Oh, Don. What the heck? After a shaky start, Mad Men really received rave reviews last week for an episode that felt like old times, even though I just can’t really trust Matthew Weiner at this point to really give us what we want. There must be a catch about this merger. Before that shoe drops though, we got a thoroughly Don-centric episode that was, even outside of Don’s plot, all about power plays. Don’s question of likability and watchability is still an issue for me, but the way things ended up tonight did leave me wondering what is coming next for him. Hit the jump for why you are not to pick up the phone.
When Don witnessed (or heard) the fight between Sylvia and Arnold, I was certain that he was done with the Rosens. Don abhors that kind of drama, and now that Sylvia was really available to him, I was sure he would start veering away. Shows how much I know. Don spend most of “Man with a Plan” with a steely-glare, doing his best to regain power (why?) by trying to show up Chaough and control Sylvia like some kind of tame 50 Shades of Gray. Ted’s dying partner and friend gives him good advice: let Don wear himself out. But Ted has another champion: Peggy, one who Don may actually listen to. “You’re a grown man. Move forward.” Preach!
Joan, who has fought for her power at the company, finds it hard to relinquish it to Bob Benson of all people, though her condition eventually makes her. Bob, it seems, is more resourceful than just being a brown-noser. Whether he genuinely is fond of Joan or is just doing anything possible to secure his position doesn’t matter — the characters on Mad Men always presume selfish motivations, but also respect it. Ultimately, Joan is able to keep Bob at the company with a sly move that she chooses to make, not because she owes him anything, but she knows that having an ally is important.
Joan is already having to reestablish her power in the wake of the merger, where Ted’s secretary Moira brazenly treats her like an equal. Joan gives her a steely Don Draper glare before brushing it off. She has nothing to prove to this woman. Instead, she traipses off with Peggy, where the two women are friendlier to each other than I’ve ever seen. There’s no rivalry between them now, either — both are successful in different ways, and Joan’s elevated status allows her to be gracious to Peggy in a way that she might not have been otherwise. Or is it just the spirit of Women’s Lib rushing over them?
Though Moira eventually gives up her seat to Pete in the conference room, which makes Ted give up his seat for her, which makes Don’s eyes almost roll out of his head, women are asserting themselves more and more naturally in the workplace. But there were still plenty of women without any power — Megan, mostly, and Sylvia, too, before she finally says no to Don (has any woman done that before? Seriously though). Pete felt his loss of power and disrespect with the loss of a chair in the meeting room, but really it’s how he’s fouled up his home life in a way that means he can’t even properly care for his mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia.
I loved Peggy’s line about how she hoped Ted would rub off on Don and not the other way around. Ted continues to prove himself as a man who leads by example, who lets his creatives riff and encourages them, even though secretly he often thinks their ideas are crap. Ted represents a new kind of creative boss, while Don is still stuck in the past. To reclaim dominance, Don acts like a bully, then crumbles when he’s truly challenged (but Sylvia, who shocks him to his core with that fateful no). It wasn’t just what she said, but how she said it, which basically boiled down to: “I had a dream you died, and things were better,” and saying she’s ending things because she’s ashamed. I didn’t care for the advent of Sylvia this year, but her departure could be an important turning point for Don. The episode ending with the assassination of Bobby Kennedy is certainly going to cast a shadow over next week as this difficult year continues.
Episode Rating: B+
Musings and Miscellanea:
— The merger has created an exciting atmosphere at SCDP, and I feel that we aren’t spending enough time there.
— Roger’s re-firing of Burt Peterson was glorious. Bye Burt!
— I love that Roger and his Harry Hamlin clone are friends now and taking trips to Germany together. I want an episode just of that.
— Don and Ted in the plane was hokey as hell though.
— The book Don took from Sylvia was “The Last Picture Show.” Interesting.
— Sylvia’s dream was damn specific.
— Don’s requests of Sylvia reminded me of Adam from Girls …
— I love Stan and Ginsberg’s banter, especially when Ginsberg calls him out for waiting about fifteen minutes to bring up his KKK ad. Also interesting that it’s Ted’s creatives who look like working stiffs, whereas Stan and Ginsberg have gone full-on into the fashions of the day.
— “Who told you you were allowed to think?” – Don. Ok, Don …
— Bob was sweet, and I’m glad he had more to do this week, no matter what his motivations truly are.
— Harry’s vomit-looking tie was gross. He’s gross.
— “My mother can go to hell, and Ted Chaough can fly her there” – Pete. Happy Mother’s Day!