As many have pointed out, a great deal of Mad Men revolves around assholes doing mean things. That does create drama, so who can fault in that formula? The problem is that we’re six seasons in to this series now, and there are ways in which character development has paid off tremendously, even if it’s sad (i.e. almost everything) and some extraordinarily frustrating ways it hasn’t (um, Don). I know it’s Matthew Weiner‘s “thing” to not have people grow or change because people really don’t grow and change significantly in the real world, but what value is this to us viewers, six years into things? Look, “To Have And To Hold” was pretty great, possibly even the best episode this season so far … save for Don. It revolved around a pretty centrally important theme of “what’s missing?” (besides my interest any more in Don). Love, career, peace … maybe the answer to all things is at the bottom of a ketchup bottle. Hit the jump to find out.
Audiences have been asking for two things from Mad Men, one for years, and one just this season: more Dawn (and an acknowledgement of racial issues), and, recently, more Joan. It was a mixed blessing. Dawn finally got her own arc, appearing as more than just a background character hired because of a mistake, and had a couple of diner scenes with a friend who’s getting married that essentially boiled down to “these white men are out of control” and “there are no good men around for me to marry.” These were two things that weighed heavily on Joan this week too, and for things to end with the two of them acknowledging something in each other, maybe even a shared plight, was a great moment (especially given that Joan had been very cutting towards black people in the past).
Joan has had an interesting trajectory. She was always exceptionally capable in her work, but it was always her main objective to marry well. But she’s been caught between the Betty and Peggy types — she overtly uses her sexuality and femininity to move ahead (despite being very capable even without that), and often because of it, isn’t taken as seriously as she would like. Her role as wife and mother didn’t turn out the way she wanted it to, nor did her rise to a partnership in a firm (hammered home by a lecherous Harry Crane). She and Dawn are both admired as career women by those who haven’t committed themselves to it (Dawn’s friend and Joan’s sister), but neither group are wholly happy with their lot.
It’s a storyline Peggy shared last week when she acknowledged that everyone in the office hated her, and yet, she was successful in her position. Still, Joan was treated abominably this week while Peggy had a chance to shine and Dawn was given a leg up that she wasn’t expecting or may not even really want, though it’s heading in the right direction. And like those other two women, she grabs it with both hands.
Back to Harry Crane, what a disgusting individual. I’ve been so disappointed in Harry, who started out kind of bumbling but likable, and who transformed into something awful. Maybe his work has warranted a partnership, but his attitude will ensure he never gets one. Roger and Bert giving him the check that was more than his yearly salary was an interesting gauge, and his reaction — “and?” — sealed his fate. Roger’s quip afterwards that they should fire him before he cashed the check was funny, and typical Roger, but it was Bert who really cut Harry down. After his deplorable display during the meeting, he then tries to align himself with Bert. “You were just like me,” he pleads. “I was and am different from you in every possible way,” Bert replied.
Loyalty was another issue, as SCDP risked theirs by courting Heinz ketchup, which they didn’t secure, and which ultimately lead them to also lose the baked beans account because of their sly machinations. Peggy gave up her friend loyalty to Stan to have her firm pitch Heinz as well (though he didn’t figure that out, which I’m glad about), while Megan fretted over her on-screen kiss while Don screws every living female behind her back.
Don “likes to watch,” does he? Apparently not. Megan’s actions remind him of him looking through the keyhole, watching women have sex as their job. Yet how is that different than when he’s in control, bedding Sylvia and then giving her money? I’m not going to waste space trying to deconstruct Don’s continual emotional crisis, the cross, his hypocrisy, etc — I’m sick of it, and him. Were it not for Jon Hamm‘s cartoon-pilot face, I’d be even more bored with everything Don. It’s not about Megan being a “whore” figure — Betty was angelic in her housewifery, and he still cheated on her and disposed of her. He cannot be satiated. What’s missing? Don Draper’s soul. Bring back Dick Whitman, please.
All in all though, a really fantastic episode with so many great, small moments (even things like Stan’s fringe jacket, and Don’s face when the swingers made their proposition). The payoff from the Heinz account was an early-season treat, as was seeing Dawn get some meaningful time (even at Joan’s expense). Joan’s night on the town with her sister was lovely, too — she even excels in that. Is there anything the woman can’t do? (Besides find a good man? Not like she needs one, though). Here’s hoping that Harry takes a trip down that staircase though, sooner than later.
Episode Rating: A-
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Everything about Joan’s night out was perfection. Any third wheel can attest.
— Scarlett should have left the company had she known what was good for her. If looks could kill …
— “I live here, Pete” was just Don twisting the knife for Pete again that he has everything Pete (thinks he) wants.
— Poor Megan. That maid’s costume and wig really didn’t do her any favors, though.
— The TV show idea for Dow chemical featuring Joe Namath had me in stitches. Hilarious.
— Remember, the weight you lose from cigarettes is not worth the wrinkles!
— I really thought when Don pressed the penny into Sylvia’s hand it was going to be to say “no more” but … oh look, no change (ba dum chish!)
— Stan is so underused. Also, Ginsberg’s paranoia coupled with Bob’s brow-nosing was great. I really liked the episode mostly because we actually got to return to office like a little bit. Don even pitched an ad! (And Peggy one-upped him by stealing his lines and methodology).
— That meeting between the SCDP crew and the group from Chaough … amazing.
— If you don’t like the conversation, change it.