Mad Men Season 6 Episode Recap: To Have and To Hold
Sorry for the recap running a day late, all — some of us needed a little longer to process all the condiment-laced drama of this episode. And other of us had tickets to a Prince show and had to wait until Monday to take this episode in. Either way, we all had thoughts. Read on for our musings on loyalty, competition, secrets, and, of course, ketchup.
Project Killing Machines
It's fitting that the episode called "To Have and to Hold" repeatedly referenced weapons, as many of our characters were at war with each other (and frequently with themselves). We finally get to see SCDP and CGC go head-to-head on the Heinz Ketchup account, with neither emerging as victor. However, we the audience were privy to Don's listening in on Peggy's pitch. Not only was it more impassioned than we've heard from Don in seasons, but it sounded like Peggy threw in a Draper line or two. While Don's feelings about Ted Chaough are already established, there is no doubt that he now views Peggy as dangerous competition. Back at the office, we see Scartlett pitted against Joan, a force to be reckoned with even back in Season One. However, while one would imagine that Joan's ability to punish, rather than merely intimidate, should rise alongside her career, Harry so helpfully reminded everyone that Joan does not deserve her status as partner.
The Harry-vs.-Joan competition was particularly interesting, because neither of them have it made. Despite his ornate office, Harry rightfully (though douchebaggedly) feels unrecognized. However, while he perceives that Joan's accomplishments are solely due to her abilities outside of the office, he will always have the better end of the deal, partnership or not. Because while Joan's night with Herb Rennet continues to haunt her, she would still be treated with the same lack of respect as a partner, simply because she's a female partner. Even though SCDP isn't in the habit of doling out diamond-accented watches, being treated like more than an advanced secretary would appear to be reward enough for Joanie.
Some of the duels in Sunday's episode seemed more fueled by expectation than anything else. We hear Joan's friend, May Kay employee Kate, talk about how much she looks up to the ad executive, and how talking to Avon was mostly an effort to live a more Joanlike life. In their evening out together, we see Kate repeatedly turn to Joan to get the evening moving. While Joan may have the job title and powers of seduction, it's clear that she envies Kate's stability.
Dawn doesn't appear to be faring any better. Through her conversations with her friend, it's clear that she doesn't love her work life (and, as seemingly the only person of color in the office, who could blame her?), but she emphasizes that she doesn't have much else of a choice. Unlike her friend, she's not getting married, and it seems like she's almost counted herself out as a viable love interest in the first place. While Dawn would almost appear to be at war with herself, it's how out of place she feels in the facets of her life that seems to be doing the most harm.
In possibly the most obvious faceoff, we have Sylvia vs. Megan. Not only does Mad Men draw parallels between the two women by having the French-maid costume for Megan's character's love scene echo the white-trimmed outfit from Sylvia's elevator makeout sesh with Don, but the issue of payment is thrown into the mix. After dropping in on set to watch Megan's first "sex" scene, Don accuses her of cheapening herself by being paid to kiss like a prostitute. Not only are we all aware of Don's very recent exchange of sex for money, but we see him accept and later hand over Sylvia's penny as almost an entrance fee to the apartment. This competition is only forcing us to be more frustrated with Don, as his contradictions and double standards are glaringly clear. In Mad Men's final season, this brief reference to Lincoln cannot bode well for Don's mortality.
Obviously, this is Mad Men, a world in which nearly everyone is envying and sabotaging the person next to them. We saw Ginsberg be jealous of Stan's tinfoil-lined workroom. Ken feeling betrayed by SCDP pitching to Ketchup. Beardy Stan feeling screwed over by Peggy. Don feeling cheated on by Megan, and Megan in turn feeling unsupported by Don. What else is new? In an episode so filled with jealousy and coveting what the person next to you is having and holding, I'm only surprised that Pete largely flew under the radar this week.
Since we now know that when it comes to hot dogs, Stan is staunchly a ketchup man, what was the deal with his mustard-colored blazer in the ad pitch? While Peggy's red collar might have served to show that these besties are feuding, I hope things are patched up soon enough for us to get another phone-call scene next week!
I don't care how good my suit would look on your bedroom floor, Mel, it's not happening.
Strange Things are Afoot at Project K
You'd think that an episode in which Don and Stan smoke a joint in a secret war room with tinfoil-covered windows while arguing about whether hot dogs make you think "mustard" or "ketchup" could only go to fantastic, and possibly slapstick, places. You'd be wrong. Because this is Mad Men, and if there's one consistent theme, it's that illicit, secretive activity is the most serious of business.
One of the big secrets this episode revolves around Project K, the Heinz pitch for which young ketchup superstar Timmy has urged SCDP to throw its hat in the ring, promising that Raymond, his colleague in Beans, Vinegars, and Sauces, can remain none the wiser. Indeed, there are clear parallels this episode between the SCDP principals' shady dealings with Heinz and their past histories of romantic subterfuge. There's Pete's assurance that "we'll get a hotel" for the presentation; there's Don, listening intently at that hotel door as Peggy makes her pitch to the Heinz team; there's the aftermath, where the cuckolds realize what's happened—Stan's angry middle finger in Peggy's face, Ken Cosgrove's furious dressing-down of the people he thought he could trust. And, of course, there's each team's realization that they weren't the only agency that sly Timmy was romancing—J. Walter Thompson, it turns out, was the real seducer, with moves they never saw coming.
For Don, the idea that the undercover is dead serious is a core belief that's reflected nearly everywhere in his life. His ketchup-free Heinz pitch is all about what the viewer doesn't see, the lure of the suggestion, and he sells it with the same cold, contrived distance he's used to seduce all of his women. ("You'll be thinking of ketchup all day, and you didn't even see it," enthuses hype man Pete to the executives, proving once again how much he wants to be, and can never be, Don.) And his disdain for Megan's onscreen love scene may have less to do with what's actually happening on that chintzy soap-opera set bedspread than with the fact that it's happening in front of everyone, under the bright glare of spotlights. (Which does absolutely nothing to redeem him from being a complete hypocrite, obviously.)
Indeed, Don and Megan's dinner with head writer Mel and soap diva Arlene, and the older couple's subsequent proposition to the Drapers, throws Don's sense of secrecy all out of whack. To be courted for sex so openly, so without guile, is anathema to Don's equation of the act with darkness and power and capitulation. "They were so open about it!" marvels Megan on their cab ride home. But for Don, that openness—which, as the decade surges on, will only become more pronounced—is at odds with everything that he's ever known. It should go without saying that anyone hoping for a glimpse of a Nehru-jacketed Don Draper at a love-in might want to pack a lunch.
And yet, maybe there is something to Don's staunch belief in not spilling any beans, Heinz or otherwise. In last night's episode, his personal secrets were the only ones that didn't face a public airing—unlike Dawn and Scarlett (who, admittedly, both need to step up their lying prowess to compete with the profesh bullshitters on staff at SCDP), and definitely unlike poor Joan. We knew it was only a matter of time before someone threw the Night of Herb Rennet back in her face, and it's probably not surprising that it was Harry. But ol' sideburns picked the wrong opponent for this battle: Regardless of the fact that Joan's partnership, as she pointed out to her friend, doesn't look all that different than her former role as office manager, the other partners like Joan far more than they like Harry, and that counts for a lot. Seriously, did anyone else cheer when Harry tried to compare himself to Bert Cooper, to which Bert fires back "I was different from you in every way"? Pick up your shoes and get the hell out, son.
It's fascinating, if not surprising, that Dawn is feeling the weight of all the secrets contained in Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce's tony offices. As the sole black employee at SCDP, she's both invisible—as she tells her friend Nikki, she hears all the stress, all the crying, and all the empty bottles—and all too visible: There's a reason why Scarlett picked her to engage in time-card hours-fudging, and it's not her poker face. Dawn knows that she's not alone among black office workers in white New York, but her description of seeing a friend in passing ("We were walking through the plaza and we passed each other and we just nodded…. He didn't talk to me and I didn't talk to him either"—is chilling in its confirmation of how racism serves to alienate even would-be comrades. Dawn, like Peggy before her, is isolated and adrift in office culture, looking for a way to belong. Perhaps she, unlike Peggy, will find a mentor in Joan—the only person, she admits, whose approval she seeks. But with Joan so unsettled about her own role, that could serve to be a mixed blessing.
I know you've got a wedding to plan, but can I tell you more about these nutty white people?
• Speaking of Joan, her style seemed starkly out of place at the Electric Circus—next to her miniskirted, go-go booted friend, Joan looked like an aggrieved chaperone even as she willed herself to get into the swing by making out with a young beatnik. Sixties fashion favored the young and flat-chested—it was the Twiggy era—so it'll be interesting to see how Joan adapts to, or refuses, the style of the times.
• Don's brief neg of Bob Benson. Amazing.
• Finally, let's pause to note Mad Men's wink at pop-culture apocrypha in the Mel-and-Arlene-and Don-and-Megan scene with the casting of Ted McGinley as Mel: The charming, relentlessly toothy actor is such a noted show-killer that he's been called "the patron saint of shark-jumping."
"There's nothing better than being known for your loyalty."
Not surprisingly with a title like "To Have and to Hold," this week's episode had loyalty at its center. Who has it (Dawn, Megan, Ken), who demands it (Don, Joan, Heinz beans), and who fakes it to get what they want (pretty much everyone else). We finally got to see Dawn outside of work—that time she served as a barometer for Peggy's conscience doesn't count—and her newly engaged best friend is putting Dawn's MOH dedication to the test. While Dawn fails in one sense (hey, who has time to pick up all of those bridal magazines and still get to a diner by 7:00?) she's able to keep the friendship together and get some more responsibility at SCDP, this time by proving her loyalty to Joan over Scarlett. Probably because, unlike most of the people she works with, Dawn seems like a genuinely good person. As likable as she is though, it would be nice to see Mad Men's most central non-white player get a little of that signature character conflict. Here's hoping that future episodes find this Joan-in-training in some compromising supply closet/time clock situations.
Don D. has loyalty on the brain too, and in classic Draper fashion he demands it of his wife while tossing his own out a foil-covered window. While going behind a client's back to pitch ketchup to Timmy (who we learn lacks faithfulness at work and at home—gross lick-your-wedding-ring maneuver, dude) and going behind his wife's back to pitch sex to his pious neighbor, he loses his cool when Megan has to kiss another guy at work. Ironically enough, Arlene and Mel, Berkshire Falls' swingingest couple, appear more committed to their relationship after 18 years than Don is at roughly 18 months. On that note, though, how delightful was that storyline? We almost never get to see Don and Megan laugh, and their jokes in the cab about a group grope had me cracking up. Too bad Don likes his sex furtive and be-crucifixed! Arlene and Mel should call Roger instead.
Of course, the most glaring breach of devotion this week came in the form of SCDP and CGC's pitches to Heinz. In the end, Timmy went with the biggest firm and poor bean exec Raymond had to break it off with SCDP for trying to make it with ketchup (so much for dancing with the one that brung ya). As a Peggy fan, I was torn during the ketchup pitches: One the one hand, it was awesome seeing her lead the meeting and (almost) beat Don at his own game. On the other hand, it stung when she betrayed not just Stan (nooo!) but also Don, who, despite his faults mentored and championed her for many years. I still love Peggy, but she deserved that bird Stan flipped her, no?
• Maybe it's because they're more modern, but Mad Men is really delivering the fictional ad campaigns this season! Don's Hawaiian Air pitch from the pilot was really memorable, and he and Stan's weed-induced food photo pitch for Heinz was terrific. Pass the ketchup!
• Harry, it's great that you're leaning in at work and everything, but you are still a douche. You and Scarlett should Jerry Maguire it out of here and leave Joanie alone!
• Speaking of, only Joan could be the biggest square up in the Electric Circus (which was real!) and still look good. What was going on in that scene, though? Was Joan just trying to cut loose with some booze and a makeout, or is there more to it? Let's put on some Serge Gainsbourg records and find out next week.
Notable Cultural References: The Smothers Brothers, Joe Namath, James Garner, Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot's "Bonnie and Clyde"
Inappropriate Office Behavior: Harry, we know you're sleeping with your secretary, but if you're trying to keep it on the DL, you might want to wait until you're alone to ask her if she's located her keys. (Also, P.S. Have you checked to see if they're in the giant pockets on your giant suit?)
What did you think of the episode? Leave your thoughts/ketchup conspiracy theories in the comments!
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