The entire Mad Men series might be described by the tagline “The Other Woman”. Oddly enough, the episode which held the phrase as its name didn’t include any infidelity by Don Draper as was rampant during the first three seasons.

Some are considering it the best episode in years, and while it was certainly an eventful episode, “The Other Woman” didn’t have the same stylized polish that prior seasons held.

More on that after we discuss some of the larger storylines at play.

Power Plays by Joan Harri and Peggy Olsen

The redhead bombshell uses her sexuality to land a huge client and an official spot amongst the partners, but at what cost? By whoring herself to the prospective client under Lane Pryce’s suggested terms, Joan might feel that she made a power play by setting herself up for a stake in the company and a partnership spot. In actuality, she decreased the respect that the other partners will have for her.

Despite having Don Draper mentor her from being a secretary into being the top member on his creative team, Peggy overlooks the respect she’s getting and the trails she’s blazing and decides to take her talents elsewhere. Both she and Joan made choices in this episode which they believe will increase their professional position, and to some degree, they both did. In each of the two situations, they went about it the wrong way.

Peggy looked a gift-horse in the mouth given her great position at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Don rarely trusts anyone, constantly talks down at his subordinates. Suddenly Peggy gets cash thrown at her by Don to stop her petulant complaints about not getting a trip to Paris which is rightfully Ginsberg’s, and she decides she wants a new job? Leaving the agency is a short-sighted move that displays just how oblivious Peggy is at recognizing the way she’s being mentored. Who did Don count on to look after all his other work while the Jaguar campaign was being waged? As she left the office, Peggy had her head held high, feeling a new sense of strength just as she likely felt when she told her mother that she was going to live with her boyfriend regardless of how her mom felt about the situation. In both cases, it’s very possible that those who were trying to advise her will be right in the long run, and these will end up being decisions Miss Olsen will regret.

Art Of The Sale by Pete Campbell

Pete approached Joan Harris with an idea that she initially considered reprehensible, and by the time he left her office, the strongest female character in the history of this show was considering whoring herself out. Despite Don and Bert being shocked that the guy from Jaguar even asked to spend a night with Joan, Pete was able to convince Roger, Lane and Bert to make an offer to Joan. You can be repulsed by Pete’s gall, but you can’t argue with his effectiveness. Comparing Joan’s “opportunity” with Cleopatra and not getting thrown out of her office on his ass? Sensing the tone of the room and continuing the discussion with the partners after Don left the room? Convincing Lane Pryce the option of having Joan go out with the Jaguar guy after he first scolded Pete for even considering it? Pete is good at what he does.

Roger Sterling

The sheer lack of interaction between Roger Sterling and Joan Harris this season has been one of its weak points. After Joan broke things off with her husband, Roger got a divorce from Jane, it seemed like their relationship might heat up again. Then suddenly Roger knows that he’s the biological father of Joan’s child and there was no significant episode content dedicated to it? Now Joan wants to whore herself out to help the agency win business and Roger barely even seems to care? At one time Roger was giving Don a run for his money as the most interesting character in the show, and the LSD-trip aside, Roger has been mostly an after-thought this season.

Ginsberg

The young, naive and creative young man is the biggest addition to the agency and the show in Season 5. This episode continued to show how valuable he is to the agency and how deep his character is in a subtle way. When Megan’s friend was crawling across the table as a sex object, Ginsberg wouldn’t watch. He saw what was happening, put his uncomfortable energies into the creative endeavor, and the result was the perfect pitch to sell not only to Jaguar, but to the head of creative. Whether he knew it or not, his spiel to Don about a guy who has beautiful things and can’t appreciate them spoke right to the senior partner’s deep sensibilities. He pitched Don perfectly when he gave the tag line “At last, something beautiful you can truly own”.

The Unpolished Style of Season 5

Easily the subject of its own article, anyone who would argue that Season 5 is as good as the first four is still in the after-glow of a long hiatus.

Dialogue is less crisp and doesn’t carry as much weight.  These characters speak in less stylized ways than they did in years past.

Extraneous scenes are inserted – at least one in each episode – which feels out of place or superfluous. Good night moon, anyone?

Storylines diminish in importance and prominence as they’re left hanging or ignored for a half-dozen or more episodes at a time. What of Betty Draper, Sally, Roger’s pending divorce, Peggy living with her boyfriend and Ginsberg’s non-Martian home life?

Mad Men is still one of the top shows on television, but it’s losing its luster.

Unless you hear the choice of The Kinks as the episode-ending music, see how perfectly it fits into the episode as it speaks to Peggy’s choice juxtaposed with the ad concept the agency sold to Jaguar about owning a beautiful object. If that was enough to convince  you that the episode was perfect, you might want to watch it again. Then go back and check out a few episodes from Season 1 and Season 2.


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