by: L.P. Hanners
This week on Mad Men the protege comes face to face with her mentor in dramatic fashion…..
I, ____, take you, ____, to be my lawfully wedded (husband/wife), to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.
The episode’s title, “To Have and To Hold”, was an obvious nod to the fictional soap-opera that Megan stars in. This is apropos as Don appears set to use Megan’s career, and the choices she has to make within it, as the catalyst for their divide. By episode’s end it seems clear that Don is going to constantly push Megan towards cracking as she continues to rise in her career, much in the same way she was broken when her talent started blossoming at the agency. Don is toxic for Megan, no matter what point she is at in her life.
“To Have and To Hold” can also refer to marriage (Don’s and Megan’s – on the brink like never before.), or relationships in the general sense of the word, and the roles we all play in them ((“I am sure he is a man who plays many roles.” -Arlene, while trying to seduce both Don and Megan at dinner, with the help of one Ted McGinley – Married with Children / Revenge of the Nerds.)). Throughout the episode Don and Megan confront trust issues, Joan battles for the respect of her title at work, Harry feels unappreciated and isn’t afraid to say why, and Peggy finally moves on. It was a busy episode, fulfilling in so many ways ((The cinematography in this episode was brilliant – most notably in the scenes with Dawn in the coffee shop, reminiscent of Spike Lee’s movies he did with Ernest Dickerson as his Director of Photography.))….ripe with people engaging in devilish behavior. The episode begins in Pete’s bachelor pad, acquired with infidelity in mind, where a secret meeting is taking place with Heinz Ketchup ((A brilliant opening shot of the stained glass divider that separates the bedroom from the living room of Pete’s Manhattan apartment draws us in immediately.)), setting the tone for all the deceit to come ((The dynamic between Pete and Don that we know so well – where Pete seeks don’s approval and Don’ smugly deflates those attempts – is front and center in the apartment.)).
Joan’s and Dawn’s stories highlight that things are far from utopian for women and minorities in the American workplace. The role of women in the workplace (and now minorities) has always been a central theme of Mad Men. Often, to the non-believers stolid enough to pass on the series, it is assumed that Mad Men is a show which belittles women. But we, the devout viewers, know this is hardly the case. So much of the appeal of Mad Men is its portrayal of strong working women thriving with a deck so heavily stacked against them. Peggy and Joan are just as much the reason for the brilliance of this show as Don and Roger are. Their fortitude and wit is empowering. But, on this evening, all the women at the core of the show are essentially presented as whoring themselves out in way or another. Joan continues to live beneath the banner of her late night encounter with the Jaguar executive while Peggy trades her friendship with Stan for a shot at Heinz. And, Megan – as Don so gratuitously, and rapaciously, points out – is being paid to kiss people, “do you know who does that?” ((Were you at least going to brush your teeth before you came home?”)) An unfair argument of course (Is Don really comparing what Megan is doing to what his mother did to survive?), but one Don reverts to in haste in order to take his anger out on Megan, anger that was initially meant for Peggy – for stealing his account from under his nose, and for stealing his legendary line! ((“If you don’t like what they’re saying, change the conversation.”))
Joan, and her friend Kate ((Played by Marley Shelton – Grindhouse, The Sandlot!)), a sales director from Mary Kay, in town to explore an opportunity with Avon, seek to escape their problems with a night on the town ((Joan mentions a reservation they have at ‘Le Cirque’ – which actually isn’t possible as it didn’t open until 1974 – a rare slip up for Matt Weiner and his team!)). They end up at The Electric Circus, a famed club where the Velvet Underground, as organized by Andy Warhol, was the house band ((“Bonnie & Clyde” by Serge Gainsbourg & Brigitte Bardot plays in the background.)). They blow off some steam and enjoy some harmless fun. Katie admires Joan so much, and it only makes Joan feel guilty – as Joan is confronted once again with the burdensome reason she is a Partner at SCDP.
Peggy is all grown up, a remarkable sight to see. Not only that, she seems to have successfully dealt with the fact that the “ketchup” meeting is occurring because of insider information she acquired from Stan ((Stan’s presence this season is the highlight of a sudden marijuana boom in the time period. “I’m telling you it clears the cobwebs” he says as he peer pressures Don, while “Friends I Haven’t Met” by Blue Sandalwood Soap plays in the background.)). She can live with it – as this is her career, and this is how it works. She appeared to have that glow, and that confidence, of a woman who has finally moved on in full from a lover that jilted her, and is now happy in her new life. The way Matt Weiner set up the confrontation between Don and Peggy, and the subsequent meeting eavesdropped by Don, was brilliant. The magnitude of her determination is conveyed in the long hold on the wide shot in the lobby where, in surprise, Don and Peggy meet for the first time as enemies when it’s soon revealed Peggy had, indeed, done her homework. After Don hears Peggy’s pitch, one in stark contrast to what he himself brought to the table, he ends up smiling to himself as he listens to his old apprentice out-do his own presentation (his anger not revealed until later). For Peggy, it’s a giant leap forward, and just retribution as it was Heinz (“beans” in this case) who kicked her off an account a few months before she left SCDP.
Sylvia sees Don, completely. She knows exactly how damaged he is. This reveal occurs during an astonishing moment when she tells him that she prays “for him to find his piece.” Don cannot even hide his vulnerability, and his desire to escape his distress, from those he seeks comfort from.
The idea of loyalty (or lack thereof) was sprinkled deliberately throughout the show, from the secret meeting to start the show to the dramatic confrontation of Don and Peggy ((Peggy was nothing if not loyal to Don.)) and extending unto the scene at the bar post-pitch, where Ken sarcastically states “nothing better than being known for your loyalty”, a quality which alludes almost everyone at SCDP.
Moving forward – by looking back, I remember when Season 5 concluded and I was fascinated by…..Roger’s bare ass. It resonated with my expectation that he would embrace the burgeoning Hippy movement. During the closing montage of last year’s season finale, “The Phantom”, Roger has an acid-fueled moment naked in his hotel room in front of the window, with a brimming smile on his face. It was a great metaphor for what Matt Weiner wanted his audience to associate with Roger. Tonight, we found out that he wasn’t just talking about psychedelic drugs, or just Roger. He was alluding to the spirit of the late 60’s and early 70’s, “For the times they are a-changing”. Things are going to have to continue moving with zest into these turbulent times if the writing is to stay committed to marrying natural storytelling with historical authenticity, and lucky for us some of that occurred in this episode, “To Have and To Hold.”