Well Being

In Defense Of Kink, Don Draper’s and Otherwise

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Don Draper Mad Men Season 6 Episode 7

Alert! This commentary on the latest episode of Mad Men (“Man With a Plan“) will contain information about things that happened on the latest episode of Mad Men. Stop reading if for some reason you did not already presume that, thank you.

I watched it on my computer this morning while getting ready for work, which I realized was a terrible idea the moment Sylvia—the married downstairs neighbor and mistress of Don Draper—told him: “Come over. I need you. Nothing else will do.”

This set our boy Don off on a kinky jag (points to Sylvia for knowing her audience) that soon found him telling her to crawl across the hotel room floor on all fours to bring him his shoes. Swoon. This was definitely not getting-me-in-the-mood-for-the-office material …

Don proceeds to direct Sylvia not to leave the hotel room. He calls her once and tells her not to answer the phone again. He sends her a fancy dress from Saks and when he returns, tells her to take it off; they are not going anywhere. “You exist in this room for my pleasure,” he says.

Before he leaves again, he takes the book she's been reading (her one means of keeping herself occupied in that hotel room). When she says “I think,” Don cuts her off with: “Who told you you were allowed to think?”

This is far from the first time Don has displayed dominant or kinky tendencies—there's the Season 4 premiere, in which we see that he likes getting slapped by a prostitute (“Don't tell me what you want; I know what you need” is still a great line); and there have been multiple scenes of light dominance and submission between him and Megan.

There are plenty of instances where Don's sexually dominant streak dovetails with his manipulative and sadistic tendencies, resulting in some truly repulsive and rapey behavior. The scene in Season 2 in which he force-fingers Bobbie Barrett as punishment/payback has nothing to do with sex or sexual desire, and everything to do with cruelty and entitlement. It's painful to watch, for ardent Draper fans like myself. In fiction as in life, it stings when the people you defend and defend blatantly do something beyond defending.

But this episode, this entanglement with Sylvia, felt nothing like that to me. Don's desire to dominate at this particular moment may be fueled by his lack of control or assuredly alpha-status in other areas of his life, but it's not a cruel desire. He and Sylvia are both having fun, throughout, until the end of the episode (when her conscience wins out). This is fun, guys! Dominance and submission can be fun!

Sylvia Mad MenThat doesn't seem to cross the minds of many people writing about the episode, however. Hollywood Reporter describe Don's sexual antics as “mean and creepy and unlikeable.” Amy Sullivan at The Atlantic suggests Don's motive in the whole thing was getting Sylvia to break it off with him (implication: he could have no possible expectation that she may enjoy any of this). Eleanor Barkhorn, Atlantic.com's Sexes editor, writes this:

(Sylvia) said she was leaving because she was ashamed, but I hope she was also motivated by good, old-fashioned indignation. What kind of a guy talks a woman into waiting around in a hotel room for him, all day, without reading material? I'm sighing in frustration just thinking about it.

Sullivan responds that “while the domination that we saw in this episode is something Don has engaged in before with Megan, it was over-the-top, beyond what any sane woman would tolerate.” She adds:

(We should acknowledge here that those scenes were particularly hard to watch a week after three women were rescued from a decade of being trapped as sex slaves in Cleveland. Don's line, “You exist in this room for my pleasure,” sounded even creepier in this context than it otherwise would have.)

Um … what? Sex slaves in Cleveland were the last thing on my mind when watching this, just like I don't think of chain-gangs every time I see people walking. Ahh, that whole consent thing. Makes a difference every time!

And I must admit I was sighing when Don took her book away, but not in frustration. “Who told you you were allowed to think?” is a great line—Don is good at this, y'all. They are playing a game and they are playing it well—what's so creepy (as, alas, Jill at our sister site Crushable also puts it) about that?

The idea that no sane woman could possibly enjoy this is patently absurd, as evidenced by the tons of women—including, perhaps, the fictional Sylvia—who really like being sexually dominated. I'm with Art Beat's Logan Hill, who points out that the episode is basic cable television “grappling with sexuality” in an unprecedentedly sincere way.

“It's groundbreaking television in that it never felt like it was pushing Don’s desire into more extreme places (after Bobbie Barrett and so many others) just for shock value,” Hill writes. “I noticed more prudish fans tweeting their disapproval, but when Jon Hamm bleated, “Please,” it revealed so much about his Don: his compulsive need for control, his desperate insecurity. The pivot worked perfectly for me.”

Indeed—it's good TV. If people's response's to Don and Sylvia's kink has been predictably tone-deaf, oh well—I'm always up for a good conversation-starter about BDSM.* And few writers even seem to get that Sylvia derives pleasure from their trists just as Don does—however: When the first assumption is that it's “the emotional abuse” she's getting off on, and not the sexiness, we've got a long way to go, I think.

[Speaking of which: This. This is the smartest thing you will read about porn, kink, monogamy, modernity and love in a long while, from Emily Whitt at n+1.]

Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Liz Nolan Brown, Elizabeth Brown, Elizabeth N Brown, sex, BDSM, kink, fetish, submission, dominance, submissive, Mad Men
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