Mad Men recap: Penny Serenade

Joan goes out with a friend, Harry throws a tantrum, and Don's affair deepens
Ep. 04 | Aired Apr 21, 2013

THE KETCHUP-Y TASTE OF DEFEAT Don, Pete, and Stan regroup at a bar after losing Heinz Ketchup.

Jordin Althaus/AMC

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...

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