Mad Men Recap: A Woman’s Worth

Peggy and Joan ruled this week’s Mad Men, which examined the price two very different women could command as they did what was necessary to move ahead — and it all played out in what was, hands down, the season’s best episode. Let’s take a look at the series-changing events of “The Other Woman.”

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Seeing red | A night with Joan has long been like climbing Mount Everest for male SCDP staffers: a few have achieved it, but far more have failed mightily in the attempt and suffered a severe case of frostbite in the process. But when a few hours of the rockin’ redhead’s company became pivotal to helping the firm land the coveted Jaguar account, we learned a lot about the partners’ priorities. (Newsflash: Being morally upright isn’t high on the list.) It all began when Herb Rennet, head of the Jaguar dealers’ association, told Ken and Pete that a night with the agency’s “dynamite redhead” might be enough to buy his vote for SCDP’s pitch. That sent Pete simpering into Joan’s office, where he tested the waters. The waters, predictably, were incensed and insulted. “You’re unbelievable. I’m married. How would you feel if someone asked Trudy?” she said sharply. Pete’s whiny reply was funny in its lameness: “We’ve all had nights in our lives we’ve made mistakes for free!” he said, comparing her predicament to Cleopatra’s. “She was a queen. What would it take to make you a queen?” he said, clearly thinking he was slick. “You couldn’t afford it,” she snapped back. (In scenes like this, I always feel like Pete is trying to do his best Don impression, and it’s so entertaining to see how surprised he is when it never ends well.) When Pete gathered the partners to talk about how much moolah might sway Mrs. Harris, Don steadfastly refused to discuss the matter and left the room. But the rest of the partners, Roger included, got over their distaste rather quickly and decided to offer Joan a finder’s fee on the Jaguar commission in exchange for letting Herb take her for a test drive. “Don’t fool yourself — this is some very dirty business,” Sterling told Pete on his way out. Yeah, Rog, dirty business that you just condoned. And Bert, I have no words for you. Take your bare feet and Colonel Sanders goatee back to your office and THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE DONE. At least Lane had the consideration to coach Joan to ask for a five percent stake in the agency instead of a one-time payout… oh wait, no, that was just to avoid asking for more credit, thus saving his own embezzling behind. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but when Don Draper is the most moral man in the bunch, we’re in trouble. Speaking of Don, news about Joan’s pending partnership sent him to her home, where he told her not to go through with the plan. “I wanted to tell you it’s not worth it. If we don’t get Jaguar, so what? Who wants to be in business with people like that?” Aw, I love sweet Don. As we watched moments from her evening with hairy Herb intercut with SCDP’s excellent, Ginsberg-penned Jaguar pitch — “Jaguar: At last, something beautiful you can truly own.” — it became clear that Joan had already tamed the jaguar (ick) before Don even arrived at her apartment. In just a few looks — with disgust and resignation at Herb, with friendship and regret at Don — Christina Hendricks owned those scenes. And whether it was because of the pitch or the prostitution (Joanie, I love you, but that’s what that was), SCDP eventually won the automotive account. Roger called all of the partners into his office to hear the news; Joan’s arrival, and what it implied, clearly hit Don like a cold martini to the face. As the firm celebrated, Pete and Bert talked about hiring some more help and quashed the ideas of holiday bonuses, driving Lane directly to the bar cart after the others had left the room. No longer in the mood to celebrate, Don retreated to his office, where an even bigger shock awaited him.

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Nobody puts Peggy in a corner | Here’s what you need to know about what happened to Peggy prior to her life-changing meeting with Don at the end of the episode: She’d nailed a pitch on the fly, only to have Don be a major jerk to her (“You want to go to Paris? Here, go to Paris.”). She’d had lunch with Freddy (I love seeing these familiar faces pop up as the season goes by), who’d reminded her that she was awesome, and met with Cutler Gleason and Chaough’s Ted Chaough, who offered her $1,000 more than her asking price to join his team. So when Draper and his work wife were alone at the end of the episode, something big was going to go down. I’m pretty convinced that she might’ve backed out if she hadn’t learned right then about Joan’s sudden promotion. But she did, and Elisabeth Moss was perfect. “I want you to know that the day you saw something in me, my whole life changed. And since then, it’s been my privilege to not only be at your side but to be treated like a protégé and for you to be my mentor and my champion,” Peggy said before letting Don know she was leaving. When he finally realized she wasn’t just fishing for a raise and was actually going to work for his nemesis, Don’s reaction started out nasty (“Let’s pretend that I’m not responsible for every good thing that’s happened to you”) but wound up tender and reverential, evoking memories of the final scene of last season’s “The Suitcase.” Don softened when Peggy quietly said, “I’m sorry, but you know this is what you would do.” When Peggy extended her hand for a shake, her boss instead grabbed it and bent his head to kiss it. Of course the gesture broke her — it damn near broke me — and the tears continued as she wrestled her hand out of his grasp, collected her things from her office, and waited for the elevator to come. When it opened, though, Peggy stared into the next phase of her life with a triumphant smile and The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” rolled in the background. I think our girl is gonna be all right.

Now it’s your turn. What do you think Joan’s promotion and Peggy’s departure mean for SCDP? What do you make of Megan and Don’s tabled disagreement about her acting career? And how long do you think it’ll be before someone figures out what Lane’s up to? Sound off in the comments!