I need you, and nothing else will do.
When chaos overwhelms a part of your life that you usually dominate, like Don does his workspace, a natural urge to control something, anything, takes over. When my life becomes chaotic, I crawl inside myself and make strange lists, like Ted admits with his Gilligan’s Island-margarine pairings. During the darkest times in my past, my house was impeccably clean because, while I couldn’t control what was happening to me, I could absolutely control the space around me.
Taking control over another person is tricky. It can be an exciting, freeing experience for both, or it can be a warning of potential abuse; control must be given as freely as it is taken, and trust must exist on both ends. For Don and Sylvia, their short game of dominance and control was exciting and cathartic, but ultimately, with too much time for Sylvia to consider the truth of their play, an ending.
What a gift though, to read another person well enough, like Don did Sylvia, to know that she needed, for a spell, to lose control; to not know what was going to happen next, but trust that she was going to enjoy it. Don, in turn, was able to know with complete certainty, that while his work was muddled and confused with new people and change and challenges, there was something beautiful waiting for him, something even more beautiful than Megan because Sylvia was waiting on Don’s order. She existed only for him.
We’ve seen Don’s dominance take over with nearly all his relationships. We’ve heard him tell more than one woman to stop talking. We’ve seen his need to control take an abusive turn with Betty, and a filthy worded role play scene with Megan. What we ultimately see with Don though, with the women he cares about – Betty; Megan; Sylvia – is a boyish need to keep things as they are, even if the woman is miserable. “Please,” Don begs Sylvia as she calmly explains to him that their relationship is damaged and doomed. Don doesn’t want to stop playing; he doesn’t want the beautiful, smart, lovely woman to leave him.
After shaming, ignoring, shoving and calling Betty a whore, when she finally tells him it’s over, he lowers his head in a darkened room and weeps. A strong shouldered man, broken because the beautiful woman he loved tells him he’s not good enough. When he and Megan fight at the HoJo after she turns down his delicious orange sherbet offer, he violently kicks in a door, chases her while she grips her hairbrush, like an angered father attempting to control his defiant daughter. When they fall together, and Megan holds an aching limb and cries, Don’s face looks terrified and exhausted. She stands, proud and frightened, and he crawls to her, clutches her, and suddenly, he’s the frightened child.
Every woman Don chooses ends up finding a voice that says, “I don’t need you”, and it terrifies him. For Don, there is nothing more frightening than being insignificant; unneeded; unwanted. He keeps a loose hold on one woman while wrapping himself around another, and when one fails, he grips the one that’s still there, hoping that she doesn’t go away, hoping that he can always return to her and find her, sweetly waiting for him. The foreshadowing image at the end of the episode, while Megan sits on the end of the bed and cries watching the footage of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, and Don sits near her, facing away, looking shame faced and tired, is a glimpse of what it would look like if Don lost Megan too – just a sad lonely man, filled with remorse.