Mad Men recap: Penny Serenade
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T/Find out what it means to me.” – Aretha Franklin, “Respect,” 1967
Everyone’s looking for their fair due this week: Joan is tired of still being treated like Queen of the Secretaries despite holding a partnership, Harry is upset that everyone views him like the whiny little goober he is, Megan doesn’t understand why Don can’t respect her and her job enough to let her perform in the soap’s love scenes, Dawn is trying her best as the agency’s token black hire, and Peggy earns some of her former employer’s begrudging admiration by taking him on in a fair fight. Like Aretha, all they want is a little respect, but in the world of Mad Men, respect isn’t something given, it’s taken.
What Don and Pete would really like to take is Heinz Ketchup, and so they set up a clandestine meeting with the department head that has the illicit air of an after-work tryst. Ketchup is a sexy, shapely bottle of prestige—how could they resist?—but meanwhile Heinz Baked Beans is the easily jealous spouse waiting at home with the rolling pin. Thus everything about “Project K” must be done in secrecy, to the point where Stan is forced to work in a darkened office with tin foil blocking every window like some crazed nut worried about the government beaming messages into his brain. While Ginsburg and the rest of the creative pool try to guess what the “K” stands for (Kellogg? Kenmore? Koka-Kola?) Don and Stan share a joint to clear out the mental cobwebs, but instead of kickstarting their minds it just goes to work on their stomachs. “I think we should order lunch,” says Stan before they both break out giggling. On a side note, Stan’s beard is easily one of the show’s greatest creative decisions this season, beating out Pete Campbell’s extra-length side-burns and Ginsburg’s cop-stache for the honor of Best New Hair.
The pitch the team eventually comes up with invokes the product without showing it: pictures of french fries and hamburgers with the too-simple tag “Pass the Heinz.” They leave feeling good, before running straight into Ted Chaough and Peggy in the hallway waiting to give their own presentation. It’s clear that someone let the cat(sup) out of the bag. This is the first time, as far as we know, that Peggy and Don have come face-to-face over the same client and it’s hard to gauge exactly how Don feels about this, probably because he doesn’t know himself. It’s especially hard to tell if he’s honored or betrayed by Peggy ripping off one of his trademark sales lines: “If you don’t like what they’re saying, change the conversation.” But the sight of the master standing outside the door eavesdropping on his former apprentice’s rival pitch speaks volumes. To be honest, neither team’s campaign is all that electrifying, and Heinz ends up going with an unseen pitch from J. Walter Thompson, a real ad agency.
Both teams rendez-vous afterwards and the bad news is compounded when it turns out the head of Vinegars, Sauces, and Beans found out about the meeting and will be pulling Heinz Baked Beans from SCDP. So not only did they step up to the plate and strike out, but they also accidentally hit themselves in the face with the bat. Peggy, on the other hand, is riding high, having held her own against her former sensei. Will this be only the first of many Peggy/Don battles? And will they be able to keep it professional and not let the competition poison their personal relationship? Stay tuned.
NEXT PAGE: An affair to remember…
Luckily for Don, he has a beautiful wife to help him forget about his work worries. But Megan’s soap opera role is heating up with a new love affair and Don can’t bear to watch her feign passion with another man. Even more luckily for Don, he has a beautiful mistress to help him forget about his beautiful wife.
For all of Don’s vices, and there are many, his hypocrisy has always been the most distasteful. He withholds from Peggy what he would have wanted for himself. He writes that Lucky Strike letter excoriating cigarettes while he continues to puff away like a steam engine. But the level of jealousy that Don exhibits in Megan’s dressing room borders on childish petulance, like a silly playground lover’s quarrel. If there’s one person who should understand the idea of putting on an act for one’s job, it’s Don. As he explains to Megan’s boss over dinner, he may be against the war personally, but he knows how to set aside his reservations for the good of the client. So when he pounces on the chance to point out that Megan kisses for money, it’s a straight-up case of the pot calling the kettle a prostitute.
Maybe it’s latent guilt that makes him react that way, or maybe it’s the fact that it shows, like losing the Heinz account, that there are things beyond his control. “To Have and To Hold” is an applicable title: Don wants to have his cake and eat it too. He “has” Megan, but at the end of the day he ends up holding Sylvia. And that penny she left under the doormat is yet another monetary transaction between them, albeit a little more symbolic than the wad of cash he gave her last week.
Don and Megan’s dinner with her boss Mel and his wife is an interesting study in contrast. When the showbiz couple invite the pair of them back home for a good old-fashioned foursome, Don balks, amused. They laugh about it on the way home, but to our ears the laughter is hollow. After all, Mel and his wife have been together for 18 years, while Don and Megan already have a ticking time-bomb hiding under the tablecloth of their marriage. Maybe if Don were able to find a healthier way to get his sexual release, he wouldn’t be up to his old coin tricks. It’s highly possible that Don is some sort of sex addict. After all, he’s admitted himself that he wishes he could stop seeing Sylvia, but he can’t (or won’t) do anything about it. When Sylvia tells him she prays for him to find peace, he loops her cross necklace around to her back, like turning around a framed photo of a spouse to avoid their remonstrating stare.
Don’s insatiable appetite is especially troubling considering he has so much already: A high-paying job at which he’s excellent, a beautiful wife, a nice apartment, three children, and leading-man looks that prompt Mel to tell him “I could cast you.” But for Don, the answer to that ancient advertising riddle “What do you get the man who has everything?” is “More of everything.” And if you don’t think Don is feeling especially despondent this season, take a look at the photos that have run alongside each of the last three recaps. Each shows him, drink in hand, facing stage-right and looking both wistful and wanting. This image repeats because Don always returns there. Despite what Sylvia may wish for him, there’s no peace for the wicked.
NEXT PAGE: Girls’ night out…
While Peggy is clearly Don’s female analogue and protege in a professional capacity, Joan has always been the homecoming queen to Don’s All-American quarterback. But although she commands a certain level of respect in the office, her head often ends up tapping up against the glass ceiling. Not even a partnership—or at least one earned the way she earned hers—is enough to keep someone like Harry from feeling like he has free range when talking with her.
Harry, who we’ve seen evolve from a hapless dope to a hapless dope who’s also kind of a scumbag, is infuriated when Joan tries to fire his secretary for leaving early and having Dawn punch out for her. He interrupts the partners’ meeting to berate her and stammeringly demand his own seat at the table, his head still inflated from a successful TV pitch to Dow Chemical. (Joe Namath in a straw hat will help American viewers forget about the women and children being burned alive by napalm on the other side of the world.) Roger and Cooper end up trying to buy him off, but Harry is adamant, trying to gain sympathy by saying that Cooper was once like him, to which Cooper replies, “I was different from you in every way.” It doesn’t matter how many deals he seals, the idea of making Harry Crane a partner is like giving the dog a seat at the dinner table.
Joan’s work woes are off-set by a visit from an old friend. (I’m guessing it was an old friend, since details about their exact relationship were scarce.) Joan’s friend is a sales director for Mary Kay who’s in New York to meet for a position with Avon. Both make-up companies were iconic places for business-minded women to self-start, and the friend admits that she’s doing it partly in emulation of Joan. Even Joan’s mother can’t keep the pride out of her voice when she talks about her daughter’s position at SCDP. Of course, neither of them know how that position was procured, but, on the other hand, Joan has always been indispensable to the company in exactly the way her promotion would suggest to outside eyes.
A night on the town shows Joan in her element. She indulges in some youthful indiscretions, playing Cyrano to her friend and making out with a young man at the Electric Circus nightclub in the East Village. The song that plays, “Bonnie and Clyde,” is by that seductive (read: lecherous) Frenchman Serge Gainsbourg and one of the few contemporary women who could match Joan Holloway’s measurements: Brigitte Bardot.
This wild night, along with her friend’s admiration, is exactly the ego-boost she needs. Tired of the resentment that comes with running her “petty dictatorship,” as Harry calls it, Joan hands over the responsibility of keeping track of time cards to Dawn, who’s just happy to still have her job. There’s a chance we may be seeing more of Dawn in episodes to come. This is the first time she’s treated like a character in her own right as opposed to someone against whom Don or Peggy’s racial views could be bounced. She meets with her about-to-be-married friend in a primarily black diner to talk frankly about all the sad, lonely, alcoholic white losers populating her place of employment. Mad Men has always opened itself up to flak for the way it has (or, more accurately, hasn’t) grappled with race relations, so it’s nice to see some effort on that front at least.
It was a surprisingly plot-thick episode, especially after the last few mood pieces. Still, nothing of major consequence happened and beyond setting up a potential Peggy/Don rivalry (which would be the advertising equivalent of Anakin fighting Obi-Wan) there’s still not much clue as to how the rest of the season will pan out. But that’s just par for the course.
“I live here, Pete.” Don’s one-line shut-down of Pete’s offer to let him use the Sex Pad. Of course he has no need for a secret adultery hideout because he lives in the same building as his mistress.
“Harry has great ideas.” “Did you find your keys?” There’s no way Harry’s not sleeping with his secretary, right?
Did anyone else want to hear the “Yankee Doodle Dandy”/”Notre Dame Fight Song” duet go on a little longer?
Don is constantly playing his own continuing game of “Who Kisses Better?”
I really hope the ketchup poaching doesn’t sour the relationship between Stan and Peggy. I was really enjoying their cross-agency friendship.
My God, Stan’s beard. It’s glorious.
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Jon Hamm stars as Don Draper in the Emmy-winning ’60s-set drama