Mad Men – Recap: Dominant Draper
Recap video and review of Mad Men – Season 6 Episode 7 – Man With a Plan:
More than most episodes of Mad Men, “Man With a Plan” exemplifies the theme of power. Naturally, said power comes in a variety of forms: sexual power, political power, family power, etc. But the theme is a narrative throughline that brings the episode’s dramatic components into stark relief. It’s Mad Men’s key strength, utilizing theme to say more than what’s on the page, and it works beautifully here, particularly in the case of Don (Jon Hamm) and his mistress, Sylvia Rosen (Linda Cardellini). There’s also a significant amount of relevance to this theme as it relates to the genesis of the new, merged firm, as the Powers That Be in the company sort out who stays and who goes, resulting in company-wide paranoia. Most amusing of all is in how that paranoia manifests in Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), left to deal with his increasingly dementia-ravaged mother, whom he declares can “go to hell!” (In an episode that airs on Mother’s Day, no less!) Pete’s lack of power has parlayed into his never feeling any sense of security whatsoever in his job, long after the point where he should be reasonably certain that he’s not on the chopping block. But when you don’t have power, you’re both resentful and fearful of those that do — conversely, when you do have power, you’re always at risk of being floored by the revelation that it has its limits.
While the staffs of SCDP and CGC attempt to sort out their rosters, we see how the politics of the office affect the relationships at the center of the show. Pete is left to deal with his mother, who is slowly succumbing to the grip of dementia, insisting, for instance, that Pete’s father (who died in season 2) is still alive. Since his brother has no desire to take the woman in, Pete is left to provide a temporary home for his mother with him in his Manhattan apartment. These family troubles do nothing to alleviate his fear that the merger will spell the end of his career, as he arrives late to a partners’ meeting to find that a chair hasn’t been saved for him. This slight exacerbated his paranoia, and this is a feeling that extends to others in the office, though not without cause. For instance, Roger (John Slattery) fires Burt Peterson, one of the top men at CGC, leading to a terrific exchange: “No one fought for you,” Roger blithely declares, prompting Burt to retort, ”You’re a real pr–k, you know that?” to which Roger responds, “Damn it, Burt, you stole my goodbye!” Awesome.
The career end of things involves the handling of a margarine account that could help the new firm find its feet, though it becomes secondary in the wake of a potential account with Mohawk Airlines. Emboldened by the prospect of winning the account, Ted, an amateur pilot, offers to fly Don to the meeting in his plane. Don is terrified during the flight, though he manages to make it through, and this is somewhat emblematic of his relationship with Ted, in which they both have lasting effects on one another. Ted challenges Don on his lackadaisical attitude about the work day, essentially telling him that being 45 minutes late to a meeting, even one as pointless as the margarine brainstorming session, won’t cut it anymore. People have better things to do. However, Don influences Ted adversely by getting him to follow the Don Draper model of alcoholism, which doesn’t sit well with Ted. Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) chews Don out on corrupting Ted, saying that no one can drink like Don does. She tells her former mentor that he needs to grow the hell up, succinctly telling him to “Move forward.” Ted, for his part, tries to solve the mystery of his new partner by asking for advice from his old one, as the cancer-stricken Frank Gleason tells Ted to simply let Don be as mysterious as he wants to be.
Don tries to communicate that aura of mystery in his dealings with Sylvia, while imbuing each act with a sense of dominant power. After overhearing an argument between Sylvia and her husband earlier in the episode, Don seems intent on meeting with Sylvia. This desire is brought into relief when Sylvia phones him at work, saying that she needs him and nothing else will do. This launches an episode-long display of Don’s power, as he orders Sylvia to get on all fours and retrieve his shoes for him, then tells her to undress and wait in bed for him until he returns from work. He then sends her a dress from Saks Fifth Avenue, allowing her to believe that she’s in for an extravagant night out. However, when he returns, he tells Sylvia to strip again, saying that she exists, in their hotel room, only for his pleasure. This proves to be a bridge too far for Sylvia, as she effectively ends things with Don. “It’s time to really go home,” she tells Don. “This is over.” However, he won’t hear it, telling his mistress, “It’s easy to give up when you’re satisfied.” She succinctly responds, “It’s easy to give up something when you’re ashamed.” Don is losing control over his life, and he goes through the rest of the episode in a sort of fugue state, as he doesn’t really hear a word that comes out of Megan’s (Jessica Pare) mouth when he gets home, and seems even more numb once news of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination breaks. Don has more or less become a man who’s dulled by his own life, and that’s a fascinating, though unfortunate, trajectory for the character. Especially a character that privileges power and composure as much as Don Draper.
There’s also a subplot in which Joan (Christina Hendricks) becomes sick and is ushered to the emergency room by Bob, one of the handsome young CGC employees. Bob keeps Joan company at the hospital, and even plays a trick on one of the nurses to get Joan seen by a doctor faster, and while Joan seems to have taken a liking to the good-natured employee, she tells her mother that he’s far too young for her. However, when Bob’s name comes up on the chopping block during company deliberations, Joan is able to save his job. It’s a minor development, but I can’t say it bothered me all that much, since I was simply relieved that Joan’s condition wasn’t more serious than the correctable ovarian cyst she had.
“Man With a Plan” isn’t as rich as some of the episodes of this season, but it’s part-and-parcel of what’s been a uniformly strong season for the show. The characters are as complex as they’ve ever been, and their conflicts are likely to get more nuanced as the season progresses.