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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

My Mad Men recap: The choices strong women make in a male-dominated world are sometimes weak

ep511-joanandcardude.jpgThere are times -- not often, mind you -- when I find myself absolutely hating Mad Men mastermind Matt Weiner.

That feeling surfaced sharply during Sunday's episode, "The Other Woman," after seeing what Weiner did to one of my favorite characters, bombshell office manager Joan Harris.

HUGE SPOILERY STUFF FOLLOWS

Mad Men seems to delight in subverting the power of Joan's sexuality in ways I have trouble accepting.

True enough, super beautiful women can have problems with loneliness and bad relationships that you wouldn't expect. But it always felt unlikely that Joan, as smart and sophisticated as she is about her appeal to men, would land a loser like her underachieving, insecure doctor husband.

This Sunday, Weiner stretched that concept even further, having Joan sleep with the head of car dealerships for Jaguar so that Sterling Cooper could get a prized advertising contract with the car company.

Of course, weaselly executive Pete Campbell was the executive who tried to bamboozle Joan into doing it, bringing the offer to Harris without blinking. And, just as predictably, our heroic antihero Don Draper is the only executive who refuses to consider the idea -- outvoted after he leaves the room by the other partners, including two guys who profess to care about Joan, shiftless heir Roger Sterling and secret embezzler Lane Pryce.

ep511-joan.jpgThis feels odd for so many reasons: Joan must know the details will eventually make the rounds, both at her firm and in the advertising agency. The firm's partners know she's married with a child; and bad as the 1960s could be, its tough to imagine a Manhattan ad firm leasing out its female employees like a high class brothel (though it does let Pete live down to Lane's description of him as a "greasy pimp.")

In reality, I think a woman as savvy and beautiful as Joan would have rebounded from her marriage to the doctor into a loveless marriage with a rich and powerful man who could save her from her tiny apartment and controlling mother. Perhaps she'd even become one in a long line of ex-Mrs. Roger Sterlings, well aware that she's just putting in time to earn entree into a higher class of life.

But this: trading her self respect for a 5 percent partnership, feels like a needless cheapening of her intelligence and growing spirit. (though I did love the way we saw Don tell Joan she didn't need to do the deed, then it was revealed that he had been too late, coming to her after she had already performer her end of the deal.)

ep511-donandpeggy.jpgContrast that with Peggy Olson, who eventually earns Draper's respect the only way she could; by getting a job somewhere else.

She had no other choice. As Draper has looked for inspiration with his wife Megan and new hire Michael Ginsberg, Peggy became the taken-for-granted work wife -- the Buick in the garage, to use an example from the TV show -- and she had to move or only be subjected to more indignities.

Expect her new situation to fizzle. She was hired by a mortal enemy of Draper, who doubtless hopes to wheedle information from her to sabotage her old firm.

I hope it's not long before she returns to Sterling Cooper; major characters in a workplace drama who move to another workplace generally don't last long.

Don's wife Megan completes the trilogy of women-centered stories in this week's episode, as she loses an audition after traveling to Boston for a interview before three guys in a hotel. We never see what happens beyond their asking her to turn around several times; given the theme of the episode, are we to assume she was made an offer for the part that she decided to refuse?

Cool as it was to see Peggy finally come out on top, using her brain instead of her sexuality to take a step forward in ways her more glamorous female colleagues did not, I found it odd that none of the other women were able to get what they wanted without acceding to degrading, sex-based indignities. Sexist at the '60s was, this stuff felt like a particularly relentless cartoon.

Still, it will be compelling to note how this all plays out for Joan, when the firm will figure out that Lane stole $8,000 from them and how Peggy will come to regret her move.

Even when he's degrading characters we love, Weiner remains TV's top showman.

 

 

[Last modified: Monday, May 28, 2012 1:28pm]

    

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