This week on Mad Men
the merger of SDCP and CGC puts everything, in Ted-approved pilot terms, right-side up and upside down. The turmoil isn't only relegated to the office, it also extends into the characters' personal lives. Don loses his mistress after trying to hold onto her too tightly. Pete suddenly becomes the primary caregiver to his mother with Alzheimer's. And Joan's frightening illness ends up being Bob Benson's salvation.
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The Chaos of Merger
Last week's merger of SCDP and Peggy's new home at CGC seemed like a game changer. And while it probably is (and certainly means the demise of poor Burt -- again), the episode is as chaotic as life at the merging firms.
The episode feels as noisy and crowded as the office, as the characters try to figure out what life is going to be like now that the firms have merged. Things happen fast, storylines intersect and then divide off at random.
One of my favorite examples is watching Bob protectively walk an ill Joan out of the office in the background as the creative team meets about margarine in the foreground. In the background, you can track Joan and Bob's progress, giving the audience a sense of depth and a feel for exactly how many storylines are converging and colliding as the firms try to form a new whole.
Pete understands that the merger is no time for a personal crisis, that in the transition it's easy for fortunes to be made or lost on the basis of a chair at the conference table. Yet personal issues don't wait around for convenient times, and whether it's a nagging mother or an ovarian cyst, life is always there to get in the way.
While Pete misses the plane out to placate Mohawk (and damn does Ted rock those aviators -- it's a much better look than the turtlenecks), Bob's chance meeting with a sick Joan manages to save his job at the company. In the chaos, chance meetings and personal problems can mean the difference between a rising and falling star. Pete knows this, having been through it all before.
It's a messy hour with a lot going on and doesn't really slow down until the end of the episode. In the early morning quiet, Don's mourning for the loss of his mistress is juxtaposed by the nation's mourning at the loss of Robert Kennedy.
50 Shades of Don Draper
Don has control issues and abandonment issues. These are obvious facts to fans of Mad Men, and the show underlines both of these issues heavily in "Man with a Plan."
After hearing Sylvia fighting with her husband, Don is pleasantly surprised to get a call from her. "I need you and nothing else will do," Sylvia says, unknowingly awakening some dark, dominant, needy beast inside Don.
In the hotel room, Don gets 50 shades of weird on Sylvia, though she gamely plays along. He tells her what to do, what to wear and when to answer the phone. Don's dominant behavior is a strange and off-putting turn, even for a character whose many negative traits we've seen time and time again.
"You're for me. You exist in this room for my pleasure," Don tells Sylvia. It's all part of the dominant-submissive game they're playing, like a page out of some raunchy Fifty Shades of Grey fan-fiction. Yet it says a lot more about Don than his sexual preferences.
Don has always been looking for a less complicated kind of relationship, one that centered entirely around him and his needs. One where the woman literally stops existing once he walks out of the room.
His problems with Megan began when she started breaking out on her own, detaching from him to follow her own dreams and build up her own corner of a life. In his little hotel room cocoon with Sylvia, he tries to turn her into an empty vessel that only comes to life when he walks in the door.
Sylvia doesn't have anything to do, to think about or even to read (low blow taking her book!) when Don steps out of the room. He's searching for the relationship he's always wanted, one centered entirely on himself, one where the needs of the other person don't need to be considered because they don't even exist as a separate person.
For Sylvia, it's a game that holds mild fascination and then quickly sours her on the whole affair, while for Don it works as an encapsulation of his deep-seated abandonment issues. The Sylvia he tried to create, the one that wouldn't even answer a telephone or leave the hotel, is someone who would never leave him. But real women don't just sit around waiting under the sheets as if held on pause.
When Sylvia breaks off the affair, Don's veneer of control breaks. "Please?" he begs, but Sylvia realizes their fling's limited shelf-life has past.
Meanwhile, Megan, seen only in bits and pieces in the episode, is desperately trying to hold onto their relationship by envisioning a trip that can spackle the cracks in their foundation. But as we see Megan watching the news of Robert Kennedy's assassination in horror with Don siting a million miles away, its obvious there's far more damage than a trip to Hawaii can repair.
I Can't Believe It's Margarine
The office stories are myriad, as the characters try to figure out the new status quo with all these new interlopers from CGC in the mix.
Don manages to break poor Ted in one day, getting him so drunk he passes out on the creative table. Peggy snaps at Don, saying she was hoping Ted would rub off on Don and not the other way around. "No one can drink like you can!" Peggy says in one of the funniest lines of the episode. Yet Ted manages to sober up, literally pilot through the storm and save the day with Mohawk.
Less certain is what the firm is going to do with the margarine account. No one can seem to think of anything complimentary to say about the non-butter, except for some of Peggy's fun margarine historical facts. Are we coming close to the famous "I can't believe it's not butter" slogan?
What did you think of the episode? Were you shocked at Don's behavior? Are you loving the new combined offices? Do you trust Bob Benson? Sound off in the comments!