Power exists only so long as other people want to buy into it -hell, that’s part of what made Mad Men so appealing at its start. Don Draper, for all his ennui, was someone we were supposed to envy, and those around him professionally still see that ruse. Teddy gets hammered in more ways than one when Don takes the first round of their creative power struggle handily. Exploiting Teddy’s inexperienced liver and drunken cravings, Don convinces him that a cloying sentimental pitch for margarine is the best idea of the day. Parading a drunken Teddy through the office further establishes his dominance to everyone in the office, especially Peggy. She had feared the booze-soaked cynicism of SCDP would get to a decent guy like Teddy, and she’s proven right in less than a day. Teddy bought into the Draper disguise, just like Sylvia, and both find themselves under Don’s thumb by the episode’s midpoint.
We, as an audience privy to the sickness, and malice, and sadness in Don, see these acts as those of a desperate and pathetic man, but no one else can…except Peggy. Returning to the room where she last took control of their relationship, Peggy lets Don’s petty insults over leaving him bounce off her like Teflon, before delivering the two words Don Draper has needed to hear the last two seasons: move forward. You could practically hear the audio distortion from such a mic-drop-worthy evisceration of Don, one Peggy manages with a scant few words. This is the thing he’s been running from his whole double life, being seen for what he really is; if one person can do it, what’s stopping everyone else?
Sure enough, Peggy’s not the only one able to cut through Don’s bullshit persona. Gleeson, with the wisdom of a man who knows such artifice is ultimately meaningless, inspires Teddy to not throw in the towel. If Don had it his way, his alpha status was cemented the moment Teddy started babbling about Kennedy vs. McCarthy, but that’s an outcome that only exists if Teddy believes it too. Instead, he flies Don to the meeting with Mohawk himself (frightening viewers who know next week’s episode is called “The Crash” in the process). All Don can do is read Sylvia’s book passive-aggressively aboard the flight, because no matter how cool he might be, Ted’s the guy who flew them to meet Mohawk in his own private plane. Sometimes, you just can’t compete with a pilot.
Don’s battle with Ted ends in something of a draw, but his sexual ju-jitsu with Sylvia comes away with a clear winner. Don overcommits to his fantasy, as his demands of Sylvia sound less and less sexy, and more and more obnoxious the longer he makes them (in a twist, Don is mirroring Pete, and his sexual fetish hinted at in the boudoir scene last season). Don’s idealized relationship is ultimately undone by itself, as leaving Sylvia with nothing to do but wait in a hotel room for hours on end gives her plenty of time to look at her time with Don, and see it for how sad it really is. Everyone wants to go to the hotel every now and then, to tear up the bed sheets and let loose the parts of themselves that stay hidden, but a hotel is not a home, and through some combination of Sylvia’s own fortitude, and Don’s waning influence, she overpowers him. The last person to say anything in that room is Sylvia, and it’s an order that they both leave the hotel. Don obliges, and the episode’s power transfer is complete, and total.
Mad Men has historically used each season’s seventh episode as a chance to experiment with structure, but “Man with a Plan” plays things straight, and to the point. The title is an ironic punchline, because the close of the episode sees Don resembling nothing like a man with a plan. He’s lost the woman who made him feel powerful, and is too weak to recommit to Megan. He hasn’t beaten Teddy yet, and already proven to Peggy that she can still shake him like no one else. Titles and chairs are meaningless now: taking Don’s internal struggle, and making it real, Robert Kennedy, a respected senator, and possible heir to the most powerful throne in the world, is gone in an instant. Another pivotal moment of 1968 becomes a thematic afterthought: the mighty can be laid low the moment someone doesn’t see them as such.
- Stray Thoughts
-Season six is now more than halfway over. To paraphrase Burt, get ready to put your head between your legs, and kiss your Mad Men goodbye pretty soon.
-The Pete/Don parallel material is everywhere this week, particularly with how they treat the women in their lives as things to be kept in isolation. Pete gets in on the mind games too, exploiting his mother’s dementia to gain control over her.
-The power plays get their most obvious payoff through Bob Benson this week, who saves his job by maybe saving Joan from an ovarian cyst. “Every good deed is not part of a plan,” says Joan’s mother. Bob has quickly become not just the season’s biggest source of laughs, but also a human mystery box. Sorry Ms. Holloway, but that boy aint right.
-Bert reading the company’s press release for the CLIO’s made me realize Robert Morse was born to play a southern civil war general.
-Roger gets a killer scene 86ing Burt, but John Slattery was also responsible for some fine direction this week too.
-If memory serves, Burt was kept around Sterling Cooper for so long originally because his wife had cancer. 50 points to whoever comes up with how that might connect thematically to Cutler’s own health problems.
-And while we’re at it, 10,000 points to whoever comes up with why Don’s hotel room was 503. I’d recommend starting with bible quotes.
-Stan did not work on Daisy. But he did work on a KKK thing.
-The following is an excerpt of the notes I wrote whenever Bob Benson appeared on screen. They have been edited for content:
“I thought you said come in.” $*^@ YOU BOB BENSON YOU LITTLE %$&^.
Wow, he actually seems like a human being for a moment.
$*^@ YOU BOB BENSON AND YOUR RIP VAN WINKLE BULL%$&^ AND YOUR GODDAMN COFFEE CUPS.