Spoiler Alert: Do not read if you haven’t seen Mad Men Season 6, Ep. 4 – “To Have and To Hold”.
"Everybody's scared there. Women crying in the ladies room, men crying in the elevator; it sounds like New Year’s Eve when they empty the garbage, there are so many bottles.” – Dawn
It’s been a few seasons since we’ve been treated to the formerly familiar scene of secretaries sobbing the bathroom. In fact, the last time we saw it was from the perspective of our first fish out of water: Peggy. But the latest pair of fresh eyes has confirmed that no matter how much the world outside may change, some things never do. Like Peggy, we as an audience have gotten so swept up in the drama of these characters lives that it’s easy to forget how truly abnormal they all are. Time and again Mad Men drives home the point that all these people are playing roles; submitting one truth to the public while living another in private. We consider ourselves astute for recognizing these self-delusions, but Dawn’s commentary to her friend is proof that the only people these characters are deceiving are themselves.
And this week they were working overtime on those deceptions.
Joan is working hard to play her role as the Madison Ave. executive, but she’ll never be able to forget what she had to do to get the partnership. And, thanks to Harry’s petulant outburst, she was reminded that everyone else the room will never forget either. To make matters worse, she may have the title and the paycheck, but it didn’t come with the power she expected. She can’t even fire a secretary without the men in the room ignoring her. Joan in certainly more crucial to the success to SCDP (they never could have pulled off their coup without her) than Harry, whose inflated ego is laughable. Yes, the TV department may be bringing in a substantial percentage of SCDP’s revenue, but that has much more to do with the growing importance of television than with the growing importance of Harry Crane. A fact I’m sure he’d discover if he did attempt to leave SCDP. But, in 1968, the glass ceiling is still so degradingly low that a man can walk in and call a female partner a whore in front of her colleagues and walk away not only without reprimand, but with (the equivalent of) $150,000.
On the other side of the spectrum is Peggy. Peggy earned her success in a more honorable way, but that doesn’t mean that she hasn’t played a role to get there. And never has it been made more abundantly clear that the only way Peggy has succeeded has been by playing Don Draper. In fact, she’s doing a better job of playing Don Draper than Don is at this point. Her Heinz pitch was extremely reminiscent (even without the borrowed line) of Don’s most successful pitches, while Don was once again obliviously attempting to sell something that wasn’t there.
This is the first time since Peggy’s departure that the two former friends have gone head to head on a campaign, and while neither came out the victor, Don was clearly shaken. I don’t think he ever actually considered that he would have to compete with Peggy, or if he did I don’t think he expected it to be so close. Standing outside the hotel door listening to Peggy deliver a patented Draper pitch was like an out of body experience for Don and probably not one he wants to repeat. Though I’m sure it was preferable to the next out of body experience he had to witness.
Of all Don’s flaws, and there are many to choose from, his hypocrisy is the hardest to forgive. He cheats on his wives without a single thought as to how they might feel about it, but the moment he feels the tiniest bit slighted by a woman he eagerly takes up the role of whiny victim. Actually, prior to his set visit, Don was taking the news of Megan’s sex scene uncharacteristically well. He put up the expected protests of a husband, but didn’t seem all that invested in it (he also didn’t seem that put out by a man sitting at dinner and casually suggesting he would like to have sex with Megan). But, the moment he actually saw the scene being filmed all that anger came bursting out and led to a pretty ugly fight that left Megan realizing her biggest role isn’t as some maid on a soap opera, but as a woman in a loving, satisfying marriage.
But it wasn’t watching his wife kiss another man that sent Don over to the ugly side. Just like Peggy’s pitch was a down to the letter replica of Don at his best, the soap opera scene was a glaringly obvious version of Don at his worst. It had all the telltale signs of a Draper seduction from the unheeded protests to the exact position Don likes to find himself in (and it case it wasn’t too obvious already, they kindly showed us the similarities again side by side with Don’s now nightly visit to Sylvia). Seeing the scene play out as an outsider; without the emotion of being involved and under the harsh lights of the set, the seduction was stripped of all its, well, seduction and Don could see it for what it is; empty and meaningless.
Not that a silly thing like that would ever make him stop, of course.
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