Mad Men Musings: Man with a Plan

Mad Men is back! If you’re a fan, join us regularly for Mad Men Musings – a space to discuss selected highlights, low points, or just plain water-cooler worthy moments of each episode.

Change continues to sweep through the newly merged office of…well, we still don’t have a name for the new mash-up of SDCP and Cutler, Gleason and Chaough, do we?

This whole episode made me feel vaguely nervous – movers swarming around like worker bees, the imminent threat of lay-offs and firings, and the generally turbulent atmosphere kept me on edge. The power paradigms are shifting, leaving lovers, family members, and co-workers struggling to find their place in the new order.

The award for most desperate to assert their authority and find their footing goes to Mr. Don Draper, of course. Don’s need for control and dominance rears its ugly head in both the office and the bedroom. At work, he wants things to stay the way they are; he’s comfortable napping, drinking, and pulling pure magic out of the air at the very last minute.

But Ted doesn’t work that way – as Don’s foil, Ted is engaged, personable and professional. He’s the anti-Don, really, (except for that little echo of the extramarital kiss) and an enjoyable part of this episode was watching the power struggle betwixt the two.

Ted and Peggy ready to face the day…

Don won the first round. Ostensibly making a mea culpa for his lateness to the margarine meeting, Don plies Ted with a liquid “olive branch.” This leads to a rumpled, red-cheeked Ted comparing different margarine brands to Gilligan’s Island characters and generally acting the fool. Peggy, for one, is not amused. In a brief but powerful scene, she calls Don on his crap, “Move forward,” she tells him. Peggy will always be grateful to Don, but part of what makes her such a strong character is that she’s not afraid to confront him when he needs it.

Poor Ted, after his liquid meeting with Don

Sylvia, too, is finally able to set Don straight, but it takes her quite a while to reach that point. Mr. Draper is transparent as glass here — Don needs to re-assert that he has total power and control over something in his life, and an unhappy housewife is just the ticket. Now, this might be an unpopular opinion, but I didn’t find Don sensual or powerful or remotely enticing in this context. Rather, he seemed desperate, almost pathetic. His commands to Sylvia, the whole sordid little game of master and slave, struck me as hollow and cold. (Aside: I did, however, squeal “oh my gosh, Adam and Natalia from ‘Girls’!” when Don told Sylvia to crawl on her hands and knees. Was that just me?)

Dominant Don faltered, though, once he stepped onto Ted’s plane. He was physically shaken (just looking at that tiny cockpit shuddering and banging through the storm was terrifying, right?) but his confidence, his essential Don Draper-ness, was shaken up too. Ted, wearing a bomber jacket and classic Ray-Bans, won this round — flying your private plane to meet your client? Check and mate, Ted, check and mate.

When Don later retreats to the sanctuary of the hotel room, Sylvia, too, finally asserts her own power. She had a dream that is ripe with symbolism: faith, commitment, shame, sex, death. And just like that, she comes to her senses: “It’s time to go,” she says, her modest floral dress signaling her return to the “real” world. Their departure in the elevator was a perfect tableau of displacement and loss; two people in such close proximity, yet worlds away from one another.

This isolation was nicely mirrored when Megan tells Don she wants to take time off from work. As she talks, smiling at him with forced hope, her voice gradually fades away – unable to penetrate his mind or heart, she has become white noise, a mouth that moves brightly but says nothing.

Even as Megan continues to lose her voice, however, we saw another character gain his: ladies and gentlemen, the mysterious Bob Benson! Could it be…is it simply possible that Bob is an authentically kind and caring man? Prior to this, we’ve seen Bob as an eager beaver with murky intentions, but here he was Joan’s knight in shining armor.

It’s possible, of course, that he was just trying to save his own bacon (last hired, first fired and all) but he was so kind and helpful to Joan – the way he helped her save face at the office, his masterful finessing of Nurse Ratched, and, of course, the sweet surprise of checking in on Joan afterwards, gift-wrapped football in tow. I’m going with Joan’s mom on this one: “He’s adorable.”

Despite Joan pooh-poohing her mother’s intimations, she subtly saves Bob’s neck from the chopping block. Good thing, too – I’m very excited to see what might develop between these too. Honestly, when you compare even the little bit we know now about Bob to Roger and her rape-y ex-husband Greg, Bob is looking like the best thing to happen to Joan in a long time.

Not so adorable? Pete. His office standing is looking a little shaky, what with his imperious demands for chairs, Don and Ted going over his head, and his dementia-stricken mother setting tea kettles on fire. In typical Pete fashion, he lashes out at the perceived less-powerful around him; his mom, his brother, and his secretary. Between the still-smoking wreckage of his home life and the changes afoot at the office, something tells me Pete is in for a bumpy ride.

Clearly, so is everyone else – the episode closes on Robert Kennedy’s assassination. Megan watches the news, crying, as Don sits down on the bed, straightening his tie. The corny-bright sounds of “Reach Out of the Darkness” play as the world, once again, shivers and shifts.

we heartsters – Were you struck by the fact that Joan was literally in mortal agony and yet felt she couldn’t leave work? Is it just me, or is Peggy’s hair getting bigger and bigger every episode? And am I alone in thinking there is something vaguely appealing about the Harry Hamlin character? (I think it’s the geek-chic glasses).

all photos: via AMC

Amity writes and teaches in Central PA. Her obsessions include: Rodarte (she can’t afford any Rodarte, mind you, but a girl can dream), espresso, books, vintage/thrift fashion and fountain pens. She thinks you should dress like a weirdo once in a while, just to shake things up.

amity

amity

Amity teaches rhetoric, composition, and creative writing in Central PA. Her non-fiction has appeared in xojane and Story, as well as on Snap Judgement and This American Life; her fiction has appeared in Hobart. She is the cohost of Bone Palace Ballet, a true crime podcast focusing on murder, mysteries, and the macabre.
amity

7 thoughts on “Mad Men Musings: Man with a Plan”

  1. sherrishera

    First, Peggy’s hair aside, I just wonder what it would be like to have an episode where Joan takes Peggy shopping for some office-worthy executive wear? Two powerful women shopping as powerful women do. Once upon a time Peggy prettied it up when she got rid of her glasses; maybe it’s time to revisit the makeover now that she’s playing big league ball.
    As for Joan not leaving work though deathly ill…I think that’s totally Joan. She can’t have anyone witnessing her weaknesses. I’m starting to fall for Bob a little, too. I wasn’t entirely convinced he was the coniving weasel everyone was thinking. Then again, perhaps they’re just wooing the naysayers like you all into liking him so the can hit us with a Bad Bob when we least expect it.
    Don’s power struggle was a little too neatly packaged and presented in that weird sexual bit. I was a little uncomfortable with the obviousness of it all. If the spin with Sylvia is any indication (and with things made so tidy, I’m sure it is) Ted is clearly poised to turn Don into a has-been. Don’t worry, I’m sure Don will come out of the hole and do something brilliant. Maybe he’ll even turn Ted into an alcoholic to boot.
    Oh Pete. I’m seeing echoes of last season’s suicide. Is everything going to crumble in an unmanageable sort of way for him?
    Harry Hamlin does look geek chic but I really don’t want to see too much of his character.

    1. amity

      Agreed–Peggy and Joan need to have a girls shopping day. Peggy always looks so much cuter when she’s at home in her “casual” wear, right? As for Joan leaving work, you’re right, she can’t bear to have anyone think she’s weak, but I was also thinking how pathetic it was that she was practically dying but still working: meanwhile, Don’s off playing Fifty Shades of Grey with Sylvia. So unfair!

  2. turboterp

    Great recap, @amity ! You’re so right– unlike last week’s fun episode, this week’s made me nervous and uncomfortable. I think the only time I laughed was when Pete said, “My mother can go to hell and Teddy Chaough can fly her there.”
    I hated Don and found the whole master/slave thing to be boring and un-sexy. I actually enjoyed him squirming and sweating on the airplane!
    The Joan/Bob interlude was intriguing. Can’t wait to see where that goes. And even wracked with pain, Joanie looks amazing in emerald green!

    1. amity

      That Pete line was great…oh, and the power play bit with the chairs was amusing as well. And I’m with you on liking how uncomfortable Don was on the plane…

  3. stef

    I don’t think this espisode could have EVER been as good as last week’s, but that being said there were a few things I really loved about it:

    -The Bob/Joan scenes. Now, I was #1 on the “Bob’s up to something” list. But, he was so sweet and seemed so geniune in his looking after Joan that it swayed me. I kind of hoped he was up to something before, but now that Joanie’s involved – I’m really hoping for the best. I agree @amity – Joan could use a nice guy after her last couple of creeps. Not that Roger is a creep, I love Roger. But sorta/kinda.

    -I’m also a new rider on the Ted bandwagon. His style of leading is such a fresh change from Don. And Peggy wanting to protect him was adorable. Though the man who slipped on those avaitors and “drove (us) to the meeting in his plane” didn’t look like he needed any protecting. And when he gave his seat to his secretary (and made Pete look like even more of a jerk), I swooned a bit. I will fogive you for last week’s teal turtleneck and this week’s use of “groovy.”

    But the bad:

    -Dominant Don, what a dick. Don, you are making it very hard for me to stay in love with you! Don just needed to be in control of something since he felt so out of control at work. And yuck on Sylvia for going along with it as well as she did. Don’t get me wrong, I could see where that COULD be hot. But it all just seemed so desperate on both of their sides. The good thing? Bye Sylvia, hypocritical christian!

    Side note: I want old Don back. Sniff. I worry we never will.

  4. heather

    Haha @stef “I will fogive you for last week’s teal turtleneck and this week’s use of “groovy.” @krista that is the perfect analogy! Spectacular!

    Counting down the minutes until tonight’s episode… Move it along, Sunday!

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