I Need You. And Nothing Else Will Do.
Sylvia was definitely the star of this episode for me (and how am I only just realizing now that she’s Lindsey from Freaks and Geeks? This was a bit of a rude awakening to the fact that I’m about the same age as many of these characters…even those I think of as “older”!). But I digress. At the end of the episode, Sylvia ends the affair because she feels ashamed – what isn’t made clear is precisely what has shamed her. Is it the adultery itself (what is, perhaps, implied), or the power-play sex-game maneuvering through which Don has put her? The danger up to this point is that the two would fall in love with each other – but this episode reveals that love was never really on the table. The minute Don hears those words – not only that he is needed, but that he is a unique form of need; he is singular – something clicks inside him. The transition from the ad-room conversations about Napoleon inventing margarine were the perfect pre-cursor to the shot of Don, seated on the hotel room throne, asking for Sylvia to bow before him. Weren’t you reminded of so many imperial portraits of Napoleon in that moment? And so the power of his own uniqueness went to Don’s head, and in an effort to live much too fully into that power, he invented a fantasy scenario that was – as the ad-team puts it with reference to Napoleon’s margarine – something no one wants. I don’t think Sylvia feared love, so much as she wanted it – and once it’s revealed that Don only has margarine, not butter, on offer, it’s time to go. I loved the play of submission and resistance she performed in relation to his demands – she’ll get the shoes, but unlike Megan in that infamous underwear housecleaning scene, she won’t get on her hands and knees to do it. She’ll undress, but she’ll turn her back. She’s in the game, but playing it to her own ends. I loved seeing her experiment with that eros as much as I loved the gush of respect I felt for her as she packed it in and went home.
The merger was also pretty exhilarating to watch! And while it seems SDCP has made it through as the true power player (managing to keep more of their staff as CGC employee after CGC employee bites the dust), I have to wonder if Gleason’s advice to Ted – to let Don win the first few rounds – can describe the overall picture as well. Given that this episode makes it seem as if the one who seems to have power is actually about to lose (Don with Sylvia, Don with Ted…), I’m curious to see what the eventual make-up of the company will be – as well as where that make-up will leave Pete, Harry, and even Peggy.
Perhaps most of all, though, I want to know what is going on with Bob! His act of kindness (?) to Joan (and what’s up with Joan and the cyst? should this worry us?) saved him his job. But just what story is he being kept around to accomplish? There’s something in his smarminess that reminds me of Pete – and given that Pete seems somewhat allied to him (simply because Pete enjoys having his butt kissed in a way no one else seems quite bothered with), I’m beginning to wonder if Bob is going to be Pete’s eventual downfall.
I’m curious – what do you think of the quick Bobby Kennedy assassination ending in light of the full episode spent on MLK just two weeks ago?
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!
Who told you you were allowed to think?
Dear Natalie,It sounds like we had very similar experiences of this episode. Sylvia was also the heart of the episode for me, though the more I think about it the more I think what really made it all work in such Mad Men style were the parallels between the Don and Sylvia sex-power games and the Don and Ted work-power games. And in both cases the fact that Don thinks he is playing a game – or at least is maneuvering for power in explicit ways – but ends up mistaking the rules was fascinating, and kind of cringe-worthy, to watch.
I don’t generally think of myself as a prude, but I was squirming the whole way through Don’s hotel room of pleasure routine. It so did not seem like the kind of thing that would turn Sylvia on, and there was a part of me that wanted her to haul off and smack his self-satisfied face. But I also loved the way Sylvia was surprised herself that she was turned on and that she was willing (within some limits, as you point out) to play along and see where things go. It was, I think, a brilliant move to have her never express actual shame or frustration over that particular sex game. Maybe it was the absurdity of being held pseudo-prisoner for a couple days that exposed the frailty of the affair, but I didn’t think she was ashamed of anything particular they had done in that room. Rather, the game of it made her see (through a dream!) that the whole affair was, in fact, just a game. Don may have felt a new surge of erotic power when he decided to make Sylvia his pleasure thing, but her final move revealed that it was hollow power all along. In the end, he was the only one who actually pleaded (that simple, understated “please”) and she was unyielding.
Ted is a more complicated case because, as Gleason reminded us, these are just the early rounds. But the turning point in their relationship this episode was the moment in the airplane, when all of Don’s fraternity hazing drinking games paled in comparison to the man who could fly them up to their airline client. Sure, Ted might slump over in the creative room, but he isn’t holding on to dear life waiting for the storm clouds to clear and he certainly isn’t the one to steer the ship through to sunnier skies.
Were you struck by Ted’s comment to Gleason that Don seems more interested in him (that is, in Ted) than in the work? I couldn’t help but think of Don’s eager hounding of Arnie in the first few episodes. As Don reaches the limits of his own creative genius and his own personal charisma, he is drawn to these other men that seem to possess something beyond the ability to come up with a good idea at the last minute. Don’t get me wrong: Don’s ability to pull creativity out of the alcohol drenched thin air around him is quite a talent. But watching Ted at work (both at CGC and at the new merger, to-be-named) highlighted for me what a domineering bore Don is. His idea of good process is to berate his colleagues, storm off to drink or fuck, and then take credit for whatever emerges in his own brain of the brains of his subordinates. Peggy’s frustrated but resigned sign as Don basically treats her like his secretary again (“Peggy, schedule the meeting”) only drove this difference home: Don doesn’t know the first thing about building a creative agency, he is just terrified of being upstaged. What, if anything, Don will learn from his encounters with more mature professional men, remains to be seen.
I have no idea what is happening with Bob Benson but I am more convinced than ever that someone else is going to die. I don’t think it will be Joan, but unexplained emergency room visits on top of all the talk of cancer is building to something, right?
They’re shooting everyone these days.