21
Apr
2013
Mad Men: Season Six, Episode 3
To Have and To Hold
Jordan
Mad Men has always been a show about wants, the people who create them, and the way that satisfying them never quite fills an internal need for something deeper. In that regard, "To Have and To Hold" isn't a particularly novel episode of the show. Its largely a reiteration of one of the show's major themes, and while it does this fairly well, that isn't exactly new. This is an interesting episode in how plot-driven it is, though. Often, Mad Men gets by on atmosphere, theme, and metaphor (subtle or frustratingly obvious, depending on the week and on the message), eschewing plot for a larger discussion of what any given action means. And while there is some of that this week, this is an episode that is ultimately about what happens more than what each plot point says on a grander scale. This makes it a less satisfying hour of television, but a less stellar episode of Mad Men is still pretty great television.

These themes are clear throughout the evening, but why don't we start by talking about Don. Our hero is, after all, the show's most concise statement of this central idea. What is Don Draper, after all, but a facade created by Dick Whitman to create a desire in those around him. Don Draper is the man women want, and the man men want to be. This isn't actually true, of course, but it is as a matter of perception, and for Don, perception is everything. It's not funny that Don Draper ended up in advertising, because advertising is what turned Dick Whitman into Don Draper in the first place. Dick reinvented himself as the sort of person that would constantly create desire in the people he interacted with, and who could then fulfill that desire, and on the surface, Don Draper has been an incredibly successful shell in this regard. Don has a great job, a beautiful wife, financial success and the immediate respect of pretty much everyone he meets. He is a walking, talking advertisement for life, but, like the slogans he pitches, that life is more about creating a space for his audience to imagine than about providing them with anything concrete.

This is most obviously (and hilariously) true during Megan and Don's dinner with Mel, the head writer on Megan's show, and his wife Arlene, the show's star. The two of them are completely open about hos much they desire Don and Megan, about what they want, and that they want it. Don is flabbergasted (the look on Jon Hamm's face in the scene is priceless), but less because he is desired than because Mel and Arlene want that desire fulfilled. Don knows how to create wants, but satisfying them is someone else's department.

Don's reaction to Megan's love scene plays with this as well, and exposes another of the central concerns of "To Have and To Hold": the double standards between men and women, a gap that, while narrowed over the course of this series, is crushingly wide nevertheless. Let's deal with these twin themes in turn. First, consider Don's reaction to Megan's love scene, or rather, his initial complete lack of reaction. Don doesn't seem to know how to take the news when Megan first tells him about it; only after she starts to supply the responses she expects does he sort of catch on to what he is supposed to do here (after drily commenting "I'm dying to hear what I say next"). Once she has made it clear he is supposed to express disapproval, but also support her, he does so (and then goes way overboard, but we'll get there), but initially, he just doesn't know how to react. Only once he has been told what role to play does he feel comfortable proceeding.

But more than the question of roles, Don's reaction becomes a question of double standards, a concern that also runs through the episode. Don watches his wife kiss another man (in a completely legitimate setting, by the way) and calls her a whore. Then he leaves the set to go have sex with his mistress. And for not one second does the disconnect there seem to be apparent to him. Megan is held to one standard, because she's a wife (read: a woman), and Don to another, because he's a husband.

This ties in most explicitly to Joan's storyline, where we catch up with everyone's favorite female partner to discover that all of her successes haven't changed the way she is treated, and in fact that her (well-deserved) position is one she achieved only through prostituting herself. This is complicated of course, because its technically true, but in a larger sense, Joan has worked tirelessly, for years, to get where she is now, and its only by blatant misogyny and infuriating double standards that she was forced to degrade herself to get what she rightly deserved. We've talked a lot in these reviews about the relationship between Don and Joan, which feels relevant here even though, once again, they don't really interact onscreen. The show has always forwarded Don as the sort of quintessential '60s man (even as much of that is posturing), and to a large extent, Joan mirrors that position. Peggy is the one who is actually the most like Don, of course, but she is also a symbol of the changing role of women. Joan has always been somewhere between Peggy and Betty on the spectrum of female characters--she was raised, like Betty, to expect certain things, and entered the '60s believing she had set herself up to do well in a world she understood. Yet like Peggy, when the floor started to fall out and everything began to change, Joan was willing and able to keep pace, capable of reinventing herself to be successful in an entirely new game.

Much of the episode concerns the roles Joan is playing these days, the way she fits into them, and how she really feels about how she is perceived. An old friend visits, looking to move from Mary Kay to Avon, and admitting she is inspired to seek a position where she might advance by Joan's own upward mobility. The two go out on the town, and Joan slips all too easily into the role her friend expects of her, becoming powerful, charming, desirable (not, to be clear, that Joan isn't always those things, just that she is clearly emphasizing them during her evening of revelry in a way I would guess she is not traditionally comfortable with). At work, too, she plays roles--stern, cold, and dictatorial with the secretaryies, and polite, intelligent, and strategic in her partner meetings. Joan knows what she wants, but she also knows what is expected of her, and much of her success over the past eight years has come from her ability to navigate between those two things to get what she desires without ever pushing the boundaries she faces too hard. She's not Peggy, who pounds the table for every inch she gains, and she's not Betty, who has decided to sit out the fight. She knows she is seen as a person who has a place, but she also knows how to use that perception to her advantage. Joan confesses to Kate that all of her "power," be it the title or the salary, is illusory, because everyone still treats her like a secretary. But, as Kate puts it, "What's it have to do with them? You're there, Joan. And from where I'm sitting, it's damn impressive." And it is, damn impressive. From the outside, looking in, Joan has done incredibly well for herself.

But Mad Men is always very smart about the way perception rarely equals reality. In her day-to-day life, Joan is in a constant struggle for even a modicum of respect. She makes the obvious decision to fire a secretary for blowing off work and having Dawn punch her out, and is belittled by Harry (who she outranks) and then overruled by the other partners. Harry doesn't respect her partnership because of how she got it (a fact he makes clear in one of the most cringe inducing moments of the episode), and while the other partners give Joan a lot of lip service about her seat at the table, she is overruled without the matter being discussed.

This comes back to both the larger motif, in this series, of closed doors and who is on what side of them, and to the episode's title, "To Have and to Hold." As Don, Stan, and Pete develop "Project K," the whole firm goes crazy over the fact that they are operating in secret, behind closed doors. Harry seethes at the partner meeting, happening behind a closed door, with him outside it. Joan is on the other side of that door, but the grass isn't as green as Harry might think inside that room. Mad Men has always been obsessed with doors and what they mean about what we reveal and keep hidden, about who we let in and who we keep out, and this episode is no exception. But the title is also relevant here, as more than just the title of Megan's soap opera. To "have" something is, in some sense, a matter of perception. Harry looks in and sees that Joan has a partnership, and he does not. Mel and Arlene look in and see that Don and Megan have each other. Kate sees all that Joan has, and thinks that "having" it alone is enough. But to "hold" something, to truly possess it, is a completely different question. Joan "has" a partnership, but she doesn't "hold" all the cards that position suggests. Don "has" Megan, in the sense that he is married to her, but her love scene makes him wonder, far more than he might like, whether he actually "holds" her. Similarly, Megan needs Don to be jealous of her love scene, because it makes her feel like she really "holds" him. But she doesn't. She "has" him, again in the sense that they are married, but he's off in Sylvia's arms before the night is over. No one holds Don Draper for very long.

This space between having and holding also explains Don's pitch to Heinz. In his view, the lack of Heinz in the ad will make people want it more, and will leave to their imaginations enough that they won't be able to get it out of their heads. Its a smart move, akin to his pitch to Sheraton in the season premiere, where an absence leaves to the audience's imagination what would, in reality, be less tantalizing. And yet, again, the client is perplexed. How can they expect to sell something without showing it? I tend to side with Don, here, from a creative standpoint, but I think it makes sense the other way too, and Don's behavior displays that. When Megan asks why he came to watch her scene, when he doesn't even watch the show, he tells her that if he didn't, his imagination would run wild. This is exactly the opposite of the pitch he gave Heinz (or its exactly the same thing, depending on how you read each moment): Don needed to see it with his own eyes to get it out of his head.

Ultimately, the show seems to be playing again with perception, and seems to be letting Don bear his soul through pitches again. This is something the show has done regularly throughout its run, perhaps most famously in the season one finale, "The Carousel," when Don pitches the idea of nostalgia to Kodak, and realizes he feels it in exactly the same instant. There, though, the pitch worked, the client was sold, the ad went forward. Recently, Don has been pitching the idea of a product so stupendous, it need only be implied to be sold. For a man who lives his life by creating an air of tantalizing implication and letting everyone around him imagine how perfect the actual product behind the ad is, this is an important idea, central to the way he has constructed his entire persona. Here's the thing, though: lately, no one is buying it.

Grade: B


Notes:

-"Nice place." "Well, its available to you, if you ever...need to spend the night in the city." "I live here, Pete."

-"Why are you getting on an elevator going up?" "Because the door opened and you were standing there."

-"If he wants people to stop hating him, he should stop dropping napalm on children!"

-"What's a love scene consist of?" "Its just kissing and hugging. Its TV. You can't really do anything."

-"Honey, I can tolerate this, but I can't encourage it." "You're perfect."

-The score was a bit too much in several scenes tonight. The espionage theme when Stan walked into the "Project K" room was groan inducing, and I'm not even sure what was going on when Joan walked through the office except that someone leaned against the volume during editing and brought the score way up in the mix.

-"Well its either me or her." "I think you mean, 'If she goes, I go.'"

-"I'm sorry my accomplishments happened in broad daylight, and I can't be given the same rewards."

-"I could cast you, you know that." "I'm sure he plays many roles..." You see, because Don Draper is different things for different people! I get it now, Mad Men, because you explained it to me.

-"We like Megan. And we like you. And we'd like to be friends."

-"Burt, you know how important I am to this company. You were me." "I was different than you in every way."

-"I didn't expect you to enjoy it." "Its acting."

-"You kiss people for money. You know who does that?"

-"What do you do when I leave here? Get on your knees and pray for absolution?" "I pray for you." "For me to come back?" "No. For you to find peace."

-Next week on Mad Men: Harry says "Shhhh!"
Tags: Mad Men
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