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"Mad Men's" Draper May Be More Out of Control Than the 1960s Were

By Sarah Carlson | TV Reviews | May 14, 2013 | Comments ()


DonSylvia2.jpg

That Don Draper’s troubled childhood has influenced his relationships with women has been well-established by now, almost a complete six seasons into “Mad Men.” But whether fans will cut him any slack for his behavior, knowing how damaged he is, really depends on the viewer. Much of his issues revolve around control, and his recent behavior with neighbor Sylvia calls to mind the Don of the first several seasons — the one who did this:

Remember Bobbie? (And apologies; the uploaded clips of this scene all come with what appears to be admiration for Don’s actions.) It can be hard to keep all the women of Don’s life straight without a flowchart handy, and his time post-divorce and now with Megan almost had us believing he had changed. But here we are again, back with Don not only philandering about but treating women as a means to an end. The difference between then and now, however, is that Don’s control is slipping. He can still land the Bobbies and Sylvias of New York, but can he keep them? The series’ opening credits of a man falling feels even more pertinent this season as Don’s world fully becomes a place he can no longer manhandle into submission. In “Man with a Plan,” the seventh of a shortened nine-episode season and directed by John Slattery, Don pushes his luck just a bit too far.

Battles for control raged in all forms as SCDP and CGC physically merged — Ted’s secretary, Moira, wasn’t thrilled taking orders from Joan; Meredith (Stephanie Drake) didn’t like Pete and Roger not following the specific order of business for the partners meeting; and Pete wasn’t happy arriving for said meeting to find himself without a chair. The power structure has shifted dramatically now that there are more chefs in the kitchen, and Ted especially isn’t amused with SCDP employees’ tendency to disappear from work for hours at a time. Pete at least had a family emergency; his mother, Dot (Channing Chase), is increasingly confused and venturing toward being unable to care for herself. His brother, Bud (Rich Hutchman), is ready to pass her care along to Pete, with whom he is annoyed concerning his company not being approached to handle SCDP’s potential public offering. Pete tries to juggle these demands with his desire to represent the agency in talks with Mohawk, but Ted and Don aren’t interested in waiting around.

DonTedPlane3.pngTed certainly isn’t going to postpone a creative meeting until Don decides to show up, and he leads an uninspiring brainstorming session on margarine with the newly merged team. Don’s arrival — 40 minutes late — brings the meeting to a close, and Ted chastises him for the blatant disregard for his responsibilities. Don’s response is to offer an “olive branch”: drinks, and a talk about margarine just between the two of them. With Ted quickly succumbing to the alcohol — “I have to eat something,” Ted says; “Doesn’t ice count?,” Don replies — Don wins the round. Peggy isn’t impressed. She had hoped the merger would allow Ted to rub off on Don, not the other way around. “Move forward,” she tells him. Your games will no longer work. The increasingly likable Ted proved himself later as he flew with Don to a Mohawk meeting. The look of terror on Don’s face as Ted steered them through a thunderstorm into sunny skies was priceless, but not as great as Ted’s satisfaction topped off with slick Aviators. Don admitted his inadequacy as they prepped for the meeting: “No matter what I say, you’re the guy that flew us up here in his own plane.” Pete was left behind entirely, and his mother, whom he earlier purposely tried to confuse, took the blame. “My mother can go to hell,” he tells his secretary. “Ted Chaough can fly her there.”

The eager Bob Benson’s motivations are difficult to pin down. Cutbacks are necessary thanks to the merger, so everyone is looking to keep his or her job (sorry, Burt Peterson). That being a hero to one of the partners wouldn’t hurt his chances of sticking around had to be on his mind as he escorted an ill Joan to the hospital. Bringing her son, Kevin, a football could also have been a ploy to win her favor with work, not legitimate romance. But one hopes Joan’s mother is right, not only about younger men not being intimidated by powerful women, but in saying “every good deed is not part of a plan.” Whatever the truth, his actions work: Joan steps in and smoothly and discretely saves Bob from the chopping block.

Sylvia, however, isn’t able to save Don. He doesn’t have the peace she has been praying for him to find, and their interactions in Room 503 at the Sherry-Netherland finally led her to end the affair. But first, she went along with and appeared to enjoy Don’s domination tactics. He overheard Sylvia and Arnold arguing at their apartment, and as she began to gripe about their problems, Don stopped her. He doesn’t want to hear about her marriage — he doesn’t want or need an additional relationship. He wants an arrangement, an exchange of services. Things escalate from Don demanding Sylvia crawl on her hands and knees to find his shoes to telling her to stay put — and she is in the hotel room for at least 24 hours — to be at his beck and call. She exists for his use only. “You’re going to wait there, and you’re not going to know when I’m coming back,” he tells her once he’s back at the office. “Don’t answer the phone again.” And she doesn’t. Don even takes away her reading material (Larry McMurtry’s “The Last Picture Show”) and sends over a dress for her to wear, or more precisely to put on and promptly remove. But after a day of this, Sylvia wises up. She had a dream Don crashed in Ted’s plane, and it didn’t symbolize that she missed Don or would miss him if he left, as he surmised. “It means it’s time to really go home,” she tells him. “This is over, and not just this.” “It’s easy to give up something when you’re satisfied,” Don counters, almost dumbstruck that he isn’t the one issuing the orders. “It’s easy to give up something when you’re ashamed,” she replies.

MenMenRFK.pngLater, back at his apartment, Don is still trying to process what happened. His confusion plays out as Megan cries watching news coverage of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. It happened again, another senseless crime against a man who saw the possibilities for a better society and worked to achieve it; another agent for change cut down and prevented from succeeding. The temperament of Americans (and others throughout the world) must have been one of helplessness in 1968, as so many things spiraled seemingly out of control. “Sometimes when you’re flying, you think your right-side up but you’re really upside down,” Ted tells Don during their flight. You may think you have control of the situation, but you’re fooling yourself. Don may be the biggest fool of all.

Cue Friend & Lover’s “Reach Out of the Darkness”:

Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • The Other Julie

    Are we sure that Joan saved Benson's job? The way I read that scene, Sterling Cutlery said he had to go, Joan defended him by saying he worked on Chevy but they shot her down and she let it go. Did I get that wrong?

  • The Other Julie

    Yep, rewatched it and he said "Drop Lawrence" after she defended Bob.

  • yocean

    The best scene was Chaoughhhwauh in hospital with his dying friend. Man, never liked that character as much as I did then. When he first showed up he was a smirmy over confident wannabe Don Draper but now we are seeing that he is a strong and caring man. A good man. And i really really like seeing someone like this putting Don in his place. Especially this episode.

  • TheAggroCraig

    I really liked Don's pathetic "Please" when Sylvia is on her way out. I'm not used to seeing him beg like that so when he does it always surprises me.

    Best line: "Damn it, Burt! You stole my goodbye!" Oh, Roger.

  • "But whether fans will cut him any slack for his behavior..."

    No. I used to have sympathy for Don, and I understood his need to become "somebody," but he hasn't learned anything for himself along the way. And he's treating pretty much everyone like shit, unless there's something in it for him, and on his own terms. Good for Sylvia--and what a surprise that was for both Don and me that she is smarter than we thought.

  • I am delighted they're making Ted a decent guy. It's so refreshing, and I hope they let him keep the mostly good guy thing going. I'm also glad Kevin Rahm is getting steady work. I've been in love with him since he was cousin Kyle on Judging Amy.

  • Anebo

    Seriously. I remember when we first met Ted, I wanted him to die horribly. Now I want to marry him.

  • Me too. His kindness is refreshing to see on this show. Plus on this ep he was so cute!

  • alwaysanswerb

    Him sitting hungover and rained on in the hospital was the best he's ever looked on the show. I got a little tingle to be honest.

  • Did anyone else find the ending freaking traumatic? The footage of Bobby on screen with all the people around him weeping and screaming and Megan crying. If I had seen that footage I would have been a mess.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Pete wasn’t happy arriving for said meeting to find himself without a chair

    Sometimes I rail at the TV in my capacity as an admin. I know it was a scene about power dynamics, but I couldn't resist yelling "Any admin worth her salt would have LEAPT out of her chair to let the partner have a seat!" I am appallingly good at the subservience part of my job.

  • Three_nineteen

    Any admin worth her salt would have known how many people were going to be at the meeting and made sure there were enough chairs in the first place.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Touche! You are exactly right. I hadn't thought of that. Joan would have thought of that, especially in this circumstance. Subject: Re: New comment posted on "Mad Men's" Draper May Be More Out of Control Than the 1960s Were

  • TraceAndM

    As a former admin, I understand. Even useless interns know that seats are for important people.

  • Clitty Magoo

    The jabs at Don in this plot summary are more annoying than Pete Campbell. Clearly the main character has some deep-seeded flaws, but is the Donald Draper character offered up as a piñata to be jeered or a more nuanced reflection of something else?

    It may be more fun to respond to Don with condescension and judgment, but that's cheap and easy. I'd like to think Weiner's creation was intended to flesh out some complicated layers of our own humanity. Of course, that might require a little introspection.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Don's character has undergone a steady and relentless degradation. He made an attempt to improve himself after the divorce before reverting to type and turning up the self-destruction to 11, and now we are seeing the results of that intransigence. As Don descends into the pit he is so busy digging for himself, the subtleties are lost to everyone but him. He's flailing and behaving contemptibly. Maybe the audience is meant to be like everyone else in his life and tired of his bullshit. Any redeeming traits he had have eroded away.

    I was surprised when he talked about finally loving his children on a recent episode. At the very least, he had always seemed kind to them and like the more caring parent (all things being relative).

    Here's the thing about Mad Men, I like it better in analysis than in the watching. It continues to be a beautiful, well-acted soap opera about ennui. Everyone, EVEN THE FREAKING CHILDREN, are jaded and full of ennui and talk like 45 year olds. Bob seems ridiculous because he is friendly and didn't get the soul-crushing cynicism memo.

  • Pete is seemingly more and more likely to hit rock bottom, lose his mind, and show up at the office with that rifle of his. He is the only person who literally has no one, not a soul, to confide in, or ask for help. He is falling so fast, and when he hits, he'll hit hard.

  • BWeaves

    1. Directed by John Slattery. Yeah!

    2. Anyone else love the Sterling - Cutler bromance? I swear, if the new company isn't named Sterling Cutlery, I'm going to, well nothing I guess.

    3. We still don't know what the new company is called. Only that Peggy named it. I have no guesses.

    4. I'm seriously hot for Ted Chawoughouououough. Although, I find it a bit disturbing that when a woman talks, he looks right in her eyes and gives her his full attention, even when there is a room full of men who are her superiors. It's nice, but a bit weird.

    5. Pete is getting seriously beat up, and we love it, yes we do.

    6. I think Don feels that he is losing control. He's not longer top dog at work. He's one of a pack of top dogs, and I think his mind games this week were an attempt to keep control over work (showing up late for Ted's meeting, getting Ted drunk) and at home (forcing Sylvia to play sex slave). I'm glad that both Ted and Sylvia finally wised up and turned the tables on Don.

    7. When Joan asked Peggy about "How's yours?" I thought she was asking about Peggy's baby, too, except nobody but Don and Pete know about the baby, in theory.

    8. Where was Dawn? Don looked for her several times during the episode. I think this is a big deal. Something's seriously wrong there.

    9. I'm still not sure about Brown-nose Bob. He's too cute and nice. But is he Joan's new trophy boy? He just stands out too much from the rest of the crowd. He reminds me of those old toothpaste commercials where the people's teeth were whiter than white and had sparkles on them.

  • The whole time I was wondering about Dawn! She was MIA the entire episode and they made it a point to show her empty desk several times. Peggy did mention that she had talked to her offscreen though. I wonder if it was just another way to show Don's confusion and growing detachment from his work/life.

  • prestocaro

    I think maybe it was to undermine Don's confidence? Dawn is one of the few people he can boss around all day every day. She was never there when he went to the desk.

    Of course, this doesn't explain why we didn't see her scene with Peggy, or her interacting with Joan/any of the new secretaries.

  • I didn't understand the Dawn thing, either. Peggy made some comment about having spoken to her to find out where Don went (Peggy said something about her being a good secretary because she wouldn't give up where Don went), but we never saw her on screen, and they made a big deal out of her not being around when Don walks in. At first, I thought maybe the actress wasn't available for the episode and they were working around it, but if you're a regular on a show like Mad Men, a) you show the fuck up and b) they usually put you on hold, so you can't work. Allison Brie is an exception, I think. Anyway, point is, it was super weird.

  • KV

    "the uploaded clips of this scene all come with what appears to be admiration for Don’s actions" Why wouldn't they? Don Draper is obviously a physically attractive, engaging person. Women want to be with a man like Don Draper; Men want to be like Don Draper.

  • Tinkerville

    No, no I really don't. He's interesting to watch in the context of a television show but I would never want to be involved with anyone like him in reality.

  • TheEmpress

    Well, let's clarify. A roll in the hay with Don Draper? Hell to the yes. A relationship with him? Absolutely not. As soon as it's about more than sex, GTFO.

  • Tinkerville

    Eh, to each their own but personally I wouldn't even go that far. There's something very degrading about how he sees sex and women to the point where I would probably want a shower and a good long cry after a roll in the hay with him.

    Jon Hamm? Totally different story.

  • prestocaro

    As a woman, I want to be with a man *who looks like* Don Draper. Not a man like Don Draper. Yuck.

  • KV

    That's precisely why I put "physically attractive" first. To do what Don Draper does on a regular basis, and still be able to get away with them...a man needs to have the looks. In fact, the two serial philanderers of the show - Don Draper and Roger Sterling - have two things in common...they are both handsome specimens with the charm. Col. Sanders could have the charm, but without the "handsome" factor, he would not stand a chance. Richard Feynman would definitely approve Don Draper's ways.

  • prestocaro

    Ah I must have just skimmed right on over that.

    It is interesting that, while we've seen Pete cheat a few times, you didn't include him on that list... and while I think the actor playing him is adorable, when he's Pete, he's slimy and repulsive to me. And he almost never charms his way into someone's pants, he usually manipulates/forces himself in there.

  • Is this a shorter season? They were releasing breakdowns for casting for later episodes, going up to 13 episodes. [I work in the industry]

  • Rogan

    'In “Man with a Plan,” the seventh of a shortened nine-episode season...'

    Where's this info coming from? I thought this was a regular season, but that only nine episodes so far have been announced?

  • Casting was releasing breakdowns labeled up to episode 13, so I think the call on the 9 episode season is wrong.

  • If it is a shorter season I will be flipping some tables in anger shortly lol

  • A breakdown being the casting call for guest and co stars on the episode. I speak in Hollywood-ese, sorry.

  • Arran

    Yeah, I think someone's confused. I've seen absolutely nothing about it being a shorter season. (If you were to nitpick you might say that it's "only" 12 episodes, but of course the first counted as two. Same as last season.)

  • prestocaro

    Pete was cracking my ass up. Between Chaughgughauw flying his mother to hell and telling her it was St Patrick's day, he had me in stitches all night.

    Did anyone else think Joan was referring to Peggy's baby when, in reply to a question about Kevin, she asked "how's yours"? But I guess she meant Abe.

    It is really interesting to me that Don basically wants a prostitute-on-retainer but... I don't think we've ever seen him with a prostitute, have we? At the last brothel, he just sat at the bar.

  • cruzzercruz

    He did, she was was his main sexual partner during the bad times post-divorce, when he was drinking heavily and striking out with women. He tried to get her to spend Thanksgiving with him but she refused, and she was the first women we saw having rough sex with him, as she told him that "she knew what he wanted," and slapped him in the face. It was kind of a turning point, in my opinion, creating the kind of more sexually aggressive Don we see now, rather than just being a guy who gets around.

  • Mrs. Julien

    This is why I need to scroll down first.

    Tom and Lorenzo will also point out that he bought Sylvia a red dress to put on and Don associates the colour with prostitutes.

  • Ruthie O

    I live for TLo's Mad Style posts.

  • BWeaves

    I also thought Joan was referring to Peggy's baby, but then I remembered that only Don and Pete know about Peggy's baby. Well, in theory. I'd be surprised if other women didn't suspect she was preggo.

    Wasn't the woman who Don asked to slap him, a prostitute? This was in the apartment he had after he left Betty.

  • Yes, she was.

  • Blake Shrapnel

    I think Don's biological mother and his upbringing cause his view of sex workers to shift to the opposite side of his carefully maintained Virgin-Whore dichotomy.

  • IngridToday

    Was the red-headed call girl with Lane, the same one who he asked to hit him?

  • Yes. The redhead was Don's call girl that smacks him around.

  • Aratweth

    His first affair of the show, Midge, was repeatedly inferenced as a discreet sort of prostitute, or was taking some kind of payment for "favors". This became more apparent when she set up Don in a later season under the pretense of selling him a terrible painting, when in reality, she was offering him anything he would pay for in exchange for heroin money.

  • prestocaro

    I think Midge was more of a lady-in-need-of-help in the first season. Like, she probably would have had sex with him even if he didn't have any money, but he wanted to help her out.

  • He had a call girl friend after he got divorced. The red head who came over to his apartment - she brought a friend to corrupt Lane.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Didn't he also enjoy being slapped by her?

  • Yep.

  • prestocaro

    oh that's right! I had forgotten about her!

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