‘Mad Men’ recap: “To Have and to Hold”

Last week’s episode of Mad Men was a rare disappointment, but the show was back on track with this week’s excellent “To Have and to Hold.” A lot happens in the 45 minutes and we get to see a lot of our favorite faces: Bert Cooper, Ken Cosgrove, Harry Crane and finally Joan gets a great plot line for herself. As if all this wasn’t enough, Don’s secretary, Dawn – the only visible black employee of SCDP has some screen time which may mean that this potentially interesting character may have more to do than just be a pastiche of race discourse of the 1960s.

So the title refers to that old line “To have and to hold” – something recited at weddings. The main marriage in this show is Don’s marriage to Megan, which of course is becoming strained because of his inability to keep his pants zipped up. By this point we understand it’s not just about Don’s libido – he’s always looking to move forward in his life and he needs change – it’s the “grass is always greener” syndrome; when married to the gorgeous, beautiful Betty, he skipped out on her with his kids’ emotionally-starved grade school teacher, his client, as well as, the boho chic Midge Daniels.

Now married to the beautiful Megan, of course he has to louse up his marriage – this time by cheating on her with his neighbor’s wife. What’s most sickening about this “relationship” is that he’s throwing a hissy fit because Megan’s acting job has her simulating making out; what’s strange about Megan’s job is that she and Don have caught the eye of a TV exec whose wife is a lead on Megan’s soap. For TV trivia fans, yes, that was Ted “Kills Every Show He’s Cast In” McGinley as the randy TV guy who wants to invite Megan and Don for a foursome. I’m getting a little tired of the show’s writers conspicuously and self-consciously dropping in “new” ideas and “fresh” concepts that scream “It’s the 1960s!” This time it’s free love and swinging. Of course Don and Megan aren’t interested, and the two beg off graciously before escaping to a taxi cab, Megan giggling.

But Don and Megan as a couple is obviously headed for some sort of tragic or sad ending. Don’s pouting at Megan’s faux making out scene at her studio is particularly galling – the hypocrisy is so offensive, that Don’s finally finished his evolution as protagonist to anti-hero. He’s alienating and aliented, and I’m finding it hard to find any redeeming qualities in the guy (except for his opposition to the Vietnam war). But for some reason, we’re drawn – I think it’s because when we see the inevitable collapse of this guy will be fascinating.

And even though Don’s plot dominated the episode, it’s Joan who finally got a great story – the best of the episode. It’s wonderful to see Christina Hendricks back. Joan’s position as a partner at SCDP is impressive, but she’s constantly hitting her head on that pesky old glass ceiling. It doesn’t help that she got the job because she agreed to sleep with a client. But let’s be honest, Joan’s a really intelligent lady, and if hadn’t been for the oppressive misogyny of the time, she would be running the office. Instead, despite her position, she’s still corralling the secretaries on top of her office manager duties.

And it’s Harry Crane that illustrates just how impenetrable the ceiling is – despite his petulance and temper tantrum, he comes out victorious when Joan sacks Harry’s secretary because she left early and convinced Dawn to punch her time card. The other partners – Roger, Burt, and Pete – all side with Harry with bemusement. This of course pisses Joan off, and it should piss off any fair-minded viewer who has to watch a fiercely intelligent woman like Joan being treated like crap weekly.

But instead of wallowing, Joan steps into the world of late 60s psychedelic free love. She hooks up with a pretty girlfriend (who’s weighing her career options between Mary Kay and Avon) and they go out to St. Mark’s Place, to visit the legendary nightclub, the Electric Circus, where she makes out with a stranger. It’s interesting how out-of-place and dated Joan looks in her environment. The overripe voluptuous beauty with her Marilyn Monroe/Jayne Mansfield proportions look completely conspicuous – imagine a woman wearing shoulder pads and teasted mall hair in 2013, and you’ll get Joan’s almos-quaint sexiness. Joan’s slight archaic feel is in step with the moldy sexism she’s still having to deal with. It’s a great way to bring out the anger in Joan – and Hendricks plays it incredibly well.

The other, slightest plot invovled Don’s former protegee, Peggy, who now is Don’s most capable opponent. The two are competing for the Heinz account, and it’s great to see Don undone by his former employee’s excellence. Peggy has become Don and has taken on the good parts (the brilliance) and the not-so-good parts (she’s not great at dealing with underlings). Elisabeth Moss doesn’t do a whole lot in this episode – Peggy’s appearance is a “oh, no she didn’t!” cameo, but it works because Don’s sense of professional stability has been severely imperiled.

And finally, Dawn gets a minor subplot. Teyonah Parris is too good an actress to be relegated to simply “the only black character on Mad Men.” It was nice to see her have some time to herself – the scenes with Dawn and her girlfriend at the bar were nice – but the writing seemed a bit stilted – hopefully we’ll see more of Dawn and that the writers decide to make her a full-bodied character instead of a two-dimenstional figure that other characters project their racial hangups on.

“To Have and to Hold” isn’t Mad Men at its best, but it’s a relief coming from last week’s disappointing “Collaborators.” I’m trying to understand why should I still care about Don. I think the writers were trying to show some of us Don Draper sceptics by having his final scene in the episode, in bed with his mistress, be fraught with angst and sadness. Fingering her crucifix she was wearing on a chain around her neck, he was trying to be flirtatious and profane, asking if she “got down on her knees” to ask for forgiveness – instead she said she prays that he finally finds peace. I understand that we’re supposed to look at Don as a tragic figure, but he’s becoming rather acrid and it’s harder to care about anything that is happening with him.

But that’s okay – Joan, Peggy, and Betty more than make up for any dip in my interest with Don. It’s interesting that the show’s called Mad Men, but the most interesting characters are the women – and so far, it looks like the ladies are in for a very tumultuous season.

Just a quick note to the producers – giving Alison Brie a guest-starring credit in the opener, and then not having her on the show is tantamount to false advertising – Trudy Campbell has become one of my favorite characters on the show; she and Sally Draper show just how strong Mad Men is – minor supporting characters like Trudy and Sally are given opportunities to grow and develop and become some of the most compelling people on the program; so it was with some disappointment that I saw the forty five minutes go back (too quickly, I might add) without even one glimpse of the awesome Mrs. Campbell.

Some questions that arose after watching “To Have and to Hold”

  • Will Joan follow Peggy’s example and jump ship after realizing that she doesn’t have that much farther to grow at SCDP?
  • Can Peggy finally break through her brittle shell and become friends with her subordinants?
  • Is Don looking at divorce number three?
  • What is going to happen to Don’s frienship with Peggy?
  • After his very unprofessional boo-hoo during a meeting, will Harry Crane finally get fired?
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