Faith and Commitment are fluid concepts at this point in time.
When Megan’s acting colleague (and aspirant sex partner) said to Don, “I bet you play many roles”, it seemed to sum up the entire Mad Men series.
That is Don Draper, in a nutshell.
And this episode of Mad Men, ‘To Have And To Hold’, zoomed in on one of them: the unfaithful husband.
He’s not the only one guilty of cheating on his spouse. In the Mad Men Universe, everybody does and has always done. The only difference is that now we’re in the age of sexual liberation and everyone’s doing it openly.
It’s not like human beings have changed radically. The same urges and desires that were always there still are, but now they’re permissible. At least in certain circles anyway.
When Don and Megan are sexually propositioned by her swinging work colleagues, Mel and Arlene, a husband and wife, Don acts faintly morally outraged: “How long have they been married for?”
“Eighteen years”, replies an incredulous Megan.
It isn’t clear what has shocked Don more, the offer, or the unashamed manner in which it was given.
But what’s worse? Sneaking around? Or a married couple seeking their extracurricular kicks together?
The age of sexual liberation
As Arlene had said to Megan who was fearful of Don’s reaction to her upcoming love scene:
“Some people think you shouldn’t tell them, others after it’s happened, but I think it’s best to be open and honest.”
But Don isn’t up for that. He goes to the set, witnesses Megan acting out her own indecent proposition with a married man and is, of course, reminded of his own infidelity. But rather than confront himself, he confronts Megan instead, spitefully saying to her afterwards, “you kiss people for money, you know who else does that?”
In the next scene Megan is swapped for Don and the married man is swapped for Sylvia Rosen.
Earlier in the episode, Pete Campbell had offered Don the use of his apartment should he ever need “to spend the night in the city.”
Don’s predictably terse response was, “I live in the city.” Which is code for “I’m married.”
Don the hypocrite, apparent to all but him. It’s just another role he plays, the chaste husband, even if such a person only exists to him. Conflict only occurs when he’s confronted with both of these people simultaneously.
But like I said, he’s not the only one.
Harry Crane a lot more assertive than usual and clearly frustrated at his lack of partnership makes no secret of his opinion on Joan becoming one and indeed how she became one. His outburst prompts moral protestation from Pete Campbell whose role in Joan’s business tryst with Herb Rennet, Jaguar executive and creep par excellence, you may recall.
Faith and Commitment are fluid concepts at this point in time. Rather like the wedding ring that arrogant Heinz Ketchup executive, Timmy, casually takes off in front of Don and Pete, before engaging in his own extracurricular activities.
When he later rejects their business in favour of the biggest advertising agency in the world, after leading them to believe that they were the only agency he was talking to, they seem appalled to have been played like a mistress that he had no intention of ever making his wife.
And they lose their own loyal partner, Heinz Beans, in the process.
As hard as it may be to keep promises, there is a certain indignity, an emptiness, which accompanies breaking them.
When Joan tells her admiring friend that her role as “partner” at SCDP is just “a title” she seems to imply this, because, after all, if it’s just “a title” and nothing else, then why bother having it?
See last week’s review: Mad Men: The Collaborators
Image Credit: Scene from Mad Men, Season Six, Episode Four