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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

May 29, 2012 at 9:45 AM

Mad Men Monday (on Tuesday): Three women

It’s just as well, I think, that yesterday was a holiday; it took me at least 24 hours to digest Sunday’s night’s dazzling, heartbreaking episode. I watched it a second time on Monday and it hit me just as hard. “The Other Woman” was a story of the two women of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (with Megan as an echoing subsidiary plot): Joan and Peggy, as we know, are both gems beyond price, but this episode put a dollar amount on them both. Joan was initially repulsed by an offer to prostitute herself for the good of the firm, but came around (not without some revolting game-playing and deception from her colleagues) when she realized it could benefit her as well; Peggy, long frustrated by Don taking her for granted, met with the anti-Don (Ted Chaough, whose last name fascinates me) and found her price: $19,000. “There’s no number,” she told Don; there was, and there wasn’t.
Joan’s story first — and bravo to Christina Hendricks, this series’ quiet MVP. This subplot, in which a cheesy Jaguar bigwig indicated that a night with Joan might go far to secure his vote for the ad campaign, unfolded as a masterfully slimy display of manipulation by Pete (well done, Vincent Kartheiser). Pete relayed to Joan an edited version of the “offer,” and when she dismissed him with cool indifference (which is how Joan, at least at the office, responds to everything), returned to the partners saying that she wasn’t shocked and that was all a matter of price. All but Don promptly revealed themselves to be nearly as slimy as Pete; worst of all Lane, who pretended to be Joan’s friend but was really concealing his own fear of being discovered (after last week’s financial skullduggery). Lane convinced Joan to ask for a partnership; Joan, seeing a glimpse of a stable life in which she didn’t have to rely on her mother (another master manipulator, btw) for free child care, finally entered the negotiations and carried out the plan, selling herself for an emerald necklace and a place at the SCDP partners’ table. I felt physically sickened by seeing Hendricks’ expression as Joan lay in that hotel-room bed — and, later, when she learned that Don was on her side after all, but too late. (Very, very nice time-twist there.) Later, she calmly entered the room with the other partners, looking every inch her unruffled self — but was it too high a price to pay? Did she really have a choice? Was Don’s concern entirely for Joan, or did it partly stem from his wanting to win the account on creative alone? How will it be for Joan to sit at that table in the future, knowing how she got there? Is Joan now that beautiful thing that SCDP truly owns?
Peggy, meanwhile, was caught gazing in the conference-room window as a lobster lunch was delivered for the boys on the Jaguar account — not for the girl who’s nominally “in charge” of everything else. We watched as Peggy, on the spot, saved the day for another account, and was then insulted by Don, who tossed money at her dismissively. (An echo of what the company did to Joan.) Fed up, and recognizing her worth, Peggy finally took the step we’ve been waiting for her to do for a while now: She gave notice. In a scene that will go down as one of the great “Mad Men” moments, Don didn’t entirely grasp what was going on until it was too late (again, like Joan), and his wordless kiss of Peggy’s hand, coupled with her choked-out “Don’t be a stranger,” spoke volumes. I was interpreting Peggy’s stricken look, as she gathered her things, as one of regret, but her sudden grin in the elevator indicated that she’s ready to fly away. Does that mean that “Mad Men” will now have a subplot that lets us see how a non-SCDP agency works, and how Peggy might be treated in a place where she came in as a star, not a secretary? I’m hoping so.
Meanwhile, Megan’s still auditioning — and, fitting in with the theme of this episode, was appraised at a callback as if selling her body. I’m still wondering whether we’re supposed to believe that Megan is a good actress, or whether she’s just playing with the idea; it’s telling that the show doesn’t let us see her audition. I didn’t quite buy that Megan would blithely tell Don that she’d be gone for three months if she gets cast in the show (Jules Feiffer’s “Little Murders,” a flop when it opened in 1967 but later made into a film), or be surprised at his anger. But their subsequent conversation, when Megan told Don that if he made her choose between him and acting, she’d choose him but “I’d hate you for it,” was telling, and a reminder that theirs is a far more mature relationship than Don and Betty. (And what the hell was Megan’s friend doing on that conference-room table? Women as commodities, again, but that made no sense to me.)
It’ll be a while before I forget the work of Christina Hendricks and Elisabeth Moss in this episode; just beautiful, both of them. Only two episodes to go; where are we headed from here? Were you as moved by this episode as I was?
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Joan, who was “raised to be admired” — but not this way. (Photo by Michael Yarish; courtesy of AMC)

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