The article below contains spoilers for "Man With a Plan," the May 12, 2013 episode of "Mad Men."
Don (Jon Hamm) likes to be on top -- not that there was ever any doubt. Don Draper, ad man extraordinaire, has refused to be pinned down by contracts, difficult clients or the ladies in his life, preferring to come and go as he pleases (and to tell people to fuck off whenever he feels like it), impelled by the deep-seated restlessness and self-examination that have shaped his life.
"Man With a Plan," directed by Roger Sterling himself, John Slattery, and written by Semi Chellas and Matthew Weiner, is an episode built around a pair of Don's power games as he tried to establish his ascendancy in two different realms. One was with his mistress and neighbor Sylvia Rosen (Linda Cardellini), and the other was with his counterpoint Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm) in the recently blended family of SCDP and CGC. That the workplace was the more interesting of the two says as much about how repetitious Don's bedroom antics have become as the state of the new office. Yet another of Don's romantic partners drifted away, and this time it was hard to feel much at all.
The most titillating part of the sequence, which found Don sending Sylvia a red dress from Saks to wear for him, demanding she bring him his shoes and forbidding her from picking up the phone, was actually the knowledge of what prefaced it -- his overhearing her shouting at her husband while in the elevator on his way to work. As much as the hotel scenes were provoked by the goings-on at the office, they also came with the context that the Rosens' marriage is in turmoil. Don was playing at keeping Sylvia in check and satisfied when, by his perceptions, her husband couldn't.
The Chaough thread was better because, like "For Immediate Release," it gave us a glimpse of Don from the outside, as brilliant and difficult and as a real pain in the ass to work with. Chaough is responsible, he shows up on time, he invites input from his team and compliments them on their work, and he has an adorable formula in which he figures out his approach to problematic campaigns by figuring out which "Gilligan's Island" character the product would be. Don, we know well, balances out his flashes of greatness with a striking disregard for his colleagues, thinking nothing of wandering off for an assignation in the middle of the day and showing up 40 minutes late to a meeting. Chaough's niceness and his seeming disinterest in having a pissing contest shifted the sympathy in his quiet duel with Don to his side.
Whether Don and Ted will produce great work together has also been left mysterious -- the margarine pitch the Don came up with wasn't world-shaking or particularly collaborative, and the yet-to-be-named car model they're going to market to the world will be the notorious Chevy Vega, which doesn't bode well. But it's telling that in an episode in which we see a private and a public Don, it's the outside glimpse that's more interesting -- approaching Don through the eyes of others, as a challenging coworker who must be managed and figured out.
And Bob Benson (James Wolk), after running around SCDP looking for a pat on the head from a higher up for several episodes, lucked into a moment with Joan (Christina Hendricks) when he escorted her out of the office and to the hospital after finding her sick. It's unclear whether his gallantry was calculated or came from a sincere place -- his puppyish cheer has been unfaltering, but he also did show off his ability to manipulate in helping her get seen faster in the emergency room (and either way, again, in this show, the answer is usually a more complicated mixture of both). His connection to her did save him from the chopping block, with Joan stepping in at the last minute to elegantly suggest his usefulness. It may be true that "every good deed is not part of a plan," as Joan's mother pointed out, but they certainly don't hurt when easily dispensed of, and Bob's (and to a lesser extent, Ted's) technique of smiling through suggests a different approach to playing the same game. SCDP has always been a place in which the employees constantly jockey for position -- the addition of a host of new employees can only make it worse.