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.

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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 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 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.”