Mad Men: “Man with a Plan”


As many have observed, “Man with a Plan” seems to be Mad Men‘s version of Fifty Shades of Grey. The episode had a lot to do with power, to say the least. Not just sexual power, but also professional, which is not to say the two aren’t related.

First, with the recent merger between SCDP and CGC, we have Don and Ted immediately jockeying for creative supremacy. Of course, we all know Don doesn’t play well with others. Moreover, Don’s method – playing hooky with his various mistresses and drinking on the job – doesn’t jive with Ted’s more, um, traditional work ethic. You know, showing up, doing stuff, etc.

Still you can’t argue with results. While Ted’s punctuality and diligence may be admirable, he seems to force ideas. Don, conversely, is  more loose; he lets the ideas come to him. And, based on what we’ve seen, Don seems to have the upper hand when it comes to prestige. At the moment, anyway.

We see them butt heads almost immediately when Don is forty minutes late for the first meeting. Well, “late” to Don doesn’t exactly mean “late” to others. Don likes to think he’s Gandalf; never late and arrives precisely when he means to. In other words, people wait on Don Draper. Deal with it.

However, Ted is no Frodo, and gets the meeting started without Don. When Don finally arrives, he sees Ted has already got the upper hand. So, he heads to Ted’s office with a bottle of whiskey, claiming it to be an olive branch when really it’s a subterfuge. Don quickly gets Ted drunk, because no one can keep up with Don Draper, as Peggy points out. Ted stumbles back to the meeting and crashes on his desk.

Advantage: Don.

Not so fast. Ted takes his friend’s advice and gives Don the early rounds, waiting for an opportunity to strike once Don has exhausted his shock-and-awe charm. Accordingly, when the new dynamic duo set out for Detroit to woo Chevrolet, Ted takes his plane. Adorned in a bomber jacket and aviators, Ted flies a nauseous Don into the air. Don now has misgivings about the meeting, remarking that, no matter what he says, Chevy’s CEO will be swooning over the guy who flew his own plane to the meeting.

Now, for the sexy times.

“Man with a Plan” had the possible conclusion of Don’s affair with Sylvia. (I say “possible” because ol’ Dick Whitman can never stay away.) Early in the episode, Don hears Sylvia fighting with her husband, Dr. Rosen. Don smells an opportunity, and when she calls him professing her desire, he sets her up in a hotel. However, to Don, it’s more than a room; it’s a space of total control and sublimation. Here, Don attempts to solipsize Sylvia. Becoming Mad Men‘s version of Christian Grey, Don dominates Sylvia. She exists only for his satisfaction.

However, it doesn’t last long. We see throughout the episode that Sylvia isn’t sure what to make of Dungeon Master Don. She’s titillated, but bemused. Eventually, she snaps her submissiveness over her knee like a twig and tells Don it’s over. It’s fascinating to watch Don try to understand a woman telling him no. “It’s over when I say it’s over,” he says unconvincingly, and Sylvia doesn’t budge.

Mad.Men_.S06E07(This episode could alternatively be called “Deal with It, Don.”)

Finally, we come to Bob Bensen, the creeper who’s been hanging around the office since the beginning of the season. Like, who the fuck is this guy and why is he everywhere? Is he some corporate spy? An undercover reporter exposing the slimy underbelly of the advertising world? Anyway, he helps Joan with some lady troubles and sucks up enough to get in her good graces. Thanks to this new traction, Joan saves him from the ax during a round of cut-offs. Bensen is thus gaining power through subservience, unlike Don who is the more traditional alpha-male.

Ultimately, with all this different depictions of power distribution, “Man with a Plan” explores the different ways power can be had, sexual and professional, in the sociopolitical milieu of 1960’s America. This was, of course, something always present in Mad Men throughout its run, but I feel like it was never quite so nakedly observed as in this episode.

For example, returning to my earlier points, I really like how we’re seeing a kind of Achilles and the tortoise with Don and Ted. Although Ted’s characterization has been sort of clunky, it seems as though Mad Men is settling on portraying Ted as a kind of new age man; one who respects women – look how he offers his chair at the board meeting! *gasp* So progressive – and runs his office more democratically, using brainstorming sessions with the underlings, instead of browbeating like Don.

Perhaps the meek shall inherit the earth?





~ by braddunne on May 14, 2013.

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