Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mad Men S6 Ep7 Man with a Plan - Don Draper, Dickier Than Ever and I Don't Mean Whitman

Part (most?) of the appeal of our beloved Don Draper is that he is kind of a dick. We marvel at how he gets away with being such a jerk to so many people. In a lot of ways, we root for him because he IS able to be the ass we all want to be in certain situations. We're able to root for him because his jerkiness is mitigated by charm, intellect, wit and sometimes even a genuine emotion or two. However, last night Don was at his all time dick high, and though he tried, he certainly didn't have enough of those other things to temper it. We've seen glimpses before, of course, where Don's jerkiness outweighs his charm, but somehow he always wins in the end. And we love a winner! These cracks in his jerk armor seemed to be a bit larger last night, and the witty, charming, intellectual repair kit wasn't working. But does this mean we love him less? As with all things Mad Men, it's complicated...
Through both Ted and Sylvia's characters, we are seeing how Don's relying on his old jerk tricks aren't really working anymore. Well, at least not all the time these days. At first, Ted is seduced by Don's alpha-male actions and tries to go toe-to-toe with him in both drinking and brainstorming. Don seemingly wins that round, as Ted eventually defers to Don's thoughts on the Fleichman's margarine account and then stumbles out to the creatives and tries to have a political discussion while glaringly hammered. Feeling defeated and deflated, he finds comfort in the words of partner Frank, who tells him from his hospital bed, "go in there and act like you own half the place." He does waaaaaay more than that by actually piloting a Mowhawk plane to meet the bigwigs at Mowhawk, with a sweating, nervous, practically peeing-in-his-pants Don in the passenger seat. As Don says to Ted when he suggests he start thinking about his presentation, "why bother? It doesn't matter what I say, you'll still be the guy who flew us there." Round two: Ted! ding! ding!
The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades.
The End
Likewise, at the start of the hotel interlude with Sylvia, Don exerts himself as the super-supreme-alpha-male by saying things like "find my shoes... crawl on your hands and knees until you find them if you have to" and "in this room you serve my fantasies" and then forbids her to leave the room. (Much more on this difficult scene below in Other Things section.) Clearly, Don is desperate to assert himself in this facet of his life, since work stuff is keeping him off-kilter: New guy Ted already didn't wait 40 minutes for him for a meeting (!) and just cut him down some pegs in that plane. At first, Sylvia seems into this, this escape from reality where she doesn't have to think about her husband or worry about her son in a burning France. But soon enough - what, a day? 2? 3? who knows - she decides enough is enough and they have to get back to reality. She ends it. Not just the hotel fantasy but the whole affair. WHO EVER ENDS ANYTHING WITH DON DRAPER?  Oh wait, Peggy...

Is Peggy the greatest character ever? I think maybe. I mean, besides knowing the origin of margarine, Peggy is having none of Don's old tricks either. She was piiiissssssed when Ted was stumbling around drunk, knowing it was all part of Don's game. In a truly fantastic scene with Peggy and Don, when Peggy tries to question why no one talked to her about the merger, Don tries to cut her down by sarcastically saying "right, the whole merger was so we could have you complaining here in the office again." But Peggy don't play that anymore. She firmly tells Don that she hoped Ted would rub off on him and not the other way around.  Don ain't the big man anymore, and he's stuck in a time when he was. He's stuck in a time when women would do his bidding and he ruled the office. Ted, by contrast, gives up his seat for secretaries in meetings and says things like "groovy." Oh, and fully appreciates all that Peggy is and has to give, whereas Don is nothing but negative to her these days. "Move forward" says Peggy to Don, and we slow clap in admiration.
Meghan seems to be the only one these days who is still looking at Don with starry eyes. Based on their couch scene, however, that seems about to change for her. For us, it's already happened.

Other Things:
- I think the timing of this episode is both really, really unfortunate and also somewhat apropos. After obsessively watching the news regarding the 3 young women who were held in captivity in Ohio for 10 years, I was kind of horrified and sickened at watching Don succeed in mental manipulation of Sylvia in the hotel room. Yes, I get Sylvia was into it and Don's actions towards Sylvia in the hotel room were not violent, just escapism, but the parallels are too close. At one time this may have been just more of Don being Don - seeing how far he can go - but after the truly horrifying real-world event of someone keeping women captive, it was very difficult to hear Don making commands and watching Sylvia succumb to staying in the room from just his words. I am wondering now if without the Ohio events this scene would have been shocking for Don's character or just a bit of a stretch for him. But for me, the events in Ohio lent some very serious gravitas to these scenes that were probably originally written to be a bit off-putting, but sexy and interesting. Originally, these scenes were meant to show Don asserting himself in an extreme way in this facet of his life, and yes it was portrayed as escapism. But with Ohio top-of-mind, it's scary to see that Don's "escapism" is being a horrible, domineering, narcissistic asshole who wants to control Sylvia as his possession. (Pit this against Meghan's idea of escapism which is to go back to Hawaii and you see what I mean.)  So in this respect, perhaps because of timing, we are seeing something the writers didn't intend, but is there nonetheless. I don't think I'm the only one that made this connection.  (True confession: I'm pretty sure that while this has left a bad taste in my mouth, I will still be rooting for Don Draper. Somehow he will find a way. It's complicated!)
More cowbell!
- Ginsberg is my cowbell... MORE GINSBERG! I want to see Ginsberg interact with more people in the office. What happened to inter-office relationships? We need more of these! With Ginsberg!
- Bob saves Joan! Yay! That's why he's there!
- Pete is heading for a serious breakdown. And I am getting so sick of his whiny ass.
Reach out of the darkness

- The closing credits with the newscaster talking about Bobby Kennedy being shot juxtaposed with the strains of Reach Out of The Darkness: "I think it's so groovy now that people are finally getting together" is BEYOND GENIUS! This is a Chaotic Time with a capital "C" - for Don, for the office, for everyone. How does anyone find a sense of safety or control in all of this?

Let me know your thoughts on this episode! What's Don's next move - dumping Meghan? Or just finding a new conquest? Did you have the same thoughts relating Sylvia in the hotel to the events in Ohio? What do you think of Peggy? Ted? Bob? Hit the comments!