Eased into this season, after the merger Ted Chaough is taking center stage. How opposite Don and Ted are was seen through Peggy’s eyes in previous episodes, but as partners in "Man With a Plan" the contrast truly shines. Ted is a hero. He’s honorable, flies a plane, doesn’t drown himself in liquor, cares about friends and treats women well. Last week implied for his honorable intentions Arnold wishes for self-gratification, but does Ted? Or is he really in it for the right reasons? A good guy like Ted is just fun to watch in this season, among such bleakness coming from Don, increasingly resembling a devil.
Don’s game ordering Sylvia around feels like one he didn’t believe to work, knowing her independent nature. And it’s not about turning himself on. So why drive that figurative plane into a mountain? Is Don’s jealousy of Arnold so great that he he wanted Sylvia to tell at him with the same anger? But Sylvia did just the opposite. She calmly exits with the upper hand. For years Don has been having affairs that meant more to the mistress, while for him it’s sexual escapism. Unknowingly to him, this is all he meant to Sylvia. Her heart is with the Arnold marriage and her life outside the room. That’s what can make her enraged, not Don. However for Don Sylvia now means more than Megan, increasingly fading out - unable to be a part of her life even at the breaking of Bobby Kennedy’s death, just as during the Martin Luther King riots, Don’s mind was with Sylvia’s safety. When seeing Sylvia leave, Don after his false bravado and games, looked like the lost, sick puppy he is.
Ted and Don’s plane ride contained gleefully obvious symbolism. A pilot believe they are right-side up when they are upside-down, making trusting the controls saying the opposite a must for survival. Ted trusts his controls, his morals, integrity and worldview. Don sees the controls telling him he’s upside down but ignores them in favor of what his misleading instincts are telling him.
Bob Benson also plays the part of a hero, to Joan. Although the context is there to believe Bob may be in it for himself, it’s a comforting feeling to think otherwise. Pete would have taken Joan to the hospital to save his job. Harry to save his job. Don to get laid. Roger to get laid. Ted out of real generosity. Ken out of generosity. Ginsberg out of generosity. I doubt we’ll ever found out Bob’s true motivation, but chances are it’s a combination of saving his job, wanting to get laid and generosity. Maybe he's not a pure hero, but it’s good enough.
Right now Pete can’t see the humor in his predicament with his mother with all the stress in his life. But perhaps she’s what he needs to be able to. Pete’s fear about getting dropped by the company seems rash when he’s a partner, but he’s too over his head to use logic right now.
Peggy lets it slip she believes Don merged to get her back, another less than logical thought. In reality Don is too absorbed in other matters, himself and his affairs, to likely consider Peggy’s part in returning or why she left.
This is my favorite Mad Men episode of the season. The Ted and Don contrast is a colorful ride and Joan, Pete, Peggy had their moments. In this episode Mad Men’s dialog and character interactions are at full throttle in a season that felt in danger of losing what makes the show great.
By Julien Rodger