Back in 1965, after Don Draper moped over his failure to land Heinz as an account with the still-relatively new Sterling Draper Cooper Pryce, it was Peggy Olsen who told him to regroup, reminding him of his own favorite saying: “You always say, ‘If you don’t like what they are saying about you, change the conversation.’ ” The Don of spring 1968 likely didn’t expect his protégé to adopt the line for herself — this time in her own pitch to Heinz ketchup, surprising her former firm and boss in her ability to play the advertising game. Surely, Don was filled more with grudging respect than betrayal — her gumption shows he taught her well, after all — but Peggy’s tale was the least of those concerning what it is to be unfaithful in Season Six’s fourth episode, “To Have and To Hold.” Cheaters abound in the “Mad Men” world, and with them, hypocrisy.
Changing the conversation is the more interesting theme of the episode, with characters realizing that the power or achievements they desire are in their grasp if they’d only reach out and take them. Viewers were finally treated to a Joan storyline, the first we’ve really seen of her now that she is a partner at the firm. Her married friend, Kate (Marley Shelton), is impressed, coming into town to interview with Avon. She wants what Joan has — not to mention some extra excitement, which for her includes making out with strangers in nightclubs. Joan is quick to point out her life isn’t glamorous, and that she never expected to be a single mom. (Joan either just turned or is about to turn 37.) “I’ve been there 15 years and they still treat me like a secretary,” Joan tells her. “You’re there, Joan,” Kate says. “And from where I’m sitting, it’s d*** impressive. I don’t care how they make you feel. It’s right in front of you for the taking.”
Joan needed the encouragement. She may be partner, but she is right in that she isn’t exactly earning everyone’s respect. Harry undermining and reversing Joan’s firing of Scarlett was obnoxious, but his cruel words concerning her partnership, as he demanded to be made a partner himself, were uncalled for. They were not, of course, rebutted or stopped by any of the other partners present: “You know what, I’m sorry my accomplishments happened in broad daylight and I can’t be given the same rewards.” He knows about her sleeping with Herb from Jaguar — Herb’s demand for working with SCDP — in exchange for the promotion. Pete’s weak “What is that supposed to mean?” didn’t fool anyone. Harry learned about the deal somehow, and the slimy partner who thought it was all a good idea to begin with seems a likely culprit. Now Joan needs to step up and prove she deserves her spot.
Harry isn’t off-base entirely when it comes to demanding respect for his accomplishments, but everyone can’t be a partner. Picking a fight with Joan isn’t the best tactic, either. He is rewarded for his Joe Namath/Broadway TV special idea, which would benefit sponsor and SCDP client Dow Chemical, with a check for the full commission. Roger and Burt, however, balk at his threats of finding a new firm. Harry is lucky to have been giving as much as he was. Dawn (Teyonah Parris), Don’s assistant, also is lucky to have been given a second chance by Joan after she helped Scarlett falsify her timecard. But it is Dawn’s honesty and integrity that earn her Joan’s trust (and the keys to the supply closet, perhaps a punishment), not her bravado. The agency needs more Dawns, not Harrys. That’s if she can survive the doom and gloom: “Everybody’s scared there,” Dawn tells her friend, Nikki (Idara Victor). “Women crying in the ladies room, men crying in the elevator. It sounds like New Year’s Eve when they empty the garbage there’s so many bottles. And I told you about that poor man hanging himself in his office.”
The secrecy surrounding “Project K,” Don and Stan’s pitch for ketchup, added tension to the office as they worried about landing the account, and the best part about the competition for Heinz is that they SCDP boys were naÃ¯ve enough to think it wasn’t a competition. Our not seeing Peggy work on her pitch was a smart set-up — we learned she was at the hotel to meet with Heinz when Don, Stan and Pete did. Their shock felt that much more real. Anger toward Peggy and CGC would be misplaced; after all, it was a third agency that won the account in the end. But her relationship with Stan may change now that he knows she isn’t simply a late-night confidant but a true competitor. Don’s team was the bigger cheaters, having gone against loyal client Raymond Geiger’s wishes to stay away from ketchup. They don’t have ketchup, and now they don’t have baked beans, vinegar and sauces. Pete thinks the risk was worth it, but that is coming from someone supremely disloyal.
Don’s hypocrisy with relationships is ground well-trodden, and the events in this episode felt like reruns of earlier fights with Betty. Insert his new wife, Megan, and her eagerness to become an actress and generally be liked. Her maid character landed a love scene on the soap “To Have and To Hold,” a development that at first annoyed Don and soon angered him, once he dropped by the set to watch Megan in action. The soap plotline dealt with infidelity — “This is your bed you share with her,” her character says to the married man seducing her. Did her lines resonate too much for you, Don? Megan’s cheating is fictional, yet she is the one dubbed a w****: “You kiss people for money,” Don says in her dressing room. “You know who does that?” “You couldn’t stop it,” Megan says, “so I guess ruining it was enough for you.”
Perhaps the couple’s encounter with the soap’s writer, Mel, and his wife Arlene, also a star on the soap, unnerved him about the scene. At dinner, Mel and Arlene invited the Drapers over for a swinging good time, but Don and Megan politely declined. “I don’t know whether to laugh or be sick,” Megan said later, “because now I think that’s the reason they gave me the scene.” At the filming, Arlene even comments to Don that he “likes to watch” Megan in the act. The comment is forward, but is it inaccurate? Don and Megan’s relationship has always been sexually charged — think back to last season, when arguments between the two often ended in sex. Now Don is being called on his romantic proclivities, and he doesn’t want to think about them. No, the women in his life need to behave a certain way and on his terms. He is the one who gets to cheat.
How far does Megan have to be pushed before she leaves Don? Her chance at stardom, even if she is only on soaps, is in front of her. Sylvia is busing sleeping with Don and praying for him to find peace. Megan should get busy changing the conversation.
Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.