Even as late as 1968, Don Draper remains a man that other men want to be. Yet Don Draper doesn’t exist—not really. Mad Men hasn’t dealt too much with “Don Draper” as Dick Whitman’s fictional construct since Betty learned the truth about her first husband back in season three; but it’s still one of the major themes that animates the show. So many of the Mad Men men seem almost disgustingly human. Pete, for one. And Harry… jeez, what the hell’s happened to Harry over the years? (He used to be such a lovable underdog, but has become less appealing with each new success.) But while Don can be petty and impulsive, with overt signs of physical weakness, in the main he remains iconic. He’s that hunk of man who comes with the picture frame. He’s not just in advertising, he’s of advertising.
That’s something immediately understood by Megan’s boss Mel (played by Ted McGinley), the head writer of her soap To Have And To Hold, as well as by Mel’s wife of 18 years—and the star of his show—Arlene. About halfway through this week’s Mad Men, also called “To Have And To Hold,” Mel and Arlene are having dinner with Don and Megan, and after hearing Don affirm his opposition to the Vietnam War while simultaneously defending advertisers bailing on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Mel says, “I could cast you. You know that,” to which Arlene adds that she’s sure Don’s played many roles.
The question is whether Don’s just playing one of those roles when he gets huffy about Megan being given her first love scene on To Have And To Hold. “I can tolerate this, but I can’t encourage it,” Don tells Megan; and then later he shows up on set and gets mad at her for seeming to enjoy herself when her co-star is mashing up against her. Does Don really care about Megan’s love scene? Or is he just playing the part of the jealous husband, in part because Megan seems to need him to in some weird way, and in part because it provides cover for his own, non-pretend affair with their neighbor Sylvia?
“To Have And To Hold” is a somewhat unusual Mad Men episode. It’s heavier on plot than the show has been up to this point in the season, with movement on several story threads: Megan’s acting career; the Heinz account; Peggy’s distancing herself from her former employers; Joan’s partnership status (and how she got it); and Harry and Ken’s sense that they’re not getting their due within the agency. The episode throws in some business with Don’s secretary Dawn, and plays with a motif throughout of closed doors. Throughout “To Have And To Hold,” Pete, Don, and Stan work in secret on a pitch for the head of Heinz Ketchup, calling their plan “Project K” and brainstorming in a room with obscured windows. And throughout, people stand on the other side of doors, closed off from meetings they’re not invited to, and they seethe.
While “To Have And To Hold” doesn’t have the strong, mesmerizing pull of the best Mad Men episodes—the ones where all the pieces seem to fit together into an astonishing whole, without the degree of routine explanation evident in this week’s installment—it is nice sometimes to see these characters just say what’s on their minds, with very little in the way of ulterior motives. (Don aside, naturally; Don’s always working some kind of angle, even if he’s not always sure what it is or why he’s working it.)
Besides, this episode answers a question that many Mad Men fans have been asking since the season began: What’s Joan been up to?
It’s not entirely accurate to say that Joan is the distaff Don Draper—if anything, Peggy’s been well-established by now as Don’s female counterpart, at least from the perspective of navigating the business of advertising—but from the very first episode of Mad Men, Joan has been as much the archetypal early ’60s woman as Don has been the archetypal early ’60s man. Much of the ongoing story of this series has to do with how the changes of a culturally and politically turbulent decade affected these people who began the ’60s ascendant, feeling they’d inherited a world they’d bought into, and that they understood. Joan’s taken a lot more knocks along the way than Don has, from her marriage to Dr. Rape to her sleeping with a client to save the company. She’s still intimidating though, in much the same way that Don is.
A generous portion of “To Have And To Hold” is about the image of Joan versus the reality of Joan. At home, she’s enjoying a visit from her old friend Kate, a rep for Mary Kay, who’s considering a move to Avon, inspired by the news of Joan becoming a partner at SCDP. The two ladies go out on the town, having one of those typically intense Mad Men nights of drunken revelry, involving making out with strange young men and visiting hippie haunts—disappearing into other guises in other words, flexing whatever privilege they have, be it glamor, money, or sex appeal. And when Joan tries to confess to Kate that her title and her income haven’t stopped the men of SCDP from treating her like a secretary, her friend says that it doesn’t matter how they make her feel; what matters is what she does now that she has a place at the table.
That’s easy for Kate to say, though. Back at the office, when Joan tries to make a no-brainer personnel decision—firing Harry’s secretary Scarlet for leaving work early and having Dawn clock out for her, hours later—Harry rails against her “petty dictatorship,” and complains to the partners that he deserves her partnership more than she does, because “my accomplishments happened in broad daylight.” (And everyone watching at home winces in unison, saying, “Oooooh.”) Joan has to content herself with punishing Dawn, by putting her in complete charge of the time-sheets and supply closet, letting the secretaries hate Dawn for a while instead of Joan. (Dawn though, afraid she’s about to be fired, doesn’t see it as a punishment but a promotion.)
In fairness to Harry, he has been one of the agency’s top rainmakers since its inception. (In this episode, he placates Dow Chemical and gets Ken’s father-in-law off his back by selling the company on sponsoring a one-hour variety special starring Joe Namath.) Still, it’s sad that Harry perceives Joan as having risen to the top without earning it, when we see that her power as a partner is limited, and that she in fact worked ridiculously hard to get where she is, even before she prostituted herself.
This then is more of that motif of the closed door. Harry, understandably, wants in. Joan is in, but is finding that even inside, she’s still just a servant. Dawn tells her best friend—who’s about to be married—that she has to work long hours and do what she’s told or else she’ll be cast out entirely. And even Ken, who doesn’t usually make waves, is annoyed that the closed-door Project K—which he wasn’t told about—costs him one of his oldest and most loyal clients, Heinz Baked Beans.
The Heinz Ketchup pitch—or pitches, I should say—is the centerpiece of “To Have And To Hold.” Stan and Don come up with a good campaign, showing blown-up images of foods that cry out for ketchup, with the simple slogan “Pass The Heinz.” As with Don’s proposed campaign for the Hawaiian hotel, he’s relying heavily once again on what the consumer doesn’t see, insisting to the client that its audience’s imagination has no budget, and no time limit. No need to see the bottle. No need to use the word “ketchup.” Let the viewer fill in the gaps
But then the Pete-Stan-Don team leave the room—the room they paid for, they later note indignantly—and see Peggy and her team ready to go in for their pitch. Don listens at the door (in a reverse of the episode’s opening scene, where Don and Pete, inside of a room, listen to make sure that their potential client has left the hallway) and hears Peggy’s presentation, which puts the Heinz bottle front and center, and the word “ketchup” in huge letters. Later, at a diner, the SCDP team learns that Peggy’s pitch sold in the room. [Correction: I apparently misread this scene, and in fact a third agency got the account.] And though Peggy wrote her presentation without knowing that Don would be listening, it does seem like she’s aiming her words at him when she describes Heinz’s “catsup” competitors as pretenders. “Makes you angry, doesn’t it?” she challenges.
Is it that anger that leads Don to go down to watch Megan’s love scene, and then make his wife feel like crap about it? (Tellingly, Don tells Megan that he’d rather watch her scene in person than let his “imagination run wild,” which is pretty much the exact opposite of his pitch to Heinz.) Or is it like I suggested earlier, that Megan is pushing Don to play the jerk for her, for some perverse unconscious reason? After all, when she tells him about the scene, he doesn’t seem to know how to react until she provides him with a list of what a supportive husband would say, coupled with a few boilerplate objections. (“Keep going,” Don cracks. “I’m dying to hear what I say next.”) So it goes that later, the man who grew up in a whorehouse all but calls his wife a slut for kissing a man on camera for money. And then he goes home to sleep with his own mistress, who leaves a coin under her welcome mat for him.
That’s a hell of a double standard that “To Have And To Hold” is exploring: between the reputation that Joan and Megan now carry around with them and the way that the likes of Don can sleep with whomever they want, with minimal repercussion, professionally. But that’s ground that Mad Men’s covered a lot before. What’s more interesting to me in this episode is how Don presents himself to Megan, which appears to be a complicated combination of posturing for effect and knee-jerk petulance. And it’s all tied to how Don Draper (like so many men of the ’60s) packages himself: as a brand so obviously superior that the actual product need only be implied.
- Some unusual musical selections this week. I had to dig around for a while to find out that the song Don and Stan listen to while working on Project K is a psychedelic chestnut called “Friends I Haven’t Met Yet,” by Blue Sandelwood Soap. (I initially could’ve sworn it was some obscure Moody Blues track. And in my cursory research I’ve seen “Sandelwood” spelled three different ways, including the proper “Sandalwood,” which I’m betting is most likely correct. I’m not sure why I spent so much time tracking the song down when I’m sure it’s already being discussed on Twitter, and will have already been cited in everyone else’s review of this episode by the time I post this. But I don’t like to read anything about a TV episode by anyone—on Twitter or elsewhere—until I finish an assigned review, and since part of the fun of Mad Men is doing these little searches, I hope you’ll pardon my having delayed this review by 15 minutes or so while I disappeared down the Shazam/YouTube/Amazon/iTunes rabbit hole.) The other big song in “To Have And To Hold” is more familiar: Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot’s Euro-pop classic “Bonnie And Clyde.” Mad Men does so love its French tunes.
- Slick little move from Mr. Heinz Ketchup, and he heads out for a date with a young lady but licks his finger first so he can slip off his wedding ring. (It’s also indicative yet again of the double-standard involving male promiscuity and female promiscuity in the Mad Men era.)
- Pete tries to impress Don by making like Jack Lemmon in The Apartment, offering his bachelor pad for any trysts Don might like to have in the city. “I live here, Pete,” Don sighs.
- Fans of The Don Draper Eye Roll were well-served throughout this episode. The look on his face when the sycophantic Bobby asks, “How are things, Don?” is just priceless. And then later, during the dinner with Mel and Arlene—when they suggest that Don and Megan go back to their pad, smoke some grass, and see what happens—Don has a look of incredulity that would freeze a less confident man in his tracks. (Doesn’t deter Mel, though. Or Arlene.)
- Megan shouldn’t smoke so much. The weight she loses isn’t worth the wrinkles.
- Gotta love Harry drinking out of his ABC coffee mug. Wanna bet that was a Christmas present from the network?
- Gotta hate Harry responding to Joan’s coldly polite “good morning” with an even colder “good afternoon.” No wonder Bert Cooper tells the man who has his old job, “I was different from you, Mr. Crane. In every way.”
- Also ice cold: Stan, who looks past Peggy and says, “I think I see a friend,” then leaves the room, flipping her off on the way out.
- Thanks to Todd for letting me fill in for him this week. Mad Men was one of the first shows I wrote about for TV Club, and one of the reasons we started TV Club in the first place. It was nice to revisit it one more time. I appreciate your indulgence as well. Todd will be back with you next week.