Mad Men Watch: Dirty Business

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Courtesy of AMC

Mad Men, Jon Hamm

During Mad Men‘s early seasons, the catalyst that drove the narrative was the mystery of Don’s identity. As we got to know the characters, their respective development was front and center, but what really drove the show, what we loved about it from the very beginning, was the business itself. And what’s better about advertising (okay, other than the booze in the office, curvy women and dapper clothes) than the account pitch?

Indeed, the pilot episode opens with Don racking his brain, trying to come up with a new slogan for Lucky Strike cigarettes; it ends when he comes up with the famous “It’s Toasted” line on the fly. It’s the first of many Don Draper pitches we’ve seen over the years, and last night’s episode, “The Other Woman” promised us another great sales pitch as SCDP tries to land Jaguar. Draper delivered, but not before some dark preliminary details revealed just how far some of our characters would go to achieve success.

The nastiness came in the form of a proposition: if the partners of SCDP were willing to auction off Joan to one of the three men who could deliver Jaguar, they would remain in the running for the account. If she refused, odds were Jaguar would pass them by. Most people, no matter how ambitious, would have refused to go that far. Not Pete Campbell. He takes the proposal to Joan, framing it as a business proposition. Her response: “You can’t afford it.”

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But it appears they can. The partners (sans Draper, who walks out of the discussion on principle) settle on $50,000, which just happens to be the amount Pryce took out in credit before he used some to pay his back taxes. So Pryce comes up with the idea of offer Joan a partnership. Joan has been part of the backbone of first Sterling Cooper, then SCDP. When the four partners decided to strike out on their own, she was the first person they called, knowing she was the only one who could get the place up and running. Joan should have been made a partner much earlier, but not like this.

While the rest of the partners are willing to do what it takes to land Jaguar, Don’s the only one who who sees the moral line they’re crossing. He tries to stop Joan, but it’s too late. She’s already gone through with it, given up her body for the good of the company.

As dark as that thread is, the Jaguar pitch is one of the most exciting we’ve ever seen. Draper and his creative team work day and night, trying to come up with a campaign for the gorgeous, but unreliable sports car. Then finally Ginsberg comes to Don with the inspired line:  “Jaguar: At last, something beautiful you can truly own.” The creative torch may be passing between Draper and Ginsberg, but in the end, no one can sell the pitch like Don. He smoothly walks them through the campaign, and with the ground already prepared thanks to Joan, SCDP wins the account. But like many aspects of life this season, when the characters get what they want, they realize it’s not as perfect as they dreamed. And with other big developments, you can bet the final two episodes of the season will be worth watching.

(SPECIAL: Sexist, Silly, Sublime: Mad Men Era Ads)

A dear friend departs: Peggy has always been one of the most compelling characters. We’ve seen her transform from a secretary in denial about being pregnant, to a junior copywriter, to being one of the best creative minds on the firm’s roster. Last night, Peggy showed the kind of ingenuity and ability to think on her feet that only Don has displayed. So it makes sense that she’d want to move up in the company’s ranks. When she tells Don she’s leaving, he asks for a number. “There is no number,” she tells him. So while Peggy heads off to greener pastures, Don will have to try and get along without her. My guess is she won’t go too far.

Broadway bound: Megan is out pounding the pavement trying to get an acting job. But Don is not pleased when he finds out that the play could take his wife to Boston for three months. Though Megan’s callback ultimately is a bust, she makes it clear in this episode that she’s going to do what she wants—just like Don.

Mother of all awkward scenes: When Joan comes to Pete and tells him she’ll do the dirty deed in order to try and land the account, there was a hilarious back and forth where Pete tries to work out the details. “Do I have to do everything?” Joan barks. Then they stand up and Pete offers her a hand, withdrawing it when she stares him down. Pete’s always been a bit awkward, but this scene took the cake.

Poor Lane: Literally, and in terms of luck. After landing the Jaguar account, he once again brings up the idea of bonuses for partners, but Bert Cooper tells him there will still be no bonuses this year, only next year once they’ve reaped the rewards of their biggest account yet. Lane’s got a few problems here. Even though it appears no one ever looks at the company’s books but him, soon they’ll discover the $50,000 credit line he took out and that nearly $3,000 is missing. In the final two episodes, you can bet there’ll be hell to pay.

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