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"Mad Men's" Indecent Proposal

In an turbulent episode, the boys at SCDP make Joan a despicable offer -- and, in the process, lose their souls.

What shall it profit an ad agency if it gains a luxury car but loses its soul?

As Lane said about Don watching Megan singing  “Zou Bisou Bisou” in the season premiere, I think I saw SCDP’s soul leave its body last night, not just once but twice: when all the partners except Don agreed that Joan should prostitute herself for the firm, and when Peggy left. Which seems like a smart move, given how women who work at the agency are now being sold off to the highest and most disgusting bidder.

Being underappreciated has been Peggy’s theme song for years, but not having experienced work – much less success — anywhere else, she’s been afraid to leave. Now, as former boss and mentor Freddy Rumsen puts it, she’s reached the point where she has to decide whether she’s ambitious or just complaining. “If this was about work and not about feeling, you’d make a move,” he argues, bringing up the central conflict of the episode, in which people make moves based on work – and the success and money it brings — rather than on good old human feeling, either for themselves or for each other.

While the episode is titled “The Other Woman” — riffing on the idea that owning a Jaguar is like having a gorgeous but temperamental mistress — it might more accurately if obliquely have been called “The Other Man” since men are distinctly divided into good or bad, with the balance weighing heavily on the latter. We begin with Pete the pimp, who plays asp to Joan’s Cleopatra, poisoning her coveted bosom first with guilt (which she refuses to swallow) and then with filthy lucre. “Don’t fool yourself, this is some very dirty business,” Roger warns Pete – and when Roger Sterling chides you about the immorality of your actions, you should jump in your Jaguar and drive as fast and as far as you can in the opposite direction.

While Pete’s as ardent as the head of the car dealer association who covets Joan, he’s too crude to close the deal with her (and later fails basic pimphood by not even knowing how to set up her date with the trick). It falls to Lane to reel Joan in with a far slicker method – but then Lane’s desperate to cover up his embezzlement while Pete’s merely motivated by greed. Taking the advice that Roger had previously offered about how to woo clients, Lane confides to Joan that he just wants her to avoid the mistake he’s made his entire life, which is not to tell the truth when someone asks him what he wants. Appealing to Joan’s ego and need for security as a single mother, he suggests that she skip the $50,000 that he, oops, lets slip will be offered, and ask for a 5 percent partnership instead. “And here I thought you were trying to stop this because you have feelings for me,” Joan observes. Lane claims that’s precisely why he’s looking out for her interests rather than the firm’s, but it’s actually his own that he’s securing, while selling out the one true partner he had at SCDP – ironically, by making her a literal one.

Lane’s behavior may be the most disappointing, but at least he has fear of prison as his motive, while the man who allegedly loves Joan, Roger, continues to see women as mere sexual currency. Saying he won’t oppose it but also won’t pay for it, he takes the coward’s route of plausible deniability while rejecting the opportunity to defend Joan’s honor. Bert merely gives her the right of refusal, which I guess is commendable in an era before “No means No,” but still observes that “this is a car, you can’t put a dollar figure on its significance” to the firm (although you apparently can on the value of human beings). I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to hear this from a man who said he was raised on the principle, “Kill or be killed, eat or be eaten.”

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