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Mad Men 6.12 “The Quality of Mercy” Review: “You Like Trouble, Don’t You?”

17 Jun

There has a strong sense of doom and gloom on Mad Men this season with national events and personal experiences featuring fraught and violent moments. This might be why outlandish theories about Megan and Bob Benson developed traction and while the Bob Benson mystery has been solved, this foreboding feeling remains.

MM_612_JT_0325_0336The episode opens and closes with Don lying in the fetal position; first in his daughters bed at home and then on his coach in his office. On both occasions he is pushing those who were once close to him further away; Megan is trying to reach out to him but is having no luck and an argument with Peggy where she calls him a monster results in him curling back into this position. Don has been adrift all season, he is the empty suit in his pitch and after the incident with Sally last week he is even more despondent. Don’s job is all about connecting with a wide audience, but he is the one having issues with connections this season. It’s a bad sign when you’re sneaking vodka into your morning orange juice so I think it’s safe to say that Don is in bad shape. Outwardly he is still doing a relatively fine job at work and home; he ‘saves’ a pitch but also humiliates Ted and Peggy in the process and Sally hasn’t told her mother about what she saw.

Instead Sally has cut herself off from her father and thanks to some bad city experiences Betty does not suspect Don as a reason for Sally not wanting to visit. Sally wants to go to boarding school and like her father she is very good at selling herself; all those times that she made drinks for her parents comes in handy as she tells the girls at the boarding school that she can make a Tom Collins. Any Sally storyline that involves drinking, getting high and Glen is enough to cause concern but it turns out that Glen is not actually all that creepy anymore (ok he’s still a tad creepy) and he defends Sally’s honor after his friend makes the moves on her. When Sally is asked “You like trouble, don’t you?” she responds with a sly smile and in this moment it looks like Sally is having a good time. Sally is both out of her depth and in control in these moments and this dichotomy is apparent when Sally tells Betty why she wants to go to boarding school; she wants to be a grown up but also get a good education. Sally is still incredibly young, but she has also experienced the harsh reality of being let down by the one person who should protect her and so when she tells her mother “My father has never given me anything” it isn’t strictly true as he’s given her this new jaded outlook on life. What a gift to give!

Don’s relationship with his daughter is broken and at work he’s fallen out of favor with Peggy. Peggy and Ted are incredibly obvious in their shared attraction as they flirt and discuss creative ideas as if there is no one else in the room. While Ginsberg is merely annoyed by this as it means none of his ideas are getting heard, Don sees it as a much larger problem as Ted’s judgement is impaired. Don is partly right, but it also reads as petty jealousy as his former protégé no longer needs nor respects him. The way Don handles it is reminiscent of how he took charge by getting Ted drunk a few weeks ago; he does it in a public arena and hurts Peggy by giving credit to the now dead Frank Gleason. Don is convinced that Ted can’t be that virtuous and wants Peggy to see this too, but all this does is fracture their already fragile relationship. While they keep discussing working together as a team, the actions of both men don’t suggest that this is going to happen any time soon.

In Don’s eyes he is being merciful to both Peggy and Ted by throwing his weight around, but his phone call to Harry about Sunkist was out of pure spite after seeing Ted and Peggy at the movies together. Megan is excited by this development (and it’s adorable when Megan mouths “Oh my god” at Don) but Don uses it as an opportunity to go back on his word with Ted. Once again it makes more business sense to go with Sunkist as the billings are much higher, but this adds to the disharmony as we head into the final episode.  Don pretty much throws his toys out of the pram in this episode as he tries to get what he wants by stomping over Peggy and Ted’s idea under the illusion of protecting the business.

There is a battle of wills raging in creative but if we head to the floor above another power play is occurring and it takes an unexpected direction this week. Pete doesn’t want to work with Bob after Bob’s declaration last week – a declaration of admiration not love as Bob puts it – so Pete turns to Duck to find a new job for Bob. Duck looks into Bob’s past and finds that he isn’t who he says he is, no he isn’t an undercover agent or Don Draper’s illegitimate son but he does share a similar history with Don in that he has reinvented himself to get ahead. Pete mentions that he has been in this position before and while it looked like Bob’s days at SC & P are over, Pete instead shows him mercy and lets him keep his job. Why would Pete do this? With Don he attempted blackmail and when he went to Bert with the truth he was met with a “Who cares?” Pete’s earlier attempts this season to tell Don what was going on with the firm fell on deaf ears and Pete has used these prior experiences and weighed up his options.

I’ve watched this scene a few times, particularly Bob’s reaction as he is just as confused by Pete keeping his secret as I was at first. Bob shows what a chameleon he is as he shifts from fake smiling ‘I’ll get you a coffee’ Bob (“For one thing I want you to stop smiling”) to resignation as he realizes that Pete knows the truth. It gets tense as Bob tells Pete “You don’t respond well to gratitude” and he’s also incredibly protective of Manolo, emphasizing once again that he isn’t doing anything untoward with Pete’s mother. The mercy that Pete shows is delivered in such a bitter way that it’s easy to see why Bob is perplexed and needs Pete to clarify what is going on. It feels like Pete is talking about Don, not other gay people when he says “I don’t know how people like you do it” and “your kind of animal.” Pete has always shown distaste for Don’s big secret and how Don can so easily lie about who he is.

Like Don, Pete is also thinking of the business and this is most evident from this statement “Where you are and who you are is not my concern” because he knows that Bob is a good account man and as the agency is so divided he probably figures that he needs a strong ally. It’s also hilarious that Pete doesn’t even remember hiring Bob, it’s like he just appeared with two coffees one day. For Bob it’s the opposite as he claims it was the best day of his life. This Don Draper 2.0 story is compelling and I hope that Bob Benson gets to stick around for the final season of Mad Men.

Other thoughts

– Chevy are really putting Ken through the wringer and trying to turn him into a pirate in the process (first the injured leg and now the eye patch). Ken no longer wants to tap dance and who can blame him after all this account has put him through.

– Once again the internet delivers on the Mad Men gif front as here is Don’s amazing baby impression.

– The episode is full of baby imagery; the movie they watch (Rosemary’s Baby), Don’s sleeping position, Ken’s news and the ad pitch. Don’s recent hallucination had him projecting the idea that Megan was pregnant and mother imagery has been a repeated throughout the season. Is this a reaction to the chaos of 1968?

– The political ad Don watches uses imagery of fear about the level of crime in the country and it’s easy to see with material like this why there is a sense of doom at this time.

– If only Roger knew what Lee Garner Jr had asked Sal to do.

– For an excellent reading of last week’s Bob Benson revelation I would highly recommend the always incredible Tom & Lorenzo and their “Mad Style” article talks extensively about Bob and the “Best Little Boy in the World” syndrome, even if their theory doesn’t completely pan out.

– On the way to the boarding school interview Sally is eating fries from McDonalds and on the way home Betty offers Sally a more adult ‘treat’ as she gives her a cigarette which Sally takes. This is much different from the last time we saw Sally smoking (look how young Kiernan Shipka is in this video). Sally now feels very differently about her father than she did in this season 2 clip, though she’s still just as snarky towards her mother.

Any predictions for the Mad Men finale next week?

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One Response to “Mad Men 6.12 “The Quality of Mercy” Review: “You Like Trouble, Don’t You?””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Out of the Box: Look of the Week | TV Ate My Wardrobe - June 21, 2013

    […] it isn’t surprising to see Sally develop an edge and the drinking and (supervised) smoking in this episode is probably just the start of a downward […]

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