The thundering personal hypocrisy of Don Draper bookends “To Have and to Hold,” an episode whose title drips with irony: It echoes marital vows, while the contents of the episode revolve around infidelity and betrayal of trust. Draper begins and ends the episode in the embrace of his downstairs mistress Linda, yet he freaks out at the prospect of his wife stage-kissing an actor in her big screen-acting breakthrough. Impressively, he even has the temerity to equate her acting — “kissing others for money,” as he calls it — to implied prostitution. As if he hadn’t tossed a big wad of cash at Linda after their extramarital assignation last episode.
It’s a pretty crappy way to behave, and Don makes it difficult to sympathize with his position when he actively cheats on Megan yet goes flinty at the prospect of her playing a part that she clearly switches off the second the cameras start rolling. It’s difficult to make the case that Don doesn’t place much value in sex when he’s so utterly possessive of his wife.
To make his attitude even more indefensible, Don cheats in his other relationship, too: The professional one. After advising his associates to remain faithful to the wishes of the guy running the Heinz Beans account, he nevertheless willingly goes along with a liaison with that client’s rival, the head of the lucrative Heinz Ketchup account. Clearly, Pete Campbell arranged this entanglement (it even unfolds the midtown apartment Campbell maintains for his own extramarital affairs), but Draper participates of his own volition, the pragmatic businessman in him recognizing the importance of reeling in such a massive account.
Once again, Don looks to his personal life to guide his business maneuvers — though in this case it’s nothing so moving as selling slide carousels by drawing upon the emotions elicited by his crumbling marriage but rather sneaking around to work on the Ketchup account in secret by drawing upon his long history of carousal. Still, it’s not enough, and “Project K” ends in abject failure: Not only does Don’s pitch fail to win over Ketchup, the company’s indiscretions are undermined by Campbell’s own indiscretion; their Beans client catches wind of their breach of confidence and immediately terminates their relationship.
Worse yet, the Ketchup account goes to [edit: actually, it doesn’t] Ted Chough and his new protege Peggy Olson. Chough’s team turns in an ad campaign that’s far less inspired than Don’s project but more cannily appeals to the client’s insipid lack of imagination by boldly featuring the product: One constant throughout Mad Men has been that clients resolutely believe that the only good ads are the ones that feature their product. Peggy sells the pitch by regurgitating Don’s lesson from the company’s abandonment of Big Tobacco: “Change the conversation.” As he eavesdrops on the pitch, you almost feel bad for him as his former acolyte scrambles ahead of him by using his own words. But then he goes to watch Megan perform her stage-kiss — the first time he’s ever bothered to visit her on set — and treats her like trash and your sympathy drains away.
Even the B-plots are shot through with themes of faith and betrayal. Dawn — in her first-ever standalone storyline — helps another secretary cheat the time card system. While she manages to retain her job almost entirely by virtue of SDPC being deeply reluctant to fire their (only?) African-American employee, she redeems herself in Joan’s eyes by apologizing and offering to make reparations to the company. Joan’s response is to punish Dawn by giving her greater responsibility, motivated at once by Dawn’s contrition to place faith in the younger woman but also knowing that the secretary’s ascent will inevitably create more friction for her — just as it has for Joan.
Meanwhile, Peggy loses her last lifeline to SCDP as Stan storms off and flips her the bird. Her firm could only know to throw its hat in the ring for the Ketchup account because she betrayed his confidence, a fact he doesn’t take lightly. And Harry Crane demands a partnership stake in SCDP, not without justification, though the manner in which he goes about it plants him firmly in “total jackass” territory and continues his streak of being the single most unlikable person in the entire company.
However, the real highlight of the episode comes when Megan’s producer and her husband try to talk Don and Megan into swinging with them. Much as Draper embodies a hard-drinking life of sexual infidelity that many dudes seem to find romantic, somehow, he’s decidedly old-school in his vices. The look of shock and revulsion on his face as the older couple invites him and Megan to smoke grass and get “friendly” is worth the price of admission for this episode alone.