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Mad Men Season 6 Recap: Favors

Jim Cutler and Ted Chaough sit at dinner with Chevy execs

Welcome back to another week of Mad Men, wherein your faithful recappers recount the good, the bad, and the inevitable—speaking of which, it's too bad Kickstarter wasn't around in 1968, because Sally Draper's Therapy Fund would have been a slam-dunk project. Elsewhere, "The Favor" gives us a chance to talk about wounds, crushes, and who's got the better juice.

Nobody likes us. Everybody hates us.
In an episode where I was 99.99 percent expecting to find out that Megan had died while Don was in L.A., Mad Men did not skimp on wounded characters. The threat of harm hung heavy in the air during "Favors," from the talk of Mitchell Rosen's draft avoidance to the trail of rat blood leading underneath Peggy's sofa to the reveal of what exactly IS going on with Bob Benson. While some of the characters wore their hurt feelings like they were never going out of style, we saw others concealing scars from their (in some cases, VERY recent) pasts.

"Favors" started off with yet another SCDP vs. CGC battle. Clearly none of the partners ever had to share toys growing up, so everyone is still keeping tabs on which accounts belong to which former agency, in addition to pursuing two conflicting clients without informing anyone (with the exception of all of Ted's unread memos). Chaough is clearly hurt and transfixed by Don, simultaneously wanting his way while also demanding that Don work towards the good of the agency. Ted's not only beat up from being at war at work, but is also carrying the guilt of being an absent father/husband at home. Pile on top that moment at dinner when he shot that jealous look after returning to Peggy and Pete laughing together without him and we have one wounded male character (though, to his credit, he engages in a lot less wallowing than the two dudes below).

Then there's Don. YIKES. Given what a mess he would end up getting himself into by the episode's end, Don's wounds are pretty simplistic. He misses Sylvia and is upset over having cared more about someone else than they did of him. His broken heart bleeds into work, where he nearly jeopardizes a meeting with the Two Wild & Crazy Guys from Chevy by trying to wrangle a favor for Sylvia that's never been asked of him. After securing an escape plan for Mitchell, he attempts to call Dr. Rosen but when he gets Sylvia instead, he takes the opportunity to get her to admit that she was mean to him, which is all he needed to be back in the Rosen's maid's room later that episode. Like Kelsey points out below, Don has never been this much of a mess over a lady, but given the past couple of week's focus on Don's mommy issues, it's unsurprising that he is so visibly hurt over Sylvia's abandonment.

The award for biggest walking wound probably goes to Pete, who has been a strong contender in this category for many seasons (For your consideration: Pete Campbell Suicide Watch 2013). Pete is at his wit's end at work. He sort of misses Peggy? He's grossed out by the idea of his mom getting it on with Manolo. He still lives at that depressing bachelor's pad. Momma Campbell harshly tells him, "You've always been unlovable." Things are rough for SC&P's whiniest accounts man. When someone does finally extend a caring word and kind heart to him, it's a now slightly less mysterious Bob Benson. Pete takes as situation as the universe's way of adding insult to injury and continues to act like he has drawn the short straw of life.

Unlike these dudes and their feelings, we see just how quickly many of the Mad Women on the show have to learn to move past old wounds and simply live on with their scars. This episode reminded us not only of Peggy's ability to set aside her feelings for Ted but also of that whole thing where she and Pete had a kid together. Truly taking Don's ancient advice of how much all of these things never happened, Peggy's ability to be scarred rather than wounded is as much a career move as it is anything else. She understands the fragility of her position in life and knows that she can't appear to have any vulnerabilities, especially as they regard "inappropriate" relationships with her coworkers and bosses.

And then there's Sally. I would say "poor Sally," but she, more than anyone, does not care at all for my pity. Even before she reluctantly told her dad "Okay" to his weak explanation of "comforting" Mrs. Rosen, Sally was easily one of the more callous characters on the show. She doesn't appear to like any of the parental figures in her life and, in the case of Betty, frequently feigns oppositional preference in order to hurt others. Sally has seen a lot in her young years, both nationally and at home, and with no reliable parental figure, she hasn't had any other choice but to accept the cards dealt to her and move on. While she doesn't yet have a career on the line, the fact that she's been pushed into more of a caregiving role with her younger brothers means that she can't be bogged down by the messed-up emotions that just come with being part of the Draper universe. One could easily imagine the future Mad Men spinoff focused on an adult Sally with bummer-y childhood flashbacks rivaling those of Dick Whitman.

Assorted thoughts:

Okay, so Megan didn't die. However, I'm still sticking with the Sharon Tate theory, if anything because it's so suspenseful! Given the similarity in hair color and length, I'm thinking that Megan should go blonde before someone vengefully mistakes her for Sylvia (or Mitchell?) from behind.

Was Stan still hurt from Peggy rejecting him, or did he keep the kidding around to a minimum due to the girl sleeping next to him? Also, WHAT'S PEGGY'S NEW CAT'S NAME???

—Annalee


I Don't Want His Juice!
While the Chevy negotiations seem to be dragging on and on—and seriously, has Ken Cosgrove been locked in an X-887 model for the last two episodes?—Sterling Cooper & Partners nevertheless seems to be swimming in new business. Unfortunately, the partners haven't been talking to each other, and the two new accounts they've won, Sunkist and Ocean Spray, are in direct conflict with each other—a fact which has Ted Chaough flopping onto his office couch like a pouty teenager. "I don't want his juice," he complains to Cutler, "I want my juice."

It's possible that truer words have never been spoken on Mad Men. While plenty of people at SC&P do covet Don Draper's juice—his charm, his smoldering, I-got-secrets vibe, and his ability to attract both work and good will despite spending what seems like only a handful of hours in the office each week—Ted has never been one of them. This is a man who, as we see his wife, Nan, complain this episode, spends nearly every waking moment at work, and even when he's at home, his head is still on the job. When Ted says he wants his juice, what he means is that he wants Don to grind the way he grinds, care the way he cares, and to work with him instead of against him. "Imagine every time Ginger Rogers jumped in the air, Fred Astaire punched her in the face," he says to Cutler, describing his relationship with Don. It's a flip of the classic wisdom that everything Astaire did, Rogers did too, only backwards and in high heels—for Ted, his every hardworking effort is overshadowed by the ease with which Don glides into success. And he's sick of it.

But in this episode, of course, Don's juice is spiked with his nearly debilitating love for Sylvia, and it's putting him off his game. At dinner with the Chevy execs, his attempt to somehow leverage General Motors' government connections into a draft-dodging favor for Mitchell Rosen lands like a lead balloon, and Ted furiously calls him out on it the next day, demanding that, in return for finding Mitchell a place in the Air National Guard (could this be a reference to a certain former U.S. president?), Don will finally start respecting his work style. As we learned at his everybody's-drunk-but-me dinner with Pete and Peggy, Ted's juice is the correct juice—straightforward, aboveboard, just as tasty as Don's juice but less risky. Ted's feeling is: Why can't we just have that juice? Why does everyone want the sexy, risky, lying, cheating juice? And after five-and-three-quarters seasons of Draper shenanigans, I'll bet I'm not the only one thinking that Ted offers a tasty alternative.

We'll have to see what happens next week, but it's a good bet that Don himself will be off his feed after the disastrous events of this episode. Sally, already suspicious of the various flavors of Kool-Aid pedaled by adults in her life, made it very clear that she wants none of her father's revisionist explanations for his cheating—when Don offered the weak excuse of "comforting" Sylvia to explain what he was doing with his pants off in her apartment, Sally's "Okay" wasn't an "Okay, I believe and forgive you," it was an "I'm saying 'okay' so you'll stop skulking around my door, but nothing you say in the future has any meaning for me." I would wager that Don's chief role for Sally going into her rebellious years will be the subject of constant, benign blackmail. And I'd also wager he'll swallow it and play along.  

Assorted thoughts:

• Trying to barter sex for pest control isn't quite Peggy's style, but I do wish Stan had ditched whoever was in his bed and taken her up on the offer, if only for a few minutes of Annie Hall–rivaling slapstick. And anyone who's seen the size of many an NYC rat knows her new cat is no guarantee of rodent-free living.

• And speaking of Pegs, I loved, loved, loved her drunken rapport with Pete at dinner with Ted. Maybe it was Pete literally letting his hair down as he descended into his cups, maybe it was the absurd specter of the torrid Manolo-Dorothy pairing they were laughing about, but it was the most charming either of them has been in ages. Maybe Pete's not unlovable. Maybe he's just a little too sober. (And—as I'm becoming increasingly convinced—a little too closeted?)

—Andi

Sally, frozen with mouth agape.
We feel you, Sally. Adults are the worst.

It's Just a Little Crush
It's springtime in 1968 and everyone on Mad Men has a crush. Sally is crushing on Mitchell, as is Don on Sylvia, Peggy on Ted, Bob on Pete(!), and Dorothy Campbell on Manolo. These aren't full-fledged loving relationships of course—by their very nature crushes are intense and often unrequited, and as their name suggests, they usually don't end happily.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but we've never seen Don quite as sprung on a woman as he is on Sylvia. Sure, he felt a connection with Rachel in season one, and he was pretty into Betty that one time they went to Rome, but we've seen him cry over Sylvia. Maybe it's because she reminds him of his mother, maybe it's because she reminds him of a prostitute, maybe (probably) it's both, but Sylvia's hold on Don is a strong one. One of Don's few codes in life has always been that work comes first, before family, friendships (which, as Ted so cuttingly reminded him this week, he has few of), and the outside world. He's always been good at work, and he's respected in the office like nowhere else in his life. Yet when he thinks he can help Sylvia—blinded by his crush, no doubt—he risks the GM account and throws all of his Draper smoothness out the window, trotting out some "Have you heard about that war we're having?" non sequiturs in an attempt to call in an undeserved favor from GM, not caring that he's making everyone at the table supremely uncomfortable.

Sylvia, while attracted to Don on some level, does not share his feelings. She's supposed to be a few years younger than he is (I think—with the way they've styled Linda Cardellini she could be 30 or 50) yet she's the one who knows their relationship can't last and calls it off when she thinks Don's getting in too deep. When they reunite this week for a thanks-for-helping-my-kid quickie, Sylvia seems to be doing it out of gratitude, not the powerful, misguided lust Don feels for her. That made Sally walking in on them all the more tragic: These aren't star-crossed lovers, desperate to be together. This is a bored housewife trying to thank her pushy, drunk, crushed-out neighbor, who just happens to be Sally's dad. Matthew Weiner has said that Mad Men is about the rise and fall of one man, and when we see Don going down in the elevator, head in hands because his daughter has just caught him "comforting" another woman, he's heading for rock bottom.

It was Sally's crush on Mitchell, of course, that caused her to go to 16A in the first place, in search of the letter her frenemy Julie slipped under Mitchell's door telling him he had a nice ass. (Julie, by the way, was played to an absolute tee—we all knew girls like that in middle school, right?) Sally and Julie like Mitchell because he's older and because he looks like one of Paul Revere's Raiders, but just like Don's dreams of Sylvia, Sally doesn't want a real relationship with Mitchell, just the fantasy of one. I'd say the apple doesn't fall far from the fantasy-relationship tree, but in this case it is completely appropriate for said apple to have a crush on an older boy, while said tree is married and should keep it in his pants.

And how could we discuss crushes from last night's episode without mentioning the, well, crushing scene between Pete Campbell and Bob Benson? Pete is worried about his mother's "pleasures of love" with the Spanish-from-Spain Manolo (quick poll: Do you think they actually had sex? I vote yes), but Bob uses the conversation to hint at his own fantasy—the one where he is so helpful and kind to poor Pete that Pete falls for him. "Couldn't it be that if someone took care of you, very good care of you—if this person would do anything for you—if your well-being was his only thought," says Bob, "Isn't it possible that you might begin to feel something for him?" Bob sums up the feelings of every person who has ever had a crush—if only I try hard enough, don't you think you might love me back? (Bob, trust someone who's been there before: It doesn't work that way.)

Pete is thrown by the kneeplay (though the Internet already suspects he liked it more than he let on), and he dashes the hopes of poor Bob and his poor mother with one blow, firing Manolo and his fiery-loin spa treatments and thus rejecting Bob's advances. I know we've never had reason to believe Pete is attracted to men, but when you saw him pouring that sad, angry bowl of Raisin Bran a few scenes later, didn't you think about how much happier he'd be with Bob? Bob Benson has creeped me out this season but I'm a sucker for a sincere crush confessor. And Pete, whose own mother called him "unlovable," has to be flattered at the very least.

Peggy continues to have the hots for Ted, and other people in the office are starting to notice. However, when that horrifying rat incident occurred under her couch, she called Stan, knowing that Ted wouldn't be able to help and she'd already bayoneted Abe out of the apartment. It's clear Ted has feelings for her too—even his wife has picked up on that—but he doesn't strike me as the kind of guy to act on them. While Peggy is dealing with rat traps, a new cat, and a comical number of deadbolts alone in her apartment, Ted is playing with his cherubic children and having frank-yet-reasonable discussions with his foxy wife. Time to move on, Pegs.

Assorted thoughts:

• Did SC&P really win Ocean Spray over with that "BERRY GOOD" poster Peggy had with her during her scene with Dorothy? They must've been hard up for ideas.

• For me, this was one of the more relatable Mad Men episodes in recent memory. In seventh grade I tried—and failed—to retrieve a note very similar to the one Sally wrote to Mitchell, and more recently I've also called on a benevolent coworker to come empty the rodent traps in my apartment. (Thanks Andi!)

• Sharon Tate conspiracy theorists, start your engines: Mark Lindsay, the musician Julie says Mitchell reminds her of, used to live in the mansion where Sharon Tate was murdered! It sounds like it was a real party pad back in the day too.

• Presented without comment: Bob Benson's Grindr profile.

—Kelsey

Cultural references: The Paris riots, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and apparently Stan is a fan of Moshe Dayan, or at least of posters of him.

Office Inappropriateness: We don't know how aware Dorothy Campbell was of her surroundings—she did mistake Peggy for Trudy, after all—but her rhapsodizing about Manolo seemed pretty NSFW.

Most GIFable moment: Bob Benson, by a knee.

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Comments

3 comments have been made. Post a comment.

A nu start for Pete Campbell?

I was sincerely surprised to see all three of you talking about Don being hung up on Sylvia. After reading, of course I agree with you. But while watching, I was seeing him try to help Dr. Rosen more than Sylvia until the phone call. Dr. Rosen, despite being the man he's cuckolding this season, really is Don's only friend. And I see Don both wanting to please him because he's in awe of what he does, and because he feels guilty as heck for banging his only friend's wife.

Also, I'm happy to see Bob Benson being a closeted gay man, rather than a psychopath. And I'd never thought about Pete being a closeted gay man, but this episode made me think that that would explain A LOT about his inability to do anything less than 100% awkwardly.

I love love loved the scene with drunk Pete & Peggy. Can you even imagine how much more fun they'd be if he came out and they started drinking together and being pals???

Finally, I don't know if we're really in for some Sharon Tate moments with Megan, but if we do: I call Ginsberg.

Like Leona, I also saw Don as

Like Leona, I also saw Don as trying to help out Mitchell at first - though with the overall Sylvia storyline, perhaps I was being a bit naive!

Love this weekly episode commentary by the way, it's so in-depth and keeps my frazzled brain up to date with all the intricacies and sub-plots - keep it up! Can't wait to see if something comes out of the Sharon Tate theory...

I also saw Don as trying to

I also saw Don as trying to help Dr. Rosen more than Sylvia until the phone call; he does ask for her husband when she answered. For that matter, I think he was thinking of Mitchell himself. He said that for him war was different, he wanted to go, but "once [he] was there...." Well, we all know what he did once he was there to get out, and to get a new life without having to spend the interim in the army. Remember back in - what was it, season three? - when he picks up the hitchhikers who say they are going to get married so the guy won't get drafted. Don is all in favor of helping people stay out of wars.

And I'm still not sure we know what's up with Bob Benson, although we do have a possible explanation for how he knew Monolo if his father is dead and Monolo didn't "nurse him back to full health," and why he lied about how they were acquainted. We know a little more about him, but he was previously seen mysteriously in Joan's apartment, I don't think his sole motivation is an unrequited crush on Pete. Either he's trying to sleep his way to the top by any route possible or he's just desperate to be loved.