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'Mad Men' recap: 'Man with a Plan'

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Don’s now a dom. And, no, it’s not as sexy as it seems.

In ‘Man with a Plan,’ our antihero has one plan: To gain some semblance of balance by controlling everyone’s lives around him.

In doing so he lays down a path of destruction. He more or less imprisons Sylvia in a swanky hotel, and mortifies Ted by getting him rip-roaring drunk.

This episode, the halfway mark of season six (yes, already), has two or so other subplots with Pete and Joan. But what’s really prominent is Don’s overwhelming lack of control in his own life, and how that intertwines with the RFK assassination.

But, first, onto Don’s cruel case of mental sadomasochism.

Don’s on the apartment elevator when it stops at the Rosens’ floor. As it opens, Don sees suitcases and hears the couple shouting. Sylvia screams at Arnie to go, insisting that she doesn’t need his money (that’s Don’s job, apparently). “You’re not taking care of me -- you’re taking care of you!”

The one person she thinks can take care of her? Don. Vulnerable, she calls him later when he’s at work, in desperation. Initially he resists.

“I need you, but nothing else will do,” she coos. Finally, he feels needed again. He drops everything for a long lunch break and tells her to meet him at a hotel.

Then the horror show begins. Nothing gory or graphic, but it’s by far the most loathsome we’ve seen Don. Ever.

First he tells her to get his shoes. She scoffs, pointing to them across the room. Not good enough. He tells her to get on her hands and knees to find them. Playing along, she obliges and puts them on his feet. He tells her to undress and to wait for him.

At first she buys into the kinky dom/submissive game, and even gets off on it (literally) when he calls her later not to leave the room or to answer the phone.

No ties, no bonds, no chains. He never handcuffs her to a bed, like he did to Bobbi Barrett, only to leave her there for housekeeping to presumably untie her. Nonetheless, he keeps Sylvia in her dungeon-like hotel with near-psychotic manipulation.

"Why would you think you’re going anywhere?" he sneers, as she’s dressed in the slinky red dress Saks Fifth Avenue he sent her. "You are for me. You exist in this room for my pleasure." Why, Don, why?!

Because, finally, it's something beautiful he can truly own. And, apparently, control down to every last thought. Here's where it turns creepy: “Who told you you were allowed to think?” Run, Sylvia, run!

After two nights of being locked down in the hotel, Sylvia tells him the freaky fantasy and affair are over. Not if Don can help it. Even as she breaks up with him, he's trying to control her: "It's easy to give up something when you're satisfied."

"It's easy to give up something when you’re ashamed," Sylvia remorsefully replies.

She touches Don's face as he whimpers, "Please." He's no longer in charge. He looks more frightened and helpless than he did on the airplane with Ted.

In the elevator ride to her apartment, she appears traumatized yet relieved. As she walks to her apartment, she doesn't say a word or look back at Don.

He goes back to his apartment where Megan is waiting for him and planning their next romantic excursion. His head is spinning and his world is upside down.

Now for the aftermath. Will she admit the affair to Arnie or Megan? If she does, will she reveal what a sociopath Don is? And if she is the one who tells Megan, will she cry on her shoulder, or Megan on hers?

Yes, an adulteress deserves sympathy with a dom like this (side note: I’m pretty sure every one of Don's mistresses should join a support group of some sort). And with a Patrick Bateman-esque scene like this, Don's face just became a whole lot more punchable than Pete's.

Don, you're best when you're dashing and, as Ted's bedridden partner more or less put it, charming. We miss you. Please be debonair next week and flirt with Joanie.

(Side note: The trapped-in-a-hotel plotline was especially unsettling after the Cleveland kidnapping story that hit last week. Not that Weiner could predict that would happen when he's incorporating tragedies from the past into his show. But still. Cringe.)

Don's next victim is Ted. His former(ish) arch rival and now co-partner. The man who stole office wife Peggy away from him. It. Is. On.

Ted starts a creative meeting with a casual rap over Fleishmann's margarine. Word association? No wonder the SCDP creative sit there blankly.

Don, meanwhile, is caught up with his tryst and shows up 40 minutes late to the meeting. Don adjourns the meeting and tells Peggy to schedule the next one. Ted, pissed, calls him out on his lateness and Don storms off to his office.

In Draperland, booze and two glasses is an olive branch. Ice also substitutes as bread to fill up the stomach and stay sober.

This is how he tricks Ted into getting bumbling drunk before 4 p.m. He then leads Ted into the conference room. Humiliation is what drives him.

Peggy, pissed, sits a stumbling Ted down. He promptly puts his head on the table and insists he's "fine." Surest sign if someone's drunk or not.

The next day, Peggy's waiting for Don in his office. "I hoped he'd rub off on you, not the other way." Don, the manipulator extraordinaire, insists Ted has everything he wants (cough, Peggy, cough), and that she's unjustly taking Ted's side.

Peggy makes an accusation that I was speculating recently: Don merged SCDP and CGC so that he could finally have Peggy under his wing, and thumb, again.

Don denies it, of course. But when he welcomed back Peggy, his eyes lit up with adoration and his smile was filled with restrained anticipation. Welcome back, Pegs, indeed. Now it's Don's turn to feel the pangs of unrequited love.

Add that to the fact that he never lets petty squabbles fizzle out, and it's not beyond Don to be calculating and spiteful. He spares Peggy the spite, for now, and reserves that for Ted.

Ted fires back. Preparing a meeting with Mohawk, Ted offers to fly to visit the clients. Because why wouldn't Ted have a pilot license and a plane? Ted: 1 Don: 0.

It's storming as they take off. The plane is shaking and Don is petrified. Ted assures him it will be sunnier above the clouds. Ascending into the sunlight, Ted puts on his aviators and smiles. Don's still just as shaky as the turbulent plane.

It's not just the rickety plane that's making him nervous. As submissive Ted regains his confidence, Don loses his sense of power and becomes lost in a maelstrom of fear and helplessness.

Gleason was onto something when he quoted Sun Tzus "The Art of War": "If I wait patiently in the river, the body of my enemy will float by."

Don's world is filled with chaos -- and not just what's in the headlines. The more he struggles against it, the more he's caught in the undercurrent.

We see Don swirling in anxiety as Megan plans their next romantic excursion. Then there's the dread on his face when RFK's assassination is on the news.

As for the assassination, I was surprised with how they built up the suspense of the assassination in this episode. This season in general has hinted to the younger Kennedy's death (e.g. Peggy's profession of love for him last week.)

I was almost certain it would this episode after an inebriated Ted polled the employees whom they think will win the Democrat’s nomination: Kenney or Murphy. Kennedy has the lead. 

But as time ran short, I thought maybe they'd wait until next week's episode. Leaving it as a cliffhanger for how the characters will react to it (other than Don and Megan) was an unexpected and intriguing.

I doubt we'll get the same reactions we did with JFK and MLK, since those were in-the-moment reactions. Sadly, maybe it will be swept under the rug, as the office did with Lane's death.

MORE HIGHLIGHTS FROM 'MAN WITH A PLAN'

BEST ROGER ONE-LINER: Burt: You’re a real prick. Roger: Dammit, Burt, you stole my goodbye.

BEST GAL PAL BONDING MOMENT: Joan and Peggy seem genuinely happy to be working together again. And, more importantly, both are pleased that the other has moved up in her career. But will the respect for Joan be marred when Peggy finds out how she truly became partner?

BEST EXCUSE TO AVOID CONVERSATIONS ON AN AIRPLANE THAT NEVER WORKS: "I like reading on airplanes," Don to Ted, hinting that he doesn't want to talk. Has that ever worked for anyone? I put my book mere inches away from my face and I still hear strangers' life stories.

WORST ROOMMATE SWAP: Technically not a roommate, since Trudy didn’t live with Pete in his seedy playboy apartment in the city, but Pete’s mother with dementia is a frustrating downgrade. Daytime fires to put out from leaving the stove on? Yikes. Not to mention that caused him to miss the meeting with Mohawk. Add that to the failed marriage and a threatened career (no seat for Pete!) and Pete's slowly getting his comeuppance. I still won't be satisfied ‘til he gets another fist to the face.

WORST LINE FOR AN EPISODE DEBUTING ON MOTHER’S DAY: "My mother can go to hell." – Pete. On second thought, make that fist to the face once per season. At least.

CORNIEST LINES (TIED): Ginsy: I used to think you were taller than me. Now I see you’re about my height. Ted: I hope you can still look up to me.

And… "Groovy." – Ted. Him? No, just no.

MOST UN-POLTICALLY CORRECT MOMENT THAT WAS BOUND TO HAPPEN: Peggy: I just spoke with Dawn. Ted: Black or white?

MOST DOGMATIC EMPLOYEE: Meredith. She had quite the bump from her previous "Most Oblivious Employee' rank in my ‘To Have and to Hold’ recap. Stephanie Drake, the Baltimore native who plays the character, said in a recent Q&A that, despite her sporadic ditziness, Meredith does take her job seriously. I guess it’s a little too seriously if Sterling calls her a stickler for not going out of order on the agenda, and she defines "ascending" to the partners at the meeting.

BIGGEST SUCK UP: Bob, the reining supreme kiss-ass. He takes Joan, agonizing in pain from an ovarian cyst, to the hospital. Bonus points for getting her to the doc faster with the ol' "she swallowed the furniture polish" trick. The football for Kevin was a bit of overkill, but, hey, it saved his job. Am I the only one who still doesn't trust him? I'm convinced Weiner wouldn't dedicate that much airtime to someone so seemingly good-natured without something hidden up their sleeve.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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