Wednesday, June 20, 2012

on Mad Men Series 5 & The Other Woman

[Beware Spoilers ahead]
I spent yesterday catching up on the final three episodes of Mad Men’s fifth series.  And then subsequently perusing the internet for critics’ and armchair critics’ alike, appraisals of the series; certainly the surest sign of obsession.

Indeed, I’ve mentioned here dozens of times before my unyielding love of Mad Men (the previous mini-post as a case in point) and furthermore, how I will pretty much refuse to believe anyone who dares to say that they ‘just don’t like it’ (are you kidding me? You haven’t seen enough clearly). Post – series five, I can safely say that the show is perfect – a claim that I have been reiterating since the beginning of this series. Series five, just like the four that have gone before it, was sharp, clever, thought-provoking, sometimes funny even, aesthetically flawless and particularly, what I would consider to be its most marked characteristic, beautifully and unrelentingly subtle – metaphors everywhere, mirrored plotlines, loaded looks and charged silences; it’s what goes unsaid which matters most, allowing the viewer to put all those pieces together in the end and to see what they want to see in the characters’ sometimes unusual actions or in suspiciously artistic cinematography.  Or indeed, its ‘vagueness’ as it has been referred to also, and no, ‘vagueness’ or ‘subtly’ are not just another way of saying ‘but nothing happens!’ as non-fans of the show so like to claim.  

While I will admit that the series five finale was perhaps, not as explosive (I think ‘explosive’ is the word generally used, right?) as previous finales, the slow disjointedness was probably required following the incredible events of the penultimate episode, Commissions and Fees, and those of episode 11, The Other Woman. Favourite elements of this series included, the 1966 setting - consider Beatlemania and the notorious ‘tripping’ scenes -, the increasing precociousness of pre-teen Sally, the Megan/Betty rivalry, Joan in general ( this is the first season that has made me really view her as an actual three dimensional character for some reason), the dinner party at Pete’s house (and indeed, Episode 5 overall ) and Megan being just so jaw-droppingly pretty  - hello  there super cute outfits also (her down time Capri trousers and sweaters and  shift dresses and big earrings for dinner dates and of course, who can forget, the Zou Bisou Bisou performance?).

It was episode 10, The Other Woman, which raised some of the most interesting dilemmas and issues of the entire season, and was arguably, the standout episode of season five.  This was a shocking instalment, signalling movements both forwards and unnervingly backwards as regard women’s equality what with Peggy leaving the company, finally acting on her frustration at being undermined this past season at SCDP, and Joan becoming a partner in the firm, but at no small price. In an outrageous move, Pete asks Joan to spend the night with a client in order to secure an account,

Pete: We've all had nights in our lives where we've made mistakes for free.
Joan: You're talking about prostitution.
Pete: I'm talking about business at a very high level. 

As Don delivers his brilliant ‘Other Woman’ speech to the Jaguar executives, we hope that maybe Joan didn’t go along with the plan and that the creative would have been enough to win the account. However, in a tragic concurrent sequence we are taken back through the previous night’s events which reveal that Joan had fulfilled her part of the deal prior to Don’s visit (which we had already seen), failing to tell him this on his arrival. Don’s sense of character is improved a great deal by his efforts to prevent the plan from going ahead but overall we are stung by the amoral tactics enacted by SCDP.  However, Don’s morality is too brought into question as posed on this blog – does Don merely want to return to his all creative-powerhouse self (like that of the 'carousel speech’)?

As we see Joan putting up her hand to prevent the Jaguar executive from groping her chest in the retelling of events, we again hope that she will put down her glass and leave. Instead, she turns around, allowing him to unzip her as though to preserve some sort of dignity in the situation.

Although I am particularly interested in issues relating to women and the feminist movement in the show, that is but one strand within MM’s complex web of storylines and cultural context.  However, what this episode did reveal is that there is still very much a long way to go for women in January 1967 if a female co – worker is asked by those in power to sleep with a man in order to secure a business deal and therefore, reducing her to nothing other than an object for male sexual consumption.  Meanwhile, in a microcosm of the Joan saga, Megan is diminished to little more than a piece of meat when the auditioning panel before her are more interested in her ass than her acting abilities.

At the beginning of Episode 12, another Ad Man says to Don that he should be on top of the world as ‘this is a big win for your entire agency’. That’s one way to see it, but somehow Joan’s exchange with Pete (about the Jaguar exec) from The Other Woman ultimately hangs overhead,

Joan: Which one is he?
Pete: He’s not bad –
Joan: He’s doing this.

Indeed, the subplot in Episode 13 involving Don and his rotten tooth is the physical manifestation of what has become of the men.


earworm said...

I just had a major case of shivers reading this and remembering moments of season 5. Its one of the few series that makes me want to re-watch the very minute the credits roll. I definitely share the obsession!

Zoë said...

I LOVED this season, especially after the disappointment of season 4. Especially poignant was the moment where Don comes across Peggy in the movie theatre (taking his advice, even after his departure from the company) and he kisses her hand in a surprisingly tender moment.

I really didn't like the treatment of Betty in this season, stretched to find her a storyline (I know she was pregnant at the time of filming) they just made her fat, a go-to sub-plot for a female character.

Goon Squad Rambler said...

Did my masters thesis on Mad Men, thankfully season five wasn't around a year ago, I would have gone crazy! SO much to talk about.

A little sad that you've only been seeing Joan's full characterization lately. Her plight has long haunted and saddened me. It had been subtle up to this point I suppose, she is such a unbelievably composed woman.

Now I just hope that we won't have to wait a year and a half for season six!