My delay in writing about the latest episode of Mad Men, "The Other Woman", isn't because I needed a lot of time to digest the episode. No, its because I went away for the Memorial Day weekend and wasn't able to watch the show until late Monday night. And after that, the work-week sort of steam rolled and then before I knew it, it was Wednesday night and I had to fit writing my weekly recap into the one-hour of free time I had after I left the office. And that's what can happen to you when you have a job when have to work, work on the work that you actually enjoy doing. Getting lot in the work she enjoyed is what happened to Peggy.
Now, I have an office job and I have my work, my real life's work, which is writing. Peggy enjoyed being a copywriter. She didn't enjoy being pushed around and overlooked by Don either because he took her for granted-felt he knew her so well that he didn't have to attend to her-or overlooked by others because she was a woman in a still very male dominated society and industry. However, Peggy liked the work, it spurred her on. She was upset about staying late in "The Suitcase" because Don kept here there, but she worked late all the time and the scenes with Abe eating with her at the office this season showed that she perhaps even liked it. Whereas Ken wants to write short stories, Kinsey wanted to write plays and Megan wanted to act, Peggy wanted to write copy.
After so many years, she became attached to writing copy at SCDP. She became so attached that she couldn't see herself operating at any firm, operating in a world without Don. No matter how upset she got at Don or the other people at the firm, SCDP was her identity just as much as writing copy was her identity. However, SCDP was never truly her identity, because it was never where she was going to be home. Her affair and child with Pete proved that she was never going to find love there; her mild, feminine friendship with Joan, her "stupid" pact with Ken and her "camaraderie over time" with Stan and Ginsberg proved she was never going to find friends there; and her apprenticeship to Don, a man who only truly cares about himself, showed that she was never truly going to find a soul mate there, no matter what "The Suitcase" initially had us believe. Instead, she met a mentor, she worked long hours and she learned that it was the work that made her happy, that defined her, and not the place.
And that's what happens to us. We work in offices for companies for long hours and we begin to think that wherever we work defines us. Facebook has now created networks so that we can keep better track of our co-workers' lives outside the office so that we can better see ourselves in that self contained space of "Works at." Yet, what truly happens is that we spend an amount of time in a place and, yes, maybe we do make friends or fall in love or get attached to the people that work there, but we will all eventually move on. Now, more than ever, where you work doesn't define who you are-the work you do, how you do the work, that is what defines you. And like Peggy, you have to know when it is time to move on-to get what you deserve and to get closer to doing the work you truly want to do.
Was "The Other Woman" the best episode of the season? Was it the best episode of Mad Men ever? I'm not sure of any of that. Sure, it had the "Stringer Bell" effect with Peggy leaving the firm and perhaps the entire show, but I'm not sure where it stacks up. It was a phenomenal episode to say the least. But where it stands with "The Suitcase", "Shut the Door and Have a Seat", "Signal 30", "Lady Lazarus", and "The Wheel" still remains to be seen.
What "The Other Woman" did do was ask the viewer, "How do you define women?" Or better yet, "What do you want a woman to be?" There have been plays on this theme throughout the series-most notably in last season's "The Beautiful Girls"-but last night, with the theme tied into Joan's prostitution to land the Jaguar account, it was never more evident. Pete, Roger and Bert want Joan to be a whore because it helps the business. Pete's desire for more accounts, more success, more achievement is insatiable, so Joan's womanhood and her honor fall by the wayside. Roger is sad that Joan will entertain the offer, but he has no true conscience, he only has the enlightenment of one acid trip, which inevitably fades as more and more hours of reality and acquired thought processes start replace that concentrated 12-hour blast of psychic freedom. And Bert, well Bert, this is his business, dirty or otherwise. Then there is Lane, who first entertains some quick impulse of protecting Joan's ""virginity", but soon gives in to his true nature, practicality. He wants Joan to remain practical, he wants her to remain stable, as she is in her place in the company, and so he gives Joan the prudent financial advice that she ends up taking.
Meanwhile, Don wants Joan to be pristine in her womanliness. Sure, he knows that she was a party girl that has been with more than one man-he may even know that she slept with Roger. However, he wants her to remain in control of her destiny, in the way that he feels in control of his destiny. He wants her to remain an American ideal: the voluptuous, glamorous, powerful woman that all men fall for. He wants to be able to continue their, "it will just never be" romance and flirtation. And he is upset when SCDP lands the Jaguar account because she didn't take his "advice". And because it is Don, he is upset that his "work" didn't actually land the account.
As a man watching "The Other Woman" you had to ask yourself deep questions about what you want a woman to be, or rather, what you want from women. Do you want a virtuous virgin? Do you want a rock, somebody's mother? Do you want an ideal beauty? Or is it the impossible love that you want? Maybe you just want somebody that can be a daughter, someone to revere you, someone you can protect? Or, perhaps there is that dark place, that wants for a woman to be a whore whether for business or otherwise. When you watched "The Other Woman" those kind of questions and stances were present in every interaction: Ken/Peggy, Pete/Joan, Freddy/Peggy, Megan/Don, Megan's friend/SCDP Creative, Lane/Joan, Don/Joan, Ginsberg/Megan, and Peggy/Don.
But as each moment from the episode flashes through my mind, I'll never forget that extended kiss that Don gave Peggy's hand. I'll never forget Peggy's quiet walk to the elevator in her purple dress and the quick shot of Joan looking away from the Jaguar celebration.
Maybe it was the best episode this season.