Oh my god! They killed Kenny! (Couldn’t resist. Sorry.) This week on Mad Men, Ken Cosgrove, Bob Benson, and Ted Chaough all had a very rough time. Don Draper continued to alienate any of his potential allies, and Megan Draper is still alive, thank you very much. It’s the second-to-last episode of the season, and we’re ready to talk about “The Quality of Mercy”.
So, this is something I’ll probably talk more about later, but that list of the 100 best written TV shows hit last week, and The Sopranos was number one. Mad Men cracked the top 10, so yay. But besides the absurdity of making this list (Do you consider the entire run of a show? Because Season Four of The Sopranos happened and you’re going to have to deal with that.), Mad Men has been outclassing Matt Weiner’s old boss for a while now, and this episode is a good example. I’m not going to get into David Chase’s obsession with abandoning plotlines right now. The fact is, in six seasons The Sopranos never really made either Meadow or A.J. interesting or appealing. So when Sally Draper went off to her boarding school weekend, I was expecting it to be interminable. Instead, it was kind of great.
Not only did the established boarding school girls seem like they might be the mothers of the Chilton girls from Gilmore Girls, but Sally got to invoke her Tom Collins-making skills. She’s the most adorable mixologist! I’ve really started to enjoy Glen, too. He’s come a long way from being the lonely kid who carried around a lock of Betty’s hair. Admittedly, the boarding school adventures seemed like a distraction from the main episode, but this show doesn’t really do throwaway scenes. If Sally ends up attending the school, it’s going to be important. Mostly, I’m just hoping she gets to a point when she can enter a room and not walk in on adults having sex. We’ve seen it happen to her three times already, and at some point she’s got to wonder what she’s doing wrong.
I’m glad Glen put a stop to things, because I am not ready to see Sally’s first time. I’m not sure we’ll get through the Summer of Love without it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Mostly, this whole plot just reminded us that Kiernan Shipka went from being an adorable kid to a darn good actress before our very eyes. And I loved the ride home when Betty gives her a cigarette. That’s one of those bonding moments that just doesn’t happen anymore. But it was her closing line “my father never gave me anything” that sticks with me. Sally’s been through a lot with her father, and though it’s always been a bit of a weird relationship, they’ve always seemed like allies. When Betty got to be too much, she ran away to Don’s. Don was the one who’d step in when Betty was locking Sally in the closet to think about what she did. He didn’t earn a World’s Greatest Dad mug or anything, but it’s pretty clear that Sally let herself count on him. And just like he did with Betty, Don broke her. There’s only so much that they can overlook or forgive, and now Sally’s done with him. Let’s face it – Sally smoking a cigarette and complaining about Don is pretty much a dead-on impression of Betty in Seasons Three and Four. Don’s gradually driving everybody away. Things may be just as unsalvageable with Sally as they are with Peggy. It seems like Megan is the one person he can’t break.
And then there’s poor Ken Cosgrove. The man has the soul of a dancer! He does not deserve to get Cheney-ed like that! (Also, I might be slow, but he didn’t lose an eye, did he? I feel like somebody would have mentioned it if that happened.) I can’t get over the portrayal of the Chevy executives – it feels like they’re in a different show. You know the “Homer’s Enemy” episode of The Simpsons? Frank Grimes is sort of a regular guy who moves to Springfield and ends up working with Homer. He reacts to Homer the way a normal person would – he’s horrified by his attitude and dumbfounded by his various undeserved successes. But because the rules of the show aren’t the same as the real world, Grimey is the bad guy. He’s like an outsider visiting the show who can’t quite figure out how it works. That’s what the Chevy scenes make me feel – like Ken is dropping into a slapstick comedy but he’s bound by real world rules. If one of the Chevy guys got shot in the face, they’d walk it off because they’re cartoons. But when it happens to Ken, he gets horribly injured because he doesn’t belong in their consequence-free parallel universe. That has to be a nightmare.
Of course, there’s a certain amount of karma in Ken having to endure cyclops jokes. It’s not like he was terribly understanding when that guy lost a foot at the Christmas party or anything. (Though there are certainly people who deserve retribution more than poor Ken.) Aaron Staton has been really good this season. Ken’s not the most well-defined character on the show, but he’s done some great work. He honestly seems terrified of going back to Detroit. Also, is this the first we knew that his wife is pregnant? I don’t think that’s come up before.
Pete jumps at the chance to be the Chevy guy, and I honestly laughed at him presenting his hardships to prove he’s got nothing to lose. You do not want to handle the Chevy account if anybody will miss you when you’re gone. But Pete’s the one who used his father’s death to convince Mohawk Air that they were serious about getting their business. Say what you want about Pete Campbell, and I do, but that guy’s got hustle. I feel like the Chevy people could talk him into getting a face tattoo without much effort.
And that brings us to my favorite prop in Mad Men history – Pete’s rifle. It’s been hanging around since Season One, popping up now and then and basically being Chekhov’s Pistol – that rifle is going to go off at some point. I was convinced at one point that Season One would end with Pete’s suicide. Clearly I was wrong, but I’m obsessed with Campbell’s Rifle and every time it turns up, it makes me ridiculously happy.
Finally, there’s good old Bob Benson. His sexuality was only the tip of the iceberg – he’s actually the new Don Draper. His entire backstory is a lie, just like our (sort of) hero. I would love to see a flashback to show us how he got hired. Do you think he pulled a Draper and just started showing up and acting like everybody forgot they hired him? My question is, was this a common thing? It seems nuts that there’d be two people at the same company who rewrote their backstories to such an elaborate degree. I guess in a pre-Internet era, it was a lot easier to get away with a fake personal history.
As much as I like him, it was gratifying to see Bob sweat a little bit this week as his plans unraveled. It’s strange to be on the periphery of this story – we knew the Dick Whitman story before anybody on the show did, but we’re playing catch-up right along with Pete this time. I like that Pete goes from trying to destroy him (because he is Pete, after all) to realizing he can exploit him in record time.
There’s so much going on with Pete. He has to make a show of giving Bob another chance because he doesn’t actually have enough power to do anything about it. Pretty easy to be magnanimous when it matches the outcome decreed by the higher-ups. But on some level, Pete gets something from having Bob around. Yes, Pete considers Bob a “degenerate”, but last week his own mother called him unloveable just before Bob professed his love. You have to think he wants somebody around who considers him worthy of love, whether or not he’s into it. And of course, making a show of not exposing him gives Pete power over Bob. It didn’t work with Don, but Bob might just be more malleable. In fact, I love the way Pete does his own half-remembered version of Bert Cooper’s “Who Cares” speech. He’s sort of got the gist, at least.
Did this seem like the calm before the storm to anyone else? While the game-changers of this season (with the notable exception of Bob’s past) came at the midway point rather than the end, Don’s incredible downhill slide has been ongoing. Peggy called him a monster, and the funny thing is, to us viewers, this was a mild week for him. Of course, Peggy doesn’t know the half of it, and yet she’s still right on. He’s an adulterous, raging alcoholic who has failed his wives and children over and over. He’s feeling sorry for himself, to be sure, but he’s not above phone flirting with Betty (who flirts right back) and being a little bitchy at work, too. It clearly gets his mind off his own problems when he dares to get all sanctimonious with his co-workers.
Don was all about honoring his agreement with Ted to not pitch Sunkist when Harry called to tell him about them wanting to do a TV buy that was double Ocean Spray’s media budget. Then, he ran into Peggy and Ted at an afternoon showing of Rosemary’s Baby, which they tried to pass off purely as research for a St. Joseph’s spot. Don and Megan are pretty shocked; well, mostly Megan. The movie choice itself is full of undertones that feed the conspiracy theorists, such as the movie’s director, Roman Polanski, who was of course the husband of Sharon Tate. And the plot? A woman betrayed by her husband sleeping with the neighbor? Not exactly subtle. And then there’s the whole baby thing…any chance we’re going to find out that Megan is in fact pregnant after all?
Ted and Peggy’s obvious flirtation clearly put Don in a vindictive mood; he called Harry back and told him to pull the trigger with Sunkist, and went ahead and called a meeting with Roger, Jim and Ted to announce his intentions. It can be spun as beneficial to the firm, but that’s only half of why he did it. It’s hard to tell exactly why Don is so put off by this; he has no place being scandalized by it, but then again Don can be a pretty big hypocrite (see also, Megan’s dressing room earlier this season). Maybe he thinks Peggy should be above it. He knows she got to where she is without sleeping her way there and he can’t believe she’s not only entertaining the idea but doing it so blatantly. His respect for her is clearly diminished and he’s dismissive of her on a lot of levels (note how he refers to her as “little girl” when talking to Ted about her). Ted’s worse, considering he’s the married boss, and he’s being just as middle school about the whole thing. The question remains as to whether or not anything beyond the incessant flirting (besides the initial kiss) has even happened. It’s just funny how obvious it is to everyone who sees them together.
It’s pretty bad when Don Draper has to put you in your place about workplace relationships and how to conduct yourself. Then again, he was completely right about Ted’s mooning over Peggy’s big idea clouding his judgement when it came to the ballooning St. Joseph budget. Yet, the sleazy way he dangled the possibility of outing them to the client, only to lay the whole debacle at the feet of the late Frank Gleason was classic Don. I actually laughed out loud when he said it, before I realized the layers of cruelty it involved. First of all, it’s a generally crappy stunt to pull. Second, it once again took the credit away from Peggy. I guess she’ll have to be content with money, once again, because it looks like that’s another Clio she won’t win.
So, Peggy hates Don at this point, but probably not as much as Sally, who refuses to see him and wants to go to Miss Porter’s, a boarding school that Don is more than willing to pay for, both to assuage his guilt and eliminate the source of it from his everyday life. Sally and Betty’s car rides to and from the school are the most fun these two have probably had together in ages; it’s like as Sally edges closer to adulthood, she’s getting very close to her mother’s stunted emotional age. Betty and Don are both petulant children in so many ways (For further proof, please note Don curled up in the fetal position no less than twice in the hour, once in Sally’s bed, as well as his excellent voice work doing a baby’s cry for Peggy and Ted’s commercial idea.) We’ve all long suspected Sally would be more like her mom than she could have ever expected. Now, between the slight smile at the sight of Glenn fighting for her honor in a dorm room to smoking with her mom and truly understanding how disappointing Don Draper can be, Sally is starting to own her bitterness and manipulation skills.
All of our questions should be answered with Sunday’s season finale, and hopefully we can all stop wondering which conspiracy theory is correct. I’m just glad I didn’t find any more potential serial killers lurking in this week’s episode.