — the endless variety of the barter-for-sex trade.

For example, Pete, Lane, Cooper and Roger bartered Joan. Joan bartered herself — after Lane explained how she should do the bartering. Don pretended to have clean hands even though he was beneficiary of everyone else's bartering:  even the Jaguar account was pitched via the most thinly veiled references to the world's oldest trade ("at last, something beautiful you can truly own .?.?.").

In point of fact, the tagline was about prostitution, but so was the subtext of the entire campaign. As Ginsberg pointed out, the "------" who could buy the car can already buy anything they want anyway. And recall Megs' precise deconstruction of the campaign during that chat with Don, who says the car is beautiful, but you need another one to get anywhere.

Megs: "You mean the wife is the Buick in the garage?"

That's right Megs: Joan, who slept with the craven pig from the Jag dealer's association, isn't just the "other woman” of the title, but the Jag is "the other woman," too. The mistress — or to use that quaint old chestnut, a "kept woman."

Don refused to use the word "mistress” in ads, but it's all just semantics. Ginsberg figured out how to thread the needle perfectly anyway. Another example in this episode of everyone else doing Don's dirty work for him.

The big theme of "Mad Men," meanwhile, remains perfectly intact: Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it. (And do Joan and Peggy, and maybe even Megs, know what they've signed up for?)

Let's break a few scenes down.

Peggy and the lobster: This scene is one of those clever cognitive dissonance ones "Mad Men” can so expertly weave. Your eyes are telling you one thing, but the information another. Peggy frowns as huge trays of lobster are rolled in. Why? Is Pegs allergic or something? (And recall, fish as a "Mad Men” symbol never portends a good development.)

No: Remember that scene a few seasons back, when Peggy had begun to gain weight? Ken joked that she looked like a lobster because her "weight is all in her tail." Pete then famously hauled off at him.

This episode is about Peggy's past as much as her future. But she's rueful because Don had just flippantly noted that she's in charge of everything until the boys are done with Jag. And there she stands, watching them tear into the feast. She's on the outside (literally) looking in; they're the ones of value; she's just the standby until Jag is done. She's a "kept woman," too, and knows it — like Megs' Buick at home in the garage.

Keep in mind this will all be revisited later on in one of the most pivotal scenes of the year (see below, the "Five second meet.")

" .?.?. business at a very high level .?.?." A classic "Men” scene, with Pete as bagman, bringing Joan Herb Rennett's offer of a night in the sack. Joan is appalled, and Pete merely deflects in his most perfectly oily manner: "I'm talking about business at a very high level. Do you consider Cleopatra a prostitute? What would it take to make you a queen?" Perfect: In one deft backward slide maneuver, Pete — who begins by saying Herb wants "something we're not prepared to give" -- turns this thing around entirely by comparing Joan to Elizabeth Taylor and telling her to name her price!

(It's an old Roger trick: Open up the wallet because everyone has a price. Why waste time?)

Joan bites: "You couldn't afford it .?.?."

Another way of saying — as Pete correctly observes later -- "Make me an offer."

The partners meet. Another classic scene — the five partners meet to discuss Joan, though they don't know what's coming. Pete blandly tells them that "I brought this subject up with Joan [and] she said we couldn't afford it." Don is aghast. Roger, of course, instantly flips through the various permutations in his brain and spits out what he sees as the principal flaw: " .?.?. plus, it's not a guarantee."

Don gets up, stalks out. We can win this business anyway, dammit! We're bigger than this!

But Don also knows that they are much smaller than this. He's even left  the pirates behind, and it's a question of not whether they're going to reject the offer — he knows they won't — but if they're going to divide the booty. Don, especially in this episode, has continued to work on that new mask he's been carefully constructing of himself. He's not just SCDP's creative chief; oh no, he's its moral conscience. Why resign Lucky Strike (even though Lucky Strike had resigned SCDP?)? Because the product hurt people! Don made a silk purse out of a sow's ear, and he's doing it again here.

He's washing his hands clean of this whole dirty business — even though he knows full well everyone else will get theirs dirty. Don wins either way.

The "five second meeting." Peggy, Harry and Ken come in to discuss Pegs' massive save with the Chevalier Blanc cologne campaign, and Don, in a foul mood, doesn't much want to hear. He's had a blind spot with this client anyway or maybe it reminds him of his own long-faded youth or inability to connect with youth.

In any event, this isn't a five-second meet but a two-second one — capped by Don tossing a bundle of bills right in Pegs' face. In that instant, Pegs makes up her mind to leave, making these two seconds monumental indeed.

This scene had been preceded by Pegs' anger after Don says Ginsberg would be back on Chevalier after he was done with Jag. Pegs responding: "I guess I'm not in charge of everything."

He then tosses the money in her face. "Go to Paris!" (That's where the campaign had worked so well before, she had explained. Don sees it as a scam for a fun trip.)

Lane and Joan meet. What more can you say about this gem — the most perfectly formed scene of the episode, at once funny AND pathetic? Faced with having to extract another $50,000 line of credit from the banker (which he already did to pay his back taxes by forging Don's name on a check), Lane instead spins an idea that will save his skin, or as he so eloquently dissembles to Joan, "I'm looking out for your interests and the company's."

So, instead of a $50GK one-night stand, he suggests partnership and a 5 percent stake.

Joan quaintly responds, "and here I thought you were trying to stop this because you had feelings for me."

Lane walks out, and wipes his mouth. He knows he either just slipped the noose from around his neck, or it just tightened.

"Little Murders." Yes, Megs gets a callback for "Little Murders," about to go into try-out in Boston. ("Murders," the old Jules Feiffer comedy, was an Off-Broadway hit at Circle in the Square for years in the early '70s.) She's clearly jumping ahead because, of course, she hasn't yet tried out for the part. When she does, her humiliation is just about complete. Turn around, honey, the three producers effectively tell her. It's a devastating scene and recalls Joan's prediction a few episodes ago — Megs will be a failed actress married to a rich husband.

Why did "Mad Men” repeat the scene with Don and Joan? That was odd, no? First, Don visits Joan to tell her she doesn't "have to do this" -- that is, spend the night with that vile creep Herb. As the scene is first placed, it seems like Don has simply emerged from that meet with Pete, who told him it was a done deal — Joan's gonna sleep with the guy.

In fact, Don arrives AFTER Joan has spent the night with him, as we later learn.

What's going on? I think this: the show wanted to manipulate viewers into thinking Don was the good guy, and that he was heroically trying to stop her before she prostituted herself. By repeating the scene, it was saying to viewers you've been had! Don came by her apartment after she'd done the deed, and he knew she had already done the deed.

It was Don's way of securing the high moral ground — again — and scoring one over Pete, who is now, after all, the office pimp and someone who will also take full credit for winning Jaguar. Smart move by Don because he now knows that Joan is a FULL voting partner. He needs an ally — particularly an ally against Pete — and this little stunt helps him to secure it.

You see this episode really is about prostitution, with Don prostituting himself as well. "You're a good one, aren't you?" Joan pats him on the cheek. Oh yes, you are a good one, you are, Mr. Draper.

Ted Chaough of Cutler Gleason and Chaough finally gets his woman. Poor, sad Ted Chaough, through the intermediation of poor, sad Freddy Rumsen, finally gets someone from SCDP to jump ship. And Peggy's the one. Peggy, of course, doesn't know what she's gotten herself into. Chaough despises Don (as does Freddy), his hated rival, who once duped his agency into producing an expensive Honda campaign. Chaough has sought revenge over several seasons now, and looks like he finally has it.

"You must have heard some pretty terrible things about me from Don," he begins. Well, duh Ted. Who hasn't? He quotes that Ralph Waldo Emerson line, "I become a transparent eyeball," and bastardizes its meaning perfectly to fit his view of advertising — that you must let the world pass through you. (The fuller context of Emerson's quote from "Nature" -- "I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part and parcel of God." Right: Emerson was clearly thinking about selling Clearasil when he wrote this.)

And thus flattered, Peggy falls right into Ted's trap. Tell me a number, he says. She writes one instead. Of course it's too low, and he exceeds it. Everyone's got their price — Don clearly has his, Peggy hers and Ted's his.

The upshot is, she leaves SCDP, standing at the elevator, a broad grin sneaks across her face. Pegs isn't happy about the new job; she's happy that for once, Don has opened his heart to her. He bends and kisses her hand — a tender and chivalrous moment while she holds back tears.

And what beckons at Cutler Gleason and Chaough? Nothing good. Ted's a bandit like everyone else in the business and Pegs will be suffering under his lash before long. Maybe on a tobacco account even? Recall Don's line in the famous newspaper ad, when he claimed to have dropped Lucky Strike: "Here’s a list of agencies that do it [cigarette advertising] well: BBDO, Leo Burnett, McCann Erickson, Cutler Gleason & Chaough, and Benton & Bowles."

Yup, smoke's about to get in Peggy's eyes. Maybe her price wasn't quite high enough.


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