Just like that, everything's changed.
When this week's episode of "Mad Men" began, would anyone have guessed that by its end we'd see the departure of Peggy and Joan literally whoring herself out to help the company – and take an ownership role in it? Hell no. But “The Other Woman,” Sunday night’s installment in a season we'll only see two more episodes of, threw a molotov cocktail into what we thought were secure features of position and design.
While we've been wringing hands over whether or not Don and Megan will hold on to the thrashing live wire of electricity that is their relationship, other forces have been at work. Forces that resulted in one woman moving ahead at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce by selling her body, and another finally giving in to the fact that the only way she can keep her integrity and move forward in life is to leave.
An important figure at Jaguar gave a sleazy ultimatum to the boys Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce: they would his vote for their feather-cap pitch in return for a night with Joan. With all of Joan. Don wanted none of it, leaving the meeting at which it was discussed. In his absence, Pete, Roger, Lane and Bert all agreed to sound out Joan. Naturally, Pete was the conversational catalyst for the deal, and in every frame his sleazy manipulation drips from him in swelling gobs of asshole.
Lane’s embezzlement from the company led to his approaching Joan directly, suggesting she demand an ownership stake in the company rather than Pete's suggested offering of $50,000 in cash. The amount would have led to the discovery of Lane’s theft, which would obviously ruin the man. So he led the charge of alternative options, far more out of self-interest than pragmatism and concern for his confidant.
Don, belatedly discovering that the prostitution scheme was underway, showed up at Joan’s apartment and told her it's not worth it as she stood in her robe, about to get in the shower. He would win the account honestly at the pitch the next morning, and if he didn't win it, "Who wants to work with people like that anyway?" Touched, Joan said, “You’re a good one, aren’t you?” and put a hand on his cheek. It was a tender moment, a streak of beauty in a mudslide of shit.
The next thing we see are the SDCP boys arriving at Jaguar and Don leaning into his pitch – the best he's delivered in years. He refers to the Jag as the unattainable object speeding by just out of reach — “because they do that, don’t they, beautiful things?” — a testament to his feelings about Megan, auditioning for a play that could require her to move to Boston for three months.
Suddenly, though, the scene cuts to Joan at the Jaguar man’s apartment. We see her step into the proverbial lion's den, and allow herself to be objectified by a pig of a man whose only leverage is money. Then we're swept into the Don arrival scene again at Joan's apartment, only we see it from the inside of her room. She's taking off the emerald necklace the Jaguar pig had given her, and upon hearing that Don's arrived, she puts a robe over her alluring dress to meet him.
He was too late. She'd already done the deed.
Whether by pitch or stitch, SDCP has locked Jaguar. The look on Don's face when he sees Joan in the partners meeting, however, says it all. Amidst the celebrations and accolades, Peggy – who's been denigrated, taken for granted and outright disrespected in recent episodes – drops the biggest bombshell of all: she's leaving. She's accepted an offer – which topped her own asking base – with a rival firm.
Just as he assumed that Megan would never actually succeed on Broadway, Don saw Peggy's speech as a play for more money. Exasperated, he congratulated her efforts to earn more, and even apologized for being short and dismissive of late. But as he began to realize he was wrong, anger rose instead. A nasty outlash of heartbroken urgency follows.
“I’m sorry, but you know that this is what you would do,” she told him, and in that moment Don knew she was right. Then she held out her hand for him to shake – but instead of shaking it, he clasped it and kissed it preciously, fighting tears and finally giving a moment of delicate gratitude to a woman who had been his unsung pillar of support for so very long. "Don't be a stranger," she says as she exits.
As she steps into the elevator to leave amidst the noise and carrying on for the Jaguar celebration – the same elevator that symbolically trapped Don in the office a few weeks ago – we see a smile of excitement spread on her face. She's stepping into a spaceship that's about to take her to another world entirely. One where she knows she'll be celebrated, treated with all the respect and accolades she'd worked so hard for.
At least, that's what we're hoping.