No current TV show generates more Monday morning conversation than Mad Men. With that in mind, Flavorwire is recapping Season 6′s Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce drama by giving you a handful of talking points to spark your own water-cooler debate. Directed by John Slattery, “Man With a Plan” comes on the heels of Mad Men‘s strongest episode of the season to date — and if it isn’t quite as dazzling as “For Immediate Release,” its fast-paced plot and character friction do seem to suggest that the show has hit its mid-season stride.
“Man With a Plan” is dense with themes that echo through several characters’ stories: we’ve got a series of odd couples (Don and Ted, Joan and Bob Benson, Pete and his mother), a slew of power struggles (Don vs. Ted, Don vs. Sylvia, Pete vs. the other partners, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce vs. Cutler Gleason and Chaough), and characters who lose the control on which they pride themselves (Don, Ted, Joan). But it’s violence and death that are the episode’s most prominent themes, the latter echoing Season 6’s hyper-morbid premiere.
“They’re shooting everybody,” Pete’s senile mother tells him when she wakes up early to the news that Robert F. Kennedy has been shot, a line that sums up the preoccupations of “Man With a Plan.” Apparently insecure about the merger — and especially his position in the company now that Ted Chaough is on board — Don asserts his supremacy in another area of his life: his affair with Sylvia. Making her a (semi-voluntary) prisoner in a hotel room, he says things like, “You’re going to wait there, and you’re not going to know when I’m coming back” and “Why would you think you’re going anywhere? You are for me.” At first, it seems to be working, but by the end of the episode, it’s clear that Don’s mind games — which read to me as emotional violence — have doomed the relationship. After a dream reveals to her that she’s got it much better at home, Sylvia picks up and leaves, ending not only the dark hotel-room fantasy but the entire affair.
The way Don treats Ted has a similar implicit violence about it, forcing his former competitor to match him drink for drink, and thus to impose his own semi-pathological creative process on the new company. Of course, by the end of the hour, it’s Ted who’s got the upper hand flying the two of them through bad weather to a client meeting as Don fears for his life. If “Man With a Plan” had a scoreboard, it would clearly read: Don Draper — 0; everybody else — 2.
Elsewhere at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Cutler Gleason and Chaough (ugh, what are they going to do about that?), an ovarian cyst puts Joan in touch with her mortality, as she babbles to Bob in the hospital waiting room about who will take the baby if she dies. In another hospital scene — one featuring a character who seems much closer to death — Frank Gleason coaches Ted on how to deal with Don. And the theme of bloodletting extends to the newly merged firm as a whole, as the partners meet to decide which employees to lay off, a process that includes the nutty but hilarious scene in which Roger fires Burt Peterson again.
Additional talking points:
- What’s going on with Don and Megan? The final few scenes of the episode were murky at best, with Don finally coming home to Megan, who wants to talk about another Hawaiian vacation. At first he seems charmed and relieved by her, but then his face changes; a hint of worry creeps in and drowns out her dialogue. Then, in the final moments of “Man With a Plan,” Megan sits on their bed with the TV on, crying. It appears that she’s upset about the RFK assassination — but when Don walks in, he doesn’t comfort her. It seems he can’t even look at her as he sits down, facing away. Has he already ended it with her, or is he just upset about his inability to react to everyday human tragedies with everyday human emotions?
- “Move forward,” Peggy tells Don at one point. She’s referring to his rivalry with Ted, but as usual she’s got his number in general, in an episode that finds him clinging to old patterns as his workplace and personal life change drastically.
- OK, what is the deal with Bob Benson? His trip to the hospital with Joan, and the football he brings her son later, seems to save his job post-merger. But is Bob just a kiss-up? Mad Men rarely serves up one-dimensional characters, and the lie he tells to get Joan seen by a doctor seems to portend some next-level manipulation skills. My guess is that Bob will get his moment in the spotlight before the season ends, and when it happens, it’s going to be weird.
- Joan and Peggy’s mutual respect. How lovely is it to hear the two of them say “I’m glad you’re here” upon Peggy’s return?
- “I need you, and nothing else will do.” Who wants to bet that Sylvia’s line — which got Don to the hotel and stuck in his mind afterwards — will show up in an ad campaign before the season is out?