On Sunday's Mad Men, two of the show's strongest female characters decided what they were worth — in two very different ways.
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Let's start with the sadder (and perhaps less believable) of the two story lines. Joan (Christina Hendricks) has always been the "dynamite redhead" with whom many an adman and client would kill to spend a night. As such, Herb, the head of the dealers association, who perhaps senses Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce's desperation to win the Jaguar account, demands Joan's sexual services as a way to persuade him to vote SCDP's way. But that could never happen, right?
Ever the weasel, Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) broaches the subject with Joan, who calmly retorts that Herb (and by extension, the partners at SCDP) couldn't afford her services. But that doesn't stop Pete, Lane (Jared Harris), Bert (Robert Morse) and Roger (John Slattery), who, despite Don's protestations, agree to offer Joan $50,000 (four times her salary) for the favor. Of course, Lane doesn't need anyone nosing around in the books for that $50,000, so he slyly suggests that Joan ask for a partnership in the company. She does so, and the date is set.
When Don (Jon Hamm) learns of his partners' behavior, however, he rushes to Joan to tell her it's not worth it. (Plus: With Don finally beginning to climb back into the ring to fight, he probably wants to win the account based on the work, not some perverse sexual favor.) Although Joan is happy to learn that Don didn't support the company's pimping of Joan, we eventually learn that Don is too late. She and Herb have already sealed the deal, and the next morning, Joan is on hand for a meeting of the partners to celebrate the landing the agency's first car.
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Say what you will about Joan's past of using her sexuality to get what she wants, but this crosses a whole new line. Don perhaps says it best in his pitch to Jaguar: "Oh, this car. This thing, gentlemen. What price would we pay? What behavior would we forgive?" Sure, I can buy that she made a smart business move to provide for her and her baby now that Greg is gone. But the willingness to stoop so low to land a client (and the sleaziness of all the men who stood by and watched it happen) drastically shakes up the way I have viewed a number of these characters for a long time — and not in a good way. (Then again, it wasn't long ago that Don was telling Sal he should have slept with Lee Garner Jr. to keep Lucky Strike happy.) Right or wrong, Joan looks confident and comfortable in her role as a voting partner while Don grieves, both for Joan and his own pyrrhic victory.
Meanwhile, Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) doesn't prostitute herself, but she isn't treated much better. When Peggy's on-the-spot pitch saves a client from pulling their business, Don, distracted by Jaguar, fails to recognize it. When Peggy dares to be proud of herself, Don, always mistaking Peggy's pleas as complaints for more money, throws a wad of cash in her face. That turns out to be the straw that breaks the camel's back. Peggy turns to Freddy Rumsen, who tells her that she'd be crazy not to leave Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Soon enough, she's meeting with Teddy Chaough, Don's most-hated rival, who offers Peggy what she wants and then some to come play for the other team. But that would never happen, right?
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Moments after SCDP wins the Jaguar account, Peggy drops the bombshell on Don. Although he at first thinks Peggy is just again looking for a raise, he soon realizes how serious she is. He offers to beat any salary from Chaough. But unlike Don's pitch about the Jaguar, Peggy isn't something to be owned: She needs to leave Don's shadow in order to grow. With a handshake (that turns into a heartbreaking scene of Don kissing Peggy's hand and refusing to let go) and a "don't be a stranger," Peggy hits the door, smiling as she enters the elevator to the tune of The Kinks' "You Really Got Me."
Both plots of "The Other Woman" are shocking and threaten to dramatically impact the future of the series. Can we ever again respect the partners at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce who sold Joan's dignity to win an account? How will Mad Men continue to tell Peggy's story when she's not in the office each week? Both are wait-and-see propositions. And both, perhaps, are just the cost of doing business. But as Roger notes, it is without a doubt "dirty business."