Scenes from Mad Men: “To Have and To Hold”
I had a lot of fun last year taking single scene from the latest “Mad Men” and picking it apart. Why not bring it back, while the season is still young?
There were a bunch of contenders this week, but none quite as potent for me as Don showing up at Megan’s soap opera shoot and tormenting her about her makeout scene.
Don has always been a blazing hypocrite when it comes to fidelity. He continually cheated on Betty, and then furiously called her a “whore” when she left him. After spending season 5 giving monogamy a try, he’s back to his wandering-dick ways this year, carrying on an affair with his neighbor Sylvia (played by Linda Cardinelli.
Mad Men has never been very subtle with its themes. Its pleasures are derived from Matthew Wiener’s immense creativity in implementing these themes in a way that’s consistently engrossing and very entertaining, even if the characters are often rather terrible people.
And while Don has worn every manner of mask on the show, rarely has he pulled so blatant a heel turn as when he shows up on the set of his wife’s soap opera, something he has apparently never done before, for the sole purpose of tearing her apart backstage for the sin of filming a love scene that she had warned him about already. He’s even about to drop the “Wh” bomb on his wife before she stops him. Of course, he then goes back home and has sex with Sylvia. Again, Mad Men is frequently anything but subtle.
Don’s tirade at Megan is not the sudden outburst it seems to her, however. He is reeling from a huge blow on the business side of his life. After an ad pitch for Heinz ketchup that bears all the hallmarks of a classic Draper sale (a bold design and some classic Don appeals to sentimentality that he doesn’t believe in himself for a second), his old protege Peggy swoops in with a pitch of her own that is even more classic Don than Don is capable of pulling off anymore. She lands the deal, a deal that the old suits and SCD (RIP, P) never saw coming. For Don (and Stan, who leaked that Heinz ketchup was open to new suitors to Peggy, never thinking she’d act on it) Peggy’s act is a betrayal. By business standards, it was common sense.
Perhaps this is what triggers Don’s fury at Megan. He had given her his hesitant assurance that he won’t complain about her kissing another man on camera. But in his anger, he says Megan’s biggest sin wasn’t the kiss, but that she enjoyed it.
And, well, she did. She’s an actress, and it was a big moment for her. And Peggy clearly enjoyed her stealth takedown of her own boss, if only because she’s so damn competitive, and she showed him just how good she’s gotten at this game. As a businessman, Don can’t take his rage out on Peggy, not anymore. So he turns the fire to Megan.
There’s a surprisingly poignant moment at the very end of the episode when Don and Sylvia are about to have sex, and Don notices her crucifix. He asks her to remove it. He’s not comfortable with the symbol of old-world morality, and the possibility that it means something to Sylvia, something that might become a distraction to her down the road perhaps. He asks if she prays for absolution. In earnest, she replies that she prays that he finds peace. Good luck with that, Don Draper.
Megan is as devoted to Don as any married person on this show is capable of being. But she’s not his confidant. The last person who could bring Don peace was Peggy. She had become his surrogate of confidence after the death of his beloved Anna. And with Peggy out of his life in that regard, he is lost again. And it’s poor Megan who bears the brunt of that disillusionment.
note: upon reading Alan Sepinwall’s review of the episode, it seems I was mistaken in saying that Peggy’s pitch was successful. I missed this somehow.