Mad Men Season 6 Recap: The Quality of Mercy
You Need to Feel the Conspiracy
Mad Men has always excelled at essaying how people's ulterior motives drive their behavior, and this week is something of an object lesson in how what starts out as ulterior motives can quickly become embarrassingly, vexingly obvious.
The only person without a hidden agenda this week, it seems, is unlucky Ken Cosgrove, whose nemeses at Chevy have doubled down on their hazing of the out-of-towner, taking him hunting in an opening scene that could double as something out of a Dick Cheney biopic. It would have been an almost unforgivable move for Weiner & Co. to kill off the only Mad Men character to consistently espouse reason and loyalty, so luckily the shot of Kenny lying prone in the grass is only a tease. But he's missing an eye, and, as he later tells Pete angrily, the Chevy idiots "wanted to stop for food" on their way to take him to the hospital. In other words, all Ken wants is off this account, especially now that he's going to be a father. (On the upside, kids love an eyepatch.)
Pete's ulterior motive for oh-so-charitably offering to relieve Ken of his Detroit duties is pretty damn obvious to us, if not necessarily to Ken: Pete wants out of his sad old bachelor apartment and lonely breakfasts of Raisin Bran, and almost literally jumps at the chance to take his pal's place with the Chevy account, accidental shootings be damned. Seriously, it's not two minutes after his confab with Ken that he's polishing that stupid rifle of his, even though his secretary notes that it's not really good for killing anything but squirrels.
Ted's ulterior motive for fighting Don over the St. Joseph's commercial budget is his increasingly strong desire to spend as many days as possible giggling over casting choices with Peggy—it's so strong that he's unwittingly changing roles with Don. Ted assumes that the company will be so wowed by the creative that they'll increase the budget, while Don is worriedly bottom-lining everything. (Though Don does take time out to deliver some truly memorable baby acting, and while I'm sure I wasn't the only one cringing at Ted and Peggy's reference to "a Japanese," I would like to applaud Joan's awesome on-the-fly Jewish-neighbor-lady imitation.)
And don't think that Don's sudden interest in sticking to St. Joseph's ad budget is due to his sincere interest in, well, sticking to a budget. No, his ulterior motive is jealousy, conscious or not, of Peggy and Ted's relationship. Don still thinks of Peggy as his; arguably, it's one of the reasons he was so open to merging the two agencies to begin with. And we've seen some brief moments this season where the reality that Peggy has shifted her allegiance permanently to Ted has deeply rankled Don. (Recall him peering into Ted's office and seeing him be comforted by Peggy—and not the way Don "comforts" ladies, either—when the news of Fred Gleason's cancer first surfaced.) There's also the fact that Peggy and Ted came up with what even Don admits is a slam-dunk, Clio-courting ad without any of his own input; when he attributes the idea to dearly departed Gleason in the meeting with the St. Jospeh's exec, it's not just to get a bigger budget—it's also to get back at Ted and Peggy for making it impossible for him to claim any of the creative laurels.
Look on the bright side, Ted. At least now you don't have to try to make Cran-Prune happen.
And then there's Sally, who is lucky to have a mother who herself fantasized about attending a boarding school like the famed Miss Porter's, since it means her desire to live vicariously through her daughter trumps any curiosity about why Sally suddenly not only wants to go away to school, but also never wants to see her father again. Furthermore, please note that Sally is wearing her hair exactly like her mean-girl pal Julie from last week's episode. As Betty exposits in her phone call with Don, Sally has resigned Model U.N. and everyone associated with it; in adopting Julie's hairstyle, is Sally also planning to adopt her ex-friend's you-are-all-merely-pawns-in-my-game attitude? From the way she smiles when Glen beats up mini beatnik/aggressive makeout bandit Rolo on her behalf, it seems so.
What Makes Bobby Run?
But the real story of ulterior motives here, the one that seems to dwarf all the others, is Bob Benson. And how about that Bob Benson? He has singlehandedly taken the Internet on a roller-coaster ride from vague unease to heavy suspicion to sheepish fondness and now to full-tilt freaked-outness. Last week was the turning point for many of us, after Tom and Lorenzo were like, "Are you conspiracy theorists fucking kidding? No one faked being gay in 1968, you assholes!" (Except didn't draft dodgers totally do that? Anyway.) And we felt rightfully shamed for believing the worst about Bob. But then this episode validated about 85 percent of the Bob Benson conspiracy theories by revealing that, in fact, Bob Benson is Don Draper 2.0. The new version seems to have worked out some of the bugs of the original—less troublesomely promiscuous, less alcoholic, and overall far more agreeable—but the ulterior motive for creating a wholesale identity seems to be the same: overcome a poor rural background to become a cosmopolitan success in a business that, at its most basic level, runs on fabulism.
Pete's confrontation of Bob after finding out his secret revealed that Pete has either grown up since he petulantly tried to get Don fired after finding out about that guy's fabricated past, come to recognize that in a world of moral relativism, lying about one's past isn't that bad, or simply realized that he still doesn't have the kind of workplace pull to firebomb someone's career. (My vote, obviously, is for option number three.) Or perhaps, after coming into close contact with two of these self-made men, the penny has dropped and Pete is accepting that his silver-spoon upbringing can't compete with the kind of cutthroat single-mindedness that pretenders like Don and Bob bring to the game. ("I don't know how people like you do it. You're certainly better at it than I am at whatever I do.")
It's notable that, up until now, Bob Benson hasn't had much direct contact with Don Draper, save for that chilly elevator scene earlier this season when Don brushed him off. Does Bob know about Don, and did he peg the former SCDP as a place where pretenders go to scale the big leagues? Why would he? How could he? And if not, does this mean that New York's ad agencies were all crawling with reinvented rural escapees with alliterative names? Does BBDO have a Ross Rimmel? What about young Sandy Sussman over at Young & Rubicam? Sure, Duck Phillips emphasized that only an agency dumb enough not to dig deeper into Bob's resumé would hire him, but could SCDP have been the only one not to do their due diligence? (Get back to me after you've poured that 11am Scotch.)
The more important question, of course, is what Bob means to do now that he's successfully infiltrated the agency and begun making a name for himself. After all, you don't introduce a character whose very existence mirrors that of Mad Men's desperate, damaged human center without some kind of crucial reason, and the question of whether Bob is going to out-Draper Don Draper in either success, psychic damage, or (in Peggy's words) being a monster is a not-insignificant one, especially this close to the finale of the show's penultimate season.
• SC&P's groovy new logotype has surfaced, and we approve. You?
• I wish the scene in which the partners tried to top each other with stories of going above and beyond w/r/t client relations had been five minutes longer. Though it's possible that no one would be able to top Roger's contribution: "Lee Garner Jr. once made me hold his balls."
• Either Miss Porter's mean girls really need to commit to a mood, or Sally out-cooled them with her ability to procure boys to play with. Regardless, their hazing of Sally seemed somewhat underachieving—especially given this Vanity Fair story about the brutal world of Miss Porter's bullies.
• Cultural references: The Patty Duke Show, Richard Nixon's "Law and Order" campaign ads, and, of course, Rosemary's Baby (for the second time this season; recall that it's the book Sally was reading when "Grandma Ida" came to visit. If Weiner really wants to quash those Megan-is-Sharon-Tate rumors, he's not trying very hard).
• Inappropriate office behavior: If Us Weekly had been covering NYC ad agencies in 1968, they'd already have portmanteau-d Ted and Peggy as "Teggy." But in postitive news, Teggy's creative canoodling gave us one of those priceless moments where Don and Joan have a wordless moment of connection. More of that, please.
• Most GIFable moment: Baby Don for the win, without a doubt.
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