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Recapping the Mad Men Recaps: Episode 7, "Man With a Plan"

1368447975_tumblr_mmq2calrsv1qf4vnko1_400.gifEach week PAPER will help you sort through your feelings about Mad Men by rounding up the best and brightest of the MM recaps. Read below so you can compare, contrast, and ponder while having a light S&M session with your mistress.

Don overhears Sylvia reprimanding Arnold during an argument and Don, in turn, tries to dominate her in a hotel S&M session possibly out of a panicked attempt to keep her submissive in their own relationship. Or maybe he was turned on at the thought of controlling the domineering Sylvia because of his by now very, very well-established crippling emotional and intimacy issues with women, etc. Either way, the whole thing was very Secretary.

"When Sylvia berates Arnold, Don feels like he's being berated, because his interest in Sylvia has always been a displacement of his admiration for Arnold. Hearing the argument makes Don worry that Sylvia might have the upper hand in their relationship." -- Salon

"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."
-- EW

"I love when Sylvia's all 'what's gotten into you?' and I'm all (actually shouting at the TV, mind you), 'James Spader!' I thought that thread, unlike Pete's, which was a means to an end, was the show at its finest. The promise is that hotel room is a universe unto itself, an emotional sea-monkey kit. And it is. -- NYTimes

"In a time of great flux for him, he distracted himself by asserting control over a personal situation he could easily dominate, and part of the reason he could play those games with Sylvia was because he knew how unsettled her personal life was. The Rosen marriage seems no more stable and solid than the Draper union, that much is clear.
" -- Huffington Post

But maybe the whole Sylvia/Don thing was getting a smidge boring. And haven't we seen enough of all of this power/sex/fear/death stuff in Don as it is?

"The problem is, we're halfway through the season, and at no point did I ever care much about Don and Sylvia, partly because we all knew that this wouldn't end well. Despite the obvious skills of Jon Hamm and Linda Cardellini, it's not as if the show has given us much of a reason to invest in this relationship. Sylvia isn't someone who's been given much of an emotional life or a personality of her own (the same could be said of Megan, frankly), so it was hard to care either way about how this ended for her." -- Huffington Post

"I'm glad to see Sylvia gone. This is the only episode in which their affair fascinated me." -- NYTimes

"As for Don, his dominatrix scenario was so theatrical and melodramatic that it both bored and amused me. Call me a cold fish, but I just couldn't invest in any of those scenes. I could think of half a dozen logical reasons why this scenario was happening, but that didn't mean it was actually interesting. Don can be a jerk who enjoys seeing how far he can push others, but we've known that for a long time, and these scenes didn't especially add anything new to our understanding of that side of the guy. Ultimately, I just didn't need scene after scene of Don auditioning for '50 Shades of Grey.'" -- Huffington Post

Meanwhile, Peggy's firm moves in and Ted realizes Don is a deadbeat.

"[Peggy] knows what [Don's] up to, and as the person who's going to have to actually keep the creative staff at least semi-productive, she can't have Don and Ted keeping everyone off balance as they play a series of power games. Can Don accept how radically the power dynamic has shifted between he and his former protegee?" -- Huffington Post

"[Peggy] scolds Don for being a competitive baby and getting Ted drunk. She tells Don that she'd hoped Ted, her new hero, would rub off on Don, her former hero, and not the other way around. That has to sting for Don, who once took real pride in mentoring Peggy. The Don who gave Peggy a chance to forge a new life (and even visited her in the hospital) is long gone now, replaced by a guy who's too lost and too desperate to help anyone but himself." -- Salon

So Don is rejected by Sylvia and reduced to begging, put in his place by both Ted and Peggy at work, and is more emotionally distant from Megan than ever before. The desperate, downward Draper spiral is gaining momentum.

"Masculinity in crisis! Don has been upstaged at work, scolded by his former admirer, abandoned by his loyal secretary (but what's going on there?) and dumped by his mistress. And when he returns home to Megan, even though she's planning to ask for time off in order to save their marriage, he tunes her out. He's all alone."
-- Salon

"'This is over,' Sylvia says, when Don finally goes back to the hotel room. And suddenly we are back to Episode 1, with Don as a statue, nearly mute, only able to get out one word. 'Please?'"
-- Slate

"For all of Don's intimidating and aggressive tactics that he used on Sylvia throughout this exercise in dominance and submission, all it took was one rejection to reduce him to a begging Dick Whitman. The moment Sylvia refused him, all of the color washed away from Don's face, and his imposing expression melted into one of panic."
-- Rolling Stone

"'It's easy to give up something when you're ashamed,' Sylvia told Don earlier, but she almost seemed to be speaking for everyone close to Don (and for Americans disgusted with their country in the wake of Bobby Kennedy's assassination). That's what Don's been handing out this season: shame. He's ashamed of himself, so he can't stop dishing up shame for everyone else. But one by one, they're giving up on Don Draper for good."
-- Salon

"Wasn't that drama in the hotel room just a touch too theatrical? Wasn't the move with the Scotch a little over the top? Don isn't putting it on, exactly. He's really just having a showdown with himself. The new age belongs to men like Ted, who come to meetings on time, who have semi-productive brainstorming sessions, who don't drink at the office, who are inspired by lowbrow shows on TV."
-- Slate

At least Ted keeps Don in check in amusing ways. He's an awesome foil to Don.

"Ted Chaough, for one, has moved into SCDP headquarters and has assumed the role of the anti-Don Draper. Ted is respectful to women and underlings, unlike Don. He can't hold his liquor, unlike Don. But most tellingly, Ted is capable of getting close to people and revealing his weaknesses and doubts to them, which makes him about as far a cry from Don as he could possibly be." -- Salon

"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...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."  -- EW

"Don has just barely claimed the crown before the hints start dropping that he will be toppled. Peggy comes into his office to tell him to act like a grown-up and stop trying to get Ted drunk. Ted goes to visit his cancer-ridden partner in the hospital to ponder the unknowable Don...and gets the advice he needs, which is to let Don win the early rounds until he tires himself out. And pretty soon Ted's airplane is rattling in the storm, and a sweating Don has to resort to reading the novel he stole from Sylvia so he doesn't panic. And then Don realizes it's over." -- Slate

"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." -- EW

"The first of Don's plans last night involved asserting himself as head swinging dick around the office, a position he locks down with frat-house scare tactics. To retaliate, Ted offers to fly Don to a meeting with one of Campbell's accounts...They have to negotiate a rain storm that leaves Don shook. For Ted, it's all business casual. Point: Ted." -- Complex

"There are surely many more battles to come between the hip Ted, who likes to rap with the staff, and the 'mysterious' Don, who ultimately pisses everyone off with his imperious ways, despite his occasionally brilliant work." -- Huffington Post

Joan is maybe going to do it with that new annoying guy.

"Given all the turmoil, the last thing any of us wanted was for Joan to fall ill, but fortunately Bob Benson was around to help her through her brief illness. This episode not only gave Bob a real reason to exist, it planted a seed in our minds. How many of us had the same reaction when Bob came through Joan's door: 'Oh yes, she and Bob should get together.'...Of course we need to know more about Bob before we can be sure he's good enough for our Joanie, but his arrival with a gift for Kevin raised my opinion of him quite a bit. He did not need to check on Joan at home: If all he wanted to do was to brown-nose enough to keep his job, he'd already done all he needed to do by taking her to the hospital and sweet-talking a nurse into getting Joan seen right away...Bob is stable, nice and possibly thoughtful -- so what if he's bland?" -- Huffington Post

"I did like how Joan managed to subtly yet effectively reward the overeager accounts man Bob Benson for his kindness in taking her to the hospital when she had a medical emergency (ovarian cyst). A few positive words from SCDP's only female partner saved the two-coffee-holding Bob from the chopping block." -- Rolling Stone

"Bob proves himself a good doobie by asking her babysitter to stay late and working some magic to help Joan quickly get seen by a doctor. He even stops by the next day to see if she's OK -- the illness turned out to be an ovarian cyst (phew) and to bring Kevin an age-inappropriate-but-still-thoughtful football. Joan's mom thinks Bob is cute, but Joan says he's too young. Still, she looks pretty pleased that he visited." -- TV Line

"Speaking of honorable men, what could be more pleasing than seeing Joan shepherded to the hospital by that adorable, suck-up youngster, Bob Benson? Bob's discreet, gentlemanly help in getting her to the E.R. is so gratifying to witness after all of the dismissiveness and abuse Joan suffered at the hands of her ex-husband. Bob's ability to get Joan in to see a doctor without throwing his weight around is pretty impressive, and just the sort of cleverness and political savvy that may bring him success, despite any apathy toward him at the office. Of course we're hoping that Bob might have genuine interest in Joan beyond the political - why else do we even know this kid, right?" -- Salon

Pete Campbell, still a dick.

"The Pete's-mother-is-going-senile story line has been seen in countless films and television shows, but I applaud Chellas and Weiner for using it to present the Bobby Kennedy assassination in a fresh and clever way: Dorothy Campbell, in a rare moment of lucidity, awakens her son to inform him 'they shot that poor Kennedy boy.' Pete, assuming she means John F. Kennedy, tells her she's about five years too late and goes back to sleep." -- Rolling Stone

"Pete's 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." -- EW

Bobby Kennedy is killed at the last minute.

"And if we needed more proof that history will not stand still for Don Draper, the episode ends with the shooting of Bobby Kennedy, moving the revolution along." -- Slate

"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." -- EW

"Yes, in 1968 the bullets are flying so freely that Weiner and company don't even dedicate an entire episode to RFK. Blood is commonplace. Like a pop song." -- Complex

"Bobby Kennedy is shot and killed. (Luckily, it doesn't take over an entire episode, though it does feel a little bit tacked-on here.) This time, Megan is distraught, but Don can only think about himself. His hero status has taken a bullet it may never recover from. 'Reach out in the darkness, and you may find a friend,' we hear as the credits roll. Don better hope he finds a friend, because he doesn't have any left here." -- Salon

"In the final scene, as Megan watches the news of Bobby Kennedy's assassination, in an ingenious blocking decision, Don sits perpendicular to her on the bed, not looking at her, not looking at the TV, but perpetuating the ongoing detachment between husband and wife. The song that plays in the final seconds of the scene and over the credits, Friend and Lover's
'Reach Out of the Darkness,' may have seemed appropriate for the time period, but the hippie-dippie themes of the tune struck such a discordant note when played against a news broadcast of Bobby Kennedy's murder." -- Rolling Stone

"Unlike the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination, Mad Men chose to play Bobby Kennedy's murder as the final beat of an episode that was all about the chaos associated with change. Whether we'll see more about the historical moment than Megan weeping while watching the news - as Don sits, turned away from her, lost in his own thoughts (which, forgive me, I don't believe are focused solely on the country's loss) - remains to be seen." -- TV Line

Was this one of Mad Men's darkest episodes?

"Everything from the sound mix to the shots chosen by director John Slattery reinforced a sense of dislocation and literal dis-ease. We saw any number of pale characters, disheveled men, off-balance women, strange angles and hallways crowded with too much stuff and too many people. The first half of the hour was intentionally noisy as well -- the din of that many people trying to fit into that small a space contributed to the sense of urgency and the lack of equilibrium. Pete's apartment felt too small and cramped, and even the luxury hotel room felt stuffy and claustrophobic by the end of the hour. Add in the actual sickness and death that pervaded the episode -- from Joan's thankfully temporarily illness to the serious mental impairment of Pete's mother and the awful death of Robert Kennedy -- and it made for an hour that recalled several of the creepiest, most disturbing hours of Season 5." -- Huffington Post

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