Pardon me, I’m still in recovery. For a show that has prided itself on its sly subtlety (with the occasional foot mauling), last night’s episode of Mad Men was like a punch to the gut, followed by a nice roundhouse to the jaw, then a kick in the groin, followed by a steady stream of tears. Peggy quit. Don won Jaguar. Joan prostituted herself for a partnership in SCDP. And Pete discovered vast new depths in which to slither. I gasped more times than I can count, holding my mouth to my hand like a mid-afternoon soaps fiend, shocked and often appalled and occasionally heartbroken. For anyone who’s complained of late that precious little has been happening on this show since its killer first few episodes, I give you “The Other Woman.”
Because, really, the groundwork for so much of what happened last night was laid from the very start of the season. Peggy’s discontent stemmed all the way back to that first confrontation at Don’s birthday party, exploding most recently after Megan left SCDP just before the Cool Whip pitch. Pete’s easy depravity began after his teenage driving schoolmate spurned him for a young, tanned jock, and sunk deeper still after screwing his commuter colleague’s wife. The screws began to tighten on Joan’s life after she kicked her lousy husband out, and the pressure only increased after he had the nerve to serve her with divorce papers. As for Don, after spending so much of the season in a post-marital haze, he finally snapped back into his old self, for good and ill.
We opened in January, 1967. Just about six weeks had passed since Don gave his rousing St. Krishna’s Day speech to the troops, rallying them to the cause of winning the Jaguar account. And now? Don, Ginsberg, Stan, and three no-name freelancers were sitting in the conference room, surrounded by Jaguar bric-a-brac, still without a tagline. The campaign, Don would explain later to Megan, was about turning the knock against Jaguar — the damn things break down all the time — into a positive, using the gorgeous XK-E as the flagship for the campaign: This car is the one you get to enjoy on the side. This car is your fun, flashy, temperamental mistress. This car is “The Other Woman.” (Loved Megan’s astute, pointed reaction: “So, a wife is like a Buick in the garage?”)
It was a savvy idea. There was just one problem: “The client doesn’t want to hear the word ‘mistress,’” explained Don. Everything else about the word, though, was fair game — staggeringly so.
Herb Rennet (Gary Basaraba), the hefty owner of most of the Jaguar dealerships in the tri-state area, and one of three votes on who would win the account, had a very special request of Pete and Ken: Joan. “Built like a B-52,” he said, swirling his dark cognac. “I sure would like the opportunity to get to know her better.” Why not ask her out, asked Pete, wary of where the conversation was going. “Nah. I’m kind of shy,” Herb said, before laying out the stakes in stark terms. If Joan spent the night with him, he’d be happy. If not? “Well, no guarantees in life, right?” The request was so brazen, and delivered with such ease, that it felt as if the show had time-jumped back to the bracing sexism of its first season. A lot may be changing, but in a certain part of the world, not much had changed at all. It turns out, Lane’s ex-pat buddy was just the tip of the slimeball iceberg in the automotive world.
NEXT PAGE: Pete presents Herb’s offer to Joan