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FORWARD AND BACK: MAD MEN SEASON 6, EPISODE 7, “MAN WITH A PLAN”

May 13, 2013

As I write this, I have the final song from this episode of Mad Men playing in my head: “I think it’s so groovy now, that people are finally getting together.” Ah Matt Weiner, you tricky guy. Nothing is groovy at all.

“Man With a Plan” is about attempts at domination. In its purest form, this is manifested in Don’s disgusting and unforgivable treatment of Sylvia. But it’s everywhere else, too — Don is trying to dominate Ted, Peggy is trying to dominate Don, Pete’s brother is trying to beat Pete, Roger is exercising his dominance over Burt Peterson, and then over the rest of the employees. Even margarine, it turns out, was only invented to be used in the aid of Napoleon III’s dominance — it was created for moving armies, because it never spoils.

The episode is also about sickness and death. Joan, accompanied by Bob (who I will now think of as sweet, beautiful, adorable Bob whom I love), goes to the hospital for what turns out to be an ovarian cyst. While there, she talks about who will take Kevin once she’s gone. Pete’s mother is descending into dementia. Gleason is dying. And then Bobby Kennedy is shot.

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There’s a real loss of hope here. When he finds out one of his creatives is voting for Nixon, Ted says “What’s wrong with you! Don’t you have any hope?” But hope seems to be dwindling. It’s dwindling for Pete, as his family life and his life at the firm get further and further away from him. And for Ted, who is starting to see what he’s gotten himself into by partnering with Don.

The real hopelessness, though, has to do with Don. I have no hope left for Don. His behavior is disgusting and insulting and infuriating. It’s psychotic. And it begs the question, how long can we make excuses for someone? Because I’m done. I no longer give a shit about his childhood. I no longer feel bad that he has identity issues. I just think he’s a piece of garbage.

I’m wondering if this reaction was Weiner’s intent. At the end of the horrible Sylvia ordeal, Don softens — he says “please,” and he is suddenly without power. If this is meant to make us feel for him again, it didn’t do it for me. Listen, I’ve had such hope, for so long. I believed that Faye would change him, then I genuinely wanted things to work out with Megan. But I’m done now. And I wonder what that means for the rest of this series.

In many ways, we are now left with Pete and with Don, two deeply imperfect men. Pete, though, has always been flawed on the inside and out, and I think I speak for a bunch of us when I say that we’ve hated him forever. Don had our sympathy, and he had such charm. But compare their actions. Who is really more reprehensible? Pete has been a terrible husband to one woman, while Don has been a terrible husband to two. Both have manipulated and harassed their mistresses — but Don has had far more of them. Both regularly ignore their children and make sketchy deals. Ugh. They’re both the worst, really.

I hated to see Sylvia pose for Don in that red dress, and I hated to see Megan — who was once strong and assertive, remember? — try so hard to please him, while he didn’t even listen. In seasons past, I would have spent considerable time recounting Don’s issues with his mother, thinking about Anna, trying to piece together how he got to this. But I feel so through with it, so entirely without sympathy for him. Where can we even go from here?

A note about Sylvia. Although Don’s treatment of her was horrifying — he essentially imprisoned her, and told her she wasn’t even supposed to think — in the end, she did come out on top. She didn’t seem terribly bothered by any of it, and when she was done, she was done. This indicates a strength in her, maybe; in his video recap of the episode, Weiner calls what they were playing simply “a game.” But from a feminist perspective, it was a pretty dangerous game. I’m not sure how to feel about Sylvia’s response, but I don’t want to downplay how disgusting I think it all was.

The introduction of Ted Chaough as a major character this season makes Don’s failures all the more stark. Like Peggy, I’m starting to see Ted as the good guy. This week, he ran a meeting effectively until Don came in and ruined it, and then Don exercised his authority by getting Ted drunk (somewhat reminiscent of that time he got Roger so drunk that he threw up a bunch of oysters on the office floor). Ted can fly, and he’s sweet, and he seems to genuinely just want the best, for everyone. When he makes Pete look bad by giving up his seat for his secretary, it truly doesn’t seem malicious; it just seems like he thought she deserved a seat. Why aren’t we all rooting for this guy?

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Ted is representative of the new movement of the 60s — he wants to “rap” about ideas, he has respect for the minds of women, and he’s definitely really into the lingo. Don, who was so completely in his chauvinistic element in the 50s, is now holding on to those ideals as tightly as he possibly can. But it seems like Don is the past, and Ted is the future.

There was one hopeful moment this week, and it came from Peggy. She alone can see Don clearly, and – like me — she’s no longer interested in dealing with him. “Move forward,” she tells him, and walks out. But he’s entirely stuck, and she’s the one who has real momentum.

A few more things:

– I almost lost it entirely when Don took away Sylvia’s book. OH WHAT HELL NO. Just saying.

– There’s an allusion to Rip Van Winkle while Bob and Joan wait in the hospital. Although Rip Van Winkle slept through a war, I’m not sure I see much else of a connection here, and it seemed a little artificial.

– I wish we could see more of Ginsburg, please.

– Harry Crane, who now has an even shittier office, is not lookin too good.

– When Joan saves Bob’s job, she seems to share a knowing smile with Pete. I’m still not entirely sure of Bob’s deal, but goddamn if he hasn’t won me over.

Feel things about Don and Ted again on Portable.

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