This episode of Mad Men focuses on the after effects of these two companies deciding to merge as one. What seemed like a great idea the night before in a dimly lit bar over infinite rounds of dark liquor is now presenting itself as a big mistake. Not a single person from either side was consulted or warned about this life changing decision. When it comes down to it, these two groups still see each other as extreme rivals, which makes it hard to coexist. Their like two large groups of self-centered, bratty children being forced to share toys. The office is now crammed and overrun with a general sense of confusion. The secretaries are cross communicating and finding it difficult to keep up with the chaotic decisions of the executives. Don is now realizing that the idea of the merger was one thing, the reality of it is another. There was an obvious “first day of school” theme in this episode. Joan even stood at the top of the stairs handing out desk assignments like a school teacher. It gave you the feeling of coming back after a long break or summer vacation.
Matthew Weiner is introducing us to a much different version of Don Draper than we are used to. The once charming ad executive has gone from hero to Grinch in a span of 7 episodes. He’s jealous, egotistical, and stomps around like a suit and tie version of early man. The comparison made by Pete last week of Don being like Tarzan, swinging from vine to vine still holds up. We’ve seen Don at very low points in his life (let us not forget the year he decided to rent himself a bachelor pad), but we’ve always rooted for him to succeed. Where we would once wait for Don to save the day, we now wait for him to ruin it. There is so little to like about Don this season that it will be interesting to see how the writers turn it around.
We were first introduced to Ted as nothing more than a rival to Don. Our loyalty, at the time, would obviously lie with our hero. It’s now come to our realization that Ted is made to be the yin to Don’s yang. They are completely opposite in how they approach almost every aspect of life. Ted is surprised by what it feels like to be around Don Draper. Ted is charismatic, cool, and sees the creatives as his equals. He plays word association games to come up with ideas and, and he even says the word “groovy”. Don is stiff, cold, and completely closed off to basically everyone he comes in contact with. Ted shows up prepared, on time and sober to meetings. Don shows up 40 minutes late and gets angry when his colleagues don’t patiently wait for him. Ted is having a hard time understanding the complexity of Don’s power over everyone around him. Because of the merger, Don is loosing his ability to control every outcome of happens in the office. He’s realizing that he can no longer act the way he has in the past and get away with it. Having Ted around makes him seem less important to everyone else. The episode opens with the first meeting of the new company. While planning a trip to visit executives Ted reveals that he owns a plane, and would be more than happy to fly the group himself. This is the last punch Don’s gigantic ego can take before it gets knocked out. Finding out that Ted owns a plane makes Don feel as if he has officially lost the pissing contest. In the battle for dominance, owning a plane trumps all. In a jealous fit of rage Don basically resorts to giving Ted a roofie. He gets him too drunk in hopes to embarrass him in front of everyone in the office. A move more suited for a character like Betty, in her days of slapping women across the face at grocery stores. Don has never presented himself as a jealous person because he is so used to coming out on top in all situations. During their plane ride Don is forced to surrender himself over to Ted. He’s clearly afraid, and so wrapped up in his ego that he pretends to read a book in the tiny, two-seater as it shakes uncontrollably.
Peggy is probably the most aware of the rivalry between Don and Ted, and the level it’s reached. She is coming into this knowing the ins and outs of both men, especially Don. She’s seen Don in some of his most vulnerable moments, and most egotistical. She also has an emotional attachment to Ted, and has grown to really care about him as a person. She sees Ted as someone good, who appreciates the hard work of the people around him. She’s been creatively free as a bird since she left SCDP. All of the characters in this show sort of view the world selfishly, and Peggy is no different. She feels like the company merging was a way for Don to be able to work with her again. She expresses resentment towards him for never contacting her after they parted ways. There is a great shot of Peggy standing in front of Dawn’s desk while watching the phone ring. She looks up at Don and asks “Do you want me to get that?” An obvious reference to how their relationship used to be.
The most interesting relationship in this episode would be the one between Don and Sylvia. Don’s loss of power in the place he typically feels the most powerful has manifested itself into a chapter of 50 Shades of Grey. Sylvia reaches out to Don and tells him “I need you, and nothing else will do” It sparks something in him that makes him realize he does, in fact, still control one thing in his life. It started off as a playful retreat from reality for the both of them. Just as Don is feeling less-than at work, Sylvia is going through some of the same feeling at home. She initially enjoys the game Don is forcing her to play. He makes her crawl, tells her what to wear, and locks her in a hotel room for hours with nothing to do or think about but him. He even takes her book from her, the only form of entertainment she has. He buys her a bright red dress and makes her spend most of her day getting dressed, only to return back and take it all off for his enjoyment. She realizes towards the end that staying trapped in a fantasy for too long can be dangerous, and abruptly tells him that it may be time to end things. Not just the 50 Shades of Grey hotel experience, but the entire relationship. The fascinating thing about Sylvia is that she knows just how damaged Don is without him having to tell her. She has a strong grasp on what this relationship is, an escape. It means much more to him than it does to her. She gets what she needs out of him, then separates herself physically and emotionally. The difference this time is that the detachment will be permanent. In Don’s mind this would be considered his last and final defeat. Don’s relationship with Sylvia is symbolic of the entire episode, in that it’s often the person who appears powerless that possess the most power in the end. Don has been feeling like the shot caller in this relationship from the beginning, and he’s now realizing it was never the case.
Joan has been having her own quiet struggle with power since the beginning of the season. The merging of the companies has left her feeling like huge decisions are being made all around her and without her input. The feeling of being the “glorified secretary” is still eating away at her. The most frustrating thing about it is that she is still expected to clean up the messes these men make, and without any thanks. While in her office Joan is suddenly crippled by an extremely sharp pain in her stomach. She tries to manage it herself, seeing as how she feels very alone in the office already. Bob Benson finds her, and is surprisingly the one to help her through it. He sneaks her out of the office, and even takes her to the hospital. Bob has a tendency to feel like a pest, and in this situation he came off as genuine and compassionate. He also whispers to her “I’ll bug you all the way out, no one will notice” which shows that he is fully aware of how he comes off.
Pete and Don’s lives constantly seem to mirror one another. They are both suffering from a feeling of being completely powerless, both and home and at work. The difference is that this is Pete’s everyday life for the most part. If he isn’t falling down the stairs or being kicked out of his home, he’s showing up to meetings and being the only one without a chair. Pete’s mother is suffering from some form of Alzheimer’s, and the more time he spends tending to her, the less time he has to focus on work. Pete thinks that the merge of the companies is going to result in him being pushed out completely. He already fights tooth and nail to come off as an equal to Don Draper everyday, he now has to compete with a man who flies a plane.
In the final scene of the episode Don returns to his normal life and his sometimes wife. Megan is trying to fill Don in on the events of her day. She tells him that she would like to take another trip to Hawaii, probably because it was the last time she and Don really communicated. Don is completely disconnected from the conversation, and is totally looking through her with vacant eyes as she speaks. Her voice slowly becomes more silenced until she is completely mute. Don is realizing that he and Megan are nothing more than roommates who go to dinner and occasionally sleep together. Later, Don walks into the bedroom and catches Megan watching a news report on the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Don sits on the bed facing the opposite direction and stares off with a look of sadness.
The episode ends with a song called “Reach Out Of The Darkness” playing over the news report that Megan is watching about the assassination. The song references people stepping into the unknown and connecting with people they once saw as enemies, which is obviously very important to the theme of the episode.
Friend and Lover - Reach Out Of The Darkness:
“I think it’s so groovy now that people are finally getting together. I thinks it’s so wonderful and how that people are finally getting together. Reach out in the darkness. I knew a man that I did not care for. And then one day this man gave me a call. We sat and talked about things on our mind. And now this man he is a friend of mine. Don’t be afraid of love.“