The merger of ad agencies Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and Cutler, Gleason & Chaough came with all the pain and power-struggles one could reasonably expect, with the empires of Don (Jon Hamm) and Ted (Kevin Rahm) groaning under the stress. Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) isn't happy she now has a smaller office, but is more indignant by Don's sly tactics in putting Ted in his place by getting him drunk in his office and sending him out to make a fool of himself in front of his staff, both new and old. The fact this only happened because Don was irritated a scheduled meeting wasn't deferred for 40-minutes because of his own avoidable absence just made it even more frustrating for viewers.
"Man with a Plan" was an hour about power and domination; both at the office as everyone tried to adjusted to changes and find their roles with the company, but also with Don's love life. The affair he's having with Sylvia Rosen (Linda Cardellini) took a rather unexpected turn in this episode, with Don relishing turning her into his 'submissive' sex slave. It was interesting how this all came about just as he's feeling less important at work, meaning he was perhaps seeking to reassert his masculinity in a sexual way. Unfortunately, while Sylvia was certainly aroused and intrigued by this new and exciting version of Don, it ultimately left her feeling cheap and used—becoming the catalyst for her deciding to end their liaisons through shame.
Even in the subplots there was issues of dominance and male ego at play; such as the scene where Pete (Vincent Karthesier) kicked up a fuss about not having a chair at an office meeting, prompting a receptionist to give hers up, which immediately led to Ted giving his seat up for the lady Pete's forced to stand. In one clever move, Ted came across as charming and gallant, while Pete was made to look like a petty misogynist. In fact, Ted proved to be something a brilliant tactician in this episode. He may have been humiliated by Don getting him drunk in front of his employees, but he had the last laugh by flying Don to a meeting upstate in his own private plane (an acquisition and skill that must have been almost unimaginably impressive in 1968), which had the desired effect of turning Don into a quivering wreck with the turbulence.
A lot of people, myself included, have criticised season 6 for repeating a few ideas we've seen Mad Men do before, but "Man with a Plan" suggested this was intentional. The episode ended with the real-life event of Bobby Kennedy being assassinated, five years after the same fate befell John F Kennedy, and that made this episode abundantly clearer. History was repeating itself for the characters, too: Peggy is back at SCDP and finding it difficult to accept this 'backwards step'; Burt Peterson (Michael Baston) was fired by Roger (John Slattery) for the second time; and Don's rejected by another lover, forced to return to his second hollow marriage.
Overall, "Man with a Plan" certainly gave me plenty to think about and contained some fantastic moments: from Don showing a less savoury side to his libido by bossing Sylvia around, to Roger's wonderful dismissal of Bert in his office. I even really like the surprise love story brewing between Joan (Chrisina Hendricks) and Bob Benson (James Wolk), who took her to an emergency room to remove what turned out to be an ovarian cyst. I had very little interest in Bob until now, but he works nicely as a pairing for Joan—who really needs a stable relationship in her life about now. I was less interested in Pete's issues with his mother, who has dementia, although anything that sends Pete into a meltdown is fun to watch.
written by Semi Chellas & Matthew Weiner / directed by John Slattery / 12 May 2013 / AMC