Following the turbulent events of 'Favors' last week, Mad Men moves ahead with Don Draper still clearly reeling from having been caught by Sally "comforting" his neighbor's wife by first showing him sleeping curled up in the fetal position in his daughter's bedroom. This is the first of a few examples of Don being reduced – either through playacting or through some kind of realization – to something of an infantile state.
First there is the overhead shot of Don in his daughter's room being woken by his wife, and telling her he slept there because he "didn't want to wake her." Later, when Ted and Peggy are showing Don their pitch for St. Joseph aspirin, Don's asked to portray the crying child – leading to a three-second clip that may in fact rival "I love puppies" for the top spot on the Things You Never Thought Don Draper Would Say or Do list. And finally, after blowing up Ted's relationship with Peggy, and basically humiliating Ted in front of nearly everyone but the client, Don's castigated by his former protégé, called a monster and, upon being left alone yet again, alters his body language from self-satisfied couch-lounging to far less smug position he was in at the episode's beginning.
In 'The Quality of Mercy,' Don spends much of his time attempting to undercut his chief rival at every turn, even if that means going back on his word or otherwise sabotaging a relationship he has no real stake in, claiming he was merely looking out for the good of the company. It's a pathetic excuse for what is ostensibly a series of outrageously selfish maneuvers intended to position Don over Ted in the meeting, the office and, strangely enough, with Peggy. Naturally, this comes after Ted's largesse in regard to Don's desire to help his neighbor's kid after some youthful indiscretion put him at the top of the list of those headed for Vietnam. But is illustrates just how short of a lifespan Don's appreciation for such things have, and, ultimately, just how deeply Don's self-interest is ingrained in his psyche and the integral role it plays in answering why people seem to always be leaving him in one way or another.
And so, not only is this an incredibly well crafted episode from Maria and André Jacquemetton, the episode also serves as a late season, late series refresher on the Fundamentals of Don Draper 101. Everyone seems ready to flee from the emotional black hole that Don's become, and while Megan's sticking it out for the time being, Sally considers boarding school her only option to escape two parents she pretty much can't stand – which sounds great to Don, who quickly states, "I'll pay for all of it," upon hearing the suggestion. And after a drunken, pot-fueled overnight stay that featured an appearance by Glen Bishop (the only guy Sally may still have faith in), Sally winds up driving home with her mother, smoking a cigarette and transforming into a little version Betty, perfectly matching the cadence of January Jones when she says, "My father has never given me anything."
Essentially, to see Don at his worst is to truly know him. This bleeds quite nicely into Pete's continued unveiling of who Bob Benson truly is and why he's so fond of those "We are happy to serve you" coffee cups. Pete's been floundering somewhat this season – what with Trudy demanding a separation, his father-in-law pulling Vicks after a chance encounter at a brothel and Don blowing up the Jaguar account – so after the Chevy guys shoot poor Ken in the face, resolute account man Pete Campbell is there to swoop in and take over. Not only does he have the depth perception Ken's currently navigating the world without, but also, constantly working between New York and Detroit won't be a problem since Pete's personal life is in shambles and any respite from his mother would likely be considered welcome.
After Jim Cutler made the off-the-cuff decision to put him on Chevy, and following his rather nimble, but rejected approach to Pete last week, Bob Benson's officially on the Campbell radar. Now, much has been made about Bob Benson and what he's doing at SC&P, which has elicited more than its fair share of mind-bending theories. But as is usually the case, the answer has been right in front of the audience this whole time; it's been in Bob's servile manner and his ceaseless desire to ingratiate himself with every person he comes across.
As so much of the episode was a reminder of Don Draper's true nature, the reveal that Bob Benson is also a "self-made" man who achieved his position, more or less, by fraudulent means synchs up quite well (although Bob only absconded with a pencil sharpener and Christmas card list). But the biggest surprise comes from Pete who, rather than try and oust Bob like he did Don so many years ago, has simply learned that he cannot win against people like that. And besides, as Don learned from Bert Cooper, "One never knows how loyalty is born."
Mad Men concludes season 6 next Sunday with 'In Care Of' @10pm on AMC. Check out a preview below:
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