Mad Men season 5 episode 11 review: The Other Woman

A wonderfully Joan and Peggy-heavy episode arrives for this week's Mad Men, and one that sees both facing big decisions...

This review contains spoilers.

5.11 The Other Woman

Remember back to this season’s opener, when some inter-firm monkeyshines resulted in SCDP being shamed into hiring the company’s first African American secretary? Well, now they’ve just elected their first female partner under even more despicable circumstances. Were it a real company, history would look kindly upon trailblazers Sterling Cooper Draper and Price, not that the bastards deserve it.

Especially Pete Campbell, who, just when you think he was at maximum slime capacity, secretes a fresh coat from a newly tapped slime gland. His attempt to manipulate Joan into throwing herself on Herb’s sword for the good of the company was the biggest of insults, not just for the indignity of the proposition, but the assumption he’d be able to sell her on the idea using his pitiful wiles.

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“How would you feel if someone asked Trudy?” Joan asked Pete, a question to which anyone who saw episode 1.5, in which he was willing for Trudy to hook up with an old flame if it meant his getting a shot at being published in The New Yorker, knows the answer. No amount of cutesy scenes of Pete reading to his daughter can unsully that man.

When Don first arrived at SCDP, he was warned that Joan was the one person in the office he shouldn’t cross, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if she could make good on that reputation in the next two episodes when it comes to Pete. Three words for you Joan: another lawnmower “accident”.

Don, it should be said, is blameless in the Joan matter, his too-late offered gallantry and friendship only opening the wound after the fait was accompli (now that was a nicely handled bit of chronology fiddling from the writers).

The other SCDP board members having all but wrapped Joan in a bow and delivered her to the Jaguar dealer’s door, what choice did she have? No stranger to compromising her dignity and happiness for the sake of smooth sailing (as witnessed by her marriage to Dr Greg), Joan thought she was alone and the men she’d worked with for over a decade had more or less offered her up on a silver salver. “Make sure she knows she can say no” offered Burt Cooper, wiping his hands of the distasteful matter, a message that neither Pete, Lane or Roger passed on.

Cutting the pitch (I love it when they take us along on pitches) with the scenes of Joan’s reluctant hotel room transaction made things nicely unambiguous. “Built like a B52”, Joan (and later, Megan during a theatre audition that seemed more peep show than anything else) was coveted as a possession. She was the hot red, the out-of-reach prize, the head-turner, anything but a person with thoughts and feelings. Her mother raised Joan to be admired, she told Don last week, but objectified is the word.

Indulge me a momentary gush when it comes to Christina Hendricks. In last week’s episode and this (indeed, every time she’s popped up in season five), she’s been just wonderful. Joan’s barely-contained humiliation, whiplash tongue, and big-eyed assessment of her choices were gorgeously played by the actress in The Other Woman, none better than in the second time we saw her greet Don at home. In that moment, Joan realised with a sigh that she’d had a defender all along. Had he arrived in time, would she have found the emotional reserves to stand up to Pete and his band of craven pimps? I’d like to think so.

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Speaking of humiliation, Peggy had had enough of it. Don has had barely a nice word to say to his former protégée all season, treating her successes and failures alike with off-handed apathy, or worse, giving her the hairdryer treatment. This week, the time had come for her to say goodbye.

After Don had thrown cash both literally and figuratively at Peggy, she left, manoeuvring herself into a chief-copywriting position at SCDP rivals Cutler, Gleason and Chaough. Those almost identical shots of Peggy and Don post-argument, both in their own office, back to the camera, glass in hand, staring onto the Manhattan skyline, told us what everything we need to know about the pair: Peggy’s learnt to be who she is from Don, and now she’s doing exactly what he would have done by moving on, “It’s not a game,” she tells her prospective employer, “…it’s my career.” Go get ’em Peggy.

That farewell scene in Don’s office was beautifully played by Jon Hamm and Elizabeth Moss, Don’s cocky negotiating slowly sliding from his face as the realisation dawns that’s he’s losing her, her lip wobbling as he refuses to shake her hand, but instead kisses it, holding on to her as long as he can. It was as tender and difficult a parting as you’d expect, and a damn good exit for Miss Olson. The opening riffs of The Kinks’ You Really Got Me playing, the latest of Don Draper’s former secretaries to outgrow SCDP stepped into the elevator with a smile.

Ladies and gentlemen, Peggy Olson has left the building. What I wonder is, will Don now deliver on his season three finale promise to spend the rest of his life trying to hire her?

Read our review of last week’s Mad Men, The Christmas Waltz, here.

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