Oh no. We recognize this feeling. We call it HBO-fatigue. It usually sets in roughly mid-season. All of a sudden, the closer in our episode queue we get to one of their titan shows, the stronger our feeling of dread. Perhaps we should assign that same fatigue to AMC, because guess what just set in with Mad Men? We’re not sure if it’s setting in because Mad Men isn’t as good as usual – we’re not even sure if it’s actually not as good as usual. But something has switched in our brains, and we suddenly find ourselves not wanting to watch at all. But we will persevere. We refuse to be bested by AMC-fatigue. We have been rewarded in the past for pushing through (see the latest season of Boardwalk Empire). We hope we’ll be rewarded this time.
And, with this episode, we almost were. There were a few aspects of “Man With a Plan” that made us glad we slogged through it – the advancement of Bob’s character and the attendant mystery that goes along with him, and Peggy’s dressing-down of Don – but the more subliminal developments were the ones that really held our attention. For the most part, these centered on Don (Mad Men is becoming even more the Don show than it ever was before – a feat we thought was impossible). This episode was all about power. Who has it and who doesn’t.
As SCDP and CGC merge, Don’s status as the most powerful man in any room is challenged. In Ted, he finally has some competition. Someone who is just as charismatic, more suave, more gallant, and more respectable and respectful. Ted is a threat. You can almost see Don realizing that. The majority of the episode revolves around his attempts to find power in other ways and other places. A desperate man desperately grabbing at any chance to dominate, even when it makes him look like a spoiled child who didn’t get his way. In the office, this plays out through his utilization of alcohol to humiliate Ted. In his personal life, it surfaces in his attempted domination of Sylvia. Both attempts backfire. His humiliation of Ted loses him Peggy, and his controlling attitude toward Sylvia, while initially erotic (for her, at least – it just creeped us out), eventually caused her to end their affair.
By episode’s end, we see Don utterly alone, even with Megan. As he tunes her voice out, we get the strong sense that he could only feel alive when he was the most powerful person in every room. Now that the only person left is Megan – a powerful person in her own right – he’s losing his will to go on. This was further reflected in the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. As Megan sobs over the senator’s murder, Don stares vacantly into space. As society crumbles around him, he is becoming ever more dissociated from it. He cares less and less. He is exhausted by it.
And yet this could arguably be seen as Don’s rock bottom. He has lived with borderline alcoholism for years, he has pushed away his children, he has destroyed every relationship he’s ever had. He is friendless, powerless and loveless. This could very well mark the turning point for Don Draper. This may be the point from which he tries to claw his life back and become an adult, finally responsible for his actions. That may be wishful thinking, but we would love to see that version of Don.
This episode was also all about the subtext. And the meta. One significant scene saw Ted berating Don for being late for everything, and for not talking his job seriously. Other than being a contributing factor to Don’s power plays, this scene spoke a lot about the intentions of the writers in penning this merger. Ted symbolizes a straightening-out for SCDP. The agency had become complacent, and stuck in its ways. It let too much get swept under the rug. It was too accepting of alcoholism and lethargy and questionable ethics. Ted and CGC are about to shake it all up, just as the merger is shaking up Mad Men. It is going to get the audience out of its lethargy, and give us some new, different version of the show. That’s something we would be indescribably happy about. If ever a show needed to be shaken up, it’s Mad Men.
One character who we’re expecting to be instrumental in that shake-up is Bob. He played a larger part in this episode than we’ve seen from him so far. If we weren’t so profoundly suspicious of him, we would have called his actions sweet. Joan is incredibly ill at work. Bob helps her to get out of the office without embarrassment, takes her to the hospital where he stays with her and helps her skip the queue of waiting patients, then calls to check on her after she’s discharged. Yet none of this made us warm to him. Instead, it made us even more suspicious. He’s been hanging around at the peripheries of the central group of characters for weeks. We’ve presumed he’s been looking for an in. He has one now. Our latest prediction is that he’s attempting to uncover evidence of malpractice at SCDP. Perhaps even in relation to the Jaguar account. Yet Joan is sucked in by his charms. It’s been so long since any man has treated her like that that she somehow looks past the warning signs. “Honestly, Joan. Every good deed is not part of a plan,” her mother tells her. This one is, Mama Holloway. This one is.
Even without the possibility of a whole new approach to Mad Men, the ongoing mystery of Bob would be enough to keep us tuning in. Together, they ensure our continued viewership. Good job, Mad Men. – K
“Well he can’t drink like you. And you must know that, because nobody can.”
“Peggy, he’s a grown man.”
“So are you. Move forward.” – Peggy