Mad Men – To Have and To Hold
To Have and to Hold sounds like a simple episode title on the surface, rather rote in its familiarity. Obviously the phrase is a standard sort of declaration, specifically a wedding vow; which is arguably just about as meaningless a string of words as there can be in the Mad Men universe. Step back for a second though, look at it as a sentence, and it swiftly starts to seem like something that should belong to TV’s best Primetime cable drama and not some daytime, network soap. Mad Men is all about having, is all about greed, about holding on to what you have while simultaneously trying to get more, more than you had before, more than the other guy, to have more than you can possibly hold.
This carnivorous desire to consume and the damage it causes have both been obvious in the shows setting, an ad agency, and the deviant sexual lives of its characters since the very beginning so it alone cannot be the thematic core of a season six episode. To differentiate itself Have is then more specifically focused in on the other players involved in the illicit acts made to sate such desires, the Brutus, the blacksmith who forges the knife before it lands in the back. The betrayal of womankind inherent in adultery seems to be the show’s strongest concern this week – the notion that every time some scum guy cheats it is because a woman was weak enough to let him do it with her – and thus literal infidelities are again everywhere, just not how you might have come to expect them.
During the episode’s opening scene, in which Don and Pete take Ketchup to Pete’s inner-city no-longer-a-bachelor pad, the client pointedly bites off his wedding ring as he turns to leave the meeting; him taking that action in that setting turns that ring, the circle of gold that was supposed to symbolize an eternity of devotion into as strong a suggestion of infidelity as yet exists in the visual medium. SCDP want to have a little something extra on top and so they betray their loyal client for a condiment, for something that can never satisfy a hunger on its own, ignoring the real for some imagined possibility. It’s hubris and we see that from the start but they need to feel the hurt before they learn a lesson, if they ever do that. All these circles of life are interconnected though and these corruptions leak down. If you lack honour at work then how can you have it at home?
Don cheating is nothing new, Megan sleeping with another man though came as something of a surprise; though not as a spoiler, the only show it occurs on is her show, the soap opera in which she will soon star at this rate. Megan’s attempt to smooth things out with a night out mirroring last week’s failed dinner in which Don’s secret lover was present; though this time it was Don who was being sold a sexual tryst. Megan though is unaware of that irony because to her this kind of deception is something that only happens in fiction, its just TV, like the ABC mug that Harry holds so prominently in his Monday morning meeting. For Don though the show is all too true to life, which bothers him because like a little boy he wants things only when someone else does; he couldn’t care less last week but when another man holds Megan he wants to have her like nothing else.
The same night that they are given an offer to sleep together as a foursome Joan and a friend go on something of a threesome, though based on what we see Joan’s role here is closer to that of the pimp than the prostitute. She too knows all to well the shame that can come from sex, it is shoved in her face again this week by an uppity Harry Crane, and she wants her wholesome friend to feel it so that she is no longer lesser. It’s the sixties equivalent of people sending around sick videos of girls and cups, they don’t do it because they enjoyed watching it but because they don’t want to be the only one down there in the gutter. If you’re not a despicable person you’ll be made to dress like one, lest you maybe use that moral superiority to shine a light on the despicable things those people would prefer be left in the dark.
This sort of betrayal is also reflected in the fragments of the episode showing the relationships between the Maid and the Mistress in the Soap, between Stan and Peggy in the pub and between Dawn and Scarlet (aptly named, given her relationship with the firm’s one African American worker) in the office but there are some strange sorts of loyalty show that temper this: Joan’s scene with Dawn was very touching, perhaps the most moving of the season thus far, Don and Stan smoking in the ‘Private Room’ was sweet and there was something nice in that scene towards the end where Roger and Burt relaxed in the lounge. The episode itself was also very fun and energetic compared to those that have come before it this season: it had some hilarious lines, some heavy but highly effective music cues and some striking late-sixties visual cues (that club, those boots).
It wasn’t a perfect episode of Mad Men, nor the stunner that was last year’s Mystery Date, but To Have and to Hold was the first episode this season that felt like it was at least trying to have its cake and hold it too, to be both deep and entertaining, but like its characters it got caught somewhere in the divide of compromise between those not quite contradictory but definitely not complimentary forces, between “I think everything should be done in secret,” and “Nothing better than being known for loyalty,” but unlike its characters I think that the show can still sort itself out yet.