Mad Men S6 E11: Favors

Buckeye: WHOA. For a show whose drama primarily depends on suspicion and secrets moreso than characters’ overt acts, it’s extra jarring when something momentus in these characters’ lives, as opposed to the standard psychological mind games these people play every day, does occur. Granted, those moments are often unfortunate and terrible and only deepen those mind games and the trauma threatening to envelop the charaters. Sally’s firsthand discovery of her father’s cheating, and with her crush’s mother no less, is shocking, both for her (because, even though she’s seen Roger receive “favors” from Megan’s mom, we’re talking about her biological father here, whose side she often takes over Betty’s, and the potential for severe long-term damage to her psyche) and for us (because usually the characters’ problems simmer rather than blow up in their faces). The whole final sequence was just crushing: Don wandering aimlessly and his pathetic explanation, Dr. Rosen and his son left clueless, having come to thank Don for helping Mitchell out of a sticky situation after his draft status shifted for the worse. The silence as Don’s bedroom door closed and the credits rolled, rare for Mad Men, underscored the devastating impact of the revelation. There were some other important details we’ll get to below (including Bob Benson’s own overt act, Pete’s mom, and the continued tug-of-war between Don and Ted), but I want to start with the end, arguably the most destructive event in a show about self-destruction. Kyra, what did you make of those last fifteen or so minutes, and where do you think Don and Sally (and the show) go from here?

 

kyra: Sally always seems to be involved in interesting storylines. I wish she was used in the show more. Starting at the moment where Sally goes back into her father’s building, I want to remark on the level of detail Matthew Weiner’s writing goes into. After Sally awkwardly tells the doorman she needs the big ring of keys (as a side note, this is pretty ridiculous. Don has enough money to live in a building where they keep an extra set of keys for every tenant such that giving out a giant ring with everyone’s keys on them would never be necessary) we hear the doorman greet two old ladies walking out as ‘high fashion models.’ This is of course the same greeting he used with Sally and her friend. This detail adds nothing to the story, but I just love it.

Onto the Rosen’s apartment. A keen viewer would have predicted what she would see (my girlfriend suggested it while we were watching), and the aftermath is so uncomfortably delightful. Sylvia FREAKS the fuck out, pounding the bed and foreseeing the end of her marriage. Don is unkempt, and he stands in place, then walks back and forth with a completely blank stare–the look of a man who has absolutely no idea what he should do. What follows is an interlude of every other character’s conclusion set to slow, light music. One guitar string twangs back and forth with a soft melody behind it. After that, we return to Don, who all this time does the only thing he knows to do when he doesn’t know what to do: drink. He needs more than a little liquid courage to face coming home because he has no idea what awaits him. Sally could be missing, she could have told Megan everything, she could have told Betty, who knows? It turns out none of these scenarios happens. As Buckeye said, we are not used to Don’s trysts blowing up in his face, but the trend continues here. Instead, Don seems to get off not only scot-free, but with sincere gratitude from Dr. Rosen and praise from Megan for helping Mitchell avoid going to Vietnam.

Don’s explanation to Sally could be pulled off, but starting it with “I know you think you saw something” sets off alarms a lie is coming. The incident, followed by what I believe is Sally knowing her father is lying to her about what happened, will be a formative moment for her future interactions with men, and likely puts her back on ‘Team Betty.’ Sally isn’t really in the show that much so I don’t know if we’ll see an immediate payoff to what happened, but rest assured Don and Sylvia are done. The question is how long does this keep Don on the straight and narrow? It’s never too long for Don Draper.

Buckeye: I agree with Kyra on virtually every point regarding Sally. First, it’s a shame she’s not in the show more, because she’s a perfect Mad Men character, meaning it’s only natural that a show like this could plumb an adolescent daughter of two divorced and now-remarried parents for an ocean of material. I’m glad she made the appearance this week, because I’ve personally been waiting for Dr. Rosen to be the one who discovers his friend in bed with his wife. It’s unfortunate that Sally has no choice but to be strung along by her parents’ and step-parents’ bickering, and there’s no way it’s good for her mental health, but (to Sally’s detriment and our benefit), honesty regarding a teenage girl’s problems is a net good for the show. The real question now is, who does she tell, or does someone else (or no one) spill the beans. It sounds like Kyra and I both think there’s a decent chance this is kept under wraps for a little while.

Speaking of another private moment that probably is less likely to be kept silent, what about Bob Benson’s come-on to Pete? Mad Men‘s been down this road before (most notably with Sal), but unlike with Sal, I’m not totally convinced that Bob Benson’s secret is that simple—he’s way more enigmatic, at least to me. Why did he bother with Joan? I’m not saying he’s a super-spy like some have posited, and I know he’s done more sucking up to Pete than any other partner (despite the fact that Pete is struggling a little to bring in new business), but part of me thinks we haven’t heard the full story. What say you?

kyra: Bob Benson has been a pretty mysterious guy so far, but the problem with being skeptical of his actions is that there is nothing to indicate everything he has done hasn’t been genuine.  Obviously you can explain away his relationship with Joan as trying to get ahead at work, but hitting on to Pete doesn’t seem like a savvy business move. That would lead to the conclusion he has genuine feelings for Pete, but surely he knows Pete doesn’t play for that team right? BENSON WHAT ARE YOU UP TO?

Buckeye: What all this amounts to, then, is that I have no fucking clue what Bob Benson is up to. I’m not sure I’d be surprised by anything he does in the final two episodes, if only because Matt Weiner’s not averse to forcing his characters to do or experience borderline crazy shit (see “The Crash,” “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency,” better known as the lawnmower episode, and Peggy stabbing Abe just recently), and so much about Season 6 has felt off-kilter. I’ve largely appreciated the weird vibes wafting off of Mad Men this year, Bob Benson included, so I’ll just leave it there for now, because there’s nothing more I can say.

If Mad Men, though, has dabbled in kookiness these last few weeks, there have still been fewer relationships kookier than that shared by Pete and Mother, and it’s never not creepy or strange or reminiscent of Norman Bates to call your mom “Mother.” That the Benson-recommended nurse, Manolo, has clearly awaken something within her is hysterical, because the woman has few inhibitions with regards to publicizing her inner feelings to strangers (even if she mistakes Peggy for Trudy) and because nothing in the episode totally debunked her literal claims. It was a fun twist to see a stuffy character played for laughs, and it was nice to see that lead to a nice moment following a client meeting between Peggy and Pete, who share their own sexual and parental history.

Ted, who we know has feelings for Peggy (since he spends more time with her than with his wife), witnessed Peggy’s glance with Pete. I’m assuming Peggy still likes Ted, but she doesn’t have eyes for him only—it was Rizzo she called late at night (though it’s obviously more natural that she’d call him than her boss). What do you make of the Peggy-Ted relationship, or Peggy and any guy? I’d like to hear your thoughts on crazy, WASPy, domineering mothers, too.

kyra: Great call on the Norman Bates comparison. It really is creepy. Pete is so odd to me in the sense that he champions himself as a liberal, and yet I feel like he’s so conservative in many regards. I’m not sure if referring to black people as negroes at this time is progressive or not, but to a modern viewer it sounds offensive. He also carries himself in the ways of a WASP that suggest conservatism. Of course I too would be horrified if I heard that my mom’s nurse was making sweet love to her down by the fire, but then again how can he believe anything she says at this point? Pete’s been dealing with his mother in this state for so long that I would think by now he puts little stock into what she says (as Benson reminds him to do).

It was nice to hear him confess to Peggy that ‘she knows him,’ but I don’t see a Peggy-Pete tryst on the horizon. Yes, they share history, and that history is part of the reason I think they could never work. You don’t just have a kid together, get rid of it, never speak of it, and then get back together. What I am curious about is when she tries to lure Stan over with enticing sexual favors. Stan and Peggy have had a couple sexual tension-drenched run-ins this season, and I think there could be some rich soil to hoe there.

Ted’s feelings towards Peggy have been kinda inconsistent to me this season. In the ‘last time on Mad Men‘ they showed the scene where Ted says he hasn’t forgotten about their kiss, but in their last private interaction on screen Ted basically put the kabosh on it all and ignored any advances. So going into this episode I wasn’t sure where things stood, but obviously the ‘last time on’ is supposed to clue you in. Watching another guy make Peggy laugh is gonna give rise to machismo alpha-male feelings of jealousy, so it’s very possible another ‘I haven’t forgotten’ speech is coming.

One thing I want to ask you about Buckeye, is Ted’s fear in competing with Don while they work for the same agency. As Cutler points out, Ted seems obsessed with the idea of beating Don, but my impression is that Don doesn’t really care about beating Ted. Don has routinely been checked out from work this season, saying things like he’ll just be supervising work or not even realizing a partners meeting is taking place. What’s your impression of their working relationship so far?

Buckeye: You’re absolutely right. When the most work Don’s done all season was a visit paid to Ted’s office to say that he wanted to do no work on Chevy, it strains credulity to utter “Don Draper” and “go-getter” in the same breath. Don’s so out of it that he doesn’t even realize that he’s openly sabotaging client dinners (or at least is willing to risk sabotaging client dinners as Kyra suggested to me), depressing everybody regarding his neighbor’s draft status in a lame ploy to see if someone at GM will make a call to the Pentagon for him. I, too, agree with Kyra (and Ted’s wife and Cutler); Ted’s nearly obsessed with Don (even before the merger this was the case). To answer your question more directly, I don’t know how you have a working relationship with someone who does no work.

My question, then, is why did Ted offer to volunteer his flight instructor’s name for Don? I suppose I’d guess this was Ted’s attempt to force Don to focus on work before he collapses into another swimming pool; if he can do something that helps Don out, that might actually lead to something resembling a working relationship. But say Ted does succeed in refocusing Don’s energies; if Don’s back on his game, Ted’s competitive juices will flow with even more adrenaline (as shown by his great crack to Don: “I’m guessing you don’t have many friends.”). Unbeknownst to Ted right now, there’s little hope for Don to show up prepared, because if Don couldn’t focus while his affair was ongoing I’m betting he might take a few days off to drink himself silly after he was found out.

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