Monday, April 22, 2013

Mad Men Season Six - Sinners and Saints

In an hour that plunged both feet into the counter-culture, To Have and To Hold trafficked in the oldest of sins - betrayal, envy and greed. In its way, the fourth episode of Mad Men's Sixth Season condensed much of what we consider the seven deadly sins in one tidy hour. Don, carrying on a passionate affair with Sylvia, cannot stomach the idea that Megan's soap opera character has a love scene. Stan, whose casual gossip tip about Heinz led to Peggy's betrayal of his confidence, expresses his distaste for her conduct in no uncertain terms. And the agency engages in its own betrayal, having promised not to go after the business, it does so - resulting in the loss of their actual Heinz account. Meanwhile, Don's secretary Dawn does a favor for Harry's secretary Scarlett by punching her out of the office at the end of the day when she leaves early and is caught in her lie. Joan's friend Kate visits from out of town and cheats on her husband. Harry, frustrated at not getting the respect he thinks he is owed, envious of Joan and desiring more power (not to mention money) has a temper tantrum in front of the partners, dissing Joan and the manner in which she attained her partnership. In fact, the only two people living honestly are soap opera scribe Mel and his wife Arlene, who attempt to solicit Don and Megan into a night of spouse swapping, only to be rebuffed. And everywhere, marijuana was in the air, psychedelic colors bloomed and the relentless drumbeat of Vietnam grew ever closer. 

Don's disapproval of Megan's love scene is unsurprising. Where once he chided Betty for purchasing a bikini at a country club 4th of July celebration [1], he now reprimands Megan for kissing another actor as part of a chaste love scene. The screaming hypocrisy of Don's incessant philandering is obviously what makes his behavior the more egregious, but with Megan, it seems like he resents her (modest) success and mindlessly continues his cheating ways. Bad pennies have a way of turning up, but casting "Corinne" as a scheming maid is a curious choice. Megan, innocent but alluring in her cleaning outfit, is not unfamiliar with scrubbing carpets on her hands and knees [2]; however, the Draper marriage, like that white carpet she scrubbed some time ago, has quickly soiled and Megan has seen her role in Don's life devolve ever since he left her high and dry at an upstate Howard Johnson's [3]. When Don stings Megan by observing that she "kisses people for money" we might as well be back in the whorehouse where Don was conceived [4] or the brothel he grew up in. [5]

But Don's casual use of a double standard in his marital life is just one way that the Pleasantville effect [6] was shown in a way more glaring than even Roger's LSD trip last season. [7] Indeed, To Have And To Hold featured the full range of the burgeoning counter culture. Consider Dawn, Don's secretary. For the past season plus, she's been a peripheral character with a steady Eddie demeanor and competent manner rarely seen in Don's assistant. Now, we know Dawn is deeply unhappy with her job, the incessant drinking that goes on in the office, and the sense of everyday terror that the secretaries (crying at their desks) and ad men (crying in the elevator) endure. Overlaying her sense of dread is the fact that she finds it hard to meet men, it going without saying that there are few (no?) other black employees at SCDP. 

Here, the writers handled race relations with a defter hand than last season's water balloon incident [8] and allowed the scenery and dialogue to speak for itself. When Dawn does a favor for Harry's secretary Scarlett, punching her time card at the end of the evening even though Scarlett left early to shop for fellow assistant Clara's gift, the two women react far differently when their ruse is exposed. Scarlett is fired but gets Harry to champion her, leading to her reinstatement. Dawn, mindful of losing a job, even one she does not like, is apologetic, offering to have her pay docked for the time Scarlett took. Scarlett strutted through the halls of SCDP after Harry got her job back; Dawn humbly took responsibility for the violation and was rewarded by Joan with greater responsibility (about more shortly). 

And who is this Harry Crane we see in the late winter of 1968? Aside from his ridiculous side burns and lecherous mien, we could not have seen his volcanic explosion at the partners coming. When Ken disturbs Harry's monday morning coffee and danish with complaints from his father-in-law that people don't like Dow Chemical Harry springs into action. He swoops in with what the reactionaries at the company think is a swell idea - a variety show with Broadway Joe Namath (not a Don Draper favorite [9]) and Joey Heatherton. For co-opting an icon of the counter-culture for establishment needs Dow ponies up $150,000, but the idea itself is absurd. Here, as in Don's Great Depression era attitude toward female chastity, the "adults" are completely out of step with the reality of youth culture. A football player will no more make the American people forget about napalm being used in Vietnam than a couple of commercial spots featuring Dow's "family friendly" products. 

When Harry returns triumphant to the office, Scarlett is decamping with her things. When he sees Joan in the partners' meeting, he directs a tart dressing down of her in front of the assembled group, blatantly calling out the method in which she received her promotion and questioning why his value to the company is not recognized. As a power play, his timing was good, but his personality, noxious and oily, causes Bert to observe that he (Bert) and Harry are nothing alike, even though Bert once did an earlier generation's version of Harry's job. Instead of a partnership, Harry nets a year's worth of salary in the form of a full commission on the pitch. 

Joan mostly took Harry's barbs without cracking, but in one episode, her conflicted experience as SCDP's newest partner was brought into sharp relief. Her social skills are as deft as ever, guiding an out-of-town friend toward a one-night stand at an otherwise vanilla restaurant straight out of 1950s Americana that dissolves into a psychedelia infused after hours club where casual hook ups set to dizzying lights could not have been more with the times.  Joan's mother boasts of her daughter's status as "a partner at a Madison Avenue advertising firm," but Harry's diatribe affirms something Joan has always felt - under (and de) valued [10]. 

But it is Joan's friend who makes Joan realize the choices are not binary, that she does not either have to feel like a secretary or an all powerful master of the universe, but as someone whose seat at the table speaks for itself and to act accordingly. It is a keen observation and one Joan takes to heart. Instead of stewing over Scarlett's imperious strut, she makes a much bolder, albeit more subtle decision - handing the keys to the storage closet and time card machine to Dawn - entrusting the woman with considerable responsibility that the latter takes as a thank you but Joan argues is a punishment. Joan's climb up the corporate ladder was one that stemmed from a place of need, but now that she's there, maneuvering in that rarefied air will be a challenge, but by opening the door to Dawn, she echoes something that was spoken about less than a year ago by our First Lady - that if you get through a door, you reach back and extend your hand to others. 

To Have and To Hold also offered our first image of mentor and protégée, as Don and Peggy went head-to-head pitching Timmy, the Heinz Ketchup Guy. The CGC pitch was itself the result of skullduggery, but Peggy's blatant cribbing of Don's observation that if "you do not like the conversation, change the subject" [11] was what seemed to devastate him more than her pitch, which Don could not help but eavesdrop on while it was being delivered. These were rich scenes, underplayed by the actors involved, which only served to heighten the awkwardness of the encounter. When the two groups run into each other at a bar afterwards, Ken bursts in to inform the group that Raymond has canceled the baked beans account, and before anyone could get to Twitter with a Ted Chaough thought bubble of stealing the business, Pete makes the same observation. Ken's not-so subtle reference to loyalty was aimed at Don and Pete, but the shrapnel nailed his former partner in crime Peggy, whose underhandedness is what landed CGC the pitch opportunity in the first place. 

This was an hour of television practically marinating in deceit - it was unpleasant to watch. From Timmy, licking his finger to wedge his wedding ring off before a night on the town to Pete's offering of his shag pad to Don, you almost needed a Silkwood shower to wipe the grime off. Joan was unapologetic about her assignation, but her married friend felt deep regret. Harry was contemptuous and churlish toward one and all and his secretary thought nothing of accepting his influence to help her remain employed. Megan's big career leap may have been a simple ruse by a couple in an open marriage to spice up their own sex life, but Don would no sooner accept the couple's invitation to some after hours wife swapping than his wife's pretend behavior on a TV show. Sylvia may pray for Don to find peace, but To Have and To Hold suggests that neither he nor anyone else is likely to find any soon. 


1. Maidenform, Season 2, Episode 6. 
2. A Little Kiss, Part 2, Season 5, Episode 2.
3. Far Away Places, Season 5, Episode 6. 
4. Out of Town, Season 3, Episode 1.
5. The Collaborators, Season 6, Episode 3.
6. A 1998 movie featuring a small town's transformation from 1950s black and white to 1960s technicolor and the use of that device as an allegory for societal change. 
7. Far Away Places, supra. 
8.  A Little Kiss, Part 1 and Part 2, Season 5, Episodes 1 & 2.
9. The Suitcase, Season 4, Episode 7. 
10. Tomorrowland, Season 4, Episode 13.
11. Blowing Smoke, Season 4, Episode 12.  

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  1. Nice recap. Pretty sure the "friend" was her sister. She called Joan's mother Mom.

    1. No, Kate's clearly an old friend of Joan's. That was stated explictly; plus Joan's mother's interactions with Kate were not those of a mother-daughter.

  2. I took that to mean that she and Joan had grown up together; I called my best friend's mother "Mom," and she did the same with my mother.

  3. I do not think Kate was Joan's sister; rather, a friend from childhood (we also learn Joan was raised in, of all places, Spokane, Washington). One thing was clear by the end of the episode though - Kate was not ready for prime time.

  4. One important difference between Scarlett and Jane: Jane was brand new. She did not have enough time to become indispensable to Don (does any secretary?).

    Scarlett was aide-de-camp to the only specialist in the firm. More disruptive to fire her and perhaps harder to train (and seduce say some) a replacement.

    Harry is still a slime - what a nasty, public way to insult a partner. She's the most senior one there - the founders excepted of course.

    I thought Roger and Bert were ready to fire Harry - with that check as severance.

    1. Others connected Roger's undercutting of Joan in Season 2 as being similar to Harry's last night. I think they are on point - the value of the employee was less the issue than the fact that Joan's authority was being subverted, not coincidentally, each man did so because of his sexual interest in the employee at issue (most agree Scarlett's behavior to/around Harry indicated they are shtupping). Joan had the same problem in a different context with Joey in Season 4 - there, Peggy rose to her defense and fired Joey, while Joan was prepared to handle it in a different way.

    2. No argument about Roger's and Harry's sexual interest - but that's undercurrent which ought to be considered irrelvant "in public".

      It may be stretch to consider Scarlett's value (to Harry) to be high - but I think if I were Harry, and even NOT dipping my wick (as it were) I'd want to have the decision to fire - especially if I'd been delegating a lot (much as an attorney does with paralegals).

  5. I was well-liquored when viewing last night's episode - perhaps that's why I relished it and was not so uncomfortable as you, TK.

    The original Herb-Jag-Dealer episode? THAT made me squirm.

    1. There's a level of amorality in Don's behavior that is darker and more disturbed (disturbing) than his gallavanting from season's past. I had not really thought about it, but others have pointed to it. What was once the carousing of an on the make and up and coming ad executive, now feels more like a death spiral. He's not only begging to get caught by shtupping the neighbor, but he's picking- the-wings-off-flies level torturing poor, fragile Megan. The level of shame and humiliation he heaps on himself for his own actions is getting uncomfortable to see.

    2. I agree. I always liked, no, enjoyed Don. It's really difficult to watch him make Megan feel bad. And it's harder to see his affair with Lindsay Weir. She has got to have something up her sleeve other than the insecurity of aging.

      Harry taking back Scarlet reminded me of an inverted version of Jane and Roger when she was canned. Harry is scummy, but he might not be banging Scarlet. I think it was just another way for him to say "Fuck you, Joan, I have some power."

      I'm glad the

    3. Consensus seems to be that Harry is probably making the sex with Scarlett although (thankfully) we have not seen them in flagrante delicto. Heather Havrlisky (I know I'm spelling her last name wrong) has a meta theory that this whole season is aping Dante's circles of hell - it's a bit high brow for me, but the short of it seems to be, as Don said to Roger late one boozy night, "it's your life, you don't know how long it's gonna last, but you know it has a bad ending ..." (Six Month Leave, S2E9).

  6. When Pete offered Don his apartment and Don said "I live here", it felt like Don was telling Pete that there isn't any shame in being kicked out of the house with Trudy.

    Don already lives there, metaphorically.

    1. Once upon a time, Don would have envied Pete's shag pad, but the level of recklessness with which he is now carrying on his infidelity makes the need moot. Remember when Don tried to have that heart-to-heart with Pete last season (Signal 30) in the cab after they were in the whorehouse. Yeah, that. It's almost like the two of them are in a race to see who crashes into the side of the mountain sooner.

  7. Nice recap. One thing I noticed is there are parallels in Joan and Kate's relationship and Dawn and her friend (i.e. married woman with financial security and single woman with shaky romantic prospects.) I also like how she (and the writers) related race to personal matters (finding a man and seeing less black people on the train to work) and work ones (her bewilderment at SCDP's general craziness), as well as how her friend right pointed out that Scarlett likely chose her for her punchout scheme so they'd have an easy scapegoat if things hit the fan. Which, judging by the way Scarlet stuck by sleazoid Harry and didn't even ask about Dawn, proved her right.

    My recap:

    1. Thanks for visiting (and nice recap yourself!). Great point about Nikki flagging Scarlett's choice of Dawn to do the punch out b/c if they were caught Dawn would be an easy scapegoat. The actress who portrayed Scarlett (some have noted irony in her having the same name as character from Gone With the Wind) did a nice job conveying entitlement/sliminess after Harry got her job back.