Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mad Men Episode 6-7: The Man with a Plan

Recap: Riding the elevator, Don overhears the Rosens yelling at each other in their apartment. Sylvia accuses Arnold of being self-serving and not taking enough care of her, and Arnold threatens to leave. At the office, Dawn’s phone rings but Dawn isn’t at her desk, so Don decides to pick it up. It’s Sylvia, and she demands coyly that he come to meet her immediately. “I need you and nothing else will do” is her sex-talk. Don counters that she should meet him at a hotel around noon. He then steps in to an executive board meeting that includes execs from CGC and SCDP and takes the last available seat at the table. The board members discuss who is doing what and who they will fire – with Bert Peterson among the first to be axed. The execs find themselves being led by Jim Cutler. The meeting includes lots of competitiveness and blaming. Don is told to collaborate with Ted on the new Fleischman’s margarine account. It’s also decided that Ted, Don, and Pete will fly up to a client the following day, and Don learns that Ted pilots his own airplane.

Don leaves the office to meet Sylvia at the hotel and has her repeat her sex talk. Then Sylvia starts talking to Don about her problems with her son and husband, and how self-involved Arnold is. Don tells her she can talk about her son but he doesn’t want to hear her talk about her husband. Sylvia counters, “I can talk about whatever I want.” Don proceeds to command her to find his shoes for him, and she replies, “They’re right over there.” “Do it” says Don, and she fetches them for him. He then gives her a series of orders – take off the dress, get back in bed – and she decides for the moment to go along. Sylvia then gives him a command: “Come over here.” Don moves towards her but then picks up the hotel room key and leaves the room, saying, “Don’t go anywhere.” Sylvia does as told, but pulls out a book to have something besides sex to occupy her mind during the hours he’s gone.

After this escapade, Don shows up at work and walks into the meeting of creatives that he was supposed to co-lead along with Ted. Meanwhile, Ted has convened the meeting and led a brainstorming session on margarine for the Fleischman’s account. Ted scolds Don for being 40 minutes late. Silently rebuking Ted’s reprimand, Don walks into his office, shuts the door, and calls Sylvia at the hotel. He asks, “Are you still in bed?” and tells her she needs to wait there without knowing when he’ll be back. Sylvia replies, “What’s gotten into you?” but Don continues: “Don’t answer the phone again.” Later Don calls her room again, and she follows his instructions not to answer. Next Don grabs a bottle of booze and walks over to Ted’s office to offer an “olive branch” – but really to challenge Ted to a drinking man’s match as they spout ideas for the margarine commercial. Ted comes up with Gilligan’s Island analogies, which Don trashes. Don counters by describing a farm kitchen breakfast, which Ted amends with the addition of cows and bacon. By the time they have a concept to present to the creative group, Ted is ripped and all the creatives witness his drunkenness, much to Don’s satisfaction. Meanwhile, Don has a box from Saks Fifth Avenue delivered to Sylvia’s hotel room. Sylvia opens the box and puts on the red evening dress, assuming it means she and Don will be going out somewhere together. But when Don arrives at the hotel room, he says in a surly tone of voice, “Why would you think we’re going somewhere? You are here for me. You exist in this room for my pleasure.” Then he commands her to take off her clothes, and she obliges but is uneasy.

Back at work, Dawn is still absent or away from her desk, and Don opens his office door to find Peggy sitting there waiting for him (without knowing when he’d be back). She immediately reprimands him for getting Ted drunk, saying, “I hoped he’d rub off on you, not the other way around.” Don calls her a complainer and says, “He’s a grown man,” to which Peggy counters, “So are you. Move forward.”

Returning to the hotel room, Don hears Sylvia confide that she doesn’t feel like thinking about anything. “Who told you you were allowed to think?” he responds. Sylvia passively asks what she should do, and Don tells her he’s going on a trip upstate and she should stay in the room and be ready for him when he returns. Then he confiscates the book she’s reading, and she protests, “Come on!”

Back at work the following day, Don meets Ted, learns that Pete had some emergency, and agrees to go ahead with just Ted to the client in upstate New York, although he tries to postpone the flight because of a thunderstorm. Ted insists on leaving right away, and during the plane ride, Don looks frightened and pale until they soar above the storm clouds and reach fair weather. Ted tells him, "Sometimes when you're flying you think you're right side up, but you're really upside down. You've got to watch your instruments." Don says something to the effect of: “No matter what I say, you’re still the guy who flies his own plane.” He then pulls out the book he took from Sylvia and begins reading in an effort to marginalize Ted.

When Don eventually returns from the trip, Sylvia has snapped out of her mental fog and tells him their affair is over. Don says, “It’s over when I say it’s over,” but Sylvia replies that she had a dream in which Don died in a plane crash, Megan cried on her shoulder, and she went home to Arnold and made love to him. Don tries to reinterpret the dream and then begs her, but Sylvia says, “Let’s go.” As they exit the room, Don sees that Sylvia has left the red dress behind, and he realizes that his sexual fantasy of total dominance is over. Returning home to Megan, he tries to listen to her chatter about her plans for them to take some time off together and go on a trip, but his mind drifts off into a fog and he stops hearing what she’s saying. The trip they take is soon disrupted by the news of the shooting of Robert F. Kennedy, where Megan watches the news and cries in their hotel room while Don faces the other way and stares off. As the final credits roll, we hear the news report of RFK’s condition (still alive at that moment but weak) superimposed on a then-popular upbeat song with the lyrics: “I think it’s so groovy now, that people are finally getting together.”

For Ted’s part, he competes hard with Don by taking him up in his airplane in the middle of a thunderstorm for a very jerky flight, successfully unnerving him probably to get revenge for the previous day’s drinking match. Yet we also see Ted visiting his mentor Frank, the cancer-stricken partner from CGC, and we hear that Ted believes Don is mysterious and that, by comparison, he’s not interesting.

Joan’s story begins as she takes charge of organizing personnel on the first day of the merger, where the SCDP facilities are overcrowded as the CGC people file in to find out what room or desk to report to. She and Peggy exchange sincere well-wishes as she shows Peggy to her Copy Chief office, and Joan brushes off Moira, her own counterpart from CGC. Both Joan and Moira go to the executive board meeting, and Ted gives up his chair to Moira since the group is one chair short. As soon as Joan is able to get to her private office, she nurses a sharp pain in her side. Bob Benson knocks on her door and walks in to find her looking ill. He takes charge and allows her to lean on him as he ushers her out of the office and over to a clinic. Next he makes phone calls for her, sits in the waiting room with her, encourages her to stay positive when she worries about possibly dying, and finds a way to sweet-talk the nurse-administrator into expediting Joan’s case. Joan tells him he doesn’t have to stay there with her, but he replies, “I have no place to go.” After Joan has seen a doctor and gone home, Bob drops by for a visit, bearing a gift for Joan’s baby boy and wishing Joan well. Joan’s mother comments on Bob’s attractiveness but Joan explains to her that Bob is just concerned about his job, although Joan is visibly flattered by his gentlemanly attention. Back at the office, Joan sits at a pared-down executive board meeting in which Jim Cutler announces that Bob should be fired. Pete, Joan, and Don (who have all had positive interactions with him) look disturbed and manage to save his job.

Meanwhile, when Pete shows up to the executive board meeting on the first day of the merger, all the chairs are taken and he indignantly demands a seat. Moira volunteers her chair to him, which he takes, and that’s when Ted quickly offers his own seat to Moira. Pete’s self-righteous attitude helps to fan the flames of the meeting’s blame session. When he’s asked to travel with Don and Ted in Ted’s plane to see a client, he asserts his authority by recommending they make the trip the very next day, which the others agree to do. However, Pete soon gets a phone call about his mother and has to take time out to handle her wacky behavior and out-of-touch-with-reality demands. He learns that his brother, Bud, is dumping their mother on him, making Pete even angrier than he was at work. He tries to express to Bud his fear about potentially losing his job, but Bud’s decision is final. Both brothers agree their mom should be institutionalized but the paperwork will take time. The following day, Pete is sidetracked by his mother’s claim that there’s a fire at Pete’s apartment. Rushing home, he learns that there’s no fire and takes the approach of making up stories to confuse his mother even more, in order to quiet her down. Occupied with handling his mother’s mental confusion, he misses Ted’s flight and the client meeting he was to have with Don and Ted. When Pete’s secretary, Clara, later explains to him that the others left without him, Pete is enraged, dumps his anger on her, and tells her his mother can “go to hell,” although Clara takes his outburst in stride. At the end of the episode, Pete’s mother sees breaking news on TV of the shooting of Robert F. Kennedy. When she tells Pete about it, he assumes she’s disoriented and is talking about the assassination of JFK. She then tells him he’ll be late for school, reinforcing his mistaken assumption.

The irony of the episode’s title is that most of the men’s plans are unsuccessful. Don’s plan to dominate Sylvia (because he can’t dominate Megan) succeeds for a while but later turns her off to him permanently. Meanwhile, his plans to establish dominance at work are partially undermined by Ted, and even more so by Jim Cutler’s stronger leadership position, businesslike approach, and authoritative communication style. Ted’s plan to immediately dominate Don falls short, although Ted manages to get good advice from Frank on how to dominate in the long run by discerning Don’s weaknesses over time. Pete’s long-time plans to get Bud to take care of their mother suddenly fall through and he finds himself saddled with a responsibility that undermines his career efforts for the moment, although the brothers’ long-term plan of getting their mother committed will likely succeed. Meanwhile, Pete’s plan to establish his dominance at work by self-righteously yelling at everyone turns people off, and Clara treats him like he’s off-base, echoing the way he treats his mother. Bob Benson’s plan all along has been to ensure job security by building a network of strong personal relationships with key individuals at work. Bob seems to be “the man with a plan” when he quickly figures out how to help Joan, and his larger plan succeeds when his allies on the board save his job.

A major theme of this episode is forging new regimes. Power struggles in forging these regimes involve individuals pitted against one another to determine who will dominate whom and who will be ousted in the regime changes. These new regimes are formed by the merging of two agencies into one, the shift from old to new gender politics, and the shift from class-based master/servant relationships to greater democracy and equality, which are associated with both the Women’s Movement and the Civil Rights Movement of that era.

·         The most obvious regime change takes place as the two agencies merge to form the new company.

o   Don and Ted compete for dominance in the creative group, while the casual-looking SCDP creative team competes with the more inhibited, buttoned-up CGC creatives. Michael Ginsberg (“Now I see you’re my height”) attempts to position himself as equal to Ted, who quickly puts Ginsberg in his place (“I hope you can still look up to me”).

o   Moira (“I’ll need a copy of that”) challenges Joan’s dominance (“These are just notes”) as the office maven. Joan pointedly suggests to her that not everyone present on the first day of the merger will be there for long.

o   Some workers are cut immediately, and many more workers including Pete fear for their jobs. On day one, Roger fires Bert Peterson, whose work will be absorbed by Ken and Roger, partly because Roger feels competitive towards Bert and realizes his own position at the company is less secure, given that Jim Cutler is not easy to charm.

o   Bert Cooper has always been the sage of SCDP, but in this episode he sounds a bit weak as he reads aloud his incomplete letter. With the merger, he is naturally competing with the sage of CGC, Jim Cutler.

·         The next clear regime change is the shift in gender politics from old-school male domination to the rise of feminism. The old regime comprises both “male chauvinists” and the women who accommodate those men’s behavior. The new regime comprises women who take charge in non-traditional ways, along with men who work to be sensitive to women’s needs and respectful of their power, treating them more as equals.

o   Betty and Don’s marriage functioned according to their mutual belief in the old regime of male domination and fell apart because that regime includes a man’s right to cheat on his wife. Under Megan’s outspoken, direct-dealing influence, Don has been trying to shift with the times and become a more sensitive man. However, his secret longing for the old days when men believed women existed to serve the needs of men has led him to act out his fantasy of dominance with Sylvia. That ended when Sylvia stopped being servile.

o   As a fairly sensitive man, Ted tells Don, “Sometimes when you’re flying you think you’re right side up, but you’re really upside down. You’ve got to watch your instruments.” This quote has the ring of greater meaning, and is perhaps a coded message that Don is “flying upside down” in life and doesn’t know it.

o   Sylvia begins the episode as a fairly confident, self-assertive woman struggling for what she considers her rights within her marriage and getting what she can on the side. Surprised at Don’s behavior change in the hotel room, she plays along with him for the most part, until she fully understands what it is to be a sexual object, there to serve the pleasures of a man without reciprocity. At last she “wakes up” and finds her power as an equal human being, rejecting the old male-dominant regime by telling Don their affair is over and returning to the struggle for a more equal relationship with Arnold.

o   Bob Benson epitomizes the respectful, sensitive man that complements a woman who is confident in her own power and demands equality. Whether he’s being gentlemanly to Joan strictly to get ahead at work or whether deeper motivations drive his behavior, his respectfulness and sensitivity to her needs indicate his alignment with the new gender regime.

o   Pete’s behavior towards several women in the past, and Clara in this episode, indicate that he’s of the old regime that expects to be served by virtue of being a man. Interestingly, Pete came close to forming a respectful, sensitive, egalitarian relationship with Trudy in the early years of their marriage. Trudy played along with his self-important, male-dominant attitudes to some extent, despite her self-confidence, but that ended when she was faced with his cheating ways. Now, Clara is more bemused by Pete’s authoritarian rants than servile towards him, although she is still his secretary and therefore paid to serve him on the job. Overall, his continued alignment with the male-dominant regime of the past has given him some hot sex but undermined his long-term love relationships.

·         Another regime change that’s more subtle is the shift in society from the master/servant type of relationship (based both on gender and social class/wealth) to the view that servile people can stand up for themselves and just say no, pushing the conceited/arrogant people to mature by adopting a more egalitarian spirit, dropping their pretentiousness, and doing their own “grunt work.”

o   Dorothy, Pete’s mom, expects Pete to freshen her drink for her, as if she couldn’t or shouldn’t have to do it herself. Both Pete and Bud learned as children to adopt the master/servant lifestyle and to play along with their mother’s desire to be served, based on wealth and social status (although they plot to dump her in an institution as soon as possible). Dorothy also mentions to Pete that she’ll ask the cook to make a meal, indicating that she may not even know how to cook, or that she felt that cooking was beneath her.

o   Pete’s arrogance is supported by his beliefs, learned in childhood, in both male privilege and the entitlements of wealth and social status. With his high-status mother now mentally unstable, his marriage destroyed, and his job in question (at least in his mind), he’s terrified at the prospect of losing everything that supports his feelings of superiority.

o   Dawn’s absence from her desk drives Don to actually answer his own phone calls.

o   The spirit of democracy and egalitarianism (rather than the entitlements of the elite) is also represented by Bobby Kennedy, a man of great wealth and privilege who nevertheless stood up for treating poor people with greater fairness and compassion.

It’s interesting to watch the growth process, or lack thereof, in men in this episode. For instance, Peggy tells Don to move forward (which he doesn’t appreciate); Sylvia struggles to get Arnold to mature and stop being so childishly self-centered (which he resists); and Sylvia pushes Don to mature when she dumps him (which he doesn’t yet understand). Ted is fascinated by Don because he (Ted) is eager to grow by learning about Don’s mysterious creative process, and by figuring Don out as a person. Yet instead of being stimulated to grow by learning from and about Ted, Don tries to dominate and marginalize him. With their very different temperaments and styles of creative work – Don needs lots of time to think quietly until he comes up with great ads, whereas Ted uses a methodical approach to eventually come up with great ads – they’re well-positioned to spur one another’s professional growth if they both commit to growing rather than waging war. On the other hand, Don’s movement backwards instead of forwards on the gender front in his affair with Sylvia, attempting to recapture the old male-domination regime, ultimately makes him unattractive to her. In my view, the reason he’s still attractive to Megan is that when he’s with her, he’s trying to grow into a more sensitive man, thus meeting more of her needs and matching her commitment to growth.

Finally, the placing of the TV report of RFK’s shooting over the upbeat 60s song about “finally getting together” is a striking reminder of the contrary 1960s memes across America of women’s empowerment and a more inclusive and engaged democracy making demands for change, vs. right-wing reactionary forces attempting to stop these new movements from sweeping the country and altering the culture. This is reminiscent of today’s desperate, last-ditch efforts at control in America by people who, in politics and society, are insisting at all cost on the old-school regime of male dominance and the old-school entitlements of wealth that grant people the “right” to treat other people as inferior and as property – buyable and sellable, usable and “discardable” – rather than as full human beings worthy of equal respect and equal opportunities.

No comments:

Post a Comment