Every week, Chris Piascik (@chrispiascik) illustrates a moment from the episode and I write up a recap. Still working on a different recap structure with David Jacobs. Some thoughts then a discussion.
First, some quick thoughts David and I didn’t get a chance to discuss.
-I didn't know the phrase "The worm has turned" comes from Shakespeare.
-Pete has a rough go of it this week, between his mother’s Alzheimer’s/dementia, and literally not having a seat at the table, "I went to a meeting this morning and there was no chair for me." Here we go again with Pete getting the sympathetic treatment. I get whiplash trying to decide if we’re supposed to like him or hate him.
-Title of the episode was “Man With a Plan” which is strange because I can’t really think of anything that went according to plan in this episode except Bob Benson’s sucking up to Joan. Maybe it was altruistic, and without guile, but it worked. "Every good deed is not part of a plan."
-Guess we all thought Joan was pregnant, but it was just a cyst on her ovary. Not sure if anything will happen between her and Bob or if what we saw (him taking her to hospital, her saving his job) was “it” happening.
-Don hears a vicious fight between Dr. Rosen and his wife. It was the first scene(?), which I think is why I noted it here.
-"First day in school, are you nervous?" It’s annoying there was no indication of how the merged firm will look structurally. Who will have which role, etc. Peggy is presumably the highest creative, under Ted and Don of course, but beyond that, we don’t really know.
-Peggy and Joan. "How's your little boy?" "How's yours?" They always had a pretty weird relationship. Coolly affectionate maybe? Envy at the other’s strengths.
-The scene between Roger and Bert Peterson seemed mostly like an excuse to give Roger some great one liners. I don’t recall Roger having any reason to not like Bert previously.
-Don was enchanted by Mrs. Dr. Rosen’s, "I need you and nothing else will do." That’s when the dom/sub plot formed in his mind.
-Peggy and Don back in his office having conversation. She still talks to him like no one else does, and I hope we get more of that. “He can't drink like you and you must know that because nobody can.” But also, more importantly, "Move forward."
-"Sometimes when you're flying you think you're right side up, but you're really upside down." Don won the margarine round, but Ted’s wins the Mohawk round. "No matter what I say, you're the guy who flew us up in his own plane."
-Don was crushed when the doctor’s wife dumped him, but even then, he’s trying to put his spin on it. "It's easy to give up something when you're satisfied." It was an moment, because Don yelled at Pete last week about knowing when something was over.
Aaron: It seems as though the SCDP creative is much more of a motley crew. Stan's bushy beard and Bieber hair. Ginsberg's general weirdness. Compared to CGC's buttoned up guy, one of whom is even a Republican. What do you make of that?
David: Well, it's a lazy way to communicate that they are "more creative," and all those CGC folks feel like redshirts to me. I liked Margie (Margie?!) and I am surprised they wrote her out of the show. But I think we're headed to a Duck what-his-face situation with Ted, who’s already complaining way too much about the SCDP culture. There weren't any work villains left in Don's life post-Herb, so Ted is stepping right up.
Aaron: But CGC had been getting the clients/accolades, so I don't think they're less creative. I think they represent more of the older way of advertising instead of Stan and Ginsberg ushering in the type of person we know of as "creatives." For instance, Ted was using a formula to figure out how to pitch Fleischman's. Almost like advertising as science.
David: But didn't his process come to nothing? I think the scene where they were "rapping" just betrayed how little his process worked. No ideas at all, and then the meeting ended.
Aaron: The contrast was pretty stark in how they portrayed the two styles of advertising. CGC and brainstorming sessions, SCDP is Don drinking in a room until he gets an idea.
David: I'm a little bit disoriented when it comes to Don's arc - he's just getting everything he wants over and over, and as Don famously said, happiness is just a moment before you want more happiness. But, I’m not sure why he feels threatened. They went out of his way to talk about how rich he was last week, but it’s always paired with how unhappy he is. Is there another way to tell this story again? I guess I wouldn’t even call it an arc, it’s more of a narrative pancake. What do you think?
Aaron: We better hope so. Don’s definitely in a different place than he has been in recent years. This season he’s neither on top of the world or underneath it. I actually don’t think I’m too concerned about the arc repeating because I don’t see it as so clearly repetitive as you do. He’s the main character of the show and I think you don’t like him very much, which is fair, but it’s not the same story every season with him as it is with Walt in Breaking Bad (1. Figure out how to get money. 2. Get money. 3. Lose money.)
David: It drives me nuts when the writers of Mad Men wink to the superfans, it just gets in the way of the narrative for me, and it's distracting. But I loved the Gilligan Island's conversation. Whereas the SCDP to Gillian's character mappings were quite clear, now that there are more characters on the show, they just don't match up anymore. And when Don connected the growing number of brands of margarines, I couldn’t help but wonder if he wasn’t talking about the growing number of characters on the show as well. Lots of meta-winks this episode. Megan talking about being written out of the show (as January Jones and others have been), the Gilligan's Island chat, the news of Bobby Kennedy's assassination being broken by Pete's mother (I also assumed she meant JFK), and the deep background of the May '68 Paris riots. The show (especially last week's show) is rich enough without these distractions, in my opinion, and compared to last week's episode absolutely nothing happened. Should we be worried? I hate to go there, but are we in a Lost season 5 situation, where the occasional great episode fools us into thinking this is better than it is?
Aaron: I don't know, I don't know. I want to believe I'm staying up late writing these recaps every Sunday night for a reason. In talking about TV, there are 4 tiers of program for me from lowest to highest. 1) The dreck I won't watch. 2) The dreck I will watch, which has a span from drecky dreck to actually OK dreck. 3) Cable dreck, shows that are just better for various reasons from writing to acting, etc. 4) The unparalleled programs. The Wire, Deadwood, etc. I think the first season of Mad Men was absolutely in tier 4, maybe the first three seasons. The last couple have gone from tier 3 and 4. I look forward to watching it every week, but I'm not totally sure it's as amazing as it used to be.
David: I’m feeling that too. So, was margarine a reference to the show feeling faked, or forced. I can’t imagine so, but it was the first thing I thought of. And that certainly betrays something not great. (I want to remark that the "It was our pleasure to serve you" coffee cups made a brief appearance last week, and they were indeed invented in 1963. So that was satisfying, but it’s not great drama.)
Aaron: We should talk a little bit more about Ted and Don. I like to think it's not just going to be them battling the next season and a half. It's hard to see where everything is going because we don't know how the new agency is set up. We don't know if they have parallel positions or what. Wouldn't it be more interesting if they became a great creative partnership? Are we underestimating Ted? He’s getting Don’s charm offensive, "He seems more interested in me than he is in the work." Ted got the advice to let Don have his way in the early stages, "Give him the early rounds." and he's obviously intrigued, "He's mysterious, but I can't tell if he's putting it on." And don't forget, Ted got some hand back in the relationship during the flight.
David: I loved it when Peggy said "Move Forward." It was obvious how quickly she picked up on Don’s misery, his emptiness, and that he was taking it out on Ted by drinking him almost literally under the table. But I think it's going to be just this season - not the next as well. If they became a great creative partnership, that would be more exciting since it would be unexpected. There's no way he can "win," though, because it's basically Don's firm. I just don't like Ted. But the last episode’s bar scene was one of the more perfect scenes of the entire series. So it would be a shame if their relationship is only a power struggle from here on out. When they realized that their Chevy creative was complementary, there was a real shared connection.
David: As above, I think it's a little lazy to tell a story through references. There's a nuanced but important difference in using historical context to set a mood and inspired a massive change in a character's worldview, but sometimes I feel like major events like (say), the May 1968 riots in Paris are less than window dressing. Perhaps it shouldn't have come up at all? And the second is the Sun Tzu quote, “If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.” Because for better or worse, that's been Don's philosophy. He never competes, he just does what he does best. The show teases Don towards a realization that his life's work doesn't matter by juxtaposing his (and his neighbor and co-worker’s) struggles with 1968 in Paris (and will they get to Columbia?) and Bobby Kennedy's assassination. His will be the body floating fown the river. Do you the writers have something that existential in mind for the series finale? Remember, Weiner comes from the Sopranos, which came from Twin Peaks - two shows with ambiguous (at best) finales.
Aaron: Gosh, that’s a big question. You make these huge declarative statements about how Don is realizing his life’s work doesn’t matter, and I’m not there yet. There was a huge contrast between how the show treated MLK’s assassination and RFK’s, which was shown quickly at the very end and then overtaken with dissonant music about coming together. The reason is the MLK episode was build up to a series reset, a throwaway episode, while this episode is the morning after and there’s too much to cover. On whether we’re going to get a bleak, dystopian, philosophically empty end to the series, maybe? I don’t think anything is being telegraphed ahead of time, though. 1968 is a gigantically tumultuous year, lots of change in lots of facets of life. Maybe the finale will be about change or about renewal.
Aaron: We've seen hints of dominant Don before on a couple occasions, but with Dr. Rosen's wife (whose name I still don't know for some reason) he seems to have overplayed his hand. What I don't get is why he was so into her in the first place, and why he was so completely shattered when she ended it. Was it just because he doesn't like to lose or not get his way?
David: Ah, I think he was trying to drive her back to Dr. Rosen. Because he overheard them arguing, and it was all about how the relationship was only about him. So he made their relationship ALSO only about himself.
Aaron: Subconsciously? I don't think that's what he was doing at all, but that's a good point.
David: Oh, I thought consciously.
Aaron: Then why would he be so upset?
David: He wanted one more romp in the jungle. Or, she thought he loved him more. As he was losing power at work, he was asserting more power with Dr. Rosen's wife. So once that outlet is removed, he only has Megan. Who, obviously, has some self-determination at this point, even affecting the plot of a popular show.
Aaron: The Don after she dumped him was the Don after he found out Mrs. Whitman in CA had died. When Jon Hamm is playing sad, he gets lugubrious. He closes his mouth and swallows audibly. It's annoying.