Following an episode in which quite a lot of stuff happened, last night's Mad Men, "Man With a Plan," could be called an escalation episode. A few things, by the end, were at least semi-resolved, but mostly loose ends were left hanging, a move not uncommon on this show. SCDP and CGC are in the process of merging, and all the complications of two becoming one (in the SCDP space) are evident. Adding to the claustrophobia of the episode — let's call it "people dealing with things in small spaces" — the majority of the show did take place in elevators, hotel rooms, office spaces and conference rooms, the lobby of a clinic, hospital rooms, and Pete's relatively small pied-à-terre. Things are closing in and constricting, even while in agency lingo they're expanding (see also: personnel changes, which really means you know what). Oh, and there are power struggles!
We begin in a very small space. Don is in the elevator of his building, where we see him so often (the Internet elevator commentary has begun in earnest), stopped at the Rosens' floor. In a brief but powerful scene revealing the claustrophobia of apartment living and the way everybody's business is up for grabs (and, at least in Don's view, maybe their wives are, too), the elevator door opens, and Don listens. His mistress, Dr. Rosen's wife Sylvia, is having a knock-down drag-out with her husband. The doctor is off for a business trip, and she's upset. "You're not taking care of me, you're taking care of you!" she charges. Don almost gets busted for snooping, but quickly closes the door just in time.
At Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (new name TBD), Cutler Gleason and Chaough is moving in. As Peggy introduces Ted to her old copy buddies, Joan is doling out seating arrangements, and Moira, Ted's secretary, is giving Joan attitude. Seeing Peggy, Joan hands off her clipboard to Moira and takes her to her new office, designated with the sign "Coffee Chief." There's a quick little reunion in which both confess they're glad the other is there. Peggy asks, "How's your little boy?" and Joan responds, "He's the man of my life, how's yours?" "We bought a building together," says Peggy, referring to Abe.
Meetings ensue as the partners work to figure out how this new company is going to function. The fact that there aren't enough seats at the conference table is just one indication of growing pains. Pete shows up and musical chairs ensue when he demands a seat. Moira gets up, causing gentleman Ted to give her his seat and perch on a cabinet. Not only is he a gentleman, he's also a pilot, and will be flying Don and Pete up to talk to Mohawk Air. Is Ted the new Don, the-better-than-Don? Wait and see. When Pete gets an "urgent phone call," Ted is restored to a place at the table. Pete's mother, who is semi-lucid, has arrived at his bachelor pad. The walls close in tighter.
Speaking of claustrophobia, let's look at the interaction between Don and Sylvia in this episode, as kicked off with Don's snooping (remember him as a kid in a whorehouse looking through the keyhole to a bedroom?). Sylvia then calls him at the office to say that she needs him. Not only does she need him, "nothing else will do.” "Oh," he says, an inscrutable expression on his face. He arranges to meet her at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel shortly. Elsewhere in the office, Roger is laying off the first of many CGC-ers, Burt Peterson, an act that (for the second time) causes him no small pleasure.
When Don arrives at Sylvia's room, he asks her, "What did you say to me?" and she repeats, "I need you and nothing else will do." This is the sentence that unleashes Domination Don, who later demands that Sylvia not talk about her husband, that she crawl on her hands and knees to find his shoes, and, finally, that she get undressed and get in bed and not go anywhere. She does the latter, and he leaves. She's playing along in his power game, but only to a point.
With Don missing in action, Ted is talking to Peggy and the creatives about what they know about margarine. As usual in a crowd, Peggy comes out ahead. "It was invented for Napoleon the Third because armies need to move and it never spoiled," she says. "That's fantastic," says Ted. Don finally arrives, too little too late, and Ted confronts him. Don, though, doesn't do the confrontation thing, at least not on someone else's terms, so he exits to his office and closes the door. There, he calls Sylvia and tells her again to wait. "You're not not going to know when I'm coming back. Don't answer the phone again.” He then calls again, and this part of the game, she's into. Later, a package from Saks arrives at her hotel room. It's a red dress.
Only after that does Don get around to dealing with Ted, bringing a bottle of booze — a supposed peace offering — to his office, where he suggests they talk about margarine by themselves. The news is, Ted can't drink, which Don surely knows. While Don plies him with booze, Ted makes repeat protests that he should have lunch, and in the midst of this, Don comes up with what sounds a magical campaign having to do with farmers and breakfast or some such. Ted's inebriated contribution is that the breakfast should have bacon.
Pete goes home to check on his mom and his brother is there. Poor Pete (I actually feel sorry for Pete?) has no chair in the meeting, he explains. There's a merger. He could be cut out completely. Things are going from bad to worse. His brother has no patience, saying it's Pete's turn with his mom now, who has a penchant for snapping wives in the face with tea towels. "Buy Trudy a catcher's mask and be happy you get to go to work every day," he says. Pete, without Trudy, is stuck alone with his mother, until they can arrange the paperwork to put her in a home. Later, his mother, too, wonders if Trudy got rid of him. Poor Pete.
Joan, who's been having pains in her lower abdomen, is sick in her tiny, windowless office, vomiting in a trash can, which is pretty much the epitome of claustrophobia. The hapless Bob Benson, who's suddenly a little bit endearing, barges in, sees something's wrong, and helps her to a hospital. They pass the creatives who are still talking margarine as Ted comes in drunk and passes out on the table. "Why don't you call it a day?" says Don. He's won this game.
At the clinic, Joan is worried she's going to die, and who would get her baby if that happened. "It's just food poisoning," says Bob. "No, that's not what it is," she says. Ingenious Bob tells the nurse that Joan, without her glasses, drank furniture polish, and she's taken to a room immediately.
At the Sherry-Netherland, Sylvia has been getting ready for three hours. She stands in her new dress, waiting for Don. "You look perfect," he says. "Are we going to eat?" she asks. He tells her to take off her dress and not to ask questions. She complies, but the game is growing old. Later, we see Don at home, getting in bed with a sleeping Megan. (Creepy Don is the worst Don!)
Ted visits Frank Gleason in the hospital, where the CGC partner is dying of pancreatic cancer (Ted is in denial of this). They talk about Don. "If I wait patiently by the river, the body of my enemy will float by," advises Gleason, before he falls asleep. "Go home, shower, walk back in there like you own half the place."
Back at the office, Peggy tells Don to grow up and "move forward": "When you told me about the merger, I hoped he would rub off on you, not the opposite," she says of Ted. Pete, talking to Harry in his office, is called to deal with a fire at his apartment that his mother's accidentally set. In his absence, his secretary Clara tells Ted the Mohawk meeting should be rescheduled, but Don and Ted disagree. While it's raining, Ted insists "once we're above the clouds it's as sunny as summer." We cut to them in the tiny plane (claustrophobia! claustrophobia!), these two men jockeying for power against one another. This time Ted's in control. Don tries to read the book he took from Sylvia on his last visit, when he told her, "I'm flying upstate. When I come back I want you ready for me."
Bob Benson shows up at Joan's apartment, where she's recovering; doctors found a cyst on her ovary. He's got a football for her son and wants to see if she's feeling better. This is a total Bob Benson move (think of him currying favor with two coffees he doesn't drink), but it's charming anyway. "He's adorable," says Joan's mom, when he leaves. "He's too young," says Joan, who believes he's also just worried about his job. This may be true, given the warning the fired Burt Peterson gave Benson, who was to have been one of his reports. But Joan is still charmed (or grateful) enough to surreptitiously save Benson's job when he's about to be cut from the new agency at the end of the episode.
Obviously, Pete goes into a Pete-fit when he finds Don and Ted have gone to Mohawk without him. "My mother can go to hell, and Ted Chaough can fly here there!" he says.
Ted won the game in the plane, and Don loses yet again when he reaches the Sherry-Netherland, where Sylvia is dressed. "I think it's time to go home," she says. "I think this is over." Don says, "It's over when I say it's over," but Sylvia's not playing anymore. She's done, partly due to a dream she had that Don died on his way to Mohawk and she found her way back to Arnold. "It's easy to give up something when you're satisfied," says Don. “It's easy to give up something when you’re ashamed," she retorts. I'm wracking my brain: Has Don ever been told no? It's not about love here, it's about power. He says, "Please," but it's too late. They return to their building, where they have the most awkward silent elevator ride of the show as they travel back up to their respective apartments. At home with Megan, who's chatty and happy, planning possible future vacations, once-dominating-now-devastated Don zones out with a semi-smile, watching her talk.
Pete's mom, in and out of lucidity, wakes up her son, who she thinks will be late for school, to tell him, "They shot that poor Kennedy boy. I don't understand, they're shooting everybody." At the Draper's apartment, Megan is watching the news about Bobby Kennedy and crying. Don sits on the bed, passionless, surrounded by four walls, and in the background, “Reach Out of the Darkness" ("I think it’s so groovy that people are finally getting together”) plays. Because, of course, they're not.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.