This week's episode finds our heroes taking on new roles, both literally and symbolically
Tonight's episode of Mad Men, "To Have and To Hold" — an episode that shares its name with the fictional soap opera on which Megan Draper stars — was, appropriately enough, an episode fixated on the roles people play. As Megan prepares for her first on-camera love scene, the team at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce makes a big bid for the Heinz ketchup account, with the collateral damage from both events taking Don and Megan's relationship to a new and alarming low.
"Everybody's scared there. Women crying in the ladies' room, men crying in the elevator," Don's secretary, Dawn, tells a friend, describing Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. And we've seen enough Mad Men to know that she's right. Behind closed doors, these characters' carefully constructed facades tend to fall apart — except for Don, who lacks both the courage and the strength of will to be honest with himself. We've spent so much time with Don Draper by now that it's easy to forget that, on some level, he's always playing a role. He's not even Don Draper — he's Dick Whitman, who constructed "Don Draper" to escape the parts of himself he didn't like. When Mel says he could cast Don in a soap opera, he doesn't realize how close he is to the mark; Don is an incredible performer, selling his colleagues, his clients, his wife, and his mistresses on a carefully fabricated version of himself.
But Don wasn't the only character who found his boundaries pushed a little farther than normal in "To Have and To Hold." Fans who have complained that Mad Men's sixth season has leaned too heavily on its sexual subplots were probably less than pleased with "To Have and To Hold," which saw free love storylines that included Don and Megan's unexpected invitation to join a foursome, and Joan gamely kissing a couple of gross strangers at the behest of her friend Kate. Once again, Joan was essentially called a prostitute to her face, as Harry snaps at her for firing his secretary Scarlett — and once again, she tolerated both the insult and the lack of defense from her fellow partners at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. (Here's hoping that she's cooking up a revenge to serve cold in a future episode.)
But "To Have and To Hold" wasn't all about sex and role-playing — even if most of the episode's business took place in a hotel room. Don, Pete, and Stan collaborate under a strict veil of secrecy to deliver a pitch to Timmy, the man in control of the Heinz Ketchup account. "The greatest thing you have working for you is not the photo you take or the picture you paint. It's the imagination of the consumer," pitches Don, offering a ketchup ad that doesn't actually have any ketchup in it. But when Don and company leave the room, they discover a nasty surprise: Longtime rival Ted and former ally Peggy, who have arrived with a pitch of their own.
When Peggy accepted the job at Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough last season, it came with the promise of opportunity and growth. But somewhat dishearteningly, Peggy's pitch finds her doing a not-entirely-convincing imitation of Don Draper. As Peggy decries Heinz's competitors for "selling their watered-down, flavorless sauce" by pretending that it's Heinz Ketchup, she offers a watered-down, flavorless version of a Don Draper pitch (even cribbing a line that Don used for a different client in Mad Men's third season). In the end, neither firm wins the day, resulting in several burned bridges on both sides with absolutely nothing to show for it.
It's not surprising to see Peggy following in the footsteps of her former mentor; in many ways, she's more Don's partner than Megan will ever be. But because Don is no longer in a position in which he can retaliate against Peggy, he decides to retaliate against Megan instead. Don shows up on set of “To Have and To Hold” just in time to glower throughout Megan's first on-camera love scene, imply that she's a prostitute after filming, and storm out of her dressing room as she sits in tears.
It hardly needs to be pointed out that Don's anger at Megan takes his innate hypocrisy to a whole new extreme. While Megan pretends to be having an affair as part of her job — and never goes any further than kissing her costar — Don returns home to continue the latest in a seemingly endless string of extramarital affairs that go much, much further than first base. By the end of the episode, Don finally makes it clear exactly what little regard he has for Megan's work on "To Have and To Hold" — but of course, we've known what little regard he has for his vow "to have and to hold" from the very beginning.
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