Mad Men S6 E12: The Quality of Mercy

Buckeye: Well, Ken Cosgrove made a return appearance to Mad Men after a brief reprieve, only to get shot in the face on a hunting trip with Dick Cheney some Chevy execs, and startling as that was, I can’t say I was surprised or shocked by anything in last night’s episode, maybe other than the fact that Ken managed to arrive at the office largely intact, save for his right eye. After last week’s devastating finale, I kept waiting for Don’s affair with Sylvia to come to light, for Sally to let her tongue slip or otherwise speak ill of her father to Betty or to her confidante Glen, or for Sylvia to break into the Drapers’ apartment.  Three times I expected Megan to be confronted with the news of her husband’s betrayal: first when Harry called from California to alert Don of Sunkist’s interest; second when Megan turned around in the movie theater, only to find Ted and Peggy on a not-a-date date to Rosemary’s Baby; third when Don and Megan returned home to their dark penthouse, with the camera waiting for them inside as if someone else was waiting there, too. Instead, the only revelation of any romantic attraction was one everybody already knew about–Ted and Peggy’s connection: The revelation was directed at Peggy and Ted, by Don, in the first instance where The Draper has showed up to do real work all year, and clueing the oblivious pair in on the openness of their flirtation. Kyra, I first just wanted to get your general opinion of the episode. I thought the episode was perfectly fine, if not a standout, and like a lot of Sundays these last few weeks there was plenty odd about “The Quality of Mercy” (mostly, as usual, where Bob Benson turned up). You thought it was pretty weird, right? What stood out the most to you?

 

kyra: Last night’s episode was a lot of things packed into 45 odd minutes. I wouldn’t say it was a stand-out, but it did give enough time to every storyline to provide substance, and every character with a story-arc has something worth talking about. First of all, after watching the ‘previously on Mad Men‘ which featured a scene with Megan in the white shirt with a red star, I was convinced for some reason that she was gonna die in the episode. Obviously I was wrong, although the episode did open with the horrifying shooting of Ken Cosgrove. I want to disagree with you Buckeye in that I think Ken has had more than a “brief reprieve.” I don’t think we’ve seen him since he was tap-dancing away while high as a kite. This saddens me, as I enjoy Kenny. Here he is basically serving as a plot device for Pete to pick up a big client, get back in the game, and have a confrontation with Benson. I was hoping Ken was gonna say he was quitting to focus on short-story writing full-time, but alas, another missed prediction. As you pointed out, it was interesting that Don’s affair hasn’t blown up, but it is clearly eating at Don, who might be drinking at his heaviest level yet. Furthermore, I think he hates the “monster” that he has become at home so much that he has become re-invested in SC&P. First he appropriately tells Harry to turn down Sunkist because they have a conflict, and later wakes up Ted to the embarrassing display he’s been putting on all week. I must say though, I was fully engaged the whole time.

Buckeye: I think that’s a good point about Ken’s part this week serving essentially as a plot device. Ken got shot in the face only to get Pete and Bob Benson in the room together.* If the GM guys were trudging and dragging Ken along for months, at least now Dave Algonquin (incredible porn name by the way, if Ken ever wants to put down the pencil and p(r)ick up his pencil amirite) has got one hell of a short story fit for The New Yorker. Like you, Kyra, I definitely was engaged throughout the whole episode, mostly because I thought something horrible was going to happen. (I definitely thought the Megan-with-the-Sharon-Tate-shirt on the “previously on…” combined with the frequent Rosemary’s Baby allusions meant something much more dramatic or traumatic was in store, perhaps even that all those crazies on Reddit might be right.) After giving the episode some more thought, I don’t think that it’s a bad thing that nothing happened: think of Hitchcock’s famous saying–a bomb goes off under the table, that’s surprise; a bomb is under the table and doesn’t go off, that’s suspense–and I must say that last night’s episode was suspenseful. Perhaps the surprise, the bomb going off, was Don’s board room antics, which served to firmly entrench his power over Ted. Don still thinks of Ted like a rival, and Don’s callous side showed–it was surprising to see Don actively engaged in his work because he’s spent most of this year, and especially the time that’s passed since Sally caught him in the act, in a drunken stupor, and it was a little chilling to see him emerge from that stupor only to put his rival’s balls in a vice and mortify his old protege in the process. Don’s message to Ted amounted to, “Fuck the handshake deal, I’m the only one who can embarrass myself in front of everybody at SC&P.”

*Roger was also in the room, and delivered the line of the night, brushing Ken’s client issues aside to inform us that the gay Lucky Strike guy made Roger cup his balls once.

I want to discuss Bob Benson some more; he’s revealed to be a sort of con man in Don’s style, in that Bob Benson probably isn’t his real name, he’s just as much a mystery to us now as he’s always been, and the first words of both probably were “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I assumed he’d tagged along with the CGC people, but apparently Pete hired him. Wherever he’s from, I can tell you he’s not a native Spanish speaker, but good job, good effort, Mr. Benson. More important for the show may not so much be Bob Benson’s true identity as Pete’s response to learning that Bob’s not who he said he was. Pete’s dealt with this situation before, when he discovered Don’s identity theft. How do you think he handled himself this time around, and what, if anything, do you think he’s going to do about it? Vincent Kartheiser himself suggested that Pete’s learned his lesson after getting punched in the face by Lane, and Pete definitely seems less willing to pick a fight over Bob, but is Pete actually willing to let sleeping dogs lie? It was Pete who showed some of the episode’s titular mercy, while Don showed little (other than barking that he’d pay for Sally’s prep school).

kyra: Another parallel to Don–both have alliterative names! I think Pete has definitely learned from the past. Given his precarious position in the office (and as an aside, I think Weiner has done a poor job explaining why exactly Pete is out looking for other jobs/thinks his job is in jeopardy), Pete needs to build up a network of people that must be loyal to him. If we take Bob Benson at his word that the day he was hired was the best day of his life (as it likely was for Don Draper), then he would do almost anything to keep his job. Bob seems to be going places given his incredible dexterity as a bullshitter and sycophant, so he is a good person to be able to hold something over. Unlike Don, who was successful enough at the time Pete found out that exposing him might not ruin his career, at this point Benson effectively owes his job to Pete’s silence. I think this is a smart move by Pete, but it is a dangerous game to tangle with Bob Benson. Also, was it resolved whether or not Benson is gay?

Moving to the topic of family connections getting you far in life, both Sally and Marten Weiner benefited from their stock this episode. How Weiner thinks his son is a good enough actor to warrant a continued presence on this show I will never know, but nevertheless Glen is an important fixture in Sally’s life. In this episode it works for the most part because all of kids talk in a weird, kind of formal way. The scene in the girls’ dorm room works well at showing how Sally is coping with what she saw in the Rosen apartment. Rather than rebel by becoming slutty (although she does drink and smoke so who knows what she could become in a couple years), it seems she’s become even more against sex. Boarding school obviously serves as an escape from her father, the monster, who’s never done anything for her, but I kind of wish that there had been more of a bonding moment between mother and daughter. In the end Betty does offer her a cigarette, so it does seem like she is gravitating back towards her mother, but it was a missed opportunity to talk about Don’s philandering ways. Shouldn’t Sally have more sympathy for her mother by now?

Buckeye: I think Sally is gravitating towards her mother, it’s just that her allegiances were so oriented towards Don and against Betty that her acceptance of the cigarette and her comment that “my father’s never given me anything” are as much a display of sympathy towards Betty as she’s likely to show right now. Sally may have different feelings towards Betty now, but I don’t think Sally is ready to explicitly admit that she likes her; bashing Don suffices. It was much more likely, I thought, that she’d blurt something to Glen or her two boarding school hosts.

Sally’s relationship with Glen has always been awkward—this is without accounting for Steven Pearl Marten Weiner—and that’s doubly true now that Glen has told her multiple times that he thinks of her more as a sister than an object of attraction, a feeling confirmed by his willingness to beat up his friend in an act of protecting Sally. I have to say this was the least forced of any Glen-Sally conversation, and Kiernan Shipka played the scene well, from her disappointment when Glen and the older blonde retreated to the bedroom to her rather ominously sinister smile—I don’t know if either of us picture Sally maturing into a relatively stable child—while witnessing Glen wail on his fellow Hotchkiss peacenik.

Returning again to Bob Benson, I’ve got to think we still have no clue whether he’s gay. On top of that, I’m still confused as to why he came onto Pete in the first place. I think the two explanations that would make sense are (1) he is gay or (2) he believes he can outsmart Pete, sensing weakness wafting from Mr. Campbell.* I’d lean against explanation (1), if only because Bob Benson seems such an adept bullshit artist that there is always a hidden motivation.

*In agreement with Kyra, it would help to know a little more why Pete is falling out of favor at SC&P. Why, for instance, did Ken get the Chevy account when Pete is senior? Does it have to do with Pete’s mishandling of Joan while the agency pursued Jaguar? There, all but Don signed off. There’s plenty to suggest Pete’s mind is occupied because of his fallout with Trudy and his senile mother; this has to affect his work, but instead of watching Pete fuck up, we’re just informed (through him, so it’s not coming from a completely reliable narrator) that he’s not getting work.

But as far as bullshit artists go, no one holds a candle to Don Draper. I just don’t see how Don’s veil of bullshit can hold up much longer if he’s going to start his day and end it in the fetal position. At least he can keep that Canadian Club perched on his chest.

Any predictions for the finale?

kyra: Something’s gotta give. I was waiting for it all episode, and I will continue to expect something really bad next week. Does someone have to die? I don’t know, but there has to be something of that caliber. Roger is going to confront Joan about their son, Peggy and Ted could have another ‘moment,’ and Megan is going to cry about their relationship not working yet again. I’ll stand by my original prediction for this week and say that Megan is gonna die, but honestly unlike in Game of Thrones I have no idea where we are headed.

Buckeye: You mean you didn’t glean anything from “Next time on Mad Men“? Guess you weren’t paying close enough attention to all those scenes foreshadowing what’s to come…from previous episodes. Like Kyra, I have also had the suspicion for weeks now that someone is going to die and like him I have no fucking clue why that is. Mad Men is just a weird show, it’s always been a weird show, and will continue to be one until it’s finished. Just wait until the kid with the snowglobe shows up.

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