You keep saying you've got something for me
Something you call love, but confess
You've been messing where you shouldn't be messing
And now someone else is getting all your best
These boots are made for walking
And that's just what they'll do
One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you...
“The Other Woman” was a tour de force for Mad Men’s leading gals. Joan used her body to secure a lucrative account and to solidify her financial future. Peggy finally left the agency, a move she’d been threatening to make all season, to head for greener pastures. Megan firmly asserted her right to work freely as an actress, even if that entails not working in Manhattan. These three women won their battles. Rather than focus specifically on them, I want to look at the man that lost against each of them: Don Draper. We’ll start with Peggy’s departure from SCDP.
I don’t think I had fully understood Don’s relationship with Peggy until the last scene of Sunday’s episode. Sure, he was her boss, and sure, she was an ambitious worker in an agency that was never really comfortable with her being around. She always wanted more, and Draper never seemed to be in a position to give more. But I missed something over the last five seasons: Don was essentially a father to Peggy. It seems painfully obvious after that kiss on the hand, and I feel like a dope for not recognizing it before. Peggy was shortchanged throughout her tenure at SCDP. Some of it was her doing, like when she blew up at the Heinz executive, but Don’s dismissal of her in her final days was unwarranted. She saved an account—improvising over the phone, no less—only to see her boss place it back into the hands of the wunderkind Ginsberg.
The dynamic between Don and Peggy in that final scene was brilliant. It was scary seeing Don’s naked ineffectiveness. He’s failed to understand Megan more than once this season, and he seems to get worse at communicating with the women close to him as time goes on. He was more condescending than ever toward Peggy in that final scene, even as he was on the verge of losing her: “You finally picked the right moment to ask for a raise!” he said, a reference to the fact that the previous times she’d asked for a raise came during financially difficult times for the agency; also, this gem: “Let’s pretend I’m not responsible for every single good thing that’s ever happened to you.” Don either couldn’t see—or perhaps wasn’t willing to see—that Peggy was done, and no promise of a gigantic raise or a more senior position would draw her back.
Peggy’s departure really hurt Don. You could literally see it in the shot after Peggy leaves his office. Jon Hamm is superb again here: Don’s face is bright red, his mouth contorted into a half-smile-half-sneer, and as he desperately tries to hold back tears, three terrific veins shoot out of his forehead, almost as if his soul is about to burst out of him. Of course it hurts losing Peggy. He practically lost a daughter. And he lost a daughter in a typical daughter-like way. Peggy left him with a royal fuck-you: she went right to the agency run by the man that Don hates most, the guy that’s always riding on Don’s coattails, always picking up the scraps left in Don’s shadow. That move was deliberate. She could have chosen any other agency on Madison Avenue, but she wanted the one that would hurt her mentor most. That’s payback for you.
I don’t know what the future holds for Peggy. I can’t imagine this is the last we see of her. And, certainly, there’s no guarantee she’ll succeed just because the episode ended on a triumphant note. If anything, it’s a guarantee there’ll be plenty of trials and tribulations ahead. Maybe they’ll be more personal in nature, but this isn’t going to be a smooth ride for Ms. Olson.
I have less to say about Megan than I did about Peggy and will about Joan, but Megan’s role in this episode, though smaller, is at least as important as that of the two other women. Megan’s storyline is a understated, but she also stands strong against Don. In fact, she completely reorganizes their relationship. And she’s sure of it too. “You know I don’t want you to fail,” Don says, and she retorts, “Good, because I’m not going to.” We’ve been building up to this battle all season long, and Don finally crumpled. A part of him wants to have the traditional homemaker wife that won’t demand too much and won’t cause too much trouble, and he’s not going to get that from Megan now because, unlike Betty, Megan has aspirations she intends to fulfill.
Don also fears that his partners will be as sexually unfaithful to him as he has been in the past. He never let Betty do anything risqué—he got angry at her when she allowed the door-to-door salesman to enter their home (the implication was that she might have had sex with him, and indeed she fantasized as much); he knew she’d fail when she tried to re-launch her modeling career; and he never let her wear anything revealing (aside from when he was by her side), even going so far as to scold her for wearing a bikini inside the house. Why should Don care if Megan has to spend a month or two in Boston? Would he really miss her that much? Or is he afraid he’ll lose her, potentially to another man?
He sure didn’t like the prospect of Joan sleeping with a man for the sake of an account. Most of the episode was dedicated to the firm’s attempt to corral Jaguar, an effort in which Joan played a pivotal part. Why was Don so against Joan prostituting herself in order to give the agency a fighting chance in the race for the British car? It may be that Don simply thought the act was immoral. We know he has good in him, and we know he’s idealistic, and I’m sure he just didn’t like the thought of Joan laying down with that creep. Certainly, he may have even felt that he’d lost one of his own (in this case one of his employees, not a romantic partner) to another man.
But I’d like to think of it like this: asking Joan to sleep with one of the Jaguar men is a real vote of no confidence for Don. It’s literally saying, ‘creative isn’t good enough to get this account on its own.’ The mere suggestion that the Jaguar executive could torpedo the pitch if he wasn’t allowed to set his paws on Joan had Campbell and the rest of the agency’s lurid cowboys scrambling for a solution. Don tried to defend his work—he said that they could win the account even without the executive’s vote—but the other four men overruled him. And, in the end, Jaguar was a defeat for Don. As good as his pitch was, and as good as the creative work was, he’s going to have to live with the knowledge that it might have been Joan’s act that secured Jaguar. In effect, Joan won Jaguar, not him. “Not like this,” as he said.
Despite that, I think he was totally earnest when he burst into Joan’s apartment to dissuade her from going to meet with the Jaguar man. He didn’t want her to commit such an act. As Joan said, Don is “one of the good ones.” Alas, he was too late. As I realized a few minutes after the scene repeated, Don only got to Joan after she had slept with the man. That was why they played the conversation again, and that’s why Joan had the emerald necklace when Don got there. (As I say, I only realized this minutes afterward; it may be that others missed it as well. How short was Joan’s encounter with that man, by the way? So quick that Don got to her after the deed was done!)
How disturbing were Pete’s actions, by the way? We know he’s a creep, and we know he’s slimy, but the way he manipulated Joan seemed to go beyond that… he almost seemed to relish the thought that she would have to offer herself to this man. The implicit sexual underpinning to that whole Pete-Joan faceoff made me very uncomfortable. I’m sure he gets off on being cuckolded—by proxy in the case of Joan, but this is hardly new; you’ll recall that he tried to force his wife to sleep with that publisher a few seasons back.
There’s plenty that could be written on the moral disaster that was this episode, specifically regarding how all the partners save for Don were fine with Joan prostituting herself in that way, but we should continue this in the comments. How do you feel about Joan’s act? Was it just a canny business move on her part, or was she manipulated into it? What does the future hold for Peggy? And how will Don deal with her departure going forth? I look forward to seeing her (or maybe not seeing her at all, which will be just as telling) next episode.