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? 

Like TV.com on Facebook