We are supposed to be in a new world here, the new world of Sterling Cooper Draper Price merging with their main rival, Cutler Gleason and Chaough. Don Draper and Ted Chaough on the same team. How does that work? Who survives the inevitable staffing cuts? How does Don’s latest great idea actually play out in reality?
It’s not that the episode did not give viewers some of that. It’s just that, after seeming to break some ground with Don Draper in the last couple of weeks, his storyline in this episode is baffling…not to mention very poorly timed, considering the recent news out of Cleveland. Not only is it a regression to his previous habits, the primary yawn of the season; it is also a dark detour into realms of dominance and submission that do not seem to fit Don’s character. Yes, Don has gotten dirty before, but domination has never seemed to be his thing. Especially not domination so blatant and open. This is a tangent to the character that just plain does not make a whole lot of sense…and one more time: it aired the same week as the Cleveland kidnapping case.
Much more interesting: Don and Ted Chaough at work, talking margarine into the ground and Ted Chaough face down on the table. Interesting to hear Ted’s take on things at SCDP, especially on Don. He seems to get things, and not be afraid to say what is on his mind. He might be doomed.
Also, Joan and Bob Benson bond when Joan has a sudden medical problem. He shows he may not be the sycophant he’s come off as. He does Joan a solid, and she does him one in return. Once again, everyone on this show is more complicated than they appear. Pete Campbell and his mother was great, too, as well as his struggles with the new set-up at the office.
But here’s the thing: Don and Sylvia Rosen dominated this episode, and they are by far the least interesting thing going on Mad Men. This territory for Don feels stale and overdone, and the confinement fetish just seems like an act of desperation. The best thing about their story this week is that it appeared to come to an end, but then they have Don go home and they have Megan’s voice trail off into oblivion as Don stares at her in a moment that’s happened way to many times to be interesting anymore.
Robert Kennedy’s death at the very end just reminds viewers of “The Flood,” and highlights the solipsistic nature of “Man With a Plan.” The show is at its worst when characters wallow in their own muck, and at its best when the connection between them and history is explained. This one didn’t do it.