Can Don Draper ever really change?
That's been the central question behind AMC's Mad Men since the series began, and it's a note that was played once again in this week's episode, entitled "To Have and To Hold" after the name of the fictitious soap opera starring Megan. Gaining popularity as an actress, Megan is rewarded with a meatier role on the show-within-a-show and a love scene with her co-star. Although he initially accepts the situation grudgingly, Don shows up on set to observe the filming of the love scene and takes the moral high ground afterward. Yes, the man who has cheated on virtually every woman he has ever been with took great offense at his wife pretending to make out with another man, going so far as to compare her to a prostitute because that's the only profession that pays you to kiss strangers. Come on, Don, you should know they don't all like to kiss.
Besides, now that we know what triggers Don's misogynistic treatment of women in his personal life, thinking of Megan as a prostitute should reignite their sex life. Instead, an indignant Don leaves Megan crying in her dressing room and goes to have some authentic extramarital sex with Sylvia, his married mistress who has been waiting for him all day. I like the subtle connection between Megan playing a maid on the soap and Don and Sylvia conducting their rendez-vous in the vacant maid's quarters, and the contrast to his previous affairs is interesting. Now that he is married to the hot young career woman, Don has an affair with a married housewife closer to his age, which is the opposite of his marriage to Betty when he bedded independent-minded women like Rachel Menken and Bobbie Barrett. In case you haven't figured it out yet, Don is the problem — not Betty, or Megan, or anyone else. It's not them, Don, it's you. In what I hope was an intentionally soapy conclusion, Sylvia whispers that she prays for Don to find peace and Jon Hamm pulls his best "poor tortured Don" face. It's a fine line between presenting a thought-provoking portrayal of infidelity and glorifying it, and I don't like to see Mad Men tip too far toward glorification.
Despite the generally detestable behavior he exhibits in his personal life, Don is usually remarkably faithful in his professional life, as evidenced last week when he chose to remain loyal to Raymond of Heinz Baked Beans instead of pursuing Timmy of Heinz Ketchup. This week, Don went against his word and had Pete and Stan working on the top-secret assignment to land Ketchup, codenamed "Project K." In the end, not only did they come up short, but Raymond found out about the meeting and canceled his account with the agency. Ken Cosgrove wasn't very happy either, feeling that he had been left out in the cold, and mocked Don's line from last week about loyalty.
You can also add Harry Crane to the list of disgruntled Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce employees who might be ready to break out on their own soon. Ray Wise returned as Ken's father-in-law Ed, head of Dow Corning, and Harry sold him on sponsoring a TV special entitled "Broadway Joe Does Broadway," featuring New York Jets football star Joe Namath performing show tunes with other stars. Buoyed with confidence, Harry gets into an argument with Joan back at the office and bursts into a partners' meeting to demand a partnership, feeling that he has earned it: "I'm sorry my accomplishments happened in broad daylight and I can't be given the same rewards." He also hints that he could jump ship if another firm comes calling. Whatever you think about Harry, that took balls.
Joan continued her evolution, gaining some insight into her unique situation through comments made by her friend Katie, who was impressed that Joan became a partner. Devoid of any real power, Joan realizes that she has been allowing herself to be treated like a glorified secretary despite her new title and resolves to make the most of the opportunity in front of her. By the end of the episode, Joan has upgraded her style to look like an executive (with frilly sleeves) and should demand to be taken seriously. I never would have pegged Joan to be the first woman in the Mad Men universe to don a Hillary Clintonesque power pantsuit, but I can feel it coming. She poses another threat to the SCDP old boys' club; was landing the Jaguar account worth it for them if they have to treat her like an equal?
Speaking of powerful females, Peggy delivers a hell of a presentation for Heinz Ketchup. It's so good, Don eavesdrops outside the door to hear her unleash his own words from seasons past: "If you don't like what people are saying, change the conversation." (Don seems to have a fetish for masochistic voyeurism — peeping on his mother figure being mounted by an uncle, watching his wife's love scene, listening to his former protege try to steal his account.) Peggy doesn't win the account, but she loses a friend when Stan flips her off at the bar later, realizing that she used the information he innocently supplied. Such is the price of success for a professional woman in the 20th century.
Ted McGinley, best known as Jefferson D'Arcy on Married... With Children, guest-starred as the clean-cut, bespectacled head writer of To Have and To Hold whose appearance belies the swinger lifestyle he and his wife enjoy. While out to dinner with Megan and Don, he suggests that the four of them go back to their place so they can "smoke some grass and see what happens." Whoa, that dinner conversation got really awkward really quickly. Don and Megan respectfully decline and joke about it on the way home until Megan notes they've been married 18 years. It must sting that Don has had so many failed relationships while trying to hide his affairs, yet these swingers have a happy, rock-solid union.
Sometimes, honesty is the best policy.
FINAL GRADE: B-