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Mad About Those ‘Mad Men’ Women
June 1, 2012  | By David Bianculli  | 7 comments

Sunday’s episode of AMC’s Mad Men at 10 p.m. ET gets us even closer to the season finale — but last week’s episode got us closer to the three women at the heart of this year’s stories…

In the May 27 episode titled “The Other Woman,” which series creator Matthew Weiner co-wrote with Semi Chellas, the most controversial story line involved Christina Hendricks’ Joan Harris, who was singled out by one of the clients for a pivotal and lucrative potential Jaguar account as a coveted sexual prize. The client’s request was as bold and blatant as it was offensive: Arrange for an intimate evening with the curvy redhead, and it would go a long way to securing the contract wit Jaguar — pending, of course, a winning advertising pitch as well.

Each of the men at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce reacted differently to the possibility, from the pimp-like enthusiasm of Vincent Karheiser’s Pete Campbell to the indignant refusal by Jon Hamm’s Don Draper. In the end, though, it was Jared Harris’ Lane Pryce who had the most impact, counseling Joan on how to turn the moment into a small partnership share in SCDP.

So, cross-cut with a scene of Don pitching the Jaguar executives the morning after, giving a pitch about unattainable beauty, we saw Joan, the evening before, staring straight ahead as the lecherous client unzipped her dress and got his wish.

But when Jaguar finally called with the news they’d accepted the firm’s pitch, Joan was in a new power position, listening on a conference call with the advertising firm’s other partners. After 13 years of hard work, Joan traded one night of sex for a substantial promotion.

Don’s wife, Megan (Jessica Paré), faced a life-changing moment, too — a callback as a finalist for a Broadway show, the out-of-town previews for which would have taken her to Boston for more than a month, had she won the role. Don was furious about that, Megan attended the callback anyway — but didn’t get the job.

What we saw, though, was just part of her audition, as a trio of leering guys asked her to turn around and walk closer to them.

She did that. But the inference is that she didn’t do much else — did not, in other words, lower her moral standards as Joan had. And, hence, did not manage to move forward on merit alone.

Ah, but Peggy Olson did.

Elisabeth Moss, as the secretary-turned-copywriter, got a job offer a from former colleague to jump ship — at a salary more than she was asking, and with a better title. Peggy, tired by the male-dominated nonsense at SCPD, decided to take the offer — which Don misread as a well-timed negotiation ploy for a raise, then reacted with disbelief, then angrily told his former protégé she needn’t give the customary two weeks’ notice.

Yet when Peggy stuck out her hand to the seated Don to say goodbye, he held and kissed it instead — holding the hand, and the gesture, for so long (see photo at top of column) that Peggy fought back tears.

Wonderful moment.

The best moment, though, was saved for last. As the rest of the firm popped champagne and celebrated the Jaguar account, Joan — the one most responsible, perhaps, for landing that accout —  was the only person to notice that Peggy had packed a box of stuff and was heading for the elevator.

The final shot had Peggy waiting for the elevator, and as it arrived, turning what could have been a bittersweet moment into a saucy moment of triumph. Just before entering the elevator, Peggy flashed a cocky, thrilled-with-herself smile — as the soundtrack played the Kinks’ jubilant “You Really Got Me.”

Joan, to get where and what she wanted, had to sacrifice something very personal. Megan, by refusing to sacrifice, didn’t get there.

But Peggy — on talent and perseverance alone — made the cut, and the grade, and ascended to the next level.

You really got me, Peggy — with that final smile.

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Great article, I'd love to see an analysis like this each week! Thanks for the insight!
Jun 13, 2012   |  Reply
David Bianculli
My pleasure... and I'll try to write more.
Jul 4, 2012
Did Peggy really advance to her new job based on talent and perseverance alone? She was hired by Don's nemesis and rival, maybe as a strategic move in his ongoing chess match with Don, which makes Peggy...not the queen.
Jun 1, 2012   |  Reply
David Bianculli
I don't think the move was that cynical. Either way, Peggy earned it sitting down. Not on her back.
Jul 4, 2012
I've seen many gut arenching plotlines on television and in the movies. Most involve violence centered around criminal activity.
Nothing compared to how I felt while watching this episode, one of the finest hours of drama of many fine hours in this series, but one of the finest I've seen on television, ever.
The writing on this show is brilliant, along with an excellent acting ensemble.
But the three actresses of this episode were remarkable. If there was ever a time to give out a "group emmy", this trio would win hands down.
The way the request was pitched to Joan, as if they were asking her to get coffee, with her range of emotion from intially being repulsed, to eventually agreeing to the deed was tough, but glorious to watch.
Once again, kudos to AMC for giving us the finest drama on television.
Jun 1, 2012   |  Reply
Joan and Peggy were magnificent, each doing what they inevitably had to do to get where they want to be. I consider this one of the best episodes ever, with one surprise after another. Would Joan do it? Could Peggy really leave? Yes, they could and they did, as a means of self-preservation. Things in Joan's life were in such turmoil, and without an extra penny to spare, it kind of made sense for her to turn this proposition (so to speak) into a financial windfall and finally some authority. After all, she's been cleaning up after these guys for years, so why shouldn't she get on the gravy train.

Peggy, always the rock solid in the office, had finally had enough. And good for her; the scene with Don throwing the money at her was beyond shocking. I have no fear that she'll be back, even if it's in the role of nemesis.

This show has so many potential cliffhangers, the season should go on forever!
Jun 1, 2012   |  Reply
David Bianculli
I agree -- and I miss it already...
Jul 4, 2012
Daa Alder
I've thought a lot about this episode since Sunday night and especially about Joan.
One critical thing to remember is that Joan's very own husband raped her (and she reminded him of it this season, "And you KNOW what I'm talking about.")
One thing about rape that doesn't get discussed much is that it can obliterate one's boundaries, especially in regards to subsequent sexual activity.
So, while this action on Joan's part truly haunted me at first, the more I thought about it, the more I could understand it. Her husband raped her, then abandoned her and her child to stay with his buddies in Vietnam, and now is divorcing her and abandoning her permanently.
Letting the pig from Jaguar have one night with her in exchange for financial security for her and her child seems easier to understand in that context.
Jun 1, 2012   |  Reply
David Bianculli
Very strong point. Thanks for sharing!
Jul 4, 2012
I have not been this excited to see the next episode of Mad Men as I am right now. This one was so good I watched it twice. Can't wait to see how many more ways Lane is able to cover up his embezzlement. Great analysis as always.
Jun 1, 2012   |  Reply
Great analysis. I could be wrong, but it seemed to me that they showed the scene where Don told Joan that he was against her prostituting herself twice, but the second time it was from Joan's point of view, and Don was too late. She had already done the deed, so to speak.
Jun 1, 2012   |  Reply
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