Monday, April 22, 2013

"Pray for Peace"

Mad Men, Season Six, Episode Four, "To Have and to Hold"

From the opening scene in Pete's Manhattan adultery apartment, where he and Don have an "illicit" tryst with Mr. Heinz Ketchup despite Don's nervousness ("Heinz Baked Beans has given us national recognition and Raymond is a friend") to the closing scene in Sylvia's maid's room (Don's new adultery apartment), this episode is focused on betrayal: betrayal of women in marriage and in business, betrayal of those in business who are most woman-like (the weaker smaller companies and divisions of companies), and betrayal of ideals. Yet, while it focuses on this group with the power to hurt and betray others (mostly the men), it is also about people who are very lost and afraid and who have no clue where to go to find themselves. It's about betrayal of the self as well. And Dawn--as a black woman, on the lowest rung of their ladder--is the only one who can see the problem. When her friend accuses her of being unable to say 'no,' "'cause you're too scared," Dawn replies, "Everybody's scared there." She tells her about the crying in the bathroom of the women, the crying in the elevator of the men, the excessive drinking as evidenced by enough bottles in the trash to remind her of New Year's Eve, and Lane's suicide. Yes, everybody's scared, but no one knows how to alleviate it and some try to tamp down their own fear by stomping all over those below them on the ladder. It would never occur to any of them to construct their lives on a model other than a ladder.

At first, I thought this might be an episode about how women are moving up, getting ahead, achieving success. Joan's mother is proud of her: "My daughter is a partner at a Madison Avenue advertising firm," she says over dinner with Joan's visiting friend, Kate. "It does sound pretty good," Joan smiles back. Joan and Mrs. Holloway admire the diamond watch that Kate was awarded from her employer, Mary Kay, for doing the best in her area. Though she feels that she's gone as far as she can go in the Mary Kay organization, Kate is in New York for an interview with Avon. Peggy is one of the few chosen to pitch a campaign to Heinz Ketchup and Megan achieves new success as her soap opera character's story line is expanded into an affair with a prominent man on the show. As Kate tells Mrs. Holloway, "Mary Kay always says it's really about making yourself feel better" and that comes from women doing things for themselves. And, for awhile in this episode, it seems that they may be able to keep achieving more and feel good about themselves. But, no.

Harry Crane, angry that Joan has fired his secretary (and he may have been right that she shouldn't have done so--at least not without talking to him first) and perhaps afraid that he's never going to get as high on the ladder as he wants (though he's such an almighty ass, I have no sympathy for him), barges into a partner's meeting, demanding to be made partner because he's "earned it." "I'm sorry my accomplishments were performed in broad daylight," he throws at Joan, making her aware that others know how she acquired her executive position and making it painfully obvious that a woman can only get so far before a man will work to tear her down. Joan was made partner after sleeping with Herb for the Jaguar account only because the firm and the industry are so sexist, with such a strong sense of male entitlement, that they had no problem running their business as a prostitution ring for an evening, yet would never consider rewarding a deserving woman employee with a partnership based on her work abilities. Joan deserved to be made partner for all of her hard work, skill, and brains that helped the agency get where it was. Were she a man, she would have been made partner at the beginning of the new company. As a woman, though, she could only aspire to it through sex with a demanding, entitled prospective client. And Harry follows in the footsteps of the entitled men, tearing Joan down along the way. She goes from the confident ad agency exec in the beginning to telling her friend at the end that she should never envy her. When Kate tells her, "I wanted what you have," Joan replies, "Why would you want that?" When Kate says she covets Joan's executive status, Joan says, "It's a title. . . I've worked there for fifteen years and they still treat me as a secretary."

Peggy started out as a secretary and worked her way up to a position like Don's. She behaves like Don does, but because she's a woman, she'll be punished for it more severely. Don and his Project K posse went after the money of the ketchup account, choosing to betray Raymond, despite Don's best instincts earlier on. Peggy and her group went after the money of the ketchup account, betraying Stan and the information he shared with her as a friend, despite her instincts of last week. Yet while Stan feels no qualms about what he and Don did, he will punish Peggy for committing the same act: "I think I see a friend," then giving her the finger as he walks by. I know some people have been rooting for her to begin a romance with him, but I think this just proves that would not be a good idea. He still wants to hold her to a different standard than he is held to.

And poor Megan. The secretary turned wife turned dream-chaser. For awhile, it seemed like Don was genuinely struggling with having a professional, working wife, struggling to enter the modern world enough to accept her. After all, when he was married to a housewife, he kept having affairs with professional, independent women. But, it apparently wasn't because that's what he really wanted. Now that he's married to a professional, independent woman, he's having an affair with a housewife. And, he has the gall to be angry that Megan has an acting job in which her character has an affair. He comes to the set of Megan's show and is angry because she seems to be enjoying a scene on a bed with the leading man on top of her--the same position that Don is in with Sylvia in the next scene. He has the gall to charge Megan with "kissing people for money," when that's basically what he does for a living--kissing up to Heinz Ketchup rather than staying loyal to the baked beans division of the company, just so they can get more money. Kissing up to Dow Chemical even though they all know the truth that Ken is able to speak: "If he [Ken's father-in-law] wants people to stop hating them, they should really stop dropping napalm on children!" Well, yeah, but napalm makes a lot of money and SCDP makes a lot of money having the Dow account, so smarmy Harry comes up with the idea for a Dow Chemical sponsored Broadway musical hour on television starring Joe Namath and Ken comes up with the wholesome, obfuscating line "Dow Chemical. Family products for the American family." Don's the bigger whore than Megan (who isn't one) and he acts it out with an infuriating sense of entitlement. He may, at base, be dreadfully afraid too, but he, like Harry, is a big enough ass lately that I can't spare any sympathy on him either.

While Megan cries in her dressing room after Don so unfairly lambasts her, he is off kissing Sylvia, uneasy about the cross she wears around her neck. She tells him that she prays for him. "For me to come back?" he asks. "No, for you to find peace." I started out this season with high hopes for Don, despite his apparent death wish. Might he actually be on this Dantean pilgrimage suggested by his reading of "The Inferno" in paradise? Might he actually reach some sort of enlightenment? But, I'm not hopeful about that now. He's just in the hell that's a treadmill, running and running and going nowhere, his path always wrapping back around on itself. As long as he--and all the others--place themselves in the service of the consumerist American dream, seeing money as their holy grail and marker of success--and he and the other men see themselves as entitled to use women as they want--there will be no peace. They look for peace in all the wrong places: wife swapping, psychedelic clubs, hook-up cafes (that was really weird), affairs, and competitive jobs that work against both their personal sense of peace and against ending the war they say they oppose. Because you can't really protest the United States military napalming Vietnamese children and others when you're worried about the Dow Chemical account being in danger. You can't really allow comedians like the Smothers Brothers to speak out against the war--even if you're a writer who appreciates satire and is opposed to the war as Don says he is--if you're more worried about making the advertisers unhappy. Despite Sylvia's prayer (her religion, which she claims to value, apparently doesn't bring her much peace or satisfaction either since she deals with her housewifely ennui in the extremely uncreative way of sleeping with the neighbor), it doesn't seem that there will ever be peace for Don or any of the other characters. And in the world they're building, there might not be for anyone else either. It's not just the war in Vietnam these folks need to be concerned about. It's the war inside and between all of them.


  1. I love your analysis, Cathy, but I have a different take on Peggy and Stan. What they did with the obnoxious Heinz guy is not the same as what she did to a friend. I liked their friendship, but I don't blame Stan at all for feeling betrayed by her sharing their playful confidences. And the only redeeming moment for Don this episode (last week it was just the Jaguar self-immolation)was his listening to his student/daughter/mentee. The pride mingled with sadness was lovely. (I guess the winner was the famous Anticipation Ad which blew both of theirs out of the water.)


  2. Thanks, Elizabeth. And, I don't disagree totally about Stan. The more I thought about it, I thought I was a bit hard on him. You're right that what Don and Co. had with Heinz is not the same as what Peggy and Stan had. Though she did do what's the normal practice in their industry. Just that their industry is not very kind--to put it mildly. She didn't look happy in that bar--and not just because she didn't get the account. He was justified in his anger. I agree totally that Don's best moment was when he was eavesdropping on Peggy's presentation. He's been having fewer and fewer good moments lately. And, I was thinking about "Anticipation" too...