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Wednesday, 22 of September of 2021

Mad Men – “To Have and To Hold”

“No, please. Let him go on.”

Megan and Don confused over dinner.

Say what now?

The gluttonous are described in especially sensory language and, if not as acutely structured as Canto V, Canto VI is piled with references and word choice that sing the damnable song of the overfed and forever slurping.

It’s important to distinguish gluttony from other sins, especially avarice. Gluttony is about selfishness more than actually acquiring possessions or things. It’s just about constantly feeding yourself even when it’s too much or too painful. When you’re withholding your spoils from others, specifically not in a miserly way so much as a constantly consuming way, that’s gluttony.

The buffet before you and you constantly take from the food line without regard to anyone else involved, that’s gluttony. Again, it’s not about actually acquiring anything so much as it is about feeding.

In the third circle, a heavy rain, snow, and hailstorm constantly pelts the earth, releasing a horrid smell from the layers of sinners and creating a mud bog. They’re pigs mired in their own shit. Something to think about as Don listens through the door to the other presentation.

It was only a matter of time before Don and Peggy met on the battlefield but I didn’t know it would be as early as this. She stood before three of the most important figures in her life and didn’t bat an eye. Stan, her friend (and the “confidante” who gave her the Heinz informaiton), held nothing but contempt for her. Pete, the father of her surrendered child, had the stiff upper-bitchface for her. But Don the Mentor showed her the look of the silent treatment only for her to be privately proud (or at least privately amused) by how his protege is succeeding. She even uses his “change the conversation” line.

It’s a just punishment for the firm’s gluttony. They got greedy with what they already had and attempted to consume too much, feed too heartily on the cash cow that is Heinz to the detriment of the loyalties they’ve worked so hard to maintain. Things go from bad to worse once Cosgrove finds out about the shenanigans that he was kept out of (despite the account being his) only because Raymond fires them.

It’s important that Don is the only one that has anything to learn from this as he gets the most worth. It doesn’t matter to Stan in the long run that they get the account and Pete is just upset that he didn’t win. Because it’s Peggy that won the campaign with the things she learned from him, like performance and confidence, while mixing in her own elements, like connecting with the audience, Don gets to understand that this is the universe exacting revenge. Their collective sin is visibile to him. This is important because Don is intended to be the only pilgrim. Make no mistake: the only walk of contrition in this show is his.

Case in point: Harry. There’s finally a Harry story. How long has it been since we’ve seen Harry do something other than embarrass himself in front of Megan (talking about how he wants her ankles on his shoulders) or a quip here and there? His story trades in gluttony but expands into the blurred boundaries of the increasingly-vague sin of avarice. Since avarice is almost always explicitly for material possessions (and Harry seems uninterested in those, even when money is thrown at him), gluttony is the better fit. He wants more. He’s tired of being left out of the important meetings because he’s not a partner, so upset by it that he feels the need to call out how Joan got to where she was.

It’s a cruel move by Harry as he begins a series of power plays to make his ever so subtle reference that Joan whored herself out for a partnership. It’s unclear how integral to the company Harry is since he’s left out of so many episodes and whether or not he’s deserving of such a promotion but pointing out the sore spot among all the partners (something that got even Don’s moral compass spinning) does him no favors with the audience. They’re making him abject on purpose.

Not that it doesn’t make Harry more interesting and help incorporate him back into the fold over everyday life. It’s been strange to see so little of a character that seems so entertaining. But introducing this thread makes sense (he has been around for a long time even if he’s not exactly a part of the inner circle) while simultaneously making him seem petulant. No one does themselves any favors by making Joan look whorish.

Even though it seems like that’s all Joan’s allowed to do. Harry’s first crime against Joan was overruling her just decision to fire Scarlet after she ditched work and made Dawn cover for her. It’s just the latest example of ways that, even though she was traded like property to a disgusting man in exchange for a partnership, she’s still operating in a male-dominated world in which she has a particular role. She’s queen of the peons. While each of those men hold her in high regard and she commands a modicum of respect, her voice is still limited, her ceiling is still glass, and her only real control is over the women of the office. Even that is limited to the secretaries.

Where she is able to exert any amount of power in a patriarchal universe is with the fountain of womanliness she commands. She instructs her visiting sister on how to land a lover and is able to quickly convert a strange friend of Kate’s make-out partner to being what she needs for the evening. Is this an example of Joan’s gluttony? To be able to cast this spell on men and have them become a plaything for the evening? He seemed willing even if the looks that Joan gave him and the restraint she originally offered put her squarely in control.

Maybe it was their drunkenness that was supposed to be the example of gluttony but that seems so basic and not a symptom of Joan and Kate’s flawed natures. Indiscriminate sex partners seems more likely, however faulty that is for Joan. Though it’s not the only example of sex-themed gluttony in the episode.

When Don and Megan meet up with a couple of her coworkers (including an increasingly-typcast handsome creep Ted McGinley) for what they think is just a work dinner ,they had no idea they would end up being propositioned. At first glance, swinging connotes sins under the umbrella of lust. It’s wanton sex after all. But lust is more focused on the party. The lustful want THAT person. Gluttony, on the other hand, wants any person. And, as the other couple acknowledges that they’ve heard “no” before, it becomes less about the Drapers and more about their fitting a profile for people they’d with whom they’d like to slip into bed.

So Joan taking on a lover, especially this one that seems like she doesn’t really even want, may be her example of gluttony if a sort of vague and shallow one. It’s tempting to try to find a way that she represents the opposite of gluttony since she’s always a stiff-upper-lipped victim of universal circumstance. But that’s why Dawn is there.

Dawn is all temperance. She wants nothing more than what she already has and consumes nothing more than what she is afforded. It’s interesting that her storyline also involves a wedding since the whip of the gluttonous terrace in Purgatorio involves the Biblical one, the one during which Jesus turns water into wine. Mary is the one that says there is no wine, putting the interests of others first before her own, and the Roman women do not partake even when it is produced, presumably to avoid causing any scenes.

Dawn does both of these things in the episode. She clocks out for Scarlet (her name sounds more appropriate now considering she’s the root of any wrong-doing on Dawn’s part) at her own great risk but, from her after-work conversations, you get the idea that she would never do the same. She doesn’t have wanton relations. In fact, she apparently struggles to find anyone to hook up with at all. She even considers the women that go to church “harlots” that she has trouble standing out against. She’s the pillar of moral goodness hidden among the bastiens of sin but, more importantly in this episode, she is Temperance. Her conversation with Joan, a woman who gained her partnership through sex and who gives her the punishment of responsibility, is made more interesting considering how upstanding Dawn is and how incorruptible she seems to be.

Other things:

  • It’s important to note that we only see one person eat in the entire episode: Harry. Don and Megan’s dinner conversation occurs after the meal. Dawn goes to the diner but never eats on screen.
  • There’s a thread of “virgin versus slut” in this episode, unrelated to the gluttony storyline. Don is the height of hypocrisy as he judges Megan for doing these love scenes for work (even going so far as to call her a prostitute) while going back home to diddle Dr Rosen’s wife. He has no sympathy for Megan, no room in his heart, as he sees this as some sort of loophole in their marriage. She gets to smooch people out in the open and it’s okay because it’s for work (hence the prostitute name-calling). Meanwhile, he has to sneak around despite the fact that his nailing Sylvia could be construed as just as fake. For Sylvia, despite her cheesy line about praying for him, he has no ill will.

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