by KARA VANDERBIJL
creator Matthew Weiner
In a certain light, Megan's resemblance to Anne Hathaway is remarkable. Perhaps it is just that aura of unappreciated talent, the tender tears, the innocence. When Mel, the writer of her soap opera, and his wife invite Megan and Don to swing one evening over dinner, what holds the Drapers back is Don's dogged determination to prolong the pain as long as possible. If you experience something mildly unpleasant for long enough, you begin to think it's the best you've ever had.
Take ketchup, for example. In the summer, living outdoors, you cannot imagine yourself consuming anything else but hot dog after smothered hot dog. Hibernating inside, it's another story; I'm not sure I know anyone who would partake except under duress. When you can only appreciate something in a certain context, an outside experience feels foreign, new, almost forbidden. I don't think Pete and Don would have gone for Heinz's Ketchup if it wasn't a little bit like an affair. Hell, they even conduct the initial conversation in Pete's Manhattan apartment, far from Roger's nagging and Ken's worrying. But if we learned anything from Pete's tryst-turned-sour last week, it's that the pretty visitor in your bed might have some secrets of her own.
Much like the beginning of a tragedy, the show's central conflicts express themselves through outlying characters. If this week's ensemble was bigger than ever, it's because the weight of what's to come has to rest on everyone's shoulders. Harry's secretary Scarlett brought out a side of Joan we hadn't seen in a while when she skipped out of work early to attend a party and had Don's secretary, Dawn, punch her timecard. And here we were thinking that Joan's biggest problem was that she had to sleep with a sleazeball to make partner at SCDP. When Joan fires Scarlett and (eventually) gives Dawn additional responsibilities, we see a side of her we haven't truly seen since the very early days of the show: Joan the office manager.
If Harry is angry at Joan because she was made partner and he wasn't, it's for the wrong reasons. He's quick to call out the dirty deed that got her to the top, but what he doesn't know about Joan is that she feels no shame in being desired. In fact, quite the contrary: a girls' night out with an old friend from out of town, Kate, proves that. If Joan is willing to do anything for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, it's because she needs to be essential; her greatest fear would be to discover that in the end, she's just a glorified secretary, as replaceable as all the other girls.
But Harry never was very good at reading people, which is why he demands to be made partner and is actually surprised when they don't hand him the title on a silver platter. You've really got to hand it to the people who have an overdeveloped sense of entitlement, by which I mean, hand them a consolation prize and show them the door.
Don and Peggy face off for ketchup, and there's no moral high ground here. Both of them sold out to be in this hotel room: Peggy betrayed Stan's confidence, and Don betrayed Heinz Baked Beans. Their pitches are doppelgangers, simple and sophisticated, but it is Peggy's that has the defining characteristic that lets the rest of the world know which is which, who is who. What makes her better than Don is her ability to capitalize on what the client actually wants without having to justify a vision. Regardless, neither SCDP nor Cutler, Gleason & Chaough win the business, and in the process, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce loses the rest of Heinz's business because of their indiscretion.
We'll have to wait and see whether or not this exposure of infidelity presages things to come. For now, we can only celebrate as one character's honesty pays off. Like all Don's secretaries of yore, there are big things coming for Dawn, although we're not sure what. He promoted one of them and married the other, so I can only assume she will be made queen.
The council for human rights has begun investigating the advertising industry in the interest of black employees. Risky, perhaps, in an episode where Dawn and her friend have coffee (twice! in two different scenes!), the first time characters of color have been given any significant screen time or personality on Mad Men since Carla, the Drapers' maid. It's possible that Lena Dunham wrote to Matthew Weiner and shared her concerns for the future of the show. The irony is painful, but like all wounds the more you press on it the better it feels.
Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about Mad Men. She twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.
"Mountain Child" - Nora Jane Struthers (mp3)
"Beyond the Farm" - Nora Jane Struthers (mp3)