Mad Men "Man With a Plan" Review: The Honeymoon Is Over

Mad Men S06E07: "Man With a Plan"

1968 is generally considered one of the most dismal years in U.S. history, what with the Tet Offensive, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, rampant race riots, and violent protests during the Democratic National Convention. While the optimism of the early '60s began to erode almost instantly following the death of JFK, 1968 as a whole was a relentless onslaught of tragedy beating down whatever flimsy scraps of hope and optimism people still clung to. "Man With a Plan" was a Mad Men microcosm of that larger turmoil, as the celebratory tone surrounding the merger of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce with Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough very, very quickly imploded once the realities of combining and consolidating the two firms began to emerge. That honeymoon period was brief

There were quite a few faces who approached the merger with positive feelings toward the future, only to see their hopes dashed by reality—except for one. Bob Freaking Benson, after weeks of kissing ass and carefully cataloging names and a night spent in the ER holding Joan's puke bucket, found himself safe from the pink slip due entirely to, quite frankly, his brown-nosing. I want to believe that his consideration of Joan was genuine, and assuming Bob isn't a total monster, some of it probably was, but let's be real here—the man has a history. When his name landed on the chopping block, the two individuals who saved him were Joan and Pete, who also have the distinction of being the two biggest recipients of his over-the-top kindness. I'm certainly delighted that Bob gets to stick around for a little longer, but the sentiments that resulted in him staying definitely feed into the more cynical side of office politics: Sucking up will take you farther than hard work and dedication ever well. 


That brings us to Burt Peterson. Fired by Roger back in the Sterling Cooper days, Peterson excelled (or at the very least, held his own) at CGC and unlike the clearly unhappy Peggy, seemed to embrace the idea of reuniting with his old co-workers. He was confident that he had proven himself, that he was valuable to the team... only to be fired yet again by a gleeful Roger for reasons that basically amounted to Roger just not liking the guy. It was a hilarious scene, especially because having old-school I-DO-WHAT-I-WANT Roger back was delightful, but the act itself was a bitter suckerpunch to a man who'd been sincerely optimistic about the future and the new firm; sort of like getting really excited about Bobby Kennedy as a presidential candidate only to see him assassinated in the very same episode. Sorry, Peggy and Ted. 

The obvious displeasure we saw in Peggy when the merger was announced only grew as she re-acclimated to her new-old office, but unlike Bob, who had clearly figured out how to make the broken system work in his favor, and Peterson, who resigned himself to endless defeat, Peggy doesn't appear to be willing to compromise; she knows what future she wants. She knows what working with Don again will entail: constant negativity, double standards, endless drinking. Even though Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough wasn't perfect, it was closer to the sort of environment Peggy seeks. And so she understands the threat that Don presents to the way CGC, and specifically Ted Chaough, tend to function. 

I think it's important to note, however, that Don wasn't the only individual working to smother Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough's influence on the new firm. With the decision to move CGC's operations into SCDP's facilities, the latter seemed very much to say, "You're in our house. Now you'll do things our way." From Joan undermining Ted's secretary to Roger firing Peterson (who at the time still considered himself a CGC man) to Don getting Ted wasted during a brainstorming session, the message was clear. On every occasion in which a CGC staff member attempted to exercise some sort of control over a situation—like Ted's secretary trying to coordinate office assignments or Ted himself running a creative meeting without Don when Don blew off a meeting to bang Sylvia—their efforts were smothered. Joan gave Ted's assistant useless notes and Don introduced Ted to doing things his way, which of course involved lots of day drinking. The only SCDP person who seemed to be put out by the arrival of Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough was Pete, who was ominously without a seat at a very crowded partners meeting, and later abandoned when his dementia-stricken mother almost burned down the apartment and Ted flew Don to a meeting at Mohawk without him. 

Despite the merger, goings-on at the former Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce were still largely business as usual—and Peggy was not okay with it. She said she'd hoped that Ted would rub off on Don and not the other way around. It seemed that after the initial hangover wore off, Ted's influence won for at least a little while, during his and Don's ascent after taking off into inclement weather in Ted's plane. With his signature optimism, Ted claimed that the weather was all sunshine once you got above the storm. But rather than enjoy the view that he'd been promised once it appeared, Don preferred to read the book he stole from Sylvia—The Last Picture Show, a coming-of-age novel that decidedly ends on a more cynical note than an optimistic one. Don further retreated into his own mind when Ted encouraged him to think about their upcoming meeting with the Mohawk executives and Don claimed that nothing he could say would make any bit of difference after Ted was seen landing his very own plane in front of their offices. Don realized that their victory with Mohawk was due almost entirely to Chaough's influence—the same influence that Peggy encouraged him to take to heart. Back home, Megan asked for some time off at work so that she and Don could take a real vacation without business to worry about, and Don essentially tuned out her cheerful chattering. He hasn't been able to control her all season. 

With Megan and his firm spiraling further and further away from his influence, and perhaps even the general chaos of the time influencing him to a certain extent, Don's treatment of Sylvia in "Man With a Plan" seemed to be a sort of excessive overcompensation for his inability to control any other part of his life. After a fight with Arnie, Sylvia called Don and demanded that he come to her apartment regardless of his work obligations. Don refused, but eventually met her at a swanky hotel room where he banned her from talking about her husband. When she refused, things took a turn for the bizarre (as far as their relationship goes): Don humiliated her, demanding that she dress and undress at his leisure, crawl across the floor to retrieve his shoes (which she didn't) and put them on his feet (which she did). His reign grew more and more restrictive and at one point he even said, "You exist in this room for my pleasure." While it's true that at times, Sylvia seemed to enjoy Don's dominating routine, as his treatment grew more cruel, her enthusiasm clearly waned—and when he returned from Mohawk, she told him they had to say goodbye and explained that her decision was the result of a dream she had while he was away where his plane crashed and she consoled a sobbing Megan, then went home and slept with Arnie. Sylvia's guilt has been an issue since her first appearance, and her dream manifested that guilt perfectly, but the timing of her break-up with Don also suggests that this is just one more thing that Don Draper has inexplicably ruined. The kiss on the hand that he gave Sylvia when they parted mirrored the one he gave Peggy when she left Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce for CGC, and Peggy knows better than anyone just how toxic of a presence Don Draper can be. 

There were clear parallels drawn between Bobby Kennedy and Ted Chaough in "Man With a Plan"; both were strapping young men with, well, plans, and both were beloved by many, and specifically, loved by Peggy. When one of the underlings revealed he was voting for Nixon in the upcoming election, Ted asked if anyone had any hope, and that's when Peggy revealed her intention to vote for Kennedy. If Kennedy represented hope for the country and the world for Peggy, Chaough certainly represents her hope for the firm, and given the fantasy and the kiss from last week, he represents Peggy's hope for her immediate future. However, "Man With a Plan" ended with Bobby Kennedy's assassination immediately following his victory in the California primary, and after five-plus seasons of watching Don Draper work, we know—and Peggy knows—that his influence can be hard to shake. 



NOTES

– Still no name for the new firm. The way everyone bickered this week, it could take awhile. 

– Peggy Olson: Coffee Chief. And they gave her Harry's crappy old office with the random column? Poor Peggy. 

– For whatever reason, Ted Chaough saying "groovy" made me laugh pretty hard. Idk. 

– Are Ted and Don going to work well together? Or is the strain already showing? Is Ted doomed? 

– Bob Benson and Joan, eh? Thoughts? 

Comments (20)
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Also, what the hell is wrong with Pete and his receding hairline?? He seems to be aging faster than any of the other cast members?!?
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I just can't stand Don anymore....he wasn't nice to begin with, but now he's turned into a complete SOB...Don and Sylvia, not sure, both sides of discussions in this comment section have valid points, but Don was just pure creepy...maybe in the series finale, he'll really be falling down (like in the show's opening sequence) having been pushed out of an office window by someone who's had enough hahahahahahaha....I'm glad it's over but feel sorry for Megan, having such an ass for a husband....I'm already rooting for Ted....and I think most of the agency will be too, if Don leaves him alone and doesn't try to undermine him again.....I actually felt sorry for Pete, but he just doesn't handle anything well, and is always having some sort of fit.....he needs to make plans and be more cool and calm....Bob is ok I think, and I would love to see him with Joan, I think they would make quite a cute couple, brown-nosing or not, I don't think there's anything wrong with him....
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Loved Roger and, surprisingly Pete as well in this ep. Only Pete, after being complimented on his compassion and selflessness towards his mother would respond with "she can go to hell, and Ted Chaough can drive the plane" Brilliant!
I wish I could believe that Don deliberately drive Sylvia away, but I can't. Come on people - we are talking about Don Draper here. He is just not that selfless.
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"You exist in this room for my pleasure."

She's Schrödinger's slut. :)
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Growing pains... the firm will be fine, as will Don and Ted.
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We're going to end up rooting for Ted Chaough before this show is over aren't we?

100% on board for Bob + Joan. Joan deserves some level of happiness.

Pete's mother waking him to discuss Bobby Kennedy's assassination gave me chills.

If Don & Sylvia are over, it really doesn't seem like he'll be returning to Megan's arms happily... so now what? I don't think I buy that Don's behavior was a purposeful attempt to push Sylvia away. His wide-eyed shock at her decision to end it was almost childlike. Jon Hamm's range as an actor is really something.
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I'm already rooting for Chaough. I love Don but he is a total douche.
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Those hotel scenes made me very uncomfortable. It was a good episode.... I really don't have much to add.
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Great episode. Is this the first time a lover leaves Don? I can't recall
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kind of disappointed that there wasnt as much in office conflict as i was hoping for but still entertaining non the less.
I for one am starting to get tired of Don's constant affair b/c really after a while I will forget Sylvia's name and really what her purpose was on the show. seriously can you name all of his lover's (I can for sure name Anna (if she counts) and Bobbie Barrett) I can name their occupation but thats like it. Anyways in the end I was glad she realised what he was doing to her and broke off their relationship, cuz wow did anyone else think it would turn violent at any moment. I seriously thought that he would hit her when she said that their fling was over.

I still dont fully trust Bob Benson. I think that when he first saw Joan in distress he genuinly did want to help her b/c she was clearly in pain. However when he returned to her appartment, bringing a gift for her son too, he was doing it more to secure his job. I think this b/c after I watched the episode a 2nd time I toniced that when he talked to Burt and Burt said that he wouldnt be staying there that long, Bob's Expression read "OMG why am I going to do to keep my job". And my god why does Joan have to go through all this crap? wasn't getting raped then having to prostetute herself more than enough? I really hope that those cysts doesnt mean she'll start growing facial hair, acne, infertility or any other sort of stuff that goes along with it. I also hope they dont try to take away her partnership. Also how much younger is Bob? cuz im guessing Joans like 35 give or take a couple years. is Bob supposed to be like in his 20s?

Pegs is back! yay, fun! I liked the Coffee Chief thing thought it was funny. You know that part where Peggy asks Joan about her son and Joan then asks about the man in Peggy's life. Did anyone else first question how Joan knew about Peggy's kid? I did before realising that she was asking about Abe. (it really would have been alot more interesting if Joan some how knew this whole time). I kind of wished that he would be placed in Stan and Ginsberg's office again. but i guess she gets her own b/c shes a righer rank?

"Peggy Olson: Coffee Chief. And they gave her Harry's crappy old office with the random column? Poor Peggy" I still think of it as Pete's old office. I hope Peggy doesnt run into that column. Although that could be funny.

I wish there was more Stan and Ginsberg, I love it when they are on screen.

As for Ted. I think it this episode Don noticed that he made a mistake, b/c unlike him Ted is nice to all his employees (even the women), he actually shows up to meeting, has good ideas and can fly a plane. And I really think that the whole getting Ted drunk was a way to show everyone in the office the Ted isnt that great and I guess to also show his dominance. (which of course Peggy saw right through). I also liked it when he said "groovy" (although now when I hear that my mind automatically jumps to Ash from the Evil Dead series). But yeah over all Ted really seems like the prefect guy, which is why Don would see him as a threat and Peggy would be attracted to him.

Pete. I thought his story line was interesting. I did like that when his mother told him that Kennedy was shot he assumed she was having an episode and was talking about JFK. Other than that I dont know what else to say. It seems as though that story line is building up to something more. Also did they bring back VK's hair line some more this episode. It seems like Pete's lost more hair.

Happy to see that Megan wasn't featured in this episode and I hope she isnt the focus again next episode. I didnt mind that Betty was in this episode but I feel she will make another appearence soon, maybe with some weight loss. I also liked the contract b/w the news of Kennedy's death and that song, does anyone know the name of it?

Also looking at the pictures in this article theres SCDP mugs? really? what will happen to all of those? Also I kind of want one, they look pretty nice.

For the next episode I hope its more office based and not home life. I want to see more chaos in the office. Deep down I also want to see Joan and Peggy going on some crazy adventure even though I know that will never happen. Sorry I wrote alot and its all pretty much word vomit from ideas just popping into my head.
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This was an extremely difficult episode to watch, but perhaps that's what was intended all along, having been loaded with uncomfortable situations: Don overhearing the terrible fight between his lover and her husband; everyone worried about their place in the company (and rightfully so) with layoffs coming on the first day of the merger; Ted and Don's unease with respect to one-another (Ted unable to keep up with Don's schedule or high-functioning alcoholism, Don unable to compete with Ted's Kennedy-esque youth and exuberance, as well as his piloting skills); Peggy's difficulty being back under Don; Joan's extreme physical pain; Pete's addle-minded mother being dropped on his doorstep; and Roger having to fire Burt for a second time. Okay, that last one was probably way more uncomfortable for Burt than Roger, but still... :)

Don sank to new lows in this episode and it made my stomach turn to see it unfold. As has already been expertly pointed out, his twisted S&M scenario with Sylvia is dual-purpose - his need to tightly control something as the rest of his life is spinning in complete chaos, but also a self-fulfilling prophecy that recurs throughout his entire life - every woman eventually abandons him - never mind that he's the one who does the pushing until there's no going back. His self-loathing knows no bounds. And his treatment of Sylvia and the subsequent goodbye was the perfect callback to how things ended with Peggy the first time around - a simple plead, a kiss of the hand, a somber elevator ride. Cue the next woman to be pushed away, Megan, given that he's already tuned out of that relationship.

Don's not the only one who's life is reeling, as Pete continues to slip down the stairs, metaphorically speaking. I don't see Pete as someone who would take the Lane Pryce way out, though' he's far too narcissistic for that. Instead, I can see him hitting his breaking point and taking things out on others - perhaps his father-in-law who he could blame for his marriage AND business woes, or even Don, given that his life has gone to hell as he's tried (and miserably failed) to emulate Don's lifestyle.

Which brings me to Bob. Good, ole' people-pleaser (some would say "brown-noser") Bob. Despite all of the conspiracy theories swirling around the inter-webs (which is understandable, as we've been conditioned by Mad Men to assume that the other shoe will inevitably drop), I'm still confident that Bob's simply a good guy who's just happy to be there. And perhaps we finally got light of his true purpose, a love interest for Joan, which I'm perfectly content with - given what she's been through the past couple of seasons.

Understandably, I have mixed feelings. It was a well-crafted, but incredibly miserable episode which expertly mirrored the overall feeling of the country at the time.
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I still think the name should be Don and Ted's Excellent Adventure: No One Else Works Here
Pete not having a chair = perfect
Sterling firing Burt again was just hilarious
50 Shades of Draper - At first I felt like he was doing it to see how far he could push her because he wanted her to leave since he heard them arguing and Don didn't want her to cling to him, but now I'm not so sure.
"I have to eat something." "Doesn't ice count?" Don is the people's drinking champ
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So I'm not the only one who thinks that Don put Sylvia through all of this not only because she was the only thing he could control, but so that she would leave him.
That's what I'm attributing the title of the episode to.
When Don first overhears them fight he is clearly not pleased, I thought that's because he thinks Sylvia would want him to commit to her now, so what does he do? He can't end it, so he makes her do it, by making her feel like a whore. Which ties back to his flashback a few episodes ago.

All that because, although it certainly didn't look like it this episode, Sylvia is someone he can not control. If he decides to leave her and she is upset about it, she can wreck his marriage with Megan.
But if Sylvia decides to leave "on her own" his marriage is safe.

At least that's what I read into the last scene, him blocking out Megan, like he's thinking "maybe this wasn't worth all that trouble".

Also: I need to go look for my aviators.
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Exactly what came to my mind
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Although Bob is a kiss-up in general, him kissing up to Joan makes sense because she's such a hottie. And I thoroughly enjoyed his maneuvering to get Joan seen by the ER drs quicker.

As far as Don and his affair, I think he wanted out of it when he heard his lover's big fight with her husband, thinking the lover would want him as her next husband, so Don indulged in the control-freak fantasy. But I loved your reasons for why Don wanted some control.
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Wish I could do what Don does for a " work" day, drink and sleep with beautiful woman I'm jealous. Bob and Joan just don't seem right together, I defiantly think he just sucked up to keep his job which worked.
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