“I need you. And nothing else will do.”
Not surprisingly, this week’s Mad Men concerned itself with the aftermath of last week’s surprise merger between Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and Cutler, Gleason and Chaough. Like any merger, it meant that suddenly there was much duplication of work, and fear of redundancy stalked the offices of… what should we call it now? Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Cutler Gleason Chaough? That’s a mouthful even as an acronym – SCDPCGC. I think Lane Pryce’s memorial namecheck may be first for the chop.
Naming conventions were the last thing on Don Draper’s mind in this week’s episode though. The merger may have been partly his idea, but he seems not have anticipated that his position as resident alpha male would be under threat by his counterpart from the other agency – longtime rival Ted Chaough. This week’s excellent script was by Matthew Weiner and Semi Chellas, who knocked me out with last year’s The Other Woman; and it didn’t disappoint, as sensible business arrangements took second place to a territorial pissing contest between Don and Ted.
Whether their constant games of one-upmanship were the ideal way to run a business is debatable, but they were very entertaining to watch. It began with Don turning up 40 minutes late for a brainstorming Creative meeting about margarine (not the most inspiring of products – the best even Peggy could come up with was that it was invented for the armies of Napoleon III, which is hardly a brilliant hook).
Don was not best pleased when Ted wound up the meeting moments after he turned up. But evidently, turning up 40 minutes late for meetings was not how things worked at Cutler Gleason and Chaough. Fair enough – Don then proceeded to give Ted a lesson in how things work at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Taking him aside for a private brainstorming session, he got his new ally started on the scotch.
It looks like drinking every second of the day was not standard practice at Cutler Gleason and Chaough, and Ted was visibly flagging by the third glass. He couldn’t appear weak in front of his rival though, oh no. So it wasn’t too surprising that when he staggered back to Creative, he ended up asleep on the desk. Don, of course, wasn’t even visibly affected. Point one to Draper.
The ball back in his court, Ted was able to pull out an ace – his own private plane. The partners needed to fly upstate to reassure the head of Mohawk Airlines that their contract to advertise New York State highways wasn’t a conflict of interest. With a visibly disconcerted Don trembling in the passenger seat, it looked like it was point two to Chaough.
Obviously neither man was going to concede any point of weakness in front of the other, so each took their own approach to reflecting on their perceived shortcomings in comparison. Ted took himself off to see the ailing Frank Gleason, who, partner or not, probably could have done without the hungover Chaough pouring out his woes at his bedside. Ted’s summary of what Don was really like was spot on, though – “He’s quiet for minutes, then incredibly eloquent… He’s mysterious. I can’t tell if he’s putting it on.”
Don Draper, of course, doesn’t bother with expecting comfort from friends. Or his wife. No, Don being Don, he decided to reassert his masculinity via empty sex with his mistress. You could tell he was rattled by the contest with Ted though, as he took his sexual style to a new and rather peculiar level. Acting like a character in a novel called 50 Shades of Draper, he installed the initially compliant Sylvia Rosen in a Manhattan hotel room then informed her that “you exist in this room for my pleasure.”
Even by Draper standards, this was weird and more than a little creepy. At the beginning of the ep, he’d heard the Rosens in a shouting match that seemed to signal the end of their marriage, and when Sylvia called begging to see him, that was his opportunity for some fun. But I doubt Sylvia was expecting the ‘fun’ to be of this nature, as Don signalled that he was into a bit of kinky stuff with the command to find her shoes – “I want you to crawl on your hands and knees until you find them. Do it.”
Don pulled off this creepy master/servant stuff extremely convincingly; though knowing him, it’s entirely possible that his feigned disinterest wasn’t feigned at all. Commanding Sylvia that she wasn’t to leave the room or even answer the phone, he then popped in and out of the office to continue his contest with Ted, leaving her with only a paperback for company. And when he returned, he took even that for a bit of light reading in Ted’s plane, not returning until after he’d flown upstate, had a meeting and flown back.
Well, there’s ‘erotic’ and ‘just plain annoying’, and Sylvia’s patience for this game lasted longer than mine would have. Ultimately though, she’d had enough, and Don’s King of the Castle act visibly crumbled when she declared, “it’s time to really go home. This is over.” – “this”, of course, meaning more than just their little game. Don looked like he’d been kicked in the balls. And, in a way, he had. If Sylvia was his way of proving to himself that he was more of a man than Ted Chaough, it was a contest he’d just lost without the winner even knowing it was going on.
Outside of Don’s recurring masculinity crisis, we got to see a few old faces who haven’t been around for a few seasons. The merger brought Roger’s old nemesis Burt Peterson back into the offices. Having turned up late for Burt’s summary firing back in season 3, Roger took hilariously gleeful pleasure in firing him again, this time personally. “You’re a total prick,” spat Burt, to which the genial Roger responded, “you just stole my closing line.” John Slattery was firing on all cylinders for this, and it was terrific to watch.
Pete’s lifelong run of bad luck continued with a family reunion, as his increasingly senile mother had turned up at his apartment, looking for his father. As his father died in an air crash (Mohawk Airlines, ironically) back in season 2, she’s not going to have much luck.
Already smarting from finding he couldn’t get a seat in the new, bigger partners’ meeting, Pete found himself continually dragged away from work to look after his befuddled mother, as she accidentally set his kitchen on fire. As a result, he tried to palm her off onto his brother Bud, also not seen since season 2 (and who looks nothing like him), but Bud was having none of it.
So Pete is now stuck with looking after his problematic mother in his less than swanky bachelor pad, while his stock at work continues to plummet. You could almost feel sorry for him, if it weren’t for the way he continually treated his confused mother as an irritating and unnecessary burden. But there’s the awful truth – who among us is prepared to look after an elderly relative singlehanded? Would we behave any better?
Where’s Bob Benson?
The perma-smiling Bob was everywhere this week, and for once got a little subplot of his own. First glimpsed hanging around Ted Chaough like an overeager puppy, he was then to be seen introducing himself as PA to the unfortunate Burt Peterson. Burt’s advice – “stick your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye” – may have been well-founded, and fed into Bob’s later doings.
Finding the usually unflappable Joan doubled over in pain in her office, solicitous Bob took her to the hospital then used that innocent charm of his to get her jumped forward in the emergency room queue. Later, he turned up at Joan’s apartment (to her mother’s approval) with a gift for baby Kevin, ostensibly to see how she was.
A genuinely nice guy? Perhaps. But Joan’s assessment – “he’s just worried about his job” – may not have been too wide of the mark. If it was a wily stratagem, it worked – Joan later got him kept on at the expense of another poor drone.
Things are still not good in France, and the screaming match between the Rosens involved mention of their son Arnold, who’s stuck there on a school trip. They needn’t worry too much; on 30 May, De Gaulle calmed things down by offering an election, which the Gaullist party led by George Pompidou won in a surprising landslide.
But the biggest historical event was the one I’ve been expecting for a while – the assassination of Senator Robert F Kennedy, brother to John and Presidential hopeful himself. This was telegraphed early on with an office poll about who would vote for Kennedy or his rival for the nomination Eugene McCarthy.
The actual assassination was kept till the end of the episode, and announced with jet-black comedy by Pete’s mother, who woke him up at 6am to inform him that “they shot that Kennedy boy!” Grumpy snoozy Pete made the reasonable assumption that her Alzheimer’s was confusing her with the Presidential death of five years ago.
Kennedy did, in fact, win the Democratic nomination, beating McCarthy in the 04 June California primary literally hours before his death. Just after midnight, he gave a speech to his supporters at the Ambassador Hotel in LA, then left through the kitchen where he was shot by disaffected Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan. The event was broadcast live on TV, though with the crowds the cameras at first had trouble showing what had happened. This was the footage Megan was sobbing at, while Don’s characteristic middle-distance gaze indicated that his mind was elsewhere – probably questioning his all-important masculinity again.
The next episode may well deal with this in more depth, though coming so soon after the Martin Luther King assassination, the show could be in danger of repeating itself. Tricky to avoid though, as assassinations seemed to be in vogue in 1968. As Mrs Campbell lamented, “I don’t know what’s going on. They’re shooting everybody!”
On a slightly lighter note, the novel Sylvia was trying to read until Don’s weird games led him to nick it so he’d have something to read on the plane ride was The Last Picture Show, a semi-autobiographical coming of age tale by Larry McMurtry. It’s all about the death of innocence in small town America – appropriate reading for Dick Whitman.
Dedicated Followers of Fashion
Fewer fashion atrocities on display than usual this week, though Ted Chaough has quite a natty sheepskin flying jacket:
And Sylvia had a nice red dress delivered to her hotel room/prison, courtesy of Saks Fifth Avenue (I have an old coat from there).
Being part of Don’s weird game, no sooner had she put it on than she was commanded to take it off again, revealing some… interesting undergarments:
This was a compelling episode, with Don and Ted’s competition over who was the bigger Man cleverly interleaved with his mindwarping ‘sex’ games with Sylvia. If I had to guess, I’d say Matthew Weiner was responsible for the manly pissing contest and Semi Chellas for the weird kinkiness, but I doubt the writing process is quite so clearly divided. Nonetheless, it was fun to see Don Draper losing his cool – it’s a rare enough event.