If you wanted to sum this incredible episode of Mad Men up with a phrase, it would be ‘What’s your price?’ In the world of advertising, everyone has a price that they will either pay or be paid to get what they want, and this episode showed for each of the major characters exactly how high (or low) they will go.
The main plotline follows on from the Jaguar (or Jag-wah, as they all call it) news at the end of the last episode, with everyone at SCDP preparing for the big pitch. But when Pete and Ken are out schmoozing one of the key figures on the panel, he drops an ‘Indecent Proposal‘ bombshell: either he gets to sleep with Joan, or they’ve got no chance of getting his vote.
With this shocking request, the sexual mores of the late 60s are called into serious question. How far has the company come since its predecessor’s glory days of glamorous dollybird secretaries swooning over the hotshot men and getting treated like pieces of meat? Of course, slimy Pete doesn’t even hesitate before clumsily trying to coerce Joan into prostituting herself, as well as selling the concept to the partners.
Their reactions also say a lot. Don is horrified, whether on principle or because of his bond with Joan, while Lane is initially aghast until he realises that his financial future may be at stake. Bert Cooper is typically vague, merely suggesting that Joan needs to know that it’s her choice, while Roger shows his true colours by saying that not only is he not against it (as he should be, given his history with Joan) but that he won’t pay her with any of his money. Classy.
Behind Don’s back, they agree to give Joan a partner stake, a tempting offer for a single mother who isn’t likely to get that kind of power, no matter how important she is to the running of the place. The world hasn’t come THAT far yet. When Don finds out, he rushes to her apartment to tell her that she doesn’t need to go through with it, and leaves contented and ready to win the account with his pitch (of Ginsberg’s idea, it must be noted).
Here, the producers use a little storytelling trickery by showing his pitch (all about Jaguar cars being ‘the beauty that you can own’) alongside Joan’s evening of degradation, then replaying Don’s visit to her and showing that it happened AFTER she’d come back. The look in her eyes as she realises that Don didn’t want her to do it is matched only by the look in Don’s eyes when she joins the rest of the partners to receive the good news that they won Jaguar the next morning. Stunning and heartbreaking stuff.
And then we have Peggy. Increasingly marginalised and scapegoated by Don, the final straw came when she showed an increasingly rare flash of genius to salvage an account (she was covering them all while the rest of the creatives worked on Jaguar and ate lobster) only to bear the brunt of his anger (over the Joan proposal) and get wads of money thrown into her face. One meeting with Freddy Rumsen later and she’s having a job interview with one of the gay neighbours from Desperate Housewives.
In that, she gets flattered and shown the kind of respect that Don has been neglecting to show her, and when she asks for a salary (‘what’s your number?’) she gets offered a better one and a good title to boot. Then it’s time for another epic scene in an episode of so many: Peggy handing in her notice to Don. After all they’ve been through, it was a bruising encounter with emotions running high and some unpleasantness from Mr Draper.
It was a tricky week for him, with his successful pitch undermined by issues with his various women, Megan included. She got a callback on a casting for a show that will involve being away in Boston for three months, something he’s not willing to put up with, leading to another row. When the casting turns out to be three men getting her to twirl in front of them rather than show off her acting chops, it’s a bit of a crushing blow for her.
And so, the closing moments. Peggy, having been told to forget serving her notice by an angry Don, collects her things and walks out of SCDP (For the last time? Surely not.) with Joan catching sight of her. What to read from Joan’s expression? Satisfaction at her own rise to partner level or regret at the price she had to pay to get it? And what of the smile creeping onto Peggy’s lips as she steps into the lift to the sudden blast of The Kinks‘ You Really Got Me?
As usual, there’s so much you could read into both of those facial expressions and everything that took place in this episode. Joan and SCDP have degraded themselves to get what they want, while Peggy has turned her back on her ‘champion’ to get what she wants. What price will they pay in the end? Things are hotting up and this was one of the best Mad Men episodes in a long time, which is saying a lot.