05/29/2012 03:41 pm ET Updated Jul 29, 2012

Mad Men Recap: "Little Murders"

Jaguar. Joan. Megan. Peggy. Women. Sex. Power. Framed by the Jaguar pitch, "The Other Woman" is a beautifully brutal depiction of prostitution -- cracking open a theme deeply embedded in the series, but never truly explored. Don's mother was a prostitute, all the men sleep with prostitutes. Our beloved Sal was fired for not sleeping with Lee Garner Jr. and Pete even suggested his wife (!) sleep with an editor to get his short story published back in Season 1. Opening with Don, Ginzo and a bunch of male freelancers throwing around the idea of Jaguar as your gorgeous mistress, the episode immediately turns women into possessions as the "beautiful yet unreliable" objects of desire. Don tells the team it's too vulgar to actually use the word mistress, but unlike their campaign, this episode slaps us in the face with the ugly reality behind the desperation and degradation that can come with the business of business, and how it all comes back to the world's oldest profession.

Selling sex is a basic advertising concept that we see over and over, but it's much harder to swallow when the concept becomes a reality. Matthew Weiner often says in interviews that he shows the harshest truths of human nature and this is one of them. This episode asks us to stomach paying Joan to sleep with Horndog Herb from Jaguar -- depicting prostitution in the most explicit and grotesque way. But in many ways, they pull it off. Through the discomfort, we also see our three female leads, Joan, Peggy and Megan, each turn objectification into power in their own way. Joan gets pimped out and becomes partner, Megan uses sex to gain confidence, and Peggy has money thrown in her face and gets the courage to quit. As the three women closest to Don, Joan, Peggy and Megan are like his three prized possessions, and by the end of the episode, he loses them all.

When Megan and her redhead actress friend come into the office, the Jaguar as mistress idea is fleshed out. While Megan's redhead friend crawls all over the table pitching her body as the Jaguar ad, Ginzo is uninterested and just stares at Megan walking Don into his office. "She really comes and goes as she pleases, huh?" He stares at Megan walk across the office, like the little kid watching the car speed by, longingly, intrigued by her complete command of the situation. Ginzo later explains to Don it's not about the sex, the woman dancing on the table they can have, it's about the unattainable woman, which is what he sees in Megan, in her level of independence.

Megan stops by the office for her own purpose. She takes Don into his office, locks the door and throws him down. Don realizes, "whatever this is, it's not for me," and she tells him "I want to walk in there with confidence." She wants to get all sexed up to walk in there and sell herself. Sex sells. The whole business of auditioning can be seen as degrading, selling your body to get a role, and we see her objectified as they ask her to step up and spin around inspecting her body like a car on display.

The play Megan auditions for is Little Murders, a Jules Feiffer play that lasted through only a few performances in April of '67, from which I'm borrowing my title because it aptly describes the multiple slayings of this episode, literal and figurative, almost all the men (partners and Herb) of Joan, Peggy of Don (quitting), Bert of Lane (no bonus), Megan of Don (I may go to Boston). When Megan first tells Don she might have to move to Boston for three months if she gets the part, Don naturally tells her to forget it. Megan thinks that Don doesn't actually expect her to succeed but it's not that he doubts her talent, it's that he can't accept her not putting him first. It feels like this will be what comes between them. He yells after her "just keep doing whatever the hell you want," seeing the same thing that inspired Ginzo. And then he connects it to her when he gives the pitch. She tells him later "if I have to choose between you and [acting] I'll choose you but I'll hate you for it." She will choose him but for how long? She gets him to concede a little and say he doesn't want her to fail. "Good," she responds, "because I'm not going to." Boom.

Don's final pitch puts the episode's sentiment into words:

"Oh this car, this thing. What price would we pay? What behavior we forgive? If they weren't pretty, if they weren't temperamental, if they weren't beyond our reach and a little out of our control, would we love them like we do?"

He's talking about Megan, his beautiful, temperamental and impossible-to-control wife, but as the pitch is spliced with Joan sleeping with Herb, it addresses what we would do for power, for this thing. The shots cutting in and out of Don's pitch and Joan recall the end of The Godfather, only further connecting the acts of this episode to murder.

In many ways, Joan has always been the unattainable (though actually more attainable than she seems) and that's what Horndog Herb wants in exchange for his vote. Ken dismisses the idea but Pete is crude enough to consider it. His willingness to entertain the idea is gross but true to form, taking us back to his old loathsome character, and therefore believable (as mentioned above, remember when he tried to pimp out his wife?). Putting the agency's desperation for the account, for this thing above any moral code, Pete drives this exchange through to completion. The thing is, it's not that this never happens in life, but it's depicted so rawly here that we're really forced to face it.

Pete tries to appeal to Joan, telling her "that there's something that could be worth the sacrifice." It's just one night in your life and "we've all had nights in our lives when we've made mistakes for free." He attempts to defend prostitution with Cleopatra, asking "what would it take to make you a queen?" (which echoed on Game of Thrones this week when Cersei tells Sansa her most powerful weapon is between her legs). To deflect the insulting offer, Joan counters, "I don't think you could afford it." She doesn't mean this as an opening for negotiation but Pete takes it as such and takes it to the partners to see how much they're willing and able to offer to possibly match her price. He tells the partners it's his opinion that if they brought Joan the right amount she would do it.

The partner's debate about selling off Joan is the saddest and most disturbing scene of all. This is a room of men all slightly in love with Joan -- Don with the heightened connection from last week's bonding session, Lane with a hopeless crush and Roger her ex-lover and father of her child and they still all decide to go through with it. With the exception of Don, who says absolutely not and walks out, the other three tacitly agree to offer her 50k, not necessarily saying yes but no one willing to stand up and say no. Roger is notably unfazed, a little upset initially saying I hope you told the guy to take a hike and then surprised "she said she'd do it??" but quickly giving in, he won't stop it but he won't bankroll it. (you know, because that would be crossing a line... ) On the way out, Bert only offers "let her know she can still say no."

Lane tries to shut it down only because he already stole the money the company would need to pay her. He feebly suggests they take their bonuses and move on but Bert says no. (I bet Bert will be the one who figures out what Lane did, since he keeps shooting Lane down about the bonuses and no one else seems to be listening.) Lane comes up with a pretty smart solution to help both him and Joan, telling her if she were to be tempted by the offer, she should get nothing less than a voting partnership and five percent stake in the company. 50k won't help her much but a partnership could take care of a woman and a child for a lifetime. So she does, she asks for that and she gets it -- making sure that if she does this now, she'll never have to do anything like it again. She could have just accepted Roger's money, but in a perverse way, she gains greater independence by doing this on her own terms than by being forced to rely on Roger for the rest of her life.

Only Christina Hendricks/Joan could bring a sense of dignity to this degradation. While the men's behavior in asking her to do it is indefensible, Joan's decision to go through with it is more understandable. Financial security for her and her child is more important than this one shameful act, and as Pete said, we know how many mistakes she's already made for free. When she walks into the partners meeting she has a silent conversation with Don with her eyes as he questions, I thought I told you not to do it?, and she looks right back at him, as an equal saying it's done and don't judge me. She's seen everyone in that room do worse, including to her, and without conversation, she's one of them. She becomes a queen and takes her crown.

As horrible and disgusting as it was, I think they made it believable that it could go down this way. The men seem just desperate enough and Joan's gain was just great enough. Joan made a very calculated decision. Did you think she would do it? Joan has always used her body to get what she wants and this is really just taking it a step (or three) further.

And then there's Peggy. We've feared this inevitable moment when she would outgrow Don for ages, but it's still just as hard on everyone involved. We get three scenes leading up to it. One to show us Don's still ignoring her when she asks for him to sign off on other work and he tells her to handle it. One to remind us that Peggy's talented. Chevalier Blanc wants to pull their "Hard Day's Night" ad because sales have leveled off and it's only geared towards men. Peggy comes up with a great idea on the spot to shift the focus to women by just changing the ending. Instead of running into the bar, Lady Godiva runs up on a horse "as naked as they'll let us make her" and she rides off with the hero into the sunset. Once again, sex sells and Peggy knows it. And a third to push her over the edge. Coming straight off the meeting about Joan, Don passes her idea over to Ginzo and then, like a microcosm of the episode, throws cash in her face. She gains strength in her anger of this moment and realizes it's time to move on.

Peggy has a cute lunch with Freddie Rumsen, her other mentor, to ask for advice. Remember, he's the one who first discovered and vouched for her, so it's nice to see their relationship continue (and that Rumsen seems to have actually cleaned himself up). Quite appropriately he tells her "car guys are a bunch of creeps." And then he tells her it's time to move on. Elizabeth Moss is great as you see the realization that she might actually do what she formerly thought would be impossible. At first she says sure I can take a few meetings to throw an offer in Don's face but he corrects her, she should get an offer to take an offer. So she meets with Teddy Chaough and accepts an offer. He's been dying to get his hands on a piece of the Draper magic for years and he pounces right away. She asks for Copy Chief $18,000/year and he comes back with $19,000 if it's her last meeting. She takes it.

The scene where Peggy says goodbye to Don is fantastically executed -- so touching and sad. Like the way you saw the realization spread across her face in the diner, Jon Hamm excels as he registers that she's not joking. He assumes she's coming to see him about business -- about something he can give her. He says I can't put you on Jaguar and then asks if is this about Joan being made partner?

Two comments that just solidify her decision to go. She gives him a perfect goodbye speech, it's been her privilege to be his protégé, he's been her mentor and her champion but it's time she's moves on. He assumes she's just looking for money (what she originally thought she would be looking for) and tells her he's impressed she finally picked the right moment to ask for a raise. But she's serious. He's just smiling, assuming he'll win her over but he registers the shock, anger and pain seamlessly as he realizes what she's saying. She says it was hard for her and he gets defensive, "I bet it was" and then fights for her to stay, saying he'll match whatever number, but there is no number. Unlike Joan, she doesn't have a price on this. She says you know this is what you would do. You see the pain on his face as she tells him she's going over to Chaough -- which really is a low blow. It's one thing to leave but it's another to consort with the enemy. We know Don's really hurt because those famous Draper veins are popping out of his head. In their final moment, Peggy puts out her hand and Don kisses it and doesn't let go. His position is almost subservient, worshipping her, his protégé (his possession) and tears roll down Peggy's face as you feel her pain, sacrificing this relationship -- this love -- for what she knows is right for her career. This moment is reminiscent of "The Suitcase," when Don grabbed Peggy's hand for support after Anna died and now he latches on to that hand, not wanting to lose his one true friend. With the final words "don't be a stranger," she walks out.

Peggy grabs her portfolio and two mugs from her office and walks straight out without looking back. Joan watches her walk away with an intense look. I'm not sure what it says because she probably doesn't actually realize that Peggy's leaving for good, but the moment is filled with distant support -- do what you need to do -- or perhaps jealousy or even insecurity if she thinks Peggy knows what she's done. There's a hint of the feeling that she walked away from this corruption as Joan walked deeper in, but as Peggy said, "they're all creeps." There a parallel line to their stories, both choosing their career over personal feelings, Peggy's obviously less horrifying but somewhat equally defining.

As she waits for the elevator (at which point I thought Joan might chase after her) she stares through the glass doors into the office (like she stared into the Jaguar creative conference room at the beginning of the episode) and looks satisfied, like 'my work here is done.' As the elevator opens, she flashes a triumphant smile and walks in as the Kinks' "You Really Got Me" plays over the credits. The song is about female power and a guy singing you really got me -- like what the Jaguar ad is supposed to do -- get them going over something they really want. Peggy exits this episode like a winner, one of the only ones who did not compromise her integrity, just a piece of her heart.

I'm so sad to admit it, but this really is the right move for Peggy's career and on some level I think Don knows that, too. What do we think will happen with this? Is she actually gone? I would love to see Peggy surface as a real competitor to Don and have him lose a client (or two) to her and then watch them laugh about it over drinks. Wishful thinking?

Don lost all three of his women to their careers: Megan with the need to succeed, Peggy with the need to leave and Joan with the need to debase herself to secure her future.

A few other things:

It's the week of January 16-20, six weeks from where we left off in last week's episode and two weeks from Peggy's proposed last day of February 3rd.

We get a look into women's salaries -- Peggy's getting $19,000/year and Joan makes $12,500/yr since we know 50k is four times her salary.

Trudy also exerts some power in this episode after being stepped on all season. She tells Pete, let's stop playing games, your love affair with Manhattan is over. He asks how she could like living in this cemetery but she says her children will grow up in fresh air. Period. I thought for a moment she was going to say she knew about his affairs, or that he's been checked out of the marriage for months (and he thought so, too).

The scenes of Pete convincing everyone to go through whoring Joan out are juxtaposed with a quick scene of Pete reading his daughter Goodnight Moon -- deepening the wrongness of what he's doing with the idea that one day his baby girl could grow up and have someone ask her to do the same.

Ken is the only truly good guy in the office, the one who assumes that giving Joan to Herb is out of the question and that Jaguar is dead -- but it's partially because he has less at stake in the company so he has more room to be moral.

Joan leaving Pete's outstretched hand hanging is great. This is not proper business.

The way that Don reacts to the prospect of Joan going through with it is very sweet, showing up at her house telling her not to go through with it. It shows how deeply he feels for her, that in one way or another, he loves her. As the son of a whore, he feels particularly disgusted by the situation and doesn't want Joan to debase herself like that -- but in a great time loop we later see that she's already done it. She probably would have done it anyway. There's no disrespect in the meeting but from the hurt look on his face I think it's safe to say whatever lingering flirtation existed between the two of them is over.

Joan's mother is amazing in her quick scene. "Kevin doesn't know we all wish his father were dead." Amen, sista. AND Apollo's wife doesn't let him come over anymore -- which tells us two things: she's a flirt just like Joan and she flirts for service (more prostitution).

When Megan walks into the office in her audition dress Don says, "I have only bad associations of letting you leave the house in that." What is he talking about? Do we know? Was it what she was wearing that first time when she lied to him?

Not only did Don lose his women in this episode, but he's lost his creative juice. He's upset that he didn't win this account on his own but the truth is it wasn't his to begin with. It was Ginzo's idea and he poses more of a threat to Don than Peggy ever did. Ginzo comes in with fully baked ideas and taglines while Peggy just came up with the kernels that Don would pop out and turn into GloCoat. Will Ginzo take over? Will Don try to connect with and mentor him in Peggy's absence?