The considerable amount of doubling that’s been wafting about this season of Mad Men brings with it a fairly natural inclination for the series to take a look at the relationships between parents and their children. That’s because kids are nothing if not incomplete reflections of their parents up to a certain point – at least until they do something like send back their draft card in protest, and wind up with their name on a list. Or maybe that just makes them more like the incredibly fallible people who brought them up.
Aside from the season premiere, and popping up to express how she expected to be disappointed in her father when it came time to acknowledge the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., there hasn’t really been much Sally Draper this season. Much of Don’s interaction with his semi-neglected offspring has come with the realization that he has a son. And while Don expressed the understanding rather poignantly after he and Bobby took in back-to-back viewings of ‘Planet of the Apes’, it was a visit to his son’s summer camp – far away from the grime and chaos of Manhattan – that seemed to restore in him a desire for something resembling a stable home life.
But as Don has established time and again, whatever is learned can quickly be unlearned or flat-out forgotten. It’s less about coming away from an experience a changed person than it is coping with it; otherwise, Don would still be stuck on the idea of vanishing into thin air on some Hawaiian beach with a Sheraton in the background – though there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that plan remains buried just below the surface, to be used in case of an emergency. And if ever Don might need to break that glass, it’s after Sally wanders in on him and Sylvia exchanging ideas on how Don could be thanked for helping the young Mitchell Rosen in regard to his pending involvement in the Vietnam War.
Naturally, Sally’s mortified. It’s a wonder that her penchant for walking into rooms and seeing all sorts of sordid things hasn’t put her off the idea of the opposite sex all together. And while Don once more finds himself speaking to someone on the other side of a door, Sally muddles through by burying her head in a pillow – possibly instituting the old Draper credo of being amazed at how this didn’t happen.
In that sense, things that can’t be unseen, or words that would be better off unsaid seem to be the order of the day for ‘Favors.’ For starters, Matthew Weiner never misses an opportunity to remind viewers that Peggy had a child with Pete, which comes across as shockingly blatant on behalf of Pete’s mother, but considering her confusion of late, it really just comes across as somewhat blatant on behalf of Weiner and his co-writer Semi Chellas. But it’s all well and good; such a reminder helps to enhance Pete and Peggy’s drunken friendliness and deep familiarity seem like something more to Ted Chaough, leading Ted to incorrectly assume that his chances with the recently single Peggy are likely dashed. If Ted only knew the truth that Peggy spent her time away from the office sharing a brownstone she no longer wants with a rat that doesn’t have the decency not to bleed all over her hardwood floors, then maybe he’d insist on being called in the wee hours of the night instead of Stan.
It’s all just misconception and a lack of clear understanding because nobody has all the facts, like how Sally misinterpreted a half-naked Mrs. Rosen lying underneath her father as something other than neighborly comfort. It’s not loneliness or despair; its compassion – or at least that lie is how Don hopes Sally will see things. These false impressions continue to let everyone down, starting with Mrs. Campbell, whose ongoing state of befuddlement has her believing she’s found true, physical love with her well-bred Spanish nurse Manolo – and who knows? Maybe she has. But either way, that doesn’t stop Pete from making sure Manolo retains a respectful distance from his mother from now on.
But at least we get to find out a bit more about the mysterious and toadying Bob Benson. While his approach to Pete is certainly well thought out, graceful and could easily be regarded as having been misconstrued – should Pete resort to outrage – the grimace he wears on the way out of Pete’s office suggests this side of Bob may be the truest yet. Sure, it could be looked at as yet another ploy for advancement within the company, but that’s speculation, and where has all this speculation gotten us this season?
In the end, ‘Favors’ insinuates there’s nothing an individual won’t do without expecting something in return. And as the episode implies, most of what anyone does is to feel a little less lonely, a little more needed, and just maybe, utterly indispensable. But repayment doesn’t always come in kind, so what’s a person to do then? The best course of action seems to be following the advice of Peggy’s mother, which is: “if you’re lonely, get a cat.”
Mad Men continues next Sunday with ‘The Quality of Mercy’ @10pm on AMC. Check out a preview below:
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