“You exist for my pleasure.”
It’s all about control (and dominance). Who has it and if they have it. As things change, so do power relations and controlled variables that seem to have little relevance to a new time and era. Developments cause some to foresee their own destruction, the foreboding failure of their world–their legacy. The struggle to keep control of a changing world has our characters scrambling as they enter a merger full of mind games, power plays, and odd new interactions. Mad Men appropriately flips the script and presents us with the first level of personal and professional hell. An exciting merger reunites (for some, against their will) old faces and turns a former ad war into a complex and involving new game-changer that forces butting heads to act as partners. And for some that is a threat. For others it’s a game. And for the rest, it’s a mad sport. They might not quite realize it now, but this merger, while potentially profitable, is the first step in their demise. Or that is at least what “Man With a Plan” seems to foreshadow.
Right from the opening, we’ve got ourselves the much anticipated and lovely merger of SDCP and CGC. The meetings of secretaries and the combined creative team and fresh faces with valuable clients and fresh ideas. It’s a fantastic set up that is lovely on the outside, and continuously growing worry from the inside. The entire tone doesn’t really imply a “happy” merger by definition and it’s clear that this is a slightly uneasy transition that is being awkwardly mediated by cordial and content faces…for now. Although this is essentially a binding of agencies–a professional marriage of the best of the best, there are still sides. The SDCP side and the CGC side. Take your pick. You’d think the entire African-American population is infiltrating an all-white establishment. It’s underlining uneasiness that to me seems to foreshadow an unannounced meticulous sabotaging within itself. And I can’t wait to see how it comes about. This is the big leagues and it’s turned into a bit of a mess. I mean, they don’t even have an agency name yet…
As SDCP and CGC join in shaky professional matrimony, Don basically stands by as a marriage falls apart for its own reasons. Sylvia and her husband are done, and it ends with a troubling crescendo that could have possibly ended Don’s own world. Don should take this as a cautionary tale, but he doesn’t. In fact, it seems to be incentive enough to act even more entitled and frankly self-destructive. Sylvia basically becomes a sex slave whose only existing purpose is to please Don. At first Sylvia plays along, considerably enticed and sexually enthralled with this dominating turn in her lover’s behavior. Funny thing is, Don is doing the exact same thing at the workplace. The competition for dominance and control in the office rages between Don and Ted as their creative minds clash over the right route to go down with their newest client. Ted may not be the polar opposite of Don, but he’s far removed from Don’s normal, unchanged ways of working. Ted attempts to establish himself in Don’s world, and we’ve seen what Don does in a situation like that. Don doesn’t like to be shown up in his own territory, his rashness and self-indulgence is becoming something of a legend, one that isn’t as fun to watch anymore, but rather loathing. That’s the right word to describe Don Draper at this point: Loathe.
The odd ways in which Don essentially bullies Ted and arbitrarily treats Sylvia like a slab of meat that he supposedly has every right to toy with as he sees fit is highlighting every single negative aspect of our main character. Watching Don’s interactions with Sylvia this entire episode is rather disturbing and telling. There doesn’t seem to be much reason for Don to be doing what he’s doing but, he’s doing it. One would think he’d be content with his life, but it’s nothing but a listless routine for him: Purgatory. The same crap over and over. Would Don rather be stuck in hell? As this dance between Don and Ted continues, Peggy is left in the middle attempting to mediate, but it seems that she’s team Ted now. She is protective of him and his ideas more than her own mentor. But who could blame her? Peggy has watched Don do this same pathetic tango for a long time and now she’s back in the saddle watching it all over again. It’s not charming or involving, but more so a constant reminder that she is being thrown back into her own purgatory. Peggy seems to be masking a certain frustration. Sure she might be happy to see some old faces, like Stan and Joan, but she’s not impressed with Don’s same old charade. After all this time, it’s just a childish foolishness. And that is the same conclusion Sylvia comes to when she finally severs her and Don’s “relationship”. Basically, everyone’s tired of Don’s BS. And frankly, so am I. It’s time for some consequences and some change. Don can’t hold out against the change for too long. It’ll happen sooner or later.
Peggy says it herself: “Move forward.” And I for one hope to God that Don does just that. But we all know he isn’t likely to at all. Even with Sylvia ending their lovely little affair. Don is finally coming out of purgatory and entering hell and he’s unknowingly (maybe) taking everyone down with him. And what’s so troubling about it is that even in the face of that hell, Don’s attitude ranges from lackadaisical to mildly affected. It’s like he’s okay with the fact that he has thrown himself into the fiery pits of his own personal hell and devastation. Honestly, I’ve been waiting to see Don Draper deal with the consequences of his actions, which at times are incomprehensible. Especially this season. Why is he seeking to destroy himself? Sabotaging a good thing, both personally and career-wise? And that theme expands to the entire time and setting of the series itself. The year is 1968. To many it is still at times referred to as the year of crisis. Assassinations of great men, young boys in Vietnam continuing to die for a cause that seemed less than pertinent, a constant air of fluttering panic due to unstable race relations. It’s quite a hot mess, therefore it’s only key to this season’s story that our character find themselves going through their own personal hell as things change, possibly for the worst.
For Pete, he’s losing essentially everything. He’s lost his role in Trudy’s life and now his role at SDCP is starting to slip out of his tiny little hands. It would be a little humorous if it weren’t so tragic. At this point; family and career are being slowly erased from Pete’s present and being replaced with misery and the constant reminder of his own failures. His mother, a sufferer of dementia, causes him a great deal of personal and professional hell in this installment. Pete’s mother’s mind is shattered and his family doesn’t really seem to be too concerned with his first world problems which seem petty compared to other crises going on in the world. Pete’s brother basically laughs off his problems while dumping their slowly fading mother on him. It doesn’t make keeping significance and control in his job any easier. If Pete doesn’t perish from some sort of heart attack or a stroke in this season, it will be a dull miracle.
The misery isn’t at a shortage whatsoever, as our own Joan suffers from a more physical representation of the hell going on at SDCP. At this time, Joan is a partner. But one wouldn’t really know it. She’s been the last to know almost everything, and while she’s in the room, its as if her significance was only proven when she did the deed with Herb, the Jaguar guy in order to gain a smidgen of power in the agency. Joan doesn’t really feel like she has many friends at SDCP anymore, which is probably why she’s so glad Peggy has made a prominent return, even if some of the rest bash her because of her own power. In fact, Joan may look up to Peggy for making her own way in the ad agency world–finding her own significance in a totally different way. Joan’s health problem is basically a catalyst for what could be an interesting budding relationship (or friendship) in the office. Good old Bob Benson comes to Joan’s rescue when she’s at a desperate moment. I gotta say, Bob Benson is rather charming and if Joan had to find a friend (or more) in someone, it would be ideal that Bob Benson becomes that “friend”. However, I’m still cautious about his presence in this season overall. Bob basically popped out of nowhere and seems adamant in hanging out with the SDCP people. I’m hoping he’s a good guy, but with so much misery going on it is likely that the worst is yet to come.
Mad Men is on the range of a debacle. The episode climaxes with the assassination of Robert Kennedy. The hellish cycle continues. And everyone is fed up with it. The weird thing is that it seems to be in everyone’s power to make a change and yet it the same thing keeps occurring. Self-sabotage, the destruction of potential greatness. Everyone wants control and dominance, but at the price of what? This SDCP-CGC merger is certainly turning out to be quite a game-changing direction with a lot of story potential. It’s off to an intriguing start that cautions all of its characters of the steps into hell their taking. A brilliant foreshadowing that might or might not be. This diminishing purgatorial cycle is becoming a not-so-charming, not-so-lovely hell. Increasing isolation will be everyone‘s demise, if they keep up the way they‘re going. But is that man’s plan? “Man With a Plan” gets 4 out of 5 stars!
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© Patrick Broadnax 2013