Mad Men

'Mad Men' Recap: Don Is Not My Co-Pilot

Maybe the Self-Destructive Ad Exec Just Needs an Oreo

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Don Draper
Don Draper Credit: Ron Jaffe/AMC

Maybe someone just needs to give Don Draper an Oreo.

As we saw on the 90-second spot that ran about three-quarters through last night's episode of "Mad Men," the cream-filled cookie can tame a vampire, a shark or a big bad wolf. So why not an aging, alcoholic, philandering, sad-sack ad executive determined to destroy everything in his path? And how else to explain a truly bizarre media buy that put this upbeat ad in the middle of the most somber hour of TV around, if not as a potential salve to whatever ails our less and less likable hero?

Don doesn't drink blood -- at least not yet -- but last night was an object lesson in how the 1968 version of Don Draper wields power in the office and out. It's not a pretty sight. What was once slick and attractive is now boorish and bleak, whether he's dealing with his lover or his new business partner.

The opening shot gives us Don in an elevator, eavesdropping on Sylvia Rosen, Don's season-six lover, who's screaming at her husband as he packs for a business trip. "You're not taking care of me," she cries, "You're taking care of you!" Don is visibly pained upon hearing this. Surely Don, slayer of hearts, can make things better for Sylvia, right?

Turns out that locking her up for a few days in a hotel room, ordering her to crawl on the floor to fetch his shoes, and stealing her paperback of "The Last Picture Show" isn't the way to a woman's heart. To be fair, Sylvia isn't exactly being incarcerated and for moment she even gets off on Don's lightweight BDSM act. It's powertripping we've seen glimpses of before, back in season two, when Don put Bobbie Barrett on the receiving end of a midmeal finger-bang, then tied her to a hotel room bed and left her. This is one of the ways Don deals with the women who challenge him, and Sylvia, who breaks protocol by mentioning her husband, is definitely one of those.

Don, after all, has been #wonderfilled by Mrs. Rosen, who, unlike him, never seems to have any illusions about what their relationship is. More likely, he's confused love with his own free-ranging ennui or the more acute the frustration he feels toward Megan, who last night was reduced to a as a prop-someone for Don to slip beside in bed. In one moment, she's actually moving her lips with no words coming out.

By episode's end, Sylvia has cut things off with Don, lowering the boom in a moment that has Don looking as pathetic as we've seen him. "It's easy to give up something when you're satisfied," he tells her.

"It's easy to give up something when you're ashamed," she retorts.

"Please," he croaks.

We'll see whether that decision sticks and, if it does, how the breakup affects Don's increasingly detrimental existence at work. The newly merged agency is a tabula rasa on which Don can leave his cloven-hoof impression. Now under his influence, probably less by org chart then by corporate realpolitik, is Ted Chaough, the good-guy figure in all this.

Throughout the seasons, Ted has evolved from smarmy nemesis to a likable if goofy foil to Draper. Don's the top-down manager, parachuting in when it suits. Ted's more hands-on. While Don's out dominating Sylvia, Ted conducts up "a little rap session about margarine in general" that has the merged creative braintrust free-associating ideas for Fleischmann's margarine, the brand eager to kick the tired of the Chaough-Draper creative dynamo.

After missing the brainstorm, Don tries to make something approaching amends by storming Ted's brain with many shots of Canadian Club. Drunk Ted, after offering a compelling theory of "Gilligan's Island" and branding, ends up making a fool of himself, a scene that has Peggy shooting Don daggers. "He can't drink like you," Peggy tells Don, volleying some of his pithy wisdom right back at him. "You must know that because nobody can. Move forward."

Don and Ted do get another moment together, when Ted pilots his small plane to Mohawk Airlines' upstate headquarters to try to smooth over an issue. The scene is a perplexing, even ridiculous, one. I'm not sure what it achieves other than possibly setting up a future plot development. (Ever spoiler-sensitive, I won't tell you title of the next episode, but it is out there if you care enough. Of course, it's likely to be a total Macguffin.)

Don's joined on the USS Misery by by Pete Campbell, who, on top of his marriage falling apart< is now also plagued by a mother whose early stages of dementia cost him his part in the Mohawk meeting. What's more, he seems to have lost his chair in the partner's meeting.

If it's a race to the bottom for Don and Pete, Roger Sterling seems to be handling himself quite nicely in the new agency, thank you. He was behind SCDP getting into the Chevy pitch last week and now he has a new playmate in the Harry Hamlin'd-form of Jim Cutler. As a bonus, he sees to it that Burt Peterson is once again sacked, part of the merger-related redundancies. For those with less-than-perfect memories, I'll remind you that ol' Burt went nuts in a previous season when he was summarily fired-by-sniff by Lane Pryce. His reappearance, like the plane's appearance, befuddles me.

Meanwhile, new account handler Bob Benson goes from creeper to good guy in just one subplot, when he assists Joan to the hospital to deal with what turns out to be a cyst on her ovary. He turns up later at her apartment with football in hand, raising the intriguing possibility that romance is in the air.

There's a man who doesn't even need an Oreo!

-- Two weeks ago, "Mad Men" structured an entire episode around the shooting of Martin Luther King. The other famous assassination of 1968 didn't get the same attention. It's only in the final moments we learn from Mrs. Campbell that Robert F. Kennedy has been shot. "They're shooting everybody," she says an awakened Pete thinks she's talking about the JFK assassination years before. As the closing credits role, audio of the news coverage is mixed with Friend & Lover's "Reach Out of the Darkness."

-- If you're given to overinterpretation, you may have noticed an embedded Kennedy reference in the plane scene. Apropos very little, Ted says, "Sometimes when you're flying you think you're right side up but you're really upside down." Thirty-one years later, John F. Kennedy Jr. and two others would die when his small plane crashed into the Atlantic. The crash was caused by his inability to fly by instrument, and it's believed that his doomed aircraft was flying upside down at some point. Also flying upside down was the doomed American Airlines Flight 1, the real-life tragedy that on the show killed Pete Campbell's dad back in season two.

-- Bert Cooper pronouncing aspirin as "asper-INE." That is all.

-- Back in mid-to-late 1960s. margarine was a big deal. There were more than 500 brands on the market, all reveling in a long consumer revolt against butter. Between 1940 and the mid-1960s, butter consumption was lopped in half, while margarine consumption tripled. Many marketed themselves as healthy alternatives, as in this print ad for Fleischmann's.

Soft margarine, which was just rolling out, was an especially big deal. Soft Blue Bonnet margarine went the scientific route by sponsoring this book of Mr. Wizard science experiments.

-- Stan Rizzo mentioned the "KKK ad" he worked on. Of course, it wouldn't have been an ad for the white-supremacist organization, but an ad attacking 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, who had received a Klan endorsement. Here it is:

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