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Mad Men Recap: Perception, Reality and a Lot of Empty Bottles

joan partying

“To Have and To Hold,” like most of its siblings, straddles the interplay between perception and reality. Don and Stan toke up and perceive the idea of ketchup. Peggy sells the blunt ketchup bottle. This episode weaves this in with the evolution of women in and out of the workplace. Titles may change but reality can remain quite similar.

Joan receives a visit from her friend Kate, who wants to emulate Joan’s glamorous life in “the city” (itself a grand metaphor for perception and reality). Joan sees her life as anything but glamorous. She’s a partner at SCDP, but that’s “just a title. She’s still managing time cards. The secretaries still treat her as one of the girls, albeit a fearsome one. The men still treat her unconsciously as a subordinate.

Harry overrules her about firing his secretary. He touts his own accomplishments “in broad daylight” compared with hers and clumsily demands a partnership. Even the male partners on her side are reduced to shows of chivalry or offering her “it’s okay, dear” speeches. It’s Roger and Bert who feel they must “handle” the situation.

Joan has been the master of tact and subtle manipulation. That may no longer be the way forward. If “everything is there for the taking for her,” she needs to step forward and take it. Relinquishing her secretary vestiges may be the first step.

We see this paralleled through her night on the town. She and Kate begin the night in the old world, at a soda fountain with telephones, cheer innocence and a healthy dollop of euphemisms. They end it in the blunt, modern one, making out with two strangers at a psychedelic club in the village. Strangers who just came right out and asked.

swingersMegan sees her “career” progress. What she misses is autonomy. Her expanding role comes through her sexuality. Figuratively through her looks on television and literally because Mel and Arlene want to swing with her. She also is controlled from up top. The love scene depends upon what her husband thinks.

She acts to maintain a valuable, independent identity outside her marriage. When Don reacts viscerally with the “you kiss people for money” jab, Megan is finding out that may be impossible while she remains inside it. Don would feel happy for her, after all, if he “was not her husband.”

Dawn, notably, receives her first feature plot. Like Joan and Megan, she grapples with “career” vs. traditional domestic expectations. But, for her, feminine prejudice is coupled with racial prejudice. We see this through her conversations with her friend getting married. She works because she hasn’t found a husband. She hasn’t found a husband because she works where she “can’t meet anyone” and feels alone except for the shoe shine guy “below 72nd street.”

The closing scene brings us back to perception and reality with Don and Sylvia. This affair is Don’s most deceitful act. But he has a far more “real” interaction with her than any other character on the show. Spotting the crucifix he jokes about her praying for her absolution. She pierces through him with a literal remark about praying for him to find peace. He doesn’t remove the obvious metaphor for absolution and death, but moves it where he cannot see it.

don deals

* Vietnam becomes increasingly present in the background. Characters discuss it and discuss not wanting to discuss it. Ginsberg, attempting to decipher “Project K,” leaps to “Kill Machine.” Harry Crane has to cover for Dow Chemical manufacturing the napalm being used in the war.

This is yet more evidence of sports becoming a bigger presence on TV and, consequently, in American life. Joe Namath, a football player, is suddenly the way to reach housewives and Middle America, to create a perception that masks an unpalatable reality.

Related: Mad Men Recap: Relationships, Whorehouses and Leaky Compartments
Related: Mad Men Recap: Life, Death and a Very Awkward Rape Joke

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