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Alone again, naturally

May 13, 2013 - Ray Eckenrode

“Mad Men” 6x07:

Episode title: “Man with a Plan”

Significance: A direct reference to the presidential campaign of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, whose platform many felt was far more sweeping and ambitious than that of his brother, John. That broad-picture backdrop contrasted nicely with the episode’s two other primary storylines: the dissolution of the affair between Don and Sylvia, two people who most definitely did not have a plan; and the fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants reality of merging Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and Cutler Gleason Chough.

Time passages: The episode takes place in late May and early June of 1968 as France is in social upheaval and RFK is assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan in Los Angeles.

Episode essay: What beautiful, sad, somehow sweet irony. In a series under siege from critics for its characters’ repetitive behavior, in an episode where just about everyone was repeating history in some form, Matthew Weiner interrupted this regularly scheduled broadcast with a bulletin and a big slap in the face for us all. They killed Kennedy, er, we killed Kennedy TWICE! So amidst another tableau of disbelief and tears, we’re left to ponder the big questions. Can people change? Can we ever grow? Will we ever learn? We know the answer is yes, but as both “Mad Men” and the real 1960’s are illustrating, it’s a painfully slow process.

The sense of déjà vu in “Man with a Plan” was palpable and intentional. There was Don repeating his bad behavior (both in the office and in Room 503), Pete being busted for repeating his father’s philandering, Megan suggesting another trip to Hawaii and poor Burt Peterson getting fired – again.

The agency merger left everyone in a state of high anxiety, feeling like it was their first day of work – again. Is Peggy the coffee chief or copy chief? Will there be a chair for Pete? And which lion king (or is that lyin?) will rule the pride? While Don played his ace early in the form of his alcohol tolerance, Ted’s see-you-and-raise-you “Oh, did I mention I’m a pilot and have my own plane?” comeback shows he’ll be a worthy adversary.

The out-of-control scene at the still unnamed mega agency might have contributed to Don going all master-and-servant on Sylvia outside the office, commanding her to crawl, don’t answer and stay. But as another character in another Sunday night drama noted recently, power is an illusion and we quickly learned who really had the upper hand in the relationship when Sylvia’s quick, clean and final break left Don looking like a little boy lost. Don’s first marriage ended in the wake of the first Kennedy assassination and this episode’s final scene, with Don and Megan back to back and worlds apart, left little doubt it’s a question of when and not if this union will be torn asunder.

About last week: Was last week’s universally loved episode just better than the first five hours of this season? Or just different? You can probably guess that we believe it’s the latter. Workplace dramedy is a tried-and-true audience pleaser and after a long haul of personal/psychological drama, the action-packed, office-based episode was doubly pleasing to most.

Quick hits:
+ “The Graduate” got a mention a few episodes ago and the scene with Megan’s chatter fading into “blah, blah, blah” background noise while Don stared blankly ahead was almost certainly an homage to one of the scenes from Mike Nichols’ film.

+ We speculated last week that the Rosens might be moving out of Manhattan and out of the picture for Don and Megan and after what we saw and heard in “Man with a Plan,” it certainly appears they’re both headed for Minnesota.

+ In the wake of Joan’s health scare (Twitter went through all seven stages of grief before we learned it was just an cyst on her ovary), we’re left wondering just how opportunistic or nice Bob Benson really is.

+ Where was Dawn (the black one)?

+ It was interesting that Pete’s overtaxed brother, Bud, picked up no clue that things might not be right with Trudy, but his dementia-addled mother figured it out in minutes (and quickly forgot it, of course).

Brand names: St. Joseph’s “Aspereen” got an early mention, Saks Fifth Avenue got logo recognition and Ray Ban Aviators got some style points, but it was Fleishman’s, the Mary Ann of margarines that was the brand star of this episode.

Historical notes:
+ The novel Sylvia is reading, which Don confiscates for his trip to New York, is “The Last Picture Show” by Larry McMurtry, a coming-of-age story set in a small Texas town that features, most notably, a misguided affair between one of the protagonists and an older woman. McMurtry helped write the screenplay for Peter Bogdanovich’s Academy Award winning 1971 screen adaptation.

+ Cancer-stricken Frank Gleason quotes Sun Tzu (“If I wait patiently by the river / The body of my enemy will float by”) and foreshadows Muhammad Ali (who doesn’t even exist yet!) in some amazing hospital bed advice for Ted Chough as he deals with the natural rivalry unfolding with Don Draper. “Give him the early rounds,” Gleason tells Chough. “He’ll tire himself out.” This is, of course, the exact strategy Ali would use in 1974’s legendary “Rumble in the Jungle” fight with George Foreman. After the fight, Ali and his trainer Angelo Dundee, christened the ploy as “rope-a-dope.”

+ The song playing over the credits this week was “Reach Out of the Darkness,” by Friend & Lover.

Sweet tweet: From @danieldubya: Burt Peterson is like the drummer from “Spinal Tap.”

Lines of the night:
+ “You’re not taking care of me, you’re taking care of you.” –Sylvia Rosen

+ “Do you want me to get that?” –Peggy Olsen

+ “I need you and nothing else will do.” –Sylvia Rosen

+ “’Gilligan’s Island’ works for every brand.” –Ted Chough

+ “You exist in this room for my pleasure.” –Don Draper

+ “Sometimes when you’re flying, you think you’re rightside up, but you’re really upside down.” –Ted Chough

+ “It’s easy to give up something when you’re ashamed.” –Sylvia Rosen (If this was, in fact, Linda Cardellini’s farewell episode, she got some great lines to go out with.)

+ “My mother can go to hell and Ted Chough can fly her there.” –Pete Campbell

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With his professional life in chaos and his personal life in ruins, Don Draper sought power in Room 503 -- and learned just how powerless he is.


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