This week’s episode played a little out of the tradition of what we usually expect of Mad Men. Even with a scattered format to cover ground on multiple storylines, there was something stylistically different, off perhaps. There was so much tension riddled in every scene, and a lot of coldness, but there was also something somewhat campy. Perhaps the fact that we see into Megan’s soap opera life is part of the reason why the style is so different – the episode plays out like it itself is either its own iteration of a soap opera episode, or is actually turning the soap opera genre on its head (i.e. with the very particular music cues, like espionage music as Stan hides in the broom closet to work). There are strange events that occur as well, very telling of how the morals of the times are shifting, that can also inform the unique style of this episode. While it may have been an unusual viewing experience, we do get some insight and some amazing moments of dramatic tension, highlighting the themes of the downtrodden and inevitable downfalls. Let’s take a little closer look.
For the first time since last season when Peggy lets Dawn sleepover after working really late at SCDP, we see into Dawn’s personal life. This in itself is one of the first things that rings odd, if only for the fact that the viewer can only point to this as the jump starting point for a grander storyline involving Dawn. We see not only the secretary point of view, but the young African American point of view in the working world in New York City. We discover Dawn is maid of honor for a friend’s wedding, and is conflicted about her commitment at work versus her commitment to her friend. Watching her navigate her social and work universe is telling of the overall minority experience of what the ad world was like back then – she’s backed into submission for the sake of approval. She reluctantly agrees to do a favor for Harry’s secretary that ultimately gets her in trouble and against odds with Joan. Her apology does put one on edge, wondering if Joan will spare her any mercy. One also sees the manipulation in putting Dawn on the spot to get in trouble, as Cooper points out that SCDP cannot risk losing Dawn to meet equality requirements under inspection. Watching Dawn admit defeat is itself its own metaphor for the Civil Rights movement that is surely about to rear its head on Mad Men, as she just somberly tells her friend that she values the fact she even has a job, and will keep her head down.
Harry and Ken
We see Harry and Ken take great initiative in landing a television spot for Dow, the company that Ken’s father works for. Their hidden industrious success (which of course coincides with the hidden Project K efforts to win over Heinz) boosts up Harry’s blundering confidence. While Harry is otherwise a desirable character, if only for his comedic charm, his ugliness begins to show as he feels challenged about his power. When Joan fires his secretary for lying on her time card, Harry explodes and challenges Joan’s authority. Though she ultimately lets him keep his secretary, who he oddly hints a stronger, more codependent relationship than one usually would have at that company (a la Roger and Don), he is struck by the realization that he is still not at level with the partners. His “defeat” here prompts him to create the biggest source of tension in the episode, as he bursts into the partners meeting and hints that he is more deserving of a partnership than Joan. The biases against women in positions of power play out here, with Harry complaining constantly of Joan (which she herself discusses later with her sister), and the memory of how Joan got there stings each of the partners (more on that later). Cooper and Sterling pay off Harry with a bonus, hoping it will appease him, but Harry walks away with a level of dissatisfaction. It only leaves us wondering if he’ll do anything else to subordinate Joan, or if the secret could potentially leak out.
Speaking of Joan, the woman of public power and confidence is shown in a more fragile state. Her reign is perceived as an unfair tyranny, with Joan appearing snappier at the other women in the office. It doesn’t get any better when Harry bursts into the partner’s meeting and hints that he earned his place. At that moment, there are many cut aways to Sterling and Cooper, as if they were both morally responsible for at least defending Joan and the actions that got her the partnership. Though Joan takes the sting with quiet grace, there’s still a fire inside her. Luckily, she has a moment to cool herself off, though she’s with her sister. Her sister is visiting, and wants to have a fun, loose night on the town. Joan remains steely until they get to some club in St. Mark’s place, where her sister is doted on first. The morning after, Joan confides, in a quiet sort of defeat, that she is still treated like a secretary, even though her sister sings her praises for achieving the level of success that she has. Again, one can only wonder if her secret may leak.
We open the episode with a secret meeting in Pete’s apartment with the Heinz Ketchup guys. Pete pushes Don to go for it, and that if they keep it a secret, they won’t hurt their relationship with Beans. Don obliges and pulls in Stan to help, and the secret is kept rather well, with Ginsberg and the other members of the writing team musing over what “Project K” is. We see them at the final pitch, in a hotel room arranged by Pete, with a bold campaign that’s perhaps a little too modern for the Heinz Ketchup guys. While they feel somewhat good as they walk out the door, they are immediately met with the face of competition – Peggy. Don tries to eavesdrop on Peggy, hearing her use lines he used to use in pitches, shaking his head. Peggy successfully sells to Ketchup. Of course, she and Ted somehow find themselves hitting the same bar to celebrate, turning the SCDP afternoon drinks into commiserating drinks. Don leaves promptly, especially after Ken bursts in and reveals that Beans found out and is pulling from SCDP. Ken adds the dig about loyalty, that Don proclaimed to the Beans rep, and he glares at Peggy as he leaves to see Megan on set. Stan also reveals his upset, and flips off Peggy. Here is a double downtrodden situation – where SCDP loses twice over from Heinz, Peggy can’t truly even enjoy her first huge success. We don’t see much of Peggy until this pitch happens, but we can only guess that this will cause her to question whether she’s done right by the teachings of Don, or not.
Don and Megan
Speaking of loyalty, the idea of loyalty obviously creates a huge conflict for Don. It can only apply to him in certain ways, but not others. He demands loyalty to him, but cannot return it for others, it seems, both in his personal life and work life. He hopes for Peggy’s loyalty to him, as a colleague and as a friend, and this is betrayed by her winning over Ketchup. He hopes for Bean’s loyalty to him, even though he’s going behind their back to pitch against him, and it burns a little when he loses them. Then of course there’s Megan. He already disapproves of her career as an actress, and doesn’t fail to dig at her successes, undermining Megan at every turn, probably out of resentment. She reveals to him that she is about to get a huge storyline that involves love scenes. He criticizes her and her choices, with Megan oddly pointing out that kissing other people is part of her job (where Don also uses that to his advantage in his). Don stays quiet about it until he visits her on set during her first love scene. He puts her on the spot, asking if she enjoys it, and Megan lashes out against him, calling him out for never supporting her in this career more or less. The tension is raised high between them. And it’s odd that the only time they are relaxed together is during and post the dinner with Megan’s coworkers, who want to swing with them. Again even odder still that the idea of breaking the “monogamy” of their relationship together is unappealing and awkward to them, an idea they both avoid. Of course, immediately after his fight with Megan on set, he falls into the arms of Sylvia, who he at first falls out of the moment when he finds her wearing a golden crucifix, like the idea of loyalty and good morals is again testing him. He shrugs it off by swinging the cross behind her neck, as if that’s enough to make whoever’s watching eyes forget that he is engaging in an act not just of adultery but of hypocrisy. The threads in the marriage of Megan and Don are wearing thin, and one can only guess whether or not Megan will catch wise to Don. If anyone can give Don his comeuppance about his adultery in style, it would be Megan, as again, she knows a lot more of Don’s dirty laundry than Betty ever did.
And, odds and ends as we leave this episode:
-Ginsberg is marginalized it seems. I loved learning about him in bits and pieces, and seeing his rising star. What’s going to happen to him? He wasn’t chosen for Project K. I hope he’s just not going to become some bit character.
-Bob Benson alert – he only appears once, but is lurking the creative room. Is this his ultimate goal, to really become part of the creative team? He’s still all too smiley for the SCDP crowd.
-I’m kind of enjoying the dumb front desk girl, and I’m glad she’s somehow stuck around. She relieves the tension in that office with her oblivious announcements.
Though I can’t say I loved the episode, it leaves a lot to think about, and I am curious to see where these stories are going for next week. Is this the turning of the tide of change, because it sure feels like it now for Mad Men.