TV Club

Mad Men recap for episode Mad With a Plan: Don and Sylvia in the Sherry-Netherland.

Don Draper turns into Christian Grey.

Michael Yarish/AMC

Seth, Paul:

Who’s the man? Is the man the one who takes dainty sips of Scotch and then, a few tumblers later, collapses, his head on the table, in a room full of underlings? Is the man the one with the sweet buggy eyes who says the phrase, “a little rap session about margarine?” Or is the man the one who tells his beautiful mistress, “I want you to get undressed and get back into bed,” and then walks out the door, leaving her in the hotel room without even her pulp novel to keep her company, just because he can?

This episode was about power plays of every kind—professional, sexual, fraternal, maternal. The two ad agencies are merging, which sets off antler wrestling and status anxiety of all kinds. The person who comes off best in the office wars is, no surprise, Roger Sterling; it’s impossible not to luxuriate in his high-density banter even as he is dismissing Burt Peterson with cruel glee. (“You’re a real prick,” Burt says, to which Roger replies: “Damn it Burt, you stole my good-bye.”) The person who comes off the worst is, no surprise again, Pete, who is so unraveled by professional paranoia (and filial angst) that he says out loud to his kind secretary: “My mother can go to hell, and Ted Chaough can fly her there.”

But the real drama revolves around Don and his mojo. There’s the merger, of course, but the episode’s first half focuses on the side show at the Sherry-Netherland, which has Don morphing temporarily into Christian Grey and ordering Sylvia to submit, absolutely. It’s unclear whether he’s turned on by a fight he overheard Sylvia having with her husband or what Sylvia said to him over the phone (“Nothing else will do”) or if what’s going on in that bedroom is just testosterone overflow from his showdown with Ted. But the result is a little soft-core S&M, in which he tells her to crawl on her hands and knees and get his shoes (she doesn’t), stay in bed until he gets back (she does) or never pick up the phone (she doesn’t but is very turned on by the ringing).

Yet Don has just barely claimed the crown before the hints start dropping that he will be toppled. Peggy comes into his office to tell him to act like a grown-up and stop trying to get Ted drunk. Ted goes to visit his cancer-ridden partner in the hospital to ponder the unknowable Don (“He’s mysterious but I can’t tell if he’s putting it on”) and gets the advice he needs, which is to let Don win the early rounds until he tires himself out. And pretty soon Ted’s airplane is rattling in the storm, and a sweating Don has to resort to reading  the novel he stole from Sylvia so he doesn’t panic. And then Don realizes it’s over: “It doesn’t matter what I say. You’re the guy who flew us up here in his own plane.”

Don’s sweaty face was enough to engender pity. Did they really need to show us those watery eyes, too? “This is over,” Sylvia says, when Don finally goes back to the hotel room. And suddenly we are back to Episode 1, with Don as a statue, nearly mute, only able to get out one word. “Please?” I found myself considering Ted’s question anew. Is Don mysterious, or is he just putting it on? Wasn’t that drama in the hotel room just a touch too theatrical? Wasn’t the move with the Scotch a little over the top?

Don isn’t putting it on, exactly. He’s really just having a showdown with himself. The new age belongs to men like Ted, who come to meetings on time, who have semi-productive brainstorming sessions, who don’t drink at the office, who are inspired by lowbrow shows on TV. In their first margarine powwow Don was cast as the dignified one with an endless repertoire of classic scenes in his head (a farm, freshly baked bread, homemade syrup) and Ted as the goofball who watches Gilligan’s Island. But by the end of this episode, Don withers into the man whose references are a few years out of date (Marilyn Monroe, Dorothea Lange) and Ted is the man who is projecting a future of camp and cult favorites. 

And if we needed more proof that history will not stand still for Don Draper, the episode ends with the shooting of Bobby Kennedy, moving the revolution along.

A few things I haven’t covered: What do you guys think of Bob Benson now? Were you impressed by his moves? You think they were calculated, or was his gift for L’il Kevin heartfelt? And if Sylvia is really headed to Minnesota, does that mean no more of the mysterious Dr. Rosen?

Who told you you were allowed to think?