Don says these words to Peggy as she's lying in the hospital bed, delirious in the aftermath of a shock pregnancy. "Get out of here, and move forward." We all thought in that moment that Don Draper was her saviour. And so did she. And so she did. She got out of that bed, got out of that mental space. And later, she got out of his overbearing shadow.
This week, she says those words back to him. But they aren't words of grace. They are a sharp reprimand. Words of wisdom mingled with deep disappointment and rebuke.
I don't think we'll ever get back to the Don and Peggy relationship breakthrough of "The Suitcase", because if there's one thing we know about Don, it's that he's incapable of growth. He's proven time and time again that he's unworthy of her.
This episode, "Man with a Plan", is a deconstruction of the Myth of Don Draper. I think this episode achieved in greater depth what all of Season 4 tried to do in 13 episodes. However, this deconstruction worked so well that every time Don was on the screen, I wanted to scream at him, slap him and then fall asleep.
Let's start with Sylvia so I can get this over with. I became increasingly irritated over the course of this episode because I felt all of the scenes in the hotel room were detracting from the most interesting thing that has happened all season — the merger. Being dragged away from the tension and excitement of a chaotic office in the middle of a huge shake-up just to watch Don's tired macho posturing is not my idea of a fun time. This was the point, of course, to make you hate Don even more than you thought possible, to realize just how gross his philandering is. I was pleasantly surprised to see Sylvia turn the whole thing on its head and put a final end to his bullshit, because I was getting really afraid that she would turn out like his other adoring, insipid mistresses. It was gratifying to see her think him a little weird, laugh a bit at his orders, never completely fall into the trap of the submissive. And Jon Hamm played the last scene in the hotel so well that even as I wanted to push him off the balcony this whole episode (and season), when he begged her one last time, I almost wanted to cave. But Sylvia didn't. She brings him back down to reality — what they're doing is shameful. Maybe Don is the expert at compartmentalizing, but Sylvia is the one who is down the earth and knows that her place is with her family, at home. Not with in this tawdry prison of a hotel room.
But I am sick of Don Draper, and so is everyone else. Joan and Megan have already laid into him good this season. This week, his frenemy Ted Charlieandthechocolatefactory, after a career of uncertainty and reluctant obsession/hero-worship of the eloquence and mystery of Don Draper, was finally able to assert himself. Says Don as he fights anxiety, queasiness and terror in a tiny plane high above the clouds:
"No matter what I say, you're the guy who flew us up in his own plane."
Ted, cool in his aviator sunglasses and calm in his ability, smiles, agrees, and continues to fly. He's not only the man with the plan but the man with the plane, and at least for the moment, he's dispelled Don Draper's shadow. Getting Ted drunk and silly in front of his underlings is already forgotten.
And then there's Peggy. Perfect Peggy. Peggy, who started calling Don's bullshit long before anyone else (save the greatly missed Betty Draper). You can see in her little headshake in Harry's old office how much of a backwards step she believes this to be. I was so happy to see her and Joan together again, and genuinely happy for each other, but they both know the ways in which they're being constrained. "First day of school" is exactly right — Peggy is back in a hallway that's now a little bit off, a little bit too small. She's not going to let this faze her one bit, though, not where it counts. She sees what Don is doing to Ted. She knows what Don does. She's not going to take it. Her pointed, "Do you want me to get that?" to Don as his phone is ringing was amazing. She confronts Don not because she needs to be Ted's mother or waitress, but because Don is an emotionally stunted man-child, and she knows it. She won't be spoken to as his secretary, or his inferior, or his dependent. As Don testily tells her that Ted is a grown man, she responds,
So are you. Move forward.
We know, of course, that Don is incapable of doing this. He can pretend he's a modern man, he can pretend he doesn't look back — at his past, at his first wife, at his former clients — but in truth, he is in stasis. He's paralyzed by the great disappointment of his childhood and the person he doesn't know how to be. He's not "living like there's no tomorrow, because there is none." He's living like there's no tomorrow because he's feels trapped by his past and is grasping too desperately at the present to stop and be a real person. He is directionless; "escape" in and of itself is not a plan. Ted asks the question on everyone's mind, which is: is Don a mystery, or is he putting it on? As we know, he's not a mystery at all. He seems so because he doesn't know how to act any other way. But there is no great key to his being — he is hollow. Scratch the surface, and what do you get? More surface.
In contrast is Bob Benson. He is still a mystery to us, the viewers. What is his motivation? Is he actually that nice and helpful and boring? It can't be, we think; he must have an ulterior motive. A dark past. He must be a man with a plan. But...does it matter? Joan's mother says no, and in this episode, it's hard to argue with her. Bob mentions briefly, perhaps wistfully, that he has nowhere to go but the office. Unlike other characters, though, he doesn't make it All About Himself. He's there for Joan and notices, exactly because of his odd ingratiating persistence and constant presence, that she is in desperate need of help. (By the way, show, if Joan suffers or dies, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will...well, you know the rest.) Maybe he's a corporate spy, maybe he's Greg's private investigator, maybe he's an undercover journalist. Perhaps down the road, in hindsight, we won't look so favourably upon his help because it will be tainted by something terrible about him. Maybe we will regret that Joan found it in herself to save his job. But right now, in this moment, it doesn't matter why he did what he did. What matters is that when it counted, he tricked and charmed an unsympathetic nurse into helping Joan.
Don uses his mystery to keep himself isolated. Bob uses his mystery to connect to others. Unknown pasts and shady motivations being equal, I know who I'd rather have at my side. (Of course, trust Matthew Weiner to blow this up by the next episode.)
- I don't know why, but I kind of figured this is where we would end up with Pete's mother.
- Am I missing something about Burt Peterson? I don't remember Roger being so savage the last time around. I know they were trying to be sensitive with his wife's illness when they were still at Sterling Cooper, but there was no indication of personal or professional animosity between Roger and Burt aside from Burt's general meltdown. This firing seemed totally out of place, unless it's meant to set up something for the rest of the season. Am I misremembering some old hatred?
- Why does Peggy know random facts about margarine? And of course Ted gives her another adoring look. Cool your jets, boy.
- I was afraid Don would come up with "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!" in the drunk meeting with Ted. As salcele points out in the comments, margarine makes a great metaphor for Don, slogan and all.
- Speaking of Ted, with regards to Don/Dawn: "Black or white?"
- I'm relieved to see that Stan doesn't seem to be harbouring any real animosity towards Peggy. I'm excited to see more tension in the weeks ahead as they settle into this shotgun merger, but I want Peggy and Stan to be BFF forever.
- This week in history: Bobby Kennedy (whom Ted once impersonated on the phone with Don) dies. Nixon is subsequently elected, though history disagrees as to whether or not the RFK assassination paved the way for this to happen. Ted Kennedy's eulogy:
My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world. As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: "Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not."
Apply that to the show as you will.
Next week (spoilers!): Don stares. Megan answers the phone. Roger sits at a table. Don walks.
P.S.: I'm really upset they showed Megan's reaction to the RFK assassination, and not Peggy's.