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 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.

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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.

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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 s5e11: The Other Woman

“At last: something beautiful.. you can truly own.”

And we’re back in the room! Hello hello, and welcome back one and all. This is a bonkers balls to the wall episode. Let’s yap about our female characters– the three ladies Don can’t control, and he doesn’t like it one bit. Pegs bounces from SCDP to work for the very handsome Ted, Joan takes matters into her own hands with Herb (vile pun intended), and Megan’s auditioning with the possibility of bouncing to Boston for a show. As they’re trying to bag Jaguar, Don’s back in his old car salesman gig for a beat.

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I dig the way this episode centres around how Don’s predicament creating a pitch for Jaguar mirrors his feelings about ownership and power playing a role with the important ladies in his life. It’s intertwined with his tangible relief when Ginsberg finally comes up with The Pitch, an exhale and a smile. Of course! But that look of satisfaction on his face maybe shows how, secretly (or not), Don might miss being able to Truly Own his ladies on some level. Ginzo’s pitch speaks to Don in the inmost way.

Speaking of non-secrets, apparently Megan is only allowed to succeed on Don’s terms; he has a Fragile Man Feelings meltdown when she tells him she may be spending a bunch of time in Boston for a potential part. But hey, Megan shows from the very start that she refuses to be owned by Don; she pops round to SCDP in her audition dress for a bang during latenight Jaguar work. Megan is the one who initiates said office fuck sesh, and chose to leave advertising for what she really wanted to do with her life.

When Don is confronted with the idea that she might actually be successful, he’s backed into a corner, shouting “Just keep doing whatever the hell you want!” as she leaves the damn room. Good lord.

At the office, Don’s been acting like a dick to Peggy and taking her for granted; she’s had enough once he literally throws cash in her face. What a fucking insult.

Let’s be real, she works her ass off; where’s her goddamned lobsters from The Palm? When she shares good news about a successful pitch on the fly, Don literally throws money in her face as a way to take her down a peg for joking about an on location trip to Paris. Time to take a meeting with Teddy Chaough and split for CGC, to a place where she will hopefully garner more respect.

As Peggy gives her notice to Don, he legit cannot believe she’s splitting. It’s a strange mix of pure ego, regret, and true disbelief. His face goes from an “ahh, you must be fucking with me!” grin to “punted in the solar plexus” heartbreak. Shocked he can’t own Pegs nor keep her around, he figuratively throws more cash in her face, offering whatever salary she wants. But hell no; she refuses to be treated like that, no matter the price, and extends her hand for a farewell shake. Don kisses it and she cries silently; dude is seething once she leaves.

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And now, moving swiftly along to Joan and Herb, the planetary Jaguar creep from NJ. I mean, this is a man in a bathrobe whose idea of foreplay is fervently exhaling “lemme see ’em”. Oy fucking vey.. file under ‘Things Men Say(TM)’.

He insinuates to Kenny and Pete that they will for sure win Jaguar’s business in exchange for a night with Joan; and Herb knows the power he wields. This is no small thing– a car on Madison Avenue means you’ve arrived.

Shocking absolutely nobody, Pete is the one to approach her openly with a business proposition, because of course he is. Is it right to put Joan in that position? Absolutely fucking not, but the other partners seem to be nonplussed, although a little scandalized. Don is the only one who voices an ‘absolutely not’ opinion. And ultimately, Joan does agree; she made up her own mind.

“We’re talking about a night in your life. We’ve all had nights in our lives where we’ve made mistakes for free!”

“You’re talking about prostitution.”

“l’m talking about business at a very high level. Do you consider Cleopatra a prostitute?”

“Where do you get this stuff??”

“She was a queen. What would it take to make you a queen?”

“l don’t think you could afford it.”

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Lane’s role in this whole thing is a mess. I love the guy, but good lord. He brazenly manipulates Joan to hide his embezzlement and the Christmas bonus shitstorm. Her potential 5% stake in the company would keep the Christmas bonuses afloat in lieu of the lump $50k in Pete’s offer; after all, Lane already extended their credit line without telling the other partners. Honestly– Lane’s not wrong, a partnership is a far better deal for Joan in the long run, but SHIT is it coercive. Dude is obvi desperate to cover his ass.

As smarmy as Pete is, at least he didn’t beat around the bush; he approached her as an equal, laid it out, and got on with it. Was it ideal? Nah. It’s deffo twisted, but Pete didn’t ply her the same way Lane did. He was direct in his own Pete Campbell way– he didn’t approach her out of ego or his ideas of How Women Should Act(TM) either. And when Joan comes back to him with Lane’s partnership notion as her choice, Pete balks but relents once he realises that she ain’t wrong.

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Looking at you, Don. When he’s at Joan’s apartment attempting to save her from her assuredly sweaty fate, he says a number of things that sound supportive at face value– even though the deed was already done, unbeknownst to him. His words, though kind, fall under a bit of his How Women Should Act(TM) thing, and it’s deceptively insidious. Sure, Don is “one of the good ones”; but you can still see the shock creep across his face when he pieces together what transpired, in spite of him telling her not to do it. (TALE AS OLD AS TIIIIIIME)

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Joan and her (albeit reticent) bang with Herb is the crowning jewel of a woman he cannot control, nor own. Oof.

“The conversation doesn’t end just because you leave the room.”

Mad Men s4e5: The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

“Christ on a cracker, where do you get off??”

This is one of those episodes that seems light on the outside, but there’s so much to dig into. Oof. Realistically, just how long can you hold onto a grudge? How long can you continue to define yourself by something that happened literal ages ago? How long can you use those prehistoric events to justify trash actions today? What does that garbage do to a person? Taking a closer look at Roger and Betty in this episode, this sort of shit is all on display.

Let’s take a moment for Miss Blankenship, because I love her in general, but also because she’s an excellent foil to Don. The guy treats people so fucking poorly sometimes; showing him tolerating generally harmless gaffes by this hapless bat he’s been saddled with humanises him a touch. He can’t just fuck off to California every week. Miss Blankenship’s weird hidden talent of transforming the guy from Don to Dick for a hot second is pretty great.

Roger Sterling has always been shown as a guy who doesn’t take life (or himself) too seriously, the life of the party and the guy who knows everyone and loves to schmooze and joke around. Apparently, the notable exception to this rule is World War II. When Pete brings up that he’s landed a meeting with Honda, a Japanese company, it’s meltdown city. Roger wholly rejects the idea of doing business with them, and almost fucks their chances entirely by acting like an asshole in the meeting to boot. Awkward.

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But hey, it’s nice to see Bert Cooper take an active role in something besides preserving the carpets. His extremely intimate knowledge of Japanese culture and customs contrasted well with his confusion over the march on Selma.. “They got what they wanted. Why aren’t they happy?”

There are tons o’reasons a guy like Cooper would grow fascinated with Japanese culture while generally shrugging off vast portions of his own culture. Remember that Cooper is an Objectivist; a large part of it may be due to that adoration of authority and order at the centre of so many of those guys and gals.

Through that, a theme of the episode emerges as well; utter goddamned frustration when someone is unable to force one’s will onto the people around them. Roger hits the fucking ceiling when Don and Pete decide to follow the Honda exec’s orders and not his own. Betty is absolutely livid when Sally asserts her independence and cries out for attention by cutting her own hair. Don is pissed when dear sweet Teddy Chaough grabs control of the narrative Don is building with SCDP.

That confrontation with Roger and Pete is intense, with Don in the middle. It was fun to see Pete echo Don’s sentiment from the s3 finale in this episode: “The rest of us are trying to build something.” Don knows Pete’s in the right. Lashing out and “wrapping himself in the flag” of Lucky Strike providing most of the company’s cashflow, Roger wants to cut Pete down for bringing in new business and shifting the importance off of him ever so slightly.

He’s gonna have to get over that bullshit real quick if he wants to keep the lights on.

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image courtesy of NYTimes

As Betty finds a shrink for Sally, she connects with Dr. Edna– an older woman who obviously sees through Betty’s façade. Betty smiling at the dollhouse says so much; here’s this perfect little life in this perfect little house, a husband and wife with 3 kids, a life that she still yearns for on some level though she knows it ain’t real.

Sally craves her father’s attention desperately, and has no clue how to get it; and she probably needs attention in general, to be acknowledged. What Sally feels matters, and Betty is perhaps starting to get that; the effect of the divorce on her matters. Sadly, Betty was more of a prize to her mother who paraded her for show; she’s still got a lot of anger and resentment there. Slowly but surely, Betty is trying to evolve.

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At home, Henry is helping her with her transformation, but the vibe is sort of bizarre. Sometimes his interactions with her sound more father/daughter than husband/wife. When he helped settle the fight between Betty and Sally it sounded as if he could have been talking with two siblings about getting along. It’s almost as if Henry has stepped in as a faux father to the whole bunch, Betty included.

While many dislike Betty as a character, she is such a significant illustration of the consequences of the position women were put in at the time. I’ve written about it before, but with no real options open to Betty other than becoming a mother and housewife, she (obvi not happy with either) turns bitter and spiteful as she struggles under those limitations. Remember how free and herself she felt in Rome? Sadly, not reality.

To this point, Betty has not been able to garner a foothold in any world outside the home that has been slowly suffocating her. It’s way too easy to blame her for not going out and forging her own shit, but we’re in a super different world today; the constraints on her along with so many women of that time are vast. The expectations for ladies like Betty are super fucking problematic and sky-high, and the people around her get hurt as a result when she lashes out against said expectations.

Similarly clueless on how to help Sally, Don reveals a tiny bit about his situation to Dr. Faye Miller.

“Well, I can’t say there’s any evidence to support this, but I’m pretty sure that if you love her and she knows it, she’ll be fine.”

And that kitchen discussion between Don and Faye is damned impressive to watch. Take a look at the timing of when Don chooses to open up to her.. he offers absolutely fuckall about his personal life until he’s poked into hers, and discovered that she’s living her own faux life with the fauxgagement ring to discourage dudes from hitting on her.

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image courtesy of MadMenWikia

And Don is in enough of a personal crisis that even he needs to talk to someone about it, even if he doesn’t directly come out and say what’s happening to a T. He wants to be a good father to his kids, but has no earthly idea where to start. Shit’s complicated. But ironically, this is the most on point we’ve seen Don this season to date, craftily out-maneuvering indecently handsome Ted Chaough of CGC for the Honda account. Capery and all!

“Please tell me I missed everything.”

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