Monday, May 13, 2013

Welcome to the Inferno--It's So Groovy

Mad Men, Season Six, Episode Seven, "Man with a Plan"

Well, if this episode was designed to make me feel like people in June, 1968 might have felt at the center of the chaos and senselessness raging on or oozing out as the darkness was descending or the culture was descending into darkness against a soundtrack of "I Think It's So Groovy," so that everyone screams out a collective "What the fuck?!" then the episode worked. Is Matthew Weiner a man with that precise a plan? I don't know. At least I can say--after my complaints in the last post about the sexism being really boring--that they seem to have had a plan to shake that up as they document Don descending deeper into "The Inferno" he started out the season reading. (I'm not sure which rung of Dante's Hell he's on right now. Is this Violence--the Seventh of Nine?) I really don't want anything to do with Don anymore, though. Yes, I get that he's one seriously messed up man; that he had such a chaotic childhood that he wants always to be in control and so when things start to feel like they're getting away from him--say, when he impetuously decides to merge his company with another and it's all a big mess--that that's when he wants to start playing control games with people; I get that he was conceived, born into, and raised in a culture that despised him but that despised women even more and so he never saw--growing up with his father and step-mother and then in a brothel--what a healthy, respectful, loving male/female relationship might look like and that he just acts out what he knows; I get that he has a fear of abandonment and so pushes and pushes women to abandon him and prove to him again that he really is worthless. But, the time I have to spend inside that man's head and reality to get to that understanding just keeps getting more and more disturbing. I get that Sylvia was a willing--if an increasingly bemused--participant in the whole "game" and I liked that she resisted parts of it, refusing to crawl around like a dog as Megan has done for Don, telling him "I can talk about whatever I want!" But, the deep misogyny he reveals is neither entertaining nor thought-provoking to watch. It's just incredibly creepy. "Why would you think you're going anywhere? You are for me. You exist in this room for my pleasure." And later, "Who told you were allowed to think?" I've never liked Sylvia, but found myself feeling some respect for her that she was able to recognize how twisted they were getting, realizing it was time for her to get back to herself: "It's time to really go home." She refuses to play along with his "It's over when I say it's over." She tells him she's ashamed. He's just sad and reveals how much he needs her with his pleading "Please." I expect that's supposed to draw us back into his camp since he's a hurt puppy again, but as far as I'm concerned he's a hurt puppy who needs some serious help and until he gets it, I'd rather not get dragged into his world and his hell.

Which leads to poor Mrs. Campbell, who, because of her apparent dementia--her hell, is being dragged into the nasty worlds of her sons. As I recall from past seasons, she wasn't the warmest of mothers to Pete, so I'm sure some of his resentment toward her is justified, but as usual, Pete is able to take unpleasantness further than most. He's insecure about his job, reading some deep symbolism into the shortage of chairs in the conference room during the first joint partners meeting, and so spreads the sunshine as far as he can. "My mother can go to hell. Ted Chaough can fly her there!" he yells at his secretary. Don also seems insecure about the relatively more sensitive Ted's flying ability. When they're on their way upstate in Ted's plane, talking about the presentation to the margarine men, Don whines, "Does it matter? No matter what I say, you're the guy who flew us up here in his own plane." We still don't know enough about Chaough, but it would be really pleasant to discover that there's a partner to be had who is a much more decent guy. His visit to his dying partner, his desire to get to know the new creative team, his lack of ability to hold his liquor, the fact that--as we found out last week--people keep calling him 'nice,' his aversion to Nixon on the grounds of wanting to feel hope all suggest that there might be more decency in him than we're used to seeing in men on the show. I love Peggy's line to Don: "When you told me about the merger, I hoped he'd rub off on you and not the other way around." Gleeson gives him the best advice to "just walk back in there like you own half the place."

It was nice to see Peggy and Joan together again. I hope Joan was sincere when she told Peggy, "I'm glad you're here." The show could use some positive woman energy about now. After all the joint firms wrangling over splitting accounts, sharing the load of who gets fired, etc. they could have been setting Joan up to be the partner with cancer to counter CGC's partner with a terminal disease, but fortunately, that's not the case. I don't know what purpose that whole ovarian cyst served other than to raise that possibility and to hoist Bob Benson into a role where he's now in Joan's debt. What will develop with him?

But, finally the episode's title begs the question as to who the 'man with a plan' is. The partners of the two merging firms seem not to have a plan, but to be making it up as they go. Bert Cooper doesn't even have his full welcoming speech on hand. Don concocts a really nasty plan to make Sylvia demonstrate just how much she needs him and "nothing else will do," but is lost when she finally calls him on it. Pete and his brother have no plan for their mother. Though Pete yells to his brother that "she should be locked up," he basically just runs home when called to put out each fire--or roomful of smoke. Perhaps it's just Sen. Kennedy who had a plan--to be elected president, attempt to end the war in Vietnam and work to improve the lives of impoverished families. Yet, in the mad, chaotic world of 1968, such a plan could not be fulfilled. And, it's the confused Mrs. Campbell who sounds the alarm that sets their world into deeper confusion again--just two months after the last assassination.

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