From the beginning, as showrunner Matthew Weiner has oft pointed out in interviews, “Mad Men” is as much about Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss) as it is Don Draper (Jon Hamm). On Sunday’s (May 27) perfectly executed episode, Peggy Olsen — character — reached a very important point in her arc as a character. So did her one-time boss, Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks). And, not to leave him out, so did Don.
The episode’s recurring theme — as exemplified by SCDP’s work on the Jaguar pitch — was things that we want, beautiful things, that we chase but never attain. At the beginning of the episode, the metaphor is a mistress — someone “pretty, temperamental, out of our control” — that can’t be owned. By the end, there is no metaphor. The car is a car and the pitch (and the message) is, “At last, something beautiful you can truly own.”
And like most things that are subject to ownership, there’s a price involved. For Joan Harris, the price was giving herself — for one night — to a sloppy car dealer in exchange for what she sees as a stable future for her and baby Kevin: A full (non-silent) partnership and a 5 percent stake in the agency. Something she can truly own.
That price is too dear for Don who, thanks to an artful bit of timeline interruptus, tries to stop Joan from prostituting herself for the company. Too late, alas. And — if it wasn’t an epiphany for him, it was for the viewers. Don has a clear line in the moral sand. Despite treating women like disposable lighters for most of the show’s five seasons, he’s a stand up guy and doesn’t want to see his friend used as a sexual bargaining chip.
Peggy, too, has a price. After what felt like a bit of rushed irrelevancy (SCDP only got the Jaguar pitch in the previous episode), she seeks the counsel of one-time boss Freddy Rumsen (Joel Murray in a welcome cameo) and ends up interviewing at another agency. Not just any other agency. She’s accepted a job with Cutler, Gleason and Chaough — a competing agency where creative is headed up by Don’s nemesis, Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm). Her price? A $19,000 a year salary and a milkshake. And so she has something she can truly own. Or at least the promise of it: A career and success that will no longer leave any suspicions about whether she was just riding Don’s coattails.
Peggy’s quitting scene which — can we just say this right now — should for sure earn Elisabeth Moss an Emmy nominaiton, if not a win. As Don kisses her hand and she tears up, we’re truly reminded — and so are they — of how complex their relationship is. And it resonates with anyone who has ever had a profound mentor/mentee work relationship. So much of life happens in the workplace — the friendships and allies we build there come to feel like family — sometimes closer than family. Something tells me Peggy had a harder time telling Don she was leaving than she did telling her mother she was shacking up with Abe.
Still, everyone and no one ends up with what they want. The women Don respects and admires most — Megan, Peggy and Joan — all disappointed him in some way in “The Other Woman.” Maybe the message is that he’s finally learning how to rely on himself and not women when it comes to truly owning his own happiness.
He’s continuing to adapt to Megan’s need for independence and that’s a start.
Before wrapping up, Pete Campbell deserves a mention even if that mention is only to proclaim him the scuzziest blue blood of the year and go on record as saying that if someone has to go out a window or down an elevator shaft by season’s end, well, we won’t miss him.
With two episodes left in the season, there’s plenty left to be resolved, not the least of which is Lane’s embezzlement, which has yet to be discovered but is sitting in his office like a rotting fish with a stench continues to draw attention.
Okay — so what do you want to talk about re: “The Other Woman?”
And — informal poll — which of the “Joan should do it” conspirators most disappointed you: Pete, Lane, Roger Sterling or Bert Campbell?