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See and don’t see

April 22, 2013 - Ray Eckenrode

“Mad Men” 6x04

Episode title: “To Have and To Hold”

Significance: Directly, a reference to the title of the soap opera in which Megan is taking on a larger role. Indirectly, a reference to the wide array of sexual politics practiced throughout the episode.

Time passages: Based on the background radio broadcasts and the mention of unrest at Columbia University, “To Have and To Hold” takes place in March of 1968.

Episode essay: See and don’t see. Hear and don’t hear. Know and don’t know and cry. Those are lyrics written by Rose Marie McCoy for Marie “Queenie” Lyons, but they could just as well be the professional and personal creed in the “Mad Men” universe at this point. Assumptions trump reason, appearances deceive and nearly everyone wants what someone else has.

That point was brought home beautifully and subtly in the pitches Don and Peggy (channeling her inner Don to the point of stealing one of his punch lines) made to Timmy from Heinz, SCDP’s all about imagination, about what can’t be seen and CGC’s about a ketchup bottle 40 feet high. In the end, neither team won, a client was lost and a friendship was broken.

The juxtaposition between what people see and what they believe was everywhere. Kate looks at Joan and sees a small-town girl who’s made it in the big city. Harry looks at her and sees someone who’s slept her way to the top. Neither is right. And both are right.

While what happens at work on “Mad Men” is usually fueled by desire for power or knowledge, what happens outside the offices is almost always fueled by lust and sex. Matthew Weiner said he wanted “To Have and To Hold” to have a soap opera feel to it and … mission accomplished. We had Don, who is really sleeping with his neighbor’s wife, acting bitter and petulant because his real wife is pretend sleeping with her boss on television. We had Harry acting bitter and petulant because his work “in broad daylight” hasn’t earned him the partnership Joan earned by sleeping with Herb from Jaguar. We had Mel (Ted McGinley!) and Arlene trying to sleep with Megan and Dawn and Joan’s friend Kate trying to sleep with someone, anyone.

But in the end (for the third straight episode), the only real sex involved Don and Sylvia and we’re beginning to think their relationship might become more important to the series’ end game than we first might have imagined. Don has all the physical power in the relationship – and he knows it, as exhibited by his cocksure (can we say that? Webster says yes) monologue in the restaurant last week. But Sylvia’s got something more important and much more rare, she’s got emotional power over Don Draper. When Don playfully mocks her religion, Sylvia calmly and precisely turns it into a piece of introspection he’s not expecting. As he places the crucifix out of sight, it’s clear he’s not ready yet to see himself as Sylvia sees him. But he’s getting closer. So when he falls over her in a real-world embrace that mimics that of Corrine and Rafe in the soaps, he’s on top, but she’s calling the shots.

About last week: We made a point last week of noting Don has strong professional morals but no personal ones. So, of course, this week’s episode began with Don caving in and cheating on baked beans with ketchup (in a gorgeous scene framed between those two funky green-blue wall dividers in Pete’s Manhattan bachelor pad).

Historical notes:
+ The song playing in the swingers club that Joan and her friend visited (the Electric Circus in the East Village) was “Bonnie and Clyde,” by Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot.

+ Dow Chemical’s campus recruiting led to a series of protests in the spring of 1968, most notably at Columbia University.

+ There really was a Joe Namath musical special in 1968, titled “Super Night at the Super Bowl.”

Sweet tweet: From @GQMagazine: Bert Cooper, patron saint of sock porn.

Lines of the night:

“What’s a love scene consist of?” –Don Draper

“He wants people to stop hating him. He should stop dropping Napalm on children.” –Ken Cosgrove

“Everybody is scared there.” –Dawn Chambers

“You kiss people for money. You know who does that?” –Don Draper

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A soap opera plot pushes Megan and Don further apart in "To Have and To Hold."


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