Mad Men recap: Nice Guy Ted
The two agencies start to merge and deal with the politics of physical space, competing clients, and sensitive egos
Hi all, I’m your substitute recapper for the evening. Ted, the golden boy of the new agency summed up my feelings best when he said: “First day of school. Nervous?” Yes, Ted, yes, I’m nervous.
If there ever was a motif on Mad Men, it would have to be the elevator. There are other motifs, sure, but boy if that alienating mode of transportation doesn’t get used to all its dramatic potential on this show. The abruptness and randomness of when and where the doors open, and the sledge-hammer poignancy of the doors slowly, smoothly closing can mean everything to a scene and is perfectly suited to the pacing of the show. Whether it’s leaving someone behind, ascending or descending with meaningful company, or providing an opportunity to contemplate nothingness and death, the elevators of Mad Men provide an alarming number of symbolic moments for a chunk of machinery.
On this week’s episode “Man with a Plan,” we meet up with Don alone in an elevator that opens up on an unexpected floor. He wanted to go to the lobby, but instead he finds himself privy to a loud argument between Sylvia and Arnold. Well, it’s actually just Sylvia screaming. Arnold might have been responding to her, but his voice doesn’t carry through the walls. He’s about to go on a trip, and Sylvia cries that he’s not taking care of her. Our boy Don lingers enough to catch bits of what the argument is about, but, like any good eavesdropper, retreats quickly and nervously to the safety of the elevator and the comforting knowledge that it will remove him from the situation with a push of a button.
The merger, meanwhile, is still on and moving a bit too fast for everyone to catch up. Simply put, the SCDP offices are chaos. The phones are ringing, movers are carrying furniture, and confused, displaced Cutler Gleason and Chaough employees are wandering around with boxes waiting for Joan to dole out office and secretary assignments as if directing a cruise ship. This is an HR nightmare. But, hey, Joan’s doing her best. And she’s still collected enough to give newbie John Mathis a dismissive look when he tries to feed her a line. Kid, Joan is a Partner. You should, actually, know her name. Also, sit down.
There’s a bit of a power struggle as everyone tries to suss out their place. The only ones who seem particularly at ease about the situation are the creative teams. Is it lame to be really excited for Peggy, Stan, and Ginsberg to be back around the same table again?
Poor Peggy, though. She’d made such a bold decision to move on with her life and career and suddenly she’s right back in the same old offices — Harry Crane’s awful old space with the intrusive pole, to be exact — and with the same old bosses. She even confronts Don, passively, about the merger and why he’d never even asked her out to lunch while she was gone. Their relationship remains terse and awkward. Thankfully, she and Joan seem to be on the same team for now, and maintain a friendly, professional candor.
NEXT: He’s a pilot too…
But work waits for no man, and apparently in this new agency, no one waits for anyone. Much to the chagrin of Pete and Don, the old rules no longer seem to apply. And with each attempt to cling to the way things were, they both look more and more like petulant children who can’t evolve. Also, at each turn, Ted is there with a smile on his face to keep things going — whether it’s giving up his own seat at the Partners meeting when Pete embarrasses himself by unseating a secretary to exert his authority, or continuing the brainstorm session with the writers when Don is nowhere to be found. Ted is the effortlessly chivalrous golden boy and his positivity is infectious. He even flies his own plane for God’s sake.
Pete gets an unwelcome distraction in the middle of all the chaos. His mother shows up at his apartment, and her mind is going. She thinks her husband is still alive and barely even knows where she is. Pete, of course, is terrible about the whole thing. He’s dismissive and outwardly hostile to her, proving once again that he’s a jerk. He ends up missing a meeting with Mohawk because of some latent humanity in his dark, dark soul that compels him to go check on his mother, who’s gotten into some situation with a fire in his apartment. But I’m sure if he knew they were actually going forward with it, he would have just left her there.
Don and Ted try to figure out their relationship and, based on the many ups and downs in this episode, it’s going to be exciting to watch it develop. In each of their scenes, one party is in control. At the initial margarine brainstorm, it’s Ted’s show, but Don takes back the power when he gets Ted — an adorable lightweight — trashed. After Ted has a talk with his rapidly deteriorating colleague and friend Frank Gleason, Ted flies that plane with a nauseated Don next to him and it’s game over for the time being. “No matter what I say, you’re the guy who flew us up here on your own plane,” Don says to explain why Ted would be leading the meeting by default. I wonder if he knows how much he threw Don when he said, “Sometimes when you’re flying, you think you’re right side up, but you’re really upside down. Gotta watch your instruments.” Is that the theme of the season? One of them at least?
But these two are hard to figure out, and maybe that’s just because they’re more subtle than the megalomaniac manipulators of Game of Thrones. Are they competing with each other or just testing the waters and finding their place? Anyway, it’s been a while since we’ve let someone new try to get to know Don, and Ted is just as baffled as we all are. It’s kind of fun to have this new way in.
NEXT: The end of the affair…
Don retreats from his life and responsibilities three times in the episode. When Sylvia calls him at the office, he’s thisclose to saying that, no, in fact, he can’t go have fun with her because his company is merging with another and it’s actually a deal he shepherded so it would probably not be a great time to leave. But then she says in a kitten-soft voice: “I need you, and nothing else will do.” And that’s enough for Don.
Don and Sylvia’s escape to the Sherry-Netherland felt like a one-location play. It was contained, oppressive, and got stranger as time went on. What is always so infuriating and fascinating about Don’s interactions with his mistresses is that it’s impossible to gauge his motivations. Was it because he’d heard her fight with Arnold? Or perhaps because he was annoyed that she was being conversational and personal with him after sex? Regardless of the why, in that hotel room, Don owned Sylvia. He demanded that she crawl on her hands and knees to “find his shoes” that were in plain sight a few feet away from him. He required that she undress and wait for him in the bed. He arranged for a vampy red dress from Saks to be delivered to her doorstep. He made her wait hours and hours for him. He took her copy of The Last Picture Show. And all the while, Sylvia complied. Sure she basically gave him a “seriously?” look at every request, but as soon as he made clear that he wasn’t kidding, she went with it.
When she decides to break it off at the end, she doesn’t call him a creep, she merely explains that she’s ashamed of herself. She also had a dream about Don dying. Death looms, Don. And of course they end on the elevator. Sylvia exists and Don continues on, alone as always. He even manages to tune out Megan while staring directly at her as she talks excitedly about planning another vacation.
The episode closes in the early hours of the morning on June 6, with the news of Bobby Kennedy’s death. Pete thinks his mother is talking crazy when she tries to tell him what’s happened — because of course everything else she says is evidence of her dementia. And Megan, who seems to hold the burden of the world on her shoulders lately, weeps for the slain Kennedy as Don sits on the other side of the bed choosing not to comfort his wife.
So, what do you think of Bob Benson’s kindness? Unexpected? How about Joan paying it forward and saving his job? Do you believe that Sylvia and Don are over? Did anyone else find the hotel subjugation extremely strange? Did you like how Bobby Kennedy’s death was handled? What about Ted and Don? What are these two going to be to each other? Are we afraid that Ted might turn into Don?
Peggy says “Do you want me to get that?” to Don when they’re all standing by his phone ringing. I think she’s mostly kidding, perhaps even coyly reminding Don how far she’s come. Or she was just being nice and strangely deferential to him.
Roger gets to fire Burt Peterson again. His ungraceful exit was amusing, but certainly nothing could compare to his first termination. Bob Benson didn’t seem too flustered, though.
Peggy: “I spoke with Dawn.” Ted: “Black or white?” Weird, Mad Men.
Brands of margarine as Gilligan’s Island characters…go!
Joan saves Bob Benson from getting “last hired first fired.” Impressive.