At the edge of our seats after last week’s episode, we eagerly anticipated everyone’s reaction to the SCDP/CGC merger. Big Agency plus Big Ideas. The Man Had A Plan and we were ready to sit back and watch the creative and competitive sparks fly. There was plenty of jockeying for power alright. But imagine our frustration and disappointment when The Man’s Plan turned out to be the same plan he’s had for twenty years: Dazzle, drink, disappoint then disappear. That’s our Don.
Here are our Power Rankings for this week:
Don: The opening scene said it all. When the elevator stops at Dr. Arnie and Sylvie’s apartment, and Don overhears Sylvie accusing Dr. Arnie of not taking care of her needs, the writing was on the wall. With one wipe of his brow, Don knew that the sexy, uncomplicated affair with neighbor was about to get messy and complicated and it had to end. But it was going to end on his terms. With that weighing heavily on him, Don makes his way to the office and prepares to lead the new firm.
It’s the first day if school, and Joan is back to doing what she does best, controlling the chaos, handing out office and secretarial assignments. Everything is changing, but everything remains the same. Peggy and Joan seem genuinely happy to see each other, playing catch up on the men in their lives. Peggy leads Ted around the office, introducing him to the old gang. She knows that they can be a brutal bunch, and she seems to feel the need to protect him. Is she still imagining him as the sensitive, turtleneck-wearing, poetic soul?
In the boardroom, the partners gather and prepare to address the troops. The camaraderie lasts for a few moments before the in-fighting begins. Bert gets confused, Pete is left without a seat, and they can’t agree on who will be assigned to which accounts. The only one seeming to be having any fun is the newly energized Roger. He has found a partner in crime with Harry Hamlin’s character, Jim Cutler, and he thoroughly enjoys firing Bert Peterson. Again.
With one phone call to Don’s office, Sylvie seals her fate: “I need you and nothing else will do.” Don is tantalized and scandalized at the same time. They meet in the hotel room and he makes her repeat what she said. It’s so tempting and yet so dangerous. Don knows Sylvie is vulnerable and he is going to take advantage of that to wriggle out of the entanglement. After a little debasement and hot sex. She promised that she wouldn’t fall in love, that they would just have fun while Megan and Dr. Arnie kept the home fires burning. But Sylvie changed the rules of the game, and Don can’t have that. Don orders her to crawl around on her hands and knees and to stay naked in bed until he returns. She is compliant and Don is back on top.
A triumphant Don returns to the office only to find that the Peggy and Ted met with the creatives to discuss Fleishmann’s without him. Clearly Ted did not get the memo about who is top dog. Doesn’t he know that the firm runs of Don Time? Ted is just one more nuisance that Don must get in line. Feeling his grip at SCDP slipping, Don calls Sylvie at the hotel to remind her that she is under his control, that she is not allowed to leave the hotel room or answer the phone until he returns. He tests her by calling the room again. Good girl Sylvie plays along and pleasures herself to the sound of the ringing phone. Balance of power shifts back to Don.
Now to conquer Ted. Don takes an olive branch, in the form of Canadian Club, to Ted’s office. This is how we do creative at SCDP. Couple of drinks, Don throws out a couple of ideas, and then everyone else steps in line and fleshes them out while Don takes credit for the work. Ted, more prone to brainstorming than highballing, succumbs to the booze and has to leave. Another win for Don. How dare Ted try to take him on. Don is always going to come out on top. Even if he has to lie, cheat, manipulate and humiliate you to get there.
Fresh off this victory, Don returns to the hotel room to see his trophy adorned in the red dress he had sent over. An expectant Sylvie wonders where they are going, only to be ordered back in bed, naked. “You are for me. You exist in this room for my pleasure.” He gets up to leave, reminding her that she is not allowed to think about anything but his return, and removes her only distraction, a book. Final piece of humiliation in place.
Even though Don has no self insight, Ted sees right through him. Visiting his sick partner, Frank Gleason, in the hospital, Ted remarks on the fact that Don seems more interested in Ted than in the work. “He seems mysterious, but I can’t tell if he’s putting it on.” YES! Look the part, be charming, but play your cards close to the vest, smoke and mirrors, booze and cigarettes. Appear to be dark and deep and don’t let them see how truly shallow you are. Don is barely keeping it together, reduced to hiding his mistress in a hotel room to feel in control. The masses are tired of his act, and it is Peggy who finally confronts him. “Move Forward” she implores. Ted takes back some control when he pilots Don through a rainstorm on the way to a client meeting. Don is scared shitless and Ted relishes seeing a crack in the armor. “Sometimes you think you’re flying right side up, but you’re upside down.” Indeed, Ted. Don’s power and control are only an illusion.
The final nail in the coffin that is Don’s self delusion comes from Sylvie. She knows that the game, the affair are over and it’s time to get back to reality, to Megan and Dr. Arnie. Don is no longer calling the shots. When the degradation no longer works, he begs Sylvie “please.” He doesn’t really want the affair to continue, but he doesn’t know what to do with himself without it. How many more affairs can he get away with? Is the charm wearing thin? Who is he without the act? Younger and smarter Don’s are taking over the world. If he doesn’t move forward, the world will leave him behind. In other words, he would be the last one in the office to touch the computer.
Ted: Ted has Don’s number for now. Can he maintain the upper hand? We don’t know. Is he just a younger, hipper version of Don? Will he continue to be lead around by Peggy? It’s a chess game and we will enjoy watching the pieces shift back and forth.
Joan: Joan is felled by a mysterious illness and Bob Benson is her unexpected knight in shining armor. Good thing he is always lurking around the office, looking for something to do. Finally, a chance to be noticed. He uses his charm and quick wit to put Joan first in line at the ER. Joan is skeptical of his intentions, as are we, but she is grateful that he is there as she imagines the worst and wonders about baby Kevin’s future without a mother. Although her mother imagines Bob as a potential suitor, Joan is smart enough not to go down that road. She does, however, use her power as a partner to save his neck from the chopping block when the firm decides whom to cut loose. She trusts him for now. We do not. Is it that he’s just so smarmy, or do we have reason not to trust his rather too convenient presence?
Pete: Pete receives a phone call during the all important board meeting. He is already left without a literal seat at the table, only to be inconvenienced by his gin-soaked mother being dumped at his door step by his brother. Mom is confused, still thinking that her husband is alive and using Pete’s pied a terre as a love nest for his whores. She’s right about the apartment, just wrong guy. We gain new insight into Pete’s personality as we witness his interactions with his ungrateful brother and cold, bitter mother. The money was the only thing holding the Campbell clan together. Once Dad and the money were gone, there was only resentment and dysfunction. No wonder Pete has no loyalty or empathy. He’s still a rat, but at least we know why he’s a rat. Did we enjoy watching him scramble as he tried to find his literal and figurative place at the new firm? You bet we did!
-Peggy, Ted does not need you to protect him from Don. We know Peggy is not happy being back at SCDP and Don let her know that he did not merge with CGC just start working with her again. She will have to adjust or maybe move on.
-We will miss the heat and the complexity of Don/Sylvie world. Despite her not being happy with Dr. Arnie, it is Megan Draper she feels sorry for because she knows that beyond prayer for Don, there is not enough love in the world or in Room 503 to light his darkness.
The final moments of the episode show us a world coming undone with the assassination of Senator Bobby Kennedy. We are about to enter a turbulent time of unrest and uncertainty. The times, they are changing. Who amongst our MM family will change with them or be left behind (Don).