Sometimes I think it would be interesting to sit down and pull a Michiko Kakutani by reviewing every episode of Mad Men in the voice of some fictional character. If I was to do that with last evening’s episode, “Man With A Plan,” I could only see myself doing it in the voice of Bobby Moynihan’s reoccurring
How could we begin this without talking about Don and Sylvia in the hotel? The show starts off with Don’s elevator stopping on Sylvia and Arnold’s floor, where we hear the couple fighting over what sounds like Arnold’s plan to pick up and leave to Minnesota. And, of course, after a fight like that, Sylvia needs to unwind a little, so who does she call? Don, always willing and able to be late to a brainstorming meeting about Fleischmann’s margarine for a little roll in the hay, but Don has much different plans for his mistress. He makes her crawl to get his shoes, brings her to her knees with a look, and then tells her to get back bed, saying,”You’re going to wait there, and you’re not going to know when I’m coming back.”
Obviously there’s the E.L. James connection that everybody is making with Don assuming the role of master over Sylvia, I see it as something even a little more Freudian than that, specifically the part where Don comes back to the hotel room after leaving Sylvia a Saks Fifth Avenue box with a red dress in it. After telling her to stay in bed all day, Sylvia is ready for a night on the town, expecting that’s what the dress was for. Don, however, has other plans, and tells her to take the dress right off to get ready for another go. As Sylvia turns her back to Don to strip off the dress, Don just watches, and suddenly it feels like we’re young Don in the whorehouse he grew up in, watching the girls through the keyholes, peeping on bodies he couldn’t have. Here we are, Don in his early forties, living out a fantasy that we certainly haven’t seen him test in any of the episodes. And if there’s one thing we know about Don, it’s that he doesn’t have any real clear motivations in life other than to distance himself as far from Dick Whitman as possible. He doesn’t fuck for sport, he doesn’t really seem to care about material goods, and he doesn’t really like anybody. Yet here he is, living out some fantasy that was obviously in the back of his head for some time, proving that some guys still want that fast car they couldn’t have when they were younger–Don just wants to go back to the whorehouse of his youth. Welcome to Don’s midlife crisis. But all is not well that ends well: Don keeping Sylvia locked up as a willing prisoner in the hotel room eventually leads to Don coming back to his neighbor/lover telling him it’s over. It seems Don’s little fantasy backfires in the end, leaving Don fighting back tears, and Sylvia giving the affair’s final command: “Let’s go.”
But the keeping women locked up and getting pleasure out of other people’s misery doesn’t end at the show’s protagonist: Pete’s senile mother is staying with him in his tiny apartment/bachelor pad, and it’s driving Pete insane. That’s topped off with Campbell’s fear that not having a chair in a meeting (disregarding the fact that he was late…) means he’s being pushed out. There’s no comfort for Pete when he gets home, and his mother is still there, still off her rocker, and Pete can’t really let her go anywhere else, eventually leading Pete to toss off the rage-filled quote of the episode: “My mother can go to hell. Ted Chaough can fly her there.” While there’s no pleasure in Pete and his mom being roommates, Roger enjoys his chance to fire Burt Peterson a second time in a way that could be considered borderline sadistic, but funny nonetheless.
Ah, but this is where we’ve come to: Paris is in shambles, RFK is being shot, and Don Draper is becoming sadder and sadder with each passing episode. All the other stuff that happened tonight (Joan and the creepy new guy becoming buddies, Ted trying to become the alpha of the pack, etc.) will come into play; but “Man With A Plan” was a Don episode more than anything. And it makes me think that things will only get darker for our antihero.