Matthew Weiner, Christina Hendricks Dissect Controversial 'Mad Men' Episode 'The Other Woman'
(WARNING! The following contains guaranteed spoilers for the "Mad Men" fifth-season episode "The Other Woman." If you've not yet seen it, turn back now.)
Typically, when a story arises, there's a by-the-numbers protocol when we pass it along: we summarize, we report, we deliver the most complete information possible.
This time, it's but a taste of a lengthy, specific "Mad Men" dissection, and the strongest possible encouragement to read the in-depth interview's first part and wait with baited breath for the second.
The distinctive AMC drama - as unique for its understated tone as for blazing the classic-movie network's trail into original properties - has never wanted for acclaim nor notoriety, but the fifth-season episode "The Other Woman" was both unusually controversial for the series as it was unanimously captivating. It's with good reason and no shortage of bullet points that creator Matthew Weiner and star Christina Hendricks sat down with The Daily Beast to chat at length about what a precarious episode it ended up being.
The arc took Hendricks' audience-beloved Joan Harris into waters that stunned the series' audience - sleeping with a Jaguar executive to secure the automobile maker's partnership with Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Harris' descent to leasing her body as the price of doing business set Jaguar's social media envoy to assuring its current and would-be clientele that despite the beloved Joan's becoming a symbolic "something beautiful you can truly own," that there were no valid assumptions to be made Weiner had staged a commentary on the brand's true-life modus operandi.
There was so very much ground to cover, that the interview has been split into two parts, the first released Tuesday and the second coming Wednesday. We've opted against abridging the piece here with two reasons in mind: first, the transcript spans an engrossing three pages on the site; second, an abbreviated summary of Hendricks and Weiner's thoughts does the episode's fascinating construction and underlying themes no justice.
After all, though it led a cherished fixture such as Joan Harris in such a previously unthinkable direction and made many question Jaguar management's collective sanity for not taking up arms against the brand's portrayal, fortune favored the bold: co-writers Weiner and Semi Challas received Emmy Award nominations for its writing, Phil Abraham a nod for direction, and stars Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss and Hendricks all submitted their respective turns in the episode for consideration in their chosen categories.
And as long as we're keeping score, indeed, Hamm is once more up in the Drama Actor field, Moss in Drama Actress and Hendricks in Supporting Drama Actress.
"I was surprised," Weiner admitted of the controversy the episode generated. "I knew it was a dramatic moment, and I expected it to be treated as drama, because the stakes were so high, and we knew Joan so well. But I also felt on some level, if we hadn't used the word 'prostitution' in there, it was more about the public nature of what was going on, and also their lvoe for Joan, and the fact that she was put in this position that was so upsetting to people.
"I was stunned, though, but the suggestion that there were some people questioning about whether she would have actually done this or not," he clarified. "That shocked me. Maybe what they were saying is they were questioning whether they would have done it, but I was hoping, certainly judging on the history of the show and Joan has done, obviously this is not the first time this has been an issue for her."
Indeed, this episode hinges so much upon, and is a masterful celebration of, Hendricks' artful subtlety. Few actresses can convey so much with so calculatingly little as she, an ever-present clinic in a whisper getting the most attention. In her every performance, she wastes not a motion. Even when the script demands Joan's unwavering intensity, her every move and word is rimmed with an inimitable underlying softness, and an often measured dance between pragmatism and altruism.
"There were very few options for women at this time at work," Hendricks said. "As a single mother, how do you rise at work? How do you make more money? How do you support your family? Luckily, we have a lot more options these days. It's not fiar to compare the situation in 2012, but people can't help it because that's where we live, and that's what we do and that's who we are. We get emotional thinking, 'I would never do that. I can't believe it.' Well, you would never do it now."
And therein, Hendricks defines the understated, thoughtful, honest beauty of "Mad Men": few are the shows that have shown us - not necessarily for better or worse, but simply unflinchingly - exactly where we all stand by unflinchingly surveying where we've been.