And what of that ultimate power struggle between Don and Sylvia? I read it quite differently, although admittedly my take makes it difficult to understand the episode's ending. I saw the whole thing as Don's convoluted plan to make Sylvia break up with him after he overheard her screaming at Arnold in their apartment. Don is reckless, but he's not a complete moron—he knows that if his lover wants to leave her husband and has fallen in love with him instead, she could easily become an enormous problem for him and his marriage. (Of course, Don is already doing a fine job destroying his marriage on his own, but he's clearly not that self-aware.)
So while the domination that we saw in this episode is something Don has engaged in before with Megan, it was over-the-top, beyond what any sane woman would tolerate. Did Don enjoy it? Certainly. But he had to have known Sylvia could only take it for so long.
(We should acknowledge here that those scenes were particularly hard to watch a week after three women were rescued from a decade of being trapped as sex slaves in Cleveland. Don's line, "You exist in this room for my pleasure," sounded even creepier in this context than it otherwise would have.)
How, then, to explain the desolation on Don's face when Sylvia tells him it's over? There's no question that he cared for her, but I think the finality of their relationship leaves him stuck in his real life, where Don feels he's losing control at work and at home. His control games with Sylvia in this episode gave him extra confidence at the office—notice that he calls her at the hotel after Ted chews him out and before heading into Ted's office for his revenge. Meanwhile, back in his own home, Don can't even place a reassuring hand on Megan's shoulder as she sobs watching the footage of Bobby Kennedy's assassination. Nor can he even hear Megan as she talks to him about plans for them to get away, proving her right to feel that she's just "making conversation" when the two of them are alone. Don has just lost his escape from real life, and that always brings him low.
As depressing as that is, I could not shake the feeling during this episode that things are about to get a whole lot darker. Maybe Matthew Weiner is just toying with us, but I count at least three potential tragedies waiting to happen. There's Burt Peterson, the disgruntled ex-employee who might well decide to aim a gun at Roger (or Don), a la the killers of MLK and RFK. There's Sylvia, who has a well-established strict moral code, even if she doesn't always abide by it. What happens if she learns she's pregnant? "It's easy to give up something when you're ashamed." Would she give up her life? We started the season with a near-death in the apartment building. Might we end with another?
And then there's Bob Benson, the overeager accounts man who is starting to come off as a bit of a stalker/sociopath. I think Joan should go with her gut. She mentions Rip Van Winkle and he offers to tell her the story? Something is not quite right with Bob. But he had better stay away from our Joanie.
Is anyone else confused or worried about Dawn? She's been missing for two episodes now, pointedly so, although Peggy claimed to have spoken with her at one point. Is she trying to avoid more awkward side-hugs from Joan? Is Weiner trying to make some meta-point about the invisibility of minorities on the show? Save Dawn!