Thursday, 25 April 2013

MAD MEN, 6.4 - 'To Have and to Hold'

Thursday, 25 April 2013

A rare episode not written or co-written by creator Matthew Weiner, and a very interesting one because of its focus on woman (mostly ex-secretaries) that are part of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce's history. I particularly liked getting some insight into Dawn (Teyonah Parris), the agency's first black secretary, who got into trouble with Joan (Christina Hendrick) and almost got Scarlett (Sadie Alexandru) fired until Harry (Rich Somner) stepped in to save his cherished secretary from unemployment. It's easy to assume Dawn must love being part of this world as racial integration takes a tentative foothold on society, but instead she makes it very clear that her working day offers nothing but isolation and affirming an opinion that her colleagues and bosses are "scared" all the time.

One of the episode's better subplots was given to Joan; a character the show doesn't always manage to give enough to do. I really liked how she asserted her authority by firing Scarlet (with a valid enough reason), but was talked around only when Harry embarrassed her by defending Scarlet in front of her fellow partners. Also interesting to note Harry's aware Joan became a partner in the firm because she slept with someone to win them a lucrative contract, but also frustrating from Joan's perspective because she genuinely deserves to become a partner... but the tipping point with Herb is perhaps all many people see. Of course, Harry himself has a very persuasive argument for why he should be made a partner, too--as he runs the increasingly important TV department and, unlike Joan, actually makes SCDP lots of money.

Joan also enjoyed a night out with her friend Kate (Marley Shelton), who sees Joan as someone to envy, but it's Joan who spends the evening as a gooseberry... clearly not enjoying the East Village venues Kate drags her to, and perhaps only kissing a man in a club to fit in with Kate's idea of a great night out. More than ever you got a feeling that Joan's a product of a more formal generation, despite her appearance, and will perhaps be increasingly sidelined socially as the show approaches the 1970s (which, contrary to the Swinging Sixties' reputation, is the decade where things really started to change socially).

I also found a great deal to love about Don's (Jon Hamm) storyline this week; or, rather, his wife Megan's (Jessica Paré). Her acting career's beginning to take-off because she's been given a juicy storyline that will involve her having an affair with the lead actor, but Don isn't too happy about his wife kissing another man on camera. The hypocrisy of Don's opinion is screamingly obvious, considering he's the one who actually goes out and has real affairs with women behind his wife's back. "To Have and to Hold" was the first episode in awhile where you really had to shake your head in disbelief at Don's attitude--especially in the scene in Megan's dressing room after watching her "sex scene" being filmed, where he essentially equated her job to prostitution. As we know, Don has certain childhood hang-ups about women and sex, so it was fascinating to see him make this mental leap.

The scene where Megan and Don were also propositioned by Megan's boss Mel (Ted McGinley) and his wife Arlene (Joanna Going), who subtly revealed during dinner that they're swingers, was also one of the funniest Mad Men's done in awhile. Don's expression was priceless, as they both fumbled to politely decline the offer. The intriguing thing is Mel and Arlene probably have a healthier marriage and sex life than the Draper's, who are essentially kidding themselves on various levels. It's certainly more open and honest.

Finally, I enjoyed the competing pitches for Heinz ketchup. Don's was very clever in not showing the product and getting into the consumer's imagination, while Peggy's (Elisabeth Moss) was more direct and punchy. This was the first time the two world of Don and Peggy have butted heads since she left SCDP, and that alone made these scenes really fun to watch. The fact neither of them won the Heinz contract was a fun twist, too, and has caused a lot of unexpected fallout: Stan's (Jay R Ferguson) friendship with Peggy has soured because she clearly used their private conversation to push for this business, while Don and Pete (Vincent Karthesier) realise they've burned their bridges with Heinz's vinegars, sauces and beans business for an unsuccessful crack at the big ketchup deal.

Overall, "To Have and to Hold" was another typically entertaining and richly written hour of classy drama. The only issues I'm having with season 6 so far is some repetition in the themes we've explored (particularly mortality), and the fact Don's current affair with Sylvia (Linda Cardellini) isn't anything we haven't seen many times before. I'm wondering if the show is going to throw some kind of curveball in that area, because it's like a weird throwback to season 1 and 2 in how it's being handled. We know Don isn't monogamous and lies to his wives, so quite why the show is demonstrating that once again is a little puzzling. Maybe it's a sign Mad Men should be winding up soon, as there actually isn't much new to explore?

written by Erin Levy / directed by Michael Uppendahl / 22 April 2013 / Sky Atlantic