Mad Men: Week 3 in Review

SONIA BRAND-FISHER: As a long-time viewer of “Mad Men,” witnessing this show’s hypocrisy and cheating, (professionally or sexually) should not phase me as much as this episode did. “To Have and to Hold” is a very fitting title for this examination of possession, success, and pursuit. Aside from having the strongest urge to yank off Harry Crane’s pretentious little sideburns, this episode really made me feel extremely angry and tired. To use one of my favorite Joan quotes: Mad Men, “you have gone from lubricated to morose.”

Bottom line, if Don had fired Scarlett for her misconduct, no one would have bat an eye. In fact, I would venture to say that SCDP would have feared him even more in a way that would elevate Don even higher in his elusive persona. But when Joan, a partner, fires Scarlett she is called “petty” and a “dictator.” Harry Crane has gone from being the sweet, nerdy executive of Seasons One and Two to having these delusions of grandeur for his mediocre existence, which involves him imitating Don’s sense of entitlement with women and work. The difference is, of course, that Harry Crane has never been a very impressive character, and this display in the partner’s meeting released some of that aggression that we have seen trickling out in the odd episode here and there. However, his comments towards Joan, ironically, look rather “petty” on his part, and though they cut in a way that dropped the jaws of everyone in my Smith dorm’s living room, they reflect the Harry Crane-helplessness that one wonders if it will ever be resolved.

On a lighter note, I must say that my favorite parts of the episode were Joan’s little movements and looks on her night out with Kate. Christina Hendricks is a brilliant actress, as we well know, for her total subtlety of expression (paired with the lack of subtlety in her presentation) that make her mesmerizingly both strong and sorrowful in her confrontation at the partners’ meeting, but also divinely comical with her distaste with the lack of alcohol at the soda fountain and her subsequent swigs from her flask in the taxi cab. It is very disconcerting to see Joan, a figure of the late 1950s and early 1960s, sticking out like a Rockefeller at a be-in as she sits cross-legged and poised, but bored, at the psychedelic dance club. What I gather from these micro-movements is that she is pretty fed up with what is going on around her: work, men, fashion, space, life. But letting herself have fun in the psychedelic club and getting some best friend re-charge with Kate seems to have given her some perspective on her own success and how it operates in the strange progressive/regressive limbo of SCDP, exhibited by her Austin Powers get-up when she returns to work. She’s got this, and whatever she wants is hers for the taking.

Don’s hypocrisy in flipping out over Megan’s love scene was totally exhausting to watch. We knew it was coming, and calling her a prostitute drew a cozy little parallel to the previous episode. But when Don visits Sylvia that night and she says that she prays that Don finds peace, there is an intimacy to their interaction and understanding that I haven’t seen since his affair with Rachel Menken. It’s a vulnerability and an honesty that strips the romance gently away like wallpaper from their fortified, but problematic affair. Is Don finding peace the same thing as Don “being at peace”?

NAVA BRAHE: Thank you, Sonia, for reminding me about Rachel Menken. It is maddening to witness Don’s sexual attraction to women who challenge him, juxtaposed with his hypocritical treatment of the women he has chosen to marry. I’ve always hated the concept of the “trophy” wife for that very reason: the women on the arms of successful men are merely decoration, while they have to find solace in the arms of women who are already spoken for. Rachel Menken wasn’t spoken for in the same way as Sylvia, but she made it clear that a long-term relationship was not in the cards for her and Don. As for what the future holds for Don and Sylvia, that all depends on how shoddily he continues to treat Megan. I remain convinced that it will be Megan who initiates the end of the marriage, especially after Don’s possessive nonsense. Megan has every right to her success; she does not need a cheating husband to shit all over it.

The most intriguing part of the episode, for me, was the expansion upon the civil rights issue as it relates to Don’s secretary, Dawn. She is clearly uncomfortable being the only African-American employee at SCDP, but she takes her job very seriously. I knew all along that her job would be safe, despite her misstep with Scarlett, for two reasons: one; Joan would never be presumptuous enough to fire one of the partners’ secretaries, and two; it would never fly with Don. I hope this storyline continues because I found it refreshing to see the world through eyes other than those belonging to timid, subservient women, and self-involved, misogynistic men. Dawn has the makings of what could possibly be a very influential character as the show progresses through the late 60s.

The fact that the secretary firing-ruckus involved Harry Crane was very humorous to me, because I’ve spent enough time in offices witnessing plenty of guys like him overstate their positions. Sometimes, you have to behave like Harry in order to get noticed for your contributions. Other times, it blows up in your face. Harry deserved the $23,000 check Bert and Roger gave him, but he made a fatal error in judgement by continuing to insist on a partnership.

Finally, it was wonderful seeing Joan having a substantial role in an episode. The Jaguar tryst she agreed to will always bubble just under the surface, and it is obvious that her “sacrifice” is becoming a heavy burden. She may be a partner, but she does not garner the respect, nor the salary Lane Pryce received for doing the same job. I would hate to see her character devolve into a puddle of self-loathing goo, but if that happens, who better to portray it than Christina Hendricks? Joan is lucky in so many ways, particularly in having her mother with her to take care of her son, and earning enough to be a truly independent woman. She is, however, inequality personified, even for women in today’s workforce. It’s sad that so little has changed despite the passing of five decades.

 

 

About Sonia Brand-Fisher

My name is Sonia Brand-Fisher and I am a film studies major at Smith College. Interests include vintage film and fashion, fake-swing dancing to early Standards, cooking lavish meals that stem far outside of my culinary comfort zone, and musing over the implications behind all things aesthetically intriguing.
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