Mad Men 6-7

This is the story. Of two advertising agencies. Picked to share an office. Work together and have their lives intertwine. To find out what happens when people stop being polite. And start trying to being creative.

Or something like that.

There’s always that uncomfortable period when strangers become bedfellows. That’s what Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm) and the people of CGC learn when they move into their new digs with Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and the folks of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce in this week’s Mad Men episode, “Man With a Plan”.

With the move comes the usual culture clashes – new protocols, different working styles and more awkward, frigid exchanges than a refrigerator repair school prom. It also brings with it the usual neurosis among those who feel their positions in the pecking order being threatened.

Such worries don’t belong to Don Draper, at least on the surface. But a look below the surface finds Don realizing that the younger man is potentially a menace to his alpha dog standing. As such, he responds by passive-aggressively challenges Ted to measure … (ahem!) skills. Skills that come in the shape of a spirits bottle. Skills that Ted hasn’t honed well enough to compete.

He also uses that testosterone boost to treat Sylvia Rosen (Linda Cardellini) as his concubine while she stews after a shouting match with the good doctor. That’s all fun and games until someone’s feelings get hurt. You just never expect those feelings to belong to Don.

You never expect the gut punch to come from Ted, who one-ups Don by flying the pair of them over stormy skies and to a meeting to soothe the nerves of an agitated client. Or from the same Sylvia who feared falling for the dapper Draper.

But the one-two punch comes in quick succession – the latter blow flooring Don after Sylvia rejects his advances, offers him her pity and reminds them of their common guilt. And like a vanquished fighter, Don is left without any of his faculties. When he sits down to listen to Megan (Jessica Paré) tell him about her latest travails, he might as well be listening to one of Charlie Brown’s elders. By the time the rest of the nation finds out about Robert Kennedy’s assassination, Don’s anguish is for his own situation, rather than the country’s.

Don Draper has always been a man in control. He’s been more than just the center of his universe, he’s been the center of the universe. So what does that man do when he starts to realize that things no longer pivot around him? All season long, Don has gone from being the person that no one can live without to being the talented, but tormented soul who isn’t quite as potent as he once was. His children are starting to live without him, his co-workers aren’t nearly as intimidated by him. And his mistresses have decided there’s something better at home.

This is a crossroads the type of which Don hasn’t encountered since Season 3’s “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.” But the writing has been on the wall for weeks. In the past, he has shone brightly in times of crisis. Yet, you have to wonder how many more times he can stand and deliver in the face of personal misfortune. Welcome to the really real world.

Mad Minutes

  • Speaking of people dealing with the real world, Pete Campbell’s (Vincent Kartheiser) impending implosion is gaining steam. This week, his mother’s dementia added a new level of stress to his life. Not only does his brother refuse to bail him out over their mother’s care, but she seems to have caught on to her son’s marital strife. His cruel scheme to scare her into staying in the apartment might have been mildly amusing, but it’s certain to boomerang back on him.
  • I’ve been very happy to see Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) finally get her due, but she was feeling her oats a little too much this week. It’s one thing for her to wish that Ted’s fastidious process would rub off on Don. It’s a completely different thing to believe that the merger was an elaborate ruse to get her back under Draper’s thumb. However, it did allow us to see the abrasive Olson-Draper dynamic.
  • Bob Benson (James Wolk) has been trying to make a connection with one of the higher-ups around SCDP for the entirety of the season. But like any attempts to make a connection, it’s always better to be yourself. His attempts to brown-nose have generally been failures. Yet when he genuinely goes out of his way to help Joan (Christina Hendricks), he makes a new ally. You also wonder if he might have awakened her inner cougar. Certainly Joan’s mother hopes so.
  • Roger Bleeping Sterling (John Slattery). Every so often, we get blessed with one of his “I don’t give a #*$&” moments. This latest one involved the second firing of Burt Peterson. Could it come back to bite Roger? Probably. But it was a lot of fun to watch. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if Roger had a drink in his hand.