Monday, May 13, 2013

Mad Men Season Six - Mergers & Acquisitions

Decisions borne of desperation are often untidy. Proposing marriage to a woman you hardly know is one [1] and merging your company with a competitor is another. The ironically titled Man With A Plan may have been a play on the saying "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry," but what it exposed was the fact that making major life changes without a plan rarely works. 

While movers worked furiously to make something new that was still unnamed (SCDP/CGC), Don resorted to time honored tricks in an attempt to maintain control over his life. To Megan's credit, her intuition about Don was spot on - the desperation she equated with fearlessness [2] are really just two sides of the same Draperian coin. Don's disinterest in playing by others' rules is long documented [3] but the knowing glance Peggy gives him when Don shows up 40 minutes late to the first combined creative meeting of the new firm only re-directs his ire in Ted's direction. Taking a page from a tactic he pulled on Roger years ago [4], Don plays to Ted's insecurity and male pride, cracking a bottle of Canadian Club that the two proceed to drain, with Don barely affected by the binge drinking, while Ted ignominiously passes out in front of the team. It's all too much for Peggy, who admonishes Don that she hoped Ted would have a salutary affect on Don, rather than Don having a corrosive one on Ted. It is left to Ted's former partner Frank Gleason to offer Ted the same advice that Don suggested as a strategy Sonny Liston would employ against Muhammed Ali - to allow Don to "win the early rounds" and punch himself out, letting Ted land a knock out blow later in the "fight." [5] And while Ted may have exercised a small amount of payback during a choppy flight upstate, one gets the sense that Ted is bringing a knife to a gun fight. 

In his personal life, Don is also reaching into his playbook for some old tricks. He inadvertently learns that Sylvia and Arnie are having marital difficulties, but turns that information into a deeply immersive exercise of his own control over Sylvia that resurrected sexual themes of dominance and submission that Don has flirted with in the past. [6] But here, Don's "bottle episode within a bottle episode" [7] distills his venality to its blackened core. Syl is there to serve him, to fetch his shoes, to be objectified, to sit quietly in bed waiting for his call and ultimately for his return. It might be that his knowledge of her crumbling marriage converts her from paramour to possession, but the mind games he plays to ensure her supplication do not break her, they make her see the light - that she cannot continue their affair. She has a dream of his death and her consoling Megan at Don's funeral, a sign she must end things. Not only does Sylvia do something few of Don's former mistresses had the wherewithal to do - recognize the affair for what it is, an attempt to escape the complexity (and mundanity) of their own lives - but to extricate herself from it with a modest amount of her dignity still intact. Don, meanwhile, is left to watch his wife's mouth move, uninterested and uncaring at the words coming out of her. 

Control has never been a Pete Campbell calling card, but his life has gone thermonuclear this season. In short order, Pete went from being a junior partner at a successful advertising firm with a home in the suburbs and a shag pad in the City to a soon-to-be divorcee living in a one-bedroom apartment with a new layer of executives pressing down on him at work. When his dementia-addled mother appears at his apartment, Pete's humiliation is complete. Long ago, Pete lost his birth right, his father having squandered it on outsized lifestyle [8] that left Pete having to turn to his father-in-law for business and a down payment on an apartment [9]. Now, he's fighting over (literally) having a seat at the partners' table and being muscled out of client meetings like the one Don and Ted go to with Mohawk Airlines

Pete's failure to exercise control over his life is tied deeply into his inability to be happy with what (and who) he has in his life. He may be bruised from the last acquisition he went through [10], but the people below him are not even boxes on an org chart. Bob Benson escapes the guillotine by helping Joan when she has a medical emergency; not as fortunate is Margie, a copywriter we were just introduced to but who is coldly terminated in a the calculus of SCDP/CGC negotiations over equality in the balance of creative and accounts. Peggy is welcomed back with a minor fit of hazing (the copywriters re-brand her as "coffee chief" not "copy chief") that feels cutting and also oddly familiar. 

But just as things start but feel normal, Weiner turns the entire episode on its head by framing the final scene around RFK's assassination. As a counterpoint to The Flood, an entire episode that centered on MLK's assassination, Man With A Plan is interesting. Here, this history changing news is not used as some broader societal commentary, but rather, as a not-so subtle reminder that as much as we attempt to control things in our lives, some random, black swan event can completely overturn convention. 


1.  Tomorrowland, Season 4, Episode 13. 
2.  For Immediate Release, Season 6, Episode 6. 
3.  In the show's very first episode, Don bragged that life places rules over your life, but that he was not following them because tomorrow is not guaranteed. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, Season 1, Episode 1. 
4.  After Roger makes a pass at Betty, Don invites Roger to lunch, where they indulge in round after round of oysters on the half shell and martinis. When the elevator in the Sterling Cooper building goes out, Roger is left nauseous after using the staircase, vomiting in front of a client, while Don appears none the worse for the wear. Red In The Face, Season 1, Episode 7. 
5.  The Suitcase, Season 4, Episode 7. 
6.  Bobbi Barrett indulges Don's desire for domination, allowing herself to be tied to a bedpost during one of their trysts. Unfortunately, when she mentions she has compared notes on her Lothario with other women, Don simply walks out, leaving her bound to the furniture. Maidenform, Season 2, Episode 6. In Season 4, Don flips the script and gets slapped in the face repeatedly by a prostitute. Public Relations, Season 4, Episode 1. Lastly, a far more violent sexual act occurs while Don is in a fevered state and he hallucinates strangling and killing a former lover who enters his apartment. Mystery Date, Season 5, Episode 4. 
8.  The Inheritance, Season 2, Episode 10. 
9.  The Wheel, Season 1, Episode 13, New Amsterdam, Season 1, Episode 4. 
10. When PPL acquired Sterling Cooper, Lane installed Pete and Kenny as co-heads of accounts, setting them up in a half-assed competition to see who would rise to the top. Out of Town, Season 3, Episode 1. Ultimately, Ken was promoted; however, when PPL negotiated to have itself acquired by McCann, it was Pete, not Ken, who Don and Roger selected to come with them. Shut the Door. Have a Seat. Season 3, Episode 13. 


  1. Brilliant as always. Thank you!

    1. Thank you for your kind words and thanks for reading!

  2. Simply wonderful. Inspires me to retrace the characters' arcs from previous episodes. Thanks too!! Yours, the Lipp sisters', TLo's, and the vulture blogs make my Mad Men experience complete. Much love :)

    1. Your comment is very flattering. I'm not worthy of such august company!

  3. Love your blog but the colorful books on either side make my head ache.

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