Mad Men s6e7: Man With A Plan

“My mother can go to hell, and Ted Chaough can fly her there!”

Don sure needs to be in control, huh? Jesus Christ. He’s an insidious prick to Ted, does a whole dominant thing with Sylvia, all to feel some modicum of control in the chaos of the merger. Didn’t quite think that one through, apparently. At least Roger got to fire Burt Peterson again.

One of Don’s central traits is his endless yearning for freedom while also craving control over his life. I mean, the guy reinvents himself at every available turn, what else were you expecting? He’s consistently isolated as a result. People flit in and out of his life all the time, he’s seemingly never Not surrounded by people, but because he doesn’t truly connect with anyone he’ll always be alone.

image courtesy of Tumblr

Natch, we spend our lives thinking we’re the lead in our own movie. Truth of the matter is that nobody thinks about us as much as we fucking do, but we all intrinsically understand that we’re a part of something larger. Don doesn’t really get this. And yeah yeah yeah– it’s a show, he’s the protagonist, our beloved antihero, but he elevates himself to this bizarre mountaintop where he cannot fail, he can only Be Failed. Good way to avoid responsibility, if that’s your bag.

The way Ted settles in for a margarine rap sesh with his colleagues as opposed to Don sitting alone brooding in his corner office says a lot; these guys are night and day, camaraderie and spitballing versus fear and lofty expectations. Don expects everyone in his life to be a skosh like Sylvia in that lovely hotel room; waiting with bated breath for him to appear and liven shit up. Instead of collaborating with his coworkers, Don wants to be the guy who drops that Perf  Lightbulb Idea(TM) in a moment of pure clarity and meaning, blowing everyone’s fuckin socks off with his brilliance.

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As a faux olive branch, Don brings some booze to Ted’s office under the guise of yapping about margarine. What he’s really doing is drinking Ted under the table to assert some sort of dominance, and Peggy is of course grossed out by Don’s behaviour. It’s funny though; as much of a brilliant, mysterious and imposing figure Don may be at the office, Ted will forever have one on Don because he was the one who flew them to that Mohawk meeting. And that’s just suave as hell.

image courtesy of Giphy

Sylvia dreamed that Ted’s plane went down, and that she returned home, back to her life after being adrift. Don of course immediately twists it to mean that she missed him– what’s that about everyone being unbelievably fucking self-involved? As she definitively ends their ongoing affair, Don’s façade crumbles. Dude is grasping at sand.

Of course, Don is entangled in his Alpha Man(TM) horseshit and cannot grok the real meaning of what Sylvia is telling him. At this moment it’s incredibly striking how plain it is that Don is a guy without a real home; he brings his ‘change the conversation‘ work ethos home, and his personal relationships suffer as a result. So while Sylvia feels a great deal of comfort in returning home, Don feels nothing. As Megan talks about her day, his mind reverts to TV static.

As Don zones out, Peggy is busy building a life with Abe in a truly terrible apartment building. We’ve got Pete attempting to care for his mother while trying to get back into Trudy’s good graces. Bob Benson is trying to connect with Joan, who wants her son to thrive in a post-Greg world while navigating a complicated relationship with her mother; Don doesn’t seem to see the value in these sorts of human connections because the moment shit goes remotely sour dude is out the fucking door.

After all, in the very same episode where he split with Betty, he formed a new ad agency. Damn, dude.

“God, you’re a real prick, you know that??”

“Damn it Burt, you stole my goodbye!”

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Mad Men s6e6: For Immediate Release

“You’re just Tarzan, swinging from vine to vine!”

Time to blow up some relationships. Peggy and Abe (by way of Ted), Don and Joan with Jaguar, Pete and Trudy/Tom with a big olllll prostitute, and SCDP with The Merger. Hey Lieutenant, want to get into some trouble??

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Dr. Rosen is disillusioned that he didn’t perform the first heart transplant in the USA, and Don offers the faux advice of ‘you make your own opportunities’. That’s a real lofty point of view– natch, the rich handsome guy can afford to take absurd chances and do all that shit, but when it comes to someone like Dr. Rosen or Pete Campbell, it’s not that simple. Don is indeed a guy who can swing from vine to vine, get on with it, and fail mostly upwards– but everyone else won’t be so lucky.

Like Sterling Cooper dumping Mohawk to chase American Airlines, CGC had to dump Alfa Romeo to chase Chevy. Turns out Don just happened to fire Jaguar at the right time, even though it means the secret IPO the other partners have been working on is shelved.

Brass tacks, Don is a guy who’s always looking for the fucking escape hatch in literally any situation. Musing with Ted over latenight booze in Detroit, he figures the solution to the current crisis at hand is to combine with CGC; it somewhat mitigates the Jaguar disaster and gives them both a real shot at Chevy. If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation. Shake it up.

Remember, Don only likes the beginning of things. The guy’s got a hardon for GM’s futuristic Computer-Designed car, which is certainly the Mustang killer. There’s no photos, it’s a totally new design; all of this is what he likes best, that buzzing feeling of Pure Promise, without any pesky reality to bring it back down to earth. Too bad the Vega turns out to be a big old hooptie. And natch, Don assumes he’s made the right decisions here because, of course, he’s the one who thought of them.

Hoo-ray.

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When the Jaguar news hits SCDP, Joan deploys a big old Truth H-bomb and puts Don on notice. As much of a scumbag Herb is, Don hasn’t experienced nearly as .. much of him as Joan. And she ain’t wrong; if she could deal with him, anybody could. Dissolving the relationship with Jaguar so hurriedly, coupled with Don assuming it’s The Right Decision for everyone leaves Joan cold, thinking she did all that for nothing. It’s self-serving and fuckin rude as hell to boot.

As a matter of fact, nobody seems particularly chuffed to see Don in this episode, which is funny because he’s supposedly Our Hero, Our Flawed Protagonist. Pete bristles at him declining dinner together (and later yells at him while falling down the stairs), a stunned Peggy winces at the news of the merger (and then Don has her write a goddamn press release about it), and I’ve already mentioned Joan.

iconic TBH || image courtesy of Giphy

Here’s Pegs, she’s made a new life for herself– new apartment in a changing neighbourhood, working for new agency with a renewed sense of pride in her job. Her handsome-ass boss even kissed her, ooh la la. And bam, Don is back at it trying to forcibly merge all the above with her old life.

Both Peggy and Joan have had Some Bullshit heaped on them due to Don, and here he is attempting to smooth things over.. but in a way where he’s neither welcome nor asking what they want or need; vine to vine. Akin to his marriage(s), he uses the people around him to build a life that makes him feel good about himself, without really knowing or giving a shit about what in the hell these people want or need. Natch, it’s all destined to be a big old mess out of the gate.

image courtesy of AMC

Holy fucking shit, how about Pete Campbell running into his father in law at that whorehouse?  What Pete continually fails to account for is that he’s not Don Draper. He’s married to Trudy, a lady who is generally indifferent to how her disinterest in him has only made him long for her more. He doesn’t have that Draper Charm(TM) nor the charisma.

Pete can’t reinvent himself at every turn; though he doesn’t show it too much, slights and little jabs affect him too much. Back on that LA business trip, Don wanders off to Palm Springs with the Hot Idiots while Pete stayed at the hotel working his ass off. Pete’s a guy who tries incredibly hard to win your favour, while Don naurally assumes you’ll hand it over without batting an eye.

Assuming mutually assured destruction, Pete goes to Kenny for advice on the father in law spotted with a prostitute question. It blows up in his face; Tom has a shitfit and pulls Vick chemical’s business. And when Pete goes to tell Trudy about all of this as some bizarre trump card, he tells her that her father has left him no choice.

But, as Trudy astutely points out, Pete has always had a choice. He just keeps fucking it up and making bad choices. Pete’s overt audacity lacks the critical pairing of Don’s Teflon façade with an otherworldly ability to bounce back from sobering defeats with a plan that sounds juuuust crazy enough to work.. followed up with never bothering to ask anybody if it’s what they might want. Works for Don, but not for everyone else.

“What was your fake name again? Curious George?? You’re a riot.”

Mad Men s6e5: The Flood

“You don’t have Marx, you’ve got a bottle. Is this what you really want to be to them when they need you??”

What up! Hello, hello, we are back in the room. Let’s get down to it, shall we?

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Don has no shortage of epiphanies, but has yet to actually commit to change in any concrete way. Like how his first concern is his mistress when the news hits of MLK’s assassination.. woof, bad look. Maybe the fact that Bobby sees Henry as more of a father figure will be a kick in the pants? Who the hell knows. All he knows of the world is what you show him, Don.

On one end of the spectrum, you have the Horror Movie America that is 1968, with that gargantuan cultural shift over the back half of the decade– as seen with the styles/hair, Peggy’s profesh rise, Dawn being hired, et cetera. And then there’s the people stuck in the same old holding pattern; or in Don’s case, falling back on that familiar pattern of banging around after a prolonged attempt to snap the hell out of it.

So it turns out Peggy and Abe are really wrong for each other, holy shit. She doesn’t get the UES apartment she really wants, while Abe sees the bright side; he imagines raising their hypothetical kids in a more ~diverse place~. K. Peggy is taken aback a bit and happy on the surface since he just revealed way more than he thought he did re:the longview, but also feeling backed into a corner. The age old She Should Be Happy about something like this even if it’s not necessarily what she actually wants. Societal expectations sure are a bitch, especially in 1968; ultimately, they have very different goals.

Ay yi yi, Pete Campbell. MLK is assassinated, and natch he rings up Trudy. Let’s be real, the guy just wants to go home. It’s that splash of self-motivated Pete Campbell Shit masquerading as magnanimous, tale as old as time. When he tells Trudy, “I don’t want you to be alone” he’s really saying he doesn’t want to be alone. Thankfully, Trudy stands her ground; Pete’s made his bed, vainly attempting to forge a connection with his Chinese food delivery guy.

SEETHING || image courtesy of 4plebs

And honestly, this is not to say he isn’t mostly correct in his yelling match with Harry.. but he ratchets it all to the next level because he’s ready to pop the fuck off as it is. Like the dearly departed Dr. King, an exceptional and gifted man, Pete feels as if he has been suddenly ripped from his family. But it’s only sudden to him– we could all see it coming from the fucking International Space Station. Don’t shit where you eat, Pete.

Man, Planet of the Apes is iconic; 1968 is a great year for movies. Don takes Bobby to see it to get out of the house, a tried and true method of dealing with tragic events. Between showings, Bobby chats with the usher about how people like going to the movies when they’re sad; they share a human moment, and Don sees his son in a different light, Bobby’s becoming a more fully formed individual. He’s picked out something Don himself does, inferred it, and Don is taken aback.

image courtesy of AMC

“I don’t think I ever wanted to be the man who loves children.. but from the moment they’re born, that baby comes out and you act proud and excited and hand out cigars but you don’t feel anything. Especially if you had a difficult childhood. You want to love them, but you don’t. And the fact that you’re faking that feeling makes you wonder if your own father had the same problem.
Then one day they get older, and you see them do something, and you feel that feeling that you were pretending to have.. and it feels like your heart is going to explode.”

His monologue about his kids is Don at his best and his most honest, a very rare combination– and to me, the most lovable and relatable. In spite of him and Betty arguing over Adult Shit like logistics, Don shows how much he loves his kids and understands them in his own way, bit by bit. And the feelings he describes about the emptiness and lack of engagement upon their birth and how a sudden blaze of terrifying love can kick in later and punch him square in the solar plexus make sense. Evolving as a man in the 60s; heaps of societal expectations there too. It’s a lot to take in, and Megan is quiet while she processes this information dump.

Brass tacks, I think it’s obvious that Don does love his kids a great deal– he’s not a fuckin sociopath, after all. He is, however, completely terrible at sustaining nearly any kind of healthy relationship for a long period of time. And Don being Don, he’s both emotionally perceptive enough to catch when he becomes alienated from his children, and sensitive enough to feel badly about it.. and hopeless enough to do not much of anything about it.

And even though Roger’s friend Randall is a goddamned lunatic, he has a great bit of burnout wisdom.

“This is an opportunity. The heavens are telling us to change.”

Mad Men s6e4: To Have & To Hold

“Everybody’s scared there.. women crying in the ladies’ room, men crying in the elevator. It sounds like New Year’s Eve when they empty the garbage, there are so many bottles.. and I told you about that poor man hanging himself in his office.”

Tale as old as tiiiime; this is an episode about assumptions, about reality versus whatever the hell you invent in your head, with a splash of infidelity, as always. We get some good Joan time, some eerily persistent swingers, Don being a massive hypocritical flop person, Peggy’s ketchup v. catsup nonsense, the whole gamete.

image courtesy of Den of Geek

On the DL, Don yearns for someone to love Dick Whitman; but because of how he lives his life, he shoots himself in the foot before he can even get it near the door.  He will continue to establish relationships that undermine the very idea that anyone could ever love Dick; they don’t even get a chance, because he’s operating as if Dick Whitman died. To Don, that part of his life symbolises poverty, negative damaging shit, feeling worthless, low self esteem, not being respected or noticed. Don Draper is the inverse; urbane, strong, cultured, fuckin rich, overconfident. Obvi he’s still Dick in his private moments; but imagine the man we’d see if he had grown from those formative Dick Whitman attributes instead of killing it all off to start anew.

I feel like when Don realises that someone has fallen more for his invented persona — fanciful high society for Betty, ingenious adman boss for Megan — than for who he really is, he suffers the most and lashes out.. in spite of not actually being his whole goddamned self around either of them.

I SEE YOU. || image courtesy of ONTD

Even the way he perceives both Betty and Megan is deeply flawed, and it’s really coming to a head with Megan and her career momentum. She’s doing a ~love scene~ with some rando on her soap and Don ain’t pleased. Independent Megan is establishing her own career and ain’t the housecat that Don’s pigeonholed her to be. The love scene is one thing, but what really grinds his gears is that she’s doing this shit on her own. Megan’s got some agency; and when good things inevitably come her way, Don can’t deal with it. The more she advances with acting, the less she’s his little vixen in the palace on Park Avenue and more of an actual fucking human being. IMAGINE THAT. Fuckin fragile man feelings, good god.

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Speaking of which.. Peggy’s stepped out on Don, popping over to CGC and apparently also in the running for Heinz Ketchup, thanks to Stan’s trust in her regarding Project K.. not a great look, but it’s business I guess. Surprise! Don listens through the door to hear her pitch (rather than ‘letting his imagination run wild’). Since he can’t realistically do much about it in the profesh world and isn’t going to have a shitfit in front of Pete, Stan, and Ted, he instead takes it out on Megan.

Don’s always banging around to find something, to solve something, hoping to achieve some sort of peace or resolution within himself; even Sylvia tells him she prays got him to find some damn peace. This also makes me think of the s2 premiere, and when he mails that copy of Meditations in an Emergency to Anna.

Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.

Joan’s BFF Kate is in town, helping her recalibrate a touch. Both that visit and an argument with the persistently tonedeaf Harry Crane, she’s reminded not only of what she did to reach this position, but of all the flop assumptions everyone makes about her. Harry clearly knows about Joan’s night with stank-ass Herb, and has invented an entire world in his head where it’s the Single Reason Joan belongs in that partners meeting, when it’s fucking obvious exactly how important Joan has been to both Sterling Cooper and SCDP.

Self-important Harry even imagines that Joan has gone straight to the other partners to drop a dime on him, when of course she would never bother them with something so utterly trivial. Don’t get it twisted though, dude’s got legit beef– he started the television department from the ground up, and that’s a big achievement. However, he’s got nobody to blame but himself for not advocating for a partnership when the time was right. When Harry brings up what Joan did in the dark, everyone is pretty rattled; they’d rather focus on her boss professional skills than Herb.

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Post-Electric Circus club night out, Kate reminds Joan that what she’s achieved isn’t an everyday thing; it’s a really goddamned impressive position. It doesn’t matter how it happened, but it matters that she’s there now. With a refreshed perspective, she hands over some of her less glamorous duties to the super capable Dawn. Fuck yeah, Joan– delegate that shit.

“Believe it or not, ‘my daughter is a partner at a Madison Avenue advertising firm’ is something I enjoy saying!”

Mad Men s6e1&2: The Doorway

“How do you get to heaven? Something terrible has to happen.”

Hi there, and welcome back! Mad hiatus up in here, but now we’re back in the room. It’s late December 1967, about 8 months since s5 left off; in those passing months, there’s a whole pile of facial hair and substantially less Brylcreem at SCDP. There’s also a 2nd floor! Hey-o.

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Don looks a little out of place as we enter the late 60s– that shot of him walking into the creative lounge surrounded by hair is a jolt, and lends some context to PFC Dinkins assuming Don is an astronaut. Even the ideas for ads are shifting; a concept like ~wholesome marital love~ as it relates to Dow oven cleaner seems positively Paleolithic as we edge closer to 1968. And I guess Leland Palmer let em in on a part of Dow after all!

Though it may be Christmastime, nearly every scene is tinged with the macabre; and as always, death is trailing just a few steps behind Don. We’ve got The Real(tm) Don Draper, Anna, his drunk father Archie, the Korean War, and now Vietnam saturating everything within reach. The doorman in Don and Megan’s building nearly dies.. thankfully resuscitated by Arnie. Nevertheless, Don is obsessed with what he ‘saw’ while he was faux dead, drunk and hot off the heels of a funeral.

And there’s the plain as day suicidal ideation of the Sheraton pitch.

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I dig that The Doorway parallels the pilot a touch. You think Don is growing to be at ease and well adjusted in his married life, even making what seems like a legit-ass friend (!) in the Good Doctor Arnie in his building.. and then there’s the reveal at the end, where he’s banging the guy’s wife, Sylvia. Oy.

The hat trick of making it appear as if Don is content and then dropping the concluding truth bomb is skilfully done. We’ve got the inverse of the pilot here, which reveals his picturesque family at his suburban home at the end; turns out all of that sprawling perfection is humming in the background of his city life/bonking Midge. And here, we’ve got this affair that lurks in the backdrop of his day to day.

image courtesy of Skift

In spite of being in Hawaiian paradise with Megan, Don appears to be in his own personal hell. Megan’s being recognised and signing autographs, and aside from the opening voiceover (reading Dante’s Inferno, fittingly), we don’t hear Don utter a damn word until meeting the drunk and unassuming PFC Dinkins in the hotel bar. They have a frank conversation, where Don listens more than he reveals; Dinkins references Army weapons with a splash of excited violence, eventually convincing Don to walk his bride-to-be down the aisle.

The Hawaiian Sheraton ad is unique in that it makes luminous sense to Don, but would obvi signify suicide and death to anyone else who doesn’t happen to inhabit his head. Dick Whitman shed his skin to become Don Draper, but to the scant people who knew him, Dick Whitman died. The ad evokes all kinds of imagery, but ultimately, can you truly change without dying? Roger seems to think you can’t, but Peggy and Betty suggest you can, slowly but surely.

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The funeral for Roger’s mother is a goddamned mess. Some overeager/hysterical rando named Bob Benson sent over a shitton of delicatessen, and some Great Aunt rolls in and gives an absurd fuckin speech which moves Don to vom. Roger tries to connect with his daughter after telling everyone to get to steppin’, but he’s discouraged and hurt that there’s nothing deeper there than surface cash-grabby hands for her husband’s flop endeavour, water from the River Jordan left behind.

Roger’s mother was a woman who made a Real Big Fucking Deal out of him, and yet he felt profoundly disconnected from her; but when the news of his shoeshine’s passing hits, he weeps in his office. Seems like Roger and Don are drifting through their days in a world they no longer recognise, unable to shake the belief that it all amounts to a big pile of nothing– just more doors, as Roger wryly tells his therapist.

On New Year’s Eve, we’ve got Don once again watching scenes from his life on a Kodak Carousel, feeling like an observer, detached. Still startled when a photographer tells him to be himself, and he hasn’t got the faintest idea of what in the fuck that means.

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And it turns out no matter how many doorways you walk through, there’s still shit you can’t change about yourself; like knocking on the back door of Sylvia’s pad to get it in. Wherever you go, there you are.

“People will do anything to alleviate their anxiety.”