Forgive the pun, but I found “To Have and to Hold” a bit hard to swallow – which is why I commend Mad Men producer Erin Levy for penning such a smart episode that revolved around the theory that for all the strides Mad Men’s principal and supporting female characters have made in their professional and personal lives, at the end of the day, they’re still viewed as little more than whores. Megan’s continued success on THATH (anyone else notice that was her shorthand for her soap opera?) garnered her a love scene – and a scathing rebuke from Don, whose ever-present double standard has him condemning his wife (“You kiss people for money”) while slinking off for more trysts with Sylvia. Joan, who re-emerged from the sidelines this episode, is starting to experience the repercussions of last season’s business decision, whereas her married, visiting friend, Kate (nice to see you again, Marley Shelton), having admired Joan’s seemingly flawless ability to land any man, wants to dabble in the emerging sexual revolution, just for one night. Peggy, an unwitting pawn in CGC’s plot to steal the Heinz empire away from SCDP, not only stole a Draperism for her pitch but lost Stan‘s trust. Even Dawn, who has deservedly been bestowed her own story line, has no choice but to compromise her self-worth for the sake of keeping her job.
The seedy aura of this episode hit us from the get-go as Don and Pete staged an illicit meeting with Heinz Ketchup representative Tim Jablonski in the most appropriate setting possible: Pete’s Manhattan pad (anyone else in love with those frosted blue and green sliding doors?). The SCDP admen, along with Stan, arrange to put together a campaign for, as Ken put it last episode, “the Coca-Cola of condiments,” but it has to be done under the radar lest Raymond Geiger, a.k.a. “Beans,” go all Lee Garner Jr. on the firm and whine that he’s not getting enough attention. Everything goes according to plan until the SCDP crew emerge from their ostensibly victorious pitch meeting with “Ketchup” only to find Ted, Peggy and another associate waiting in the wings. To add insult to injury, Don listens in on Peggy’s presentation, and is visibly crushed when she uses an acutely familiar phrase: “If you don’t like what they’re saying, change the conversation.” Don first uttered these words in Season Three, only to be reminded of them again by Peggy in Season Four in the aftermath of losing Lucky Strike – perhaps a hint that one day she would take them as her own. But the big build-up to CGC vs. SCDP over Heinz Ketchup wound up being a red herring: Ted and Peggy sidle up to a dejected Don, Pete and Stan at a bar to announce that neither firm got the account. Plus, both parties are further chastised for their unfaithful behavior: “Beans,” having gotten wind of the secret meeting with “Ketchup,” dumps SCDP, and Stan returns Peggy’s sheepish grin with a raise of his middle finger.
Don’s in a plenty rotten mood by the time he makes it over to the set of To Have and to Hold – where Québécoise Megan has totally been typecast as a French-maid-uniform-clad domestic – so he can watch his wife make out with her co-star and then berate her for it. The climactic scene in Megan’s dressing room continues the all-women-are-whores theme that was brought more into focus last episode. Even though Megan proved her commitment to her marital vows the night before by declining a post-dinner “chemistry experiment” invitation (a.k.a. “swinging”) from THATH actress Arlene and her husband and head writer, Mel (Ted McGinley – tempting Jump the Shark fate, are you, Mad Men?), in Don’s eyes, what Megan is doing for her paycheck is no different than what his prostitute mother and Abigail Whitman did to survive. But ever since Don strode away from Megan on the set of the Butler Shoes commercial, effectively ending his fidelity toward her, we’ve been counting the minutes until the fallout. The first salvo was fired when Megan, following in Trudy‘s footsteps from last week, retaliated against her husband’s apathy over her career: “I’m sick of tiptoeing around you every time something good happens to me!” At the end of the episode, Don retreats into Sylvia’s arms, slipping her gold crucifix pendant behind her head and hiding it from view. She confides that she regularly prays he’ll find peace in his life, but that’s just too much reality for Don to bear. In that small gesture of removing the crucifix from his sight, Don, immune to the fact that Sylvia is the one person who understands his inner torment better than anyone else (she’s the one who gave him Dante’s Divine Comedy) has reduced her from compassionate human being to whore.
The Grass Is Always Greener
The dark side of Joan’s decision to sleep with Herb Rennet from Jaguar in exchange for a partnership has started to rear its ugly head: Harry, executing some pretty brilliant damage control, sold a musical variety show to be sponsored by Dow Chemical, new SCDP client and currently suffering from a litany of bad press (napalm will do that to you in 1968). But for all the business he’s been bringing in, Harry is still denied a partnership and relegated to the second floor, and he feels that unlike Joan, he’s “earned it.” The truth that she slept her way to the top haunts Joan throughout the episode, as the majority of the SCDP still treats her as if she’s a secretary, overriding her decisions. Joan’s pal Kate, a sales director for Mary Kay (but in town for an interview with Avon), thinks that Joan has it all, an executive position, a baby and can still attract any man with a single glance. The two go out on the town, if only so married Kate can know what it’s like to be Joan Harris for one night. They end up at East Village psychedelic club the Electric Circus, decorated in Day-Glo lighting and Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot’s yé-yé classic “Bonnie and Clyde” on the speakers. Kate gets to make out with a handsome stranger named Leo, while Joan begrudgingly locks lips with a dude named Johnny. In the morning, the two girls wake up in bed together, fully clothed – I know, I was disappointed too – and Joan continues to play down her role at SCDP (“it’s a title”), because she doesn’t think it warrants Kate’s admiration, especially because Kate achieved her success entirely on merit. But it’s a dog eat dog world out there, so when Joan arrives at work that day, she wields her power over the only person she can take advantage of: Dawn.
This was the first episode of considerable screen time for Don’s secretary since last season’s “Mystery Date,” and Teyonah Parris turned in a beautifully nuanced performance. Quite the challenge given that Dawn is both a background character and Mad Men’s sole representative of the African-American woman’s experience in 1968. Dawn, like Joan, is in envy of her engaged friend Nikki, because if she had a husband, she wouldn’t have to work, and she could leave the treacherous minefield of office politics, where there appears to be a separate set of rules just for her, behind for good.
Previously: Sloppy Seconds