Scenes from Mad Men: “Man With a Plan”
Don Draper isn’t used to getting dumped. And when he is, he takes it more badly than most.
Even though his marriage to Betty had long fallen apart by the time she called it quits, but her leaving him sent him reeling, not stopping until he hit the lowest point we’ve ever seen Don reach. Other than that, Don has been far too aloof with his feelings to develop a romantic attachment that would wreck him like that again, Peggy’s departure from SCDP last season broke through his armor in a way that few things can. He hemmed and hawed and belittled her accomplishments at first, before finally accepting her resignation with mournful kiss on her hand.
With his many extramarital dalliances, Don has deliberately distanced himself from his partners. For Don, sex is a way to exert control over his life in ways he cannot in marriage and at work. After giving monogamy a try in season 5, Don has reverted back to his cheatin’ ways with Sylvia (Linda Cardellini, who has been superb in the role), his upstairs neighbor. But unlike his other mistresses, Sylvia seems much more on level terms with Don. In the game of infidelity, they’re on equal terms, with both Don’s and Sylvia’s spouses a floor away at any given coupling. We don’t know the origin of their meeting, and it’s entirely plausible that she initiated the affair. Like Don, she’s unhappy with a spouse who appears to otherwise be a perfectly swell human being. Her one difference from Don, however, is what she gets out of the affair. When Don, in a dominant sexual roleplay, tells her “you are in this room for my pleasure”, the line is ironic (and cringe-inducing, but mainly ironic). Sylvia is in this far more for pure pleasure than Don is. She enjoys master-servant game for a bit, clearly turned on at first. But when Don won’t let up on it, forcing her to remain a prisoner in a hotel room on his whims, she grows tired of it, his taking her copy of “The Last Picture Show” being the last straw. Tellingly, she isn’t disturbed or disgusted. She’s a grown up. She tells Don that playtime is over. She has more important things to do.
For Don, the roleplay seemed to be an extension of his battle for control in the workplace. For Don, work is as much a source for pleasure as sex, and the office has gotten far too complex for his tastes since his impromptu merger with ex-rival Cutler, Gleason and Chaough. Ted Chaough shows up as co-partner at the office and doesn’t even need a damn chair in Board of Director’s meeting. Don tries to pull the same power play on Ted that he pulled on Roger in season 1, drinking him into a stupor as a dick-measuring contest. Ted calls Don’s booze and raises him by flying them both to meet a client in his personal plane. Ted rocks the aviators while Don sheepishly holds on for dear life and reads the book he stole from Sylvia.
Don’s been in far lower, darker places than this, but he’d rather be perpetually high, and when the workplace doesn’t do the job, the bedroom has to double the order.
For Don, his dominant bravado in this episode was not just a fantasy. It was his trying to keep from slipping into another stupor. When Sylvia said she needed him, it energized him in a way we’ve only seen once more this season- when he conjured the merger with Ted out of thin air and landed Chevy as a result. But Don needed Sylvia far more than she needed him. She’s had her fun with Don. She’s ready to move on with her life. Don had no plan B. He really had no plan at all. He couldn’t have expected his affair with Sylvia to last forever. But when she said goodbye, all he could do was kiss her hand, and disappear back into the haze of his own mind.