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.

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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 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.

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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.

image courtesy of Giphy

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 s6e3: Collaborators

“I know there’s a part of you that’s glad to see me!”

“And I know there’s a part of you that you haven’t seen in years.”

Man, there’s so much infidelity everywhere! Pete’s doing his best impression of a sloppier Don, cool ketchup vs uptight beans, Peggy at CGC vs Stan at SCDP, and obvi, Don and Sylvia.

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Don is on autopilot at the office as well as at home with Megan. The guy is way more engaged selling The Don Draper Experience to Sylvia at dinner— except for when he’s expertly tanking Herb’s dickbag flop ideas for Jaguar. And thankfully, Joan hits Herb with a barbed greeting to show exactly where she stands.

The whole Sylvia thing feels different than Don’s other myriad affairs. He seems exhausted by it all at this point, slumped in the hallway outside of his apartment. The endless push and pull, the relentless longing.  And let’s be real.. there’s nothing Megan can realistically do to stop him from needing other women. He’ll seek out something more, something intangible.

It’s clear that the more a lady comes to actually know Don, the more she accepts and loves him for who he is and not in spite of it, the less Don wants to be with her. He prefers ladies– and people in general– who don’t know him. Megan knows about most of his covert junk, so he can’t realistically pretend to be anything other than himself with her; and there’s nothing that guy loathes more than being himself.

images courtesy of Giphy

In lighter news, Pete bangs Stage Five Clinger (and suburban neighbour) Brenda and shit blows right the hell up in his face. Fleeing her husband and screaming to be let into the Campbell’s house, poor Brenda is bloodied and Pete is understandably on edge as Trudy drives her to a hotel. Now, Trudy ain’t no Betty; proclaiming that she knew what she was getting into with marrying Pete, she’s understandably pissed off that he’s shitting where he eats and banging around the neighbourhood. Tacky, Pete. Trudy confidently gives him the boot, so it’s time for him to live some sad sack bachelor life in the city.

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Turns out Megan had a miscarriage after Hawaii, and confides in Sylvia who immediately averts her eyes. Good old Catholic guilt. Megan feels like a horrible person for being grateful in a way, since being pregnant and having the subsequent baby would derail her career; she’s also not sure she wants a family, and in 1968, that isn’t something that women really talk about save for hushed tones. Gotta love those age-old societal expectations.

When Megan comes clean to Don, he can’t face the unmitigated intimacy of the raw hurt and emotional turmoil that Megan is going through, especially since he just wandered in fresh off a bang in the Rosen’s maid’s room. It’s too close to the chest, and could potentially draw him out of his carefully compartmentalised world. Although he has genuine concern for her wellbeing, there is something incredibly stilted, almost perfunctory about his reaction.

As an aside, a lady going through a miscarriage ain’t just some walk in the park either; Don must be astonishingly checked out not to notice that something was really going on with Megan. Oof.

image courtesy of Tom & Lorenzo

This contrasts directly with Don’s look of tacit empathy, warmth, and concern when Joan states ‘he’s here’ upon Herb’s arrival, as she helps herself to a drink. That exchange felt so intimate, so genuine in comparison.

When he tells Sylvia he simply doesn’t think about their bonking to explain how he can have a nice dinner with their respective clueless spouses, it echoes that advice he gave Peggy post-baby. But in this episode’s context, it’s a touch shadier. For Pegs, it’s an empowering speech; time to get on with your life and don’t let a single event define you. Here, it’s just sort of gauche.

And honestly, I don’t think he’s necessarily sick of banging around and lying– this shit is Don’s modus operandi extraordinaire, even down to his fucking identity. He does all of this as he lives and breathes, but everyone has a tipping point. Maybe he’s beginning to splinter at the edges, unravelling just a touch.

The end of this episode reminds me of season 1 and Sally’s birthday cake. The man really doesn’t feel at home anywhere.

“Now I understand– you want to feel shitty right up until the point where I take your dress off.. because I’m going to do that. You want to skip dinner? Fine. But don’t pretend.”

Mad Men s5e13: The Phantom

“Stop being demure, you’re already on the bed!”

And here we are, another iconic season finale. Do people ever really change? Is that all there is? And so on. Will Roger drop acid with Marie? Will Peggy get her dolt copywriters to churn out good work at CGC? Will Pete get his existential dread in check? Can Don keep it in his pants? These are the days of our lives.

are you alone?? || image courtesy of RogerEbert.com

Turns out Beth is married to a total dick! Shocking, I know. Howard’s taking her to the city for shock therapy, and Pete happens to be on their Manhattan-bound train. They have an illicit bangarang in a hotel room, and Pete manages to sneak in a visit to non-remembering Beth to drop some truth bombs.

“He got involved with another man’s wife.”

“Why did he do it?”

“Well, all the regular reasons, l guess.. He needed to let off some steam, he needed adventure, he needed to feel handsome again. He needed to feel that he knew something.. that all this ageing was worth something because he knew things young people didn’t know yet. He probably thought it would be like having a few tall drinks and feeling very, very good. And then he’d go back to his life and say, ‘that was nice.’ When it went away, he was heartbroken. And then he realised everything he already had was not right either and that was why it had happened at all. And that his life with his family was some temporary bandage on a permanent wound..”

Let’s be real, none of Pete’s confession is breaking news. #thingsmensay and all that. What counts is that he’s facing the truth about his own shit both openly and voluntarily; nobody backed him into a corner. It seems as if he’s gone through his fancy bag o’Pete Campbell tricks; bitching, fantasising, banging around, pout-y resentful, etc etc.. and now there’s fuckall left to do but admit that he has some heavy shit to confront. It’s Pete Campbell conceding that he’s super damaged and confused, and it’s the most self-aware thing he’s ever done on the show to this point.

Megan is floundering with her auditions, and seeks out Don’s help to land a part in a Butler shoes commercial– he’s inherently reticent to throw her name in the ring, though he wasn’t bothered by the glaring nepotism of making her a copywriter at SCDP. And even though it sucks to tell her no, he has a point. You DO want to be someone’s discovery, not somebody’s wife. On top of that, her acting career also ain’t on his terms which he can’t quite grasp; that’s what happens when you help someone. They succeed and move on.

at last the 2nd floor is real! || image courtesy of MadMenWiki

Completely rattled by his laughing gas ghost Adam dentist visit, Don fucks off to the movies where he runs into Peggy. Along with his earlier visit to Rebecca Pryce to deliver a postmortem check, Don is reminded of how effortlessly the people in his life can leave him in the dust at a moments’ notice.

Both Rebecca and ghost Adam treat him with understandable hostility (“it’s probably difficult for you to believe, but it was even more than $50,000 that already belonged to him, so don’t leave here thinking that you’ve done anything for anyone but yourself” and “it’s not your tooth that’s rotten”.. fucking hell), but Peggy shows him genuine kindness and interest. Not everyone bounces after all, Don.

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While Don mulls over submitting Megan for the ad, I’m taken back to The Wheel. Looks familiar– here’s Don Draper in a darkened conference room as a projector flickers images of the wife who’s slowly but surely slipping away. But even though he never quite knew how to captivate Betty, in this instance he’s able to give Megan exactly what she wants; even if it leaves him feeling a touch used and distant from her.

Maybe Don does that favour for Megan out of wanting to show kindness to someone close to him, unlike the way he pushed both Adam and Lane away with both hands. He’s not great at being close to people out of straight up fear, but baby steps in the right direction can’t hurt, even if it’s not necessarily the right fix longterm. Popping Megan in for Butler has healed the problems in their marriage for the moment, that old temporary bandage on a  permanent wound, but now Don will probs be on edge thinking that Megan will bounce like Peggy. The transactional nature of his band-aid scrubs some of the joy from their marriage, in the same way that Joan can no longer take a particular type of pleasure from fending off flirty advances at the office.

Don begins this season doting on Megan and unable to entertain the idea of stepping out; shit between them ain’t perfect, but his visceral reaction to that fever dream says it all. And now, he ends this season walking off shrouded in shadows as Megan gains the spotlight in dazzling technicolour. Gimme an Old Fashioned.

image courtesy of Tom and Lorenzo

Even though Megan knows Don’s Dick secret, she doesn’t really know what he actually needs on any kind of deep level; it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t love him, more that she simply doesn’t get the guy. He doesn’t know what he wants, but he is wanting. Lane’s suicide would of course have a profound impact upon Don for a few reasons, something she should have picked up on. And Don ain’t blameless here either– he obvi has trouble understanding women and what they want and need in a relationship. Sure, they have clear chemistry, but is it sustainable in the day to day?

~Are you alone??~

Asking a truly isolated guy if he’s alone, what a hoot.

Let’s see if Don fucks it all straight to hell. And as always, thanks very much for reading! I’ll resume with Season 6 reviews soon!

“You hate him because he voted for Goldwater.” || image courtesy of Tumblr