It's useful to have an occassional reminder that Don Draper is truly a terrible person -- allowing "Mad Men" to stop short of glamorizing despicable behavior the same way it does problem drinking.
In "To Have and To Hold," Don's got his Madonna-whore complex mixed up, showing more respect to his mistress than his wife (but not much more.) Megan's character on the soap opera is given her first love scene, and it comes with an unexpected overture. The show's head writer, Mel, and his wife Arlene -- a co-star -- take Don and Megan out to celebrate her career development, and invite them back to their apartment to smoke some grass and "see what happens."
Every now and again Meg and Don show an ease with each other that makes their marriage believable, even something to root for. The cab ride home from dinner, where they have a postmortem on Mel and Arlene's offer, is one of those times, and it makes Don's later cruelty feel like that much more of a betrayal.
Though he's never visited Megan on set before, or ever bothered to watch "To Have and To Hold," Don shows up to police her love scene and remind his wife -- and her co-workers -- who's really the boss. When Megan rightly calls him out, Don pretty much calls her a whore. "Were you going to brush your teeth at least before you came home?” he asks, and then: "You kiss people for money. You know who else does that?"
While clearly hurt, Megan sees Don's belittling for what it is: "I am sick of tiptoeing around you every time something good happns to me." Don has only ever tolerated Megan's acting ambitions; for him to genuinely support her feels almost out of the question. We can't forget that when Megan left her job at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce to pursue her "dream," she'd proven herself to be an asset to the agency, and certainly to Don. It was Megan's Hail Mary save, after all, that won SCDP the coveted Heinz account.
And the boys at SCPD lost that account in spectacular fashion this week. Unable to resist the ketchup guy's solicitation, even though the beans guy told them to stay the hell away, Don, Pete and Stan stage a covert op -- "Project K" -- to pitch a ketchup campaign. They fail to impress. On the way out, they run in to Peggy Olsen, on her way in; Don, ever the masochist, listens through the door as Peggy out-pitches him by using his own words: "If you don't like what people are saying, change the conversation."
"Mad Men" can't seem to get away from the conversation about women all being whores in some way or another. Last week, we saw a young Don as a peeping tom in a brothel, then tossing cash at his hard-up mistress. This week, on top of Don's insinuation about Megan's job, Harry Crane humiliates Joan at a partner's meeting because he feels owed a place at the table: "I am sorry my accomplishments happened in broad daylight and I can't be given the same rewards."
It's nice to see Joan back in the story, even if her story doesn't feel like it has anywhere to go. The world around her is changing, but Joan seems stuck; there's a sense that she's somehow being left behind. In a sign of the times, Stan and Harry are tassled and sideburned, and even Don's smoking pot, but Joan looks and behaves exactly as she did when we first met her. And even though she's a partner, she's still treated like a secretary; and she doesn't seem at all interested in changing that conversation.
Though she can't be past her thirties, Joan seems to have put herself out to pasture. When her visiting friend Kate wants to live like a single girl for one night, Joan gamely goes along, but with the presumption that any male attention should be directed at her married friend. (Though, she gets a suitor of her own.) And when Kate applauds Joan for getting by on her own, without having a man to fall back on, Joan's more wistful than proud. "And I never will," she says, sincere in her assumption that she'll never have a man to care for her. "How'd that happen?"
But if things are tough on a single working mother in a man's world, it's even harder for a single, black secretary in a white man's world: Dawn gets some overdue scenes out of the office, where she complains to an engaged girlfriend about how hard it is to find a man: South of Harlem, the men aren't available (or, of any apparent interest) to her; and in church, she can't outshine the competition: "I can't stand out in that crowd of harlots."
And there we go again. If anyone really is a harlot, it would have to be Sylvia -- who also happens to be the most self-righteous of the bunch (though, Don isn't far behind.) Last week, she slut-shamed Megan for allowing the thought of an abortion to cross her mind; this week, she condescends to Don, by telling him that she prays for him. "For me to come back?" he asks. "For you to find peace."
I said it last week and I'll say it again: Don really does seem to be getting attached to Sylvia, but how long before he turns on her, and how will it all play out? Sure, Sylvia is peaches and rosemary beads now, because she's getting what she wants. But that can't last forever. Don's bound to let her down, and when he does, something tells me there will be hell to pay.