Mad Men “The Quality of Mercy”

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Last night’s episode was fairly suspenseful, only in that, knowing it’s the penultimate episode of the season, the tension was thick – I was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop in every plotline. It played much quieter than the Season 5 penultimate episode that featured Lane’s infamous suicide. What we got instead was a different sort of surprise from our main characters. It feels like set up for something to come in the final episode, and where we drop off after this episode heightens the intensity and anxiety that’s filled much of this season.

Sally

Instead of closing with what I feel was the strongest and one of the more powerful storylines, I wanted to discuss Sally first. Why? We open with the direct repercussion of what we last saw of Sally and Don’s relationship. Don is reeling with guilt in his own way, acting distant once again to Megan. Why? Because Sally refuses to go with her brothers to visit Don and Megan in the city. Betty discusses briefly with Don, oblivious to the truth (she thinks Sally’s avoidance of the city is due to a “fight” with her friend Julie from last week’s ep). Sally’s suggested solution? Go to all girl’s boarding school! Don offers to pay for the boarding school tuition, as Betty shuttles Sally off to a boarding school interview. Betty tries to connect with the daughter she can’t understand, hitting a sore point suggesting that Sally doesn’t want to be around boys. Sally deflects with the reasonable, “I want to be a grown up, but I need to focus on my education first.” Now, we have definitely observed Sally pushing to be the grown up for the past two seasons, with Megan encouraging wearing makeup and shorter dresses and skirts, attending her father’s parties. But we also observed her shyness when talking to Julie about Sylvia’s son. Now in an environment completely filled with her peers, how does Sally deal? There’s a moment of suspense and fear as the snobby boarding school girls try to intimidate and bully Sally – I almost thought they were going to haze her or something. Instead, Sally saves face by calling up Glenn to come over with cigarettes and booze. Teenagers, right? They all take a shot, and Sally, despite her constant presence around alcohol, looks uncomfortable after taking the swig of vodka. Glenn in a surprise turn starts to hook up with one of the boarding school girls, leaving Sally alone with a boy her age that isn’t Glenn for the first time. We feel her nervousness and discomfort – she keeps trying to just talk to the boy. He doesn’t even get a kiss in and Sally cries fowl. Sally essentially breaks up the party and the boys sneak back out, Glenn coming in to Sally’s defense. On the ride home, Sally wonders if she’s flubbed it up, but Betty coyly announces that Sally’s got an in, if she chooses that school.

What’s intriguing about this situation is seeing how Sally actually deals with sexuality. We’ve seen her play with it (literally, once – remember the infamous masturbation scene from a few seasons ago shortly after Henry Francis married Betty?), we’ve seen her confusion and despair over her period (an important component in understanding the female body and the reproductive cycle), and we’ve seen her witness some pretty dirty stuff before she was really ready to process it. In this way, Don and Sally are a lot of like – faced with sex before they were really ready to understand it. Whereas Don approached with curiosity and was punished (his flashback this season revealed he lost his virginity and was reprimanded), Sally witnesses unwittingly and seems to cower in fear. Actually, the most mature thing she’s done in her life thus far was to get up and say no and get help before she put herself in a position she didn’t want to be in. But her urgency to say no comes from a dark place, a place her father brought her. This is definitely going to have deeper repercussions when she really is ready to face her own sexuality.

Peggy and Ted

Peggy and Ted, Ted and Peggy. There’s no way these two were over when Ted reacted coldly (if at all) to Peggy’s announcement that she’s single. Somehow, being in the doghouse has given Don back his clarity in the office, as he finally sees the true nature of the working relationship between Ted and Peggy. It’s become glaringly more obvious all of a sudden to everyone – to Joan (amazing widening of the eyes and eye rolls here), to Ginsberg and that other CGC writer (sorry bro! I don’t know your name). Their relationship pins them at the point now where Don teeter back on top of the seesaw that is the Don-Ted power struggle. Now it seems that Ted is the blindsighted one, trying to protect not only his work and his accounts, but Peggy’s work. We see him upset about losing Ocean Spray now that Harry got an $8 million (or so) TV deal for Sunkist. Even Cutler is on board with that! It all comes to a head as Peggy reinvigorates the ad campaign idea for St. Joseph’s, and Ted encourages her without real thought to the things he’s supposed to be concerned with (namely, the budget). Peggy’s new idea will put them over budget for the campaign, which Joan reveals to Don. In an actually sensible but sneaky move, Don slides over the projected budget to the client, which stops the casting session for Ted and Peggy uptown. When they present to appeal for an increased budget, the tensions rise as Ted finds himself unable to defend the increased budget. His finesse is gone. Don makes a surprise play that puts Ted and Peggy on edge, telling the client it’s “personal.” He draws out the suspense, and uses “it was Gleason’s last idea” to save face for Ted and Peggy. Whereas Ted confronted Don about the similar point last week (if not, a few weeks ago), Don gives Ted the “you’re on love leave” speech. (Thanks Cooper for giving us that turn of phrase!) How do the lovebirds deal? Ted seems frightened/ashamed by the realization, leaving work early as soon as he heard that Peggy wanted to speak with him. (Remember – it also seems he’s made sort of a mends with his wife, so, guess he slipped up) Peggy instead calls Don out on bringing Ted down for his own gain. Is she also blindsighted as well? There’s a part of what Don did that does make a bit of sense – but there’s also the inherent competitiveness between the two. This competitiveness also puts Peggy in the middle – will Peggy come running back to the mentor who brought her up, or the one who respects her? Is Don still punishing Peggy for leaving him? We know now where Peggy stands on the Ted vs Don front, but I’ll guess we’ll see what steps Ted will take now to protect himself and his rep.

Pete and Bob

And the cat’s finally out of the bag for Bob! After the Bob revelation of love, Pete’s been on edge about Bob. We get the surprise bang of the season at the start of the episode, with Ken getting shot in the eye during a hunting mishap with Chevy. Definitely was afraid this was the big death of the season. Thankfully, Ken is just jaded by the account, and wants to step down from handling the account in Detroit. He talks to Pete to pass on the account to him. Before Pete can even toot his own horn, the partners bring him in to discuss having Bob help with the transition period since Bob established a relationship with Chevy already. This puts Pete even further at edge, and Pete gets a faint threat from Bob when he confronts him. Instead of looking for an out, Pete instead calls Duck (I can’t believe I didn’t realize he was the headhunter!) to instead look for an out for Bob. This turns itself into a background check into the mysterious Bob Benson. We discover a strange parallel between Bob and Don, and get a great callback for Pete from season 1 – Pete listens as Duck reveals the details of Bob’s shady past, being a child of incest and a former manservant who floats into a job until he’s found out. Pete’s response? That he’s dealt with something like this before. Whereas with Don he had no power to really blackmail or make any threats knowing Don’s secret, he instead uses that to put Bob Benson in his place. Pete decides not to expose Bob, but subordinates him, and adding that he’s “off limits.” We also get a sneaky reveal of Bob’s sexuality, sort of, hinting that Manolo doesn’t like women (he was speaking in Spanish to him earlier in the episode – definitely a close relationship here).

There’s something interesting about Pete’s reaction here. We’ve seen him in the constantly losing battle for most of this season in all aspects of his life – his career, where he’s lost the respect he once had even though he continues to do the work; his family, now that Trudy has definitely separated and his NYC abode is more permanent; his mother, who is clearly sick and he’s the one primarily responsible. We see him feel slightly empowered using someone’s secret against them – does this still make him the sleazy bastard we love to hate, or is this a sign of some smarts or maybe even maturity? He handles the sexuality with more tact and grace, albeit with disdain and disgust, and he doesn’t publicize anything of what is between them. I guess the question now is how will Bob react – will he stay, or will he run? Does Bob have any cards left up his sleeve that will thwart Pete’s newfound momentum?

Don

A lot of the Don stuff was covered with the Ted and Peggy storyline, since we constantly watch his eyes observing the two of them, and we see him outwardly exert his renewed power in the company, presenting Sunkist, even though he acted on it without informing Cutler and Ted. And then with his sneaky move to save face with St. Joseph’s. But his inward battle with himself is what strikes us with Don. The first and last shot we see of Don is in the fetal position, as a reaction to a female figure he’s disappointed. As we open the show, we see him lying in fetal position in Sally’s bedroom, as if this is the last connection he can make, the last way he can crumble and cower and apologize to the daughter he disappointed. He’s on a bit of a drinking bender, and stays home “sick,” continuing to drink and drowning himself in TV instead of talking to or connecting with Megan. He even tries to watch her soap opera, which it seems hard for him to watch with Megan acting as another self, her lines of dialog hitting a little too close to home. It is Megan who brings to light the Ted-Peggy thing to Don, and suddenly his focus shifts back to work, although with somewhat malicious intent. He calls back LA after they catch Ted and Peggy at the movies (which then brings Sunkist in and Ocean Spray out). But in turn, Don disappoints Peggy, who he clearly still has an attachment for as a protege. Is it more control than genuine care? Probably. But Peggy becomes the pawn in the Ted vs Don game, especially as Don scares them into exposing them and their flirtation. After Don does what he thinks is the right thing – putting Ted in his place for Peggy to see, he instead gets confronted by Peggy. She even goes so far as to call him a monster. Don’s response? Cower back into fetal position, alone in his office on his couch, where those two have definitely shared the intimate moments of their working relationship. Though Don has the outward power back in his hands, he’s losing the inward respect for two women we know he cares about. It’s these women who are also putting him in his place, rendering him confused and powerless to really react. The Don Draper facade grows more and more fragile once again, and we can only wonder how else he’ll crack come the finale.

The drama was high, even if the action was pretty low-impact (except for that BANG of the shotgun). I may have expected a little more, but I’m hoping Weiner saves the shock of the season for the finale.

And now, some odds and ends:

-The re-enactment of that pitch was amazing. Joan’s Jewish lady voice and Don’s wah-ing? PRICELESS.

-Loved the callback to Pete Campbell’s shotgun from Season 1. (RIP Pete Campbell’s Chip and Dip) His joy of bringing that back at the prospect of hobnobbing with Chevy was also priceless. Even better? Pete’s secretary recognized the model and called Pete out for it not being suited for the type of hunting the Chevy guys would likely want to do.

-Anyone else think of that Dick Cheney incident when Ken Cosgrove got shot in the face? Anyone? Wonder if Weiner was inspired by that.

-LOVED when Pete told Bob Benson to stop smiling. Way to be self aware, Mad Men!

-Rosemary’s Baby makes its second appearance this season! First Sally reads the book, now Megan and Don watch the movie! Is this another sign of foreshadowing?

-JESUS, Glen got tall. And since when did he become the ladies’ man?

-Roger always continues to amuse and amaze us all with his comedic timing. “Lee Carter Jr made me hold his balls!”

-Also, COOPER makes a great snide remark. “Crocodile tears.”

Let’s hope for something crazy to pop up next week. We’ve had our fair share of crazy all season, but again – the other shoe has yet to really drop.

One thought on “Mad Men “The Quality of Mercy”

  1. Pingback: ‘Mad Men’ Deconstruction Episode 12: ‘The Quality of Mercy’ | The Maria Pitillo Biography

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