by: L.P. Hanners
Join us for an in-depth look at the John Slattery directed “Man with a Plan”……
”Whatever that relationship is about (Don and Sylvia) is a lot of what the season is about” -Matt Weiner
Following last week’s game-changing episode, “For Immediate Release”, we knew we were going to be spending some time picking up the pieces. We knew layoffs were immanent, and we knew there would be way too many cooks in the kitchen. What we didn’t know is how the gang from CGC was going to be received walking into SCDP, particularly Peggy ((Joan was pleased! – and offered the funniest line of the evening in repaying Peggy’s question about her baby with “How’s yours?”)). What we also did not know was the name of the new company. And after this week’s episode, entitled “Man with a Plan”, we are still holding our breath awaiting that answer……
Ted and Don, whose relationship was at the core of this episode, are now on the same team, yet still in direct competition with each other. Ted quickly establishes himself as a charmer in his first partners meeting, offering Pete his chair, talking about his personal plane and flirting with the head receptionist running the meeting. And Don, true to form, appears disgusted by all of this behavior. These two operate differently: Ted, a man with a plan, is going above and beyond to make a sound impression on everybody and Don – who took a cue from an argument he overheard between Sylvia and Arnold ((Like a child listening to his parent’s argue, he holds the elevator door open to listen to Sylvia and Arnold fight about a job possibility he has in Minnesota. Watching Don Draper peer in on the argument channels earlier scenes from the season: When young Don spies on his uncle Mac through the keyhole in “The Collaborators”, and when he spied on Peggy’s Heinz Ketchup pitch in “To Have and To Hold”.)) – takes time out of his very first day back at the new company to set Sylvia up in a hotel and then pay her a visit.
The theme of Sunday’s episode was control, as Don and Ted jockeyed for position as the creative head of SCDP. Ted, a sharp, innovative and interactive leader, applies his skills to garner appreciation, even engaging his team in a free-association exercise and a roundtable discussion. Don, in a weakened position, alters the rules to better suit himself and brings alcohol into the fold. The tension between the two comes to an apex as they fly in Ted’s plane to an emergency meeting with Mohawk Airlines. In a particularly poignant moment, as a storm rattles the plane and Don’s nerves, Ted tells Don “Sometimes when you‘re flying you think you‘re right side up, but you‘re really upside down.” This is symbolic and resonates on many levels, as Ted, calm and collect, navigates the plane to sunny skies, and Don, overwhelmed, pulls out Sylvia’s copy of ‘The Last Picture Show’ and resigns all control to Ted ((At one point in the episode Ted visits Frank in the hospital, who is shaping up to be a spirit animal of sorts for Ted. He reminds him that he owns half the agency, and there’s really nothing in his way to keep him from acting like it. Ted took these words to heart.)).
Don is falling out of step with the times, something he is beginning to grasp. He feels like he is losing it, and thus attempts to control Sylvia. Don’s best jab at Betty has always been that she’s childish yet Don completely embodies that role this week, (and does it louder than Betty ever did) when he uses the sudden attention from Sylvia as an excuse to drift into a fantasy world where he’s degrading her every chance he’s given. But Sylvia’s strength eventually shines through, as she has always been the person who sees right through him, and she offers a stoic retort to Don’s claim that it’s easy to give up an affair when you’re satisfied contending: “It’s easy to give up something when you’re ashamed…..”
Pete and Don’s storylines paralleled again this week. Both men abandoned the SCDP office to deal with women locked away in rooms. The main feature of a Slattery directed episode, as established in last year’s ‘Signal 30’, is a focus on torturing Pete Campbell. Pete’s mom drops in on him, and is eventually living in his bachelor pad by show’s end. Given his contempt for his family, it’s the perfect thing to happen to him in the midst of a season of misfortunes for him. It could be a tipping point for Pete, and the show is always entertaining while profiling Pete’s failings.
Emerging from the background this week is Bob Benson. In the middle of all of this transition, Joan has a sudden health scare. She retreats to her office and stays there hoping to maintain the illusion of ordinance she has shown the incoming crew that day. Bob, conveniently, finds Joan in her pathetic state, and as expected steps up to the situation. Unexpectedly, he ends up charming the hell out of Joan, expediting the waiting process by lying about her condition at the doctor’s office. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as both of them really needed an extra friend around the office. Later, Bob comes to Joan’s apartment to check on her, thus winning over Joan’s mom as well. After he leaves, she plants the seed deeper in Joan’s head that there’s something special about him. Throughout the season Bob has been an unusually highlighted character, despite having no real story arc revolving around him. He’s literally been the guy in the background. He left his biggest mark in this week’s episode, but it’s still anyone’s guess as to where Matt will take his character from here ((Ted did accep Bob’s extra coffee—the one Don always refuses. Something to take note of!)). It’s easy to compare him to Peggy in the first season: a diamond in the rough.
At the episodes conclude we find Don back at home with Megan. She is recounting her day and he is zoned out, not hearing a word. He has finally done what we didn’t think he was capable of, and what he was warned not to do. He has fallen in love with Sylvia.
The end of this scene was flat-out beautiful. Megan was crying while watching television mourning the world’s loss of Bobby Kennedy. Meanwhile, Don is crying on the inside, mourning the end of his era with Sylvia. He is broken and alone. His failed game of sexual dominance could be the end of his beloved affair and he is losing his hold on SCDP as well. Two souls, once closely knit, are so far apart in the very same room. To further emphasize the contrast, the upbeat “Reach Out Of The Darkness” by Friend & Lover begins playing off-screen and into the credit sequence, with the newscast audio of the Kennedy shooting playing over the music. The execution of this scene was spine tingling, undoubtedly the greatest ending to any episode so far this season. Slattery directed episodes tend to have a dark tone to them, with a Film Noir quality, and “Reach Out Into The Darkness” was perfectly paired with the duality featured in the final scene of “Man with a Plan.”