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Mad Men Season 6 Ep. 11 Recap:'Favors'

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As always, spoilers lie ahead…Just as last week’s “A Tale of Two Cities” aptly summed up that episode’s theme of the culture clash between late 60′s New York and L.A. as well as the inner decay and power struggles happening within both SC&P’s offices and across the country, this week’s “Favors” hit the thematic nose on the head, as Mad Men’s characters found themselves on either asking for, on the receiving end of or offering a helping hand. Although it has to be said that helping hand wasn’t always appreciated.

Pete got a lot more screen time this week, and as his story arcs are want to do, was given sympathetic moments as well as those where you wanted to join the list of people who’ve punched him in the face. On the sympathetic side, he’s terrified of flying and over a few drinks with Ted and Peggy, actually comes off as pretty likable. Though that may have been the Dramamine working it’s magic. Either way talk of Ted flying a plane leads to speculation over how his adventures must terrify his wife. “You don’t want me to talk about his wife,” Pete tells Peggy, catching the lingering tension still crackling between her and Ted. She tries to dismiss him at first but he reminds her he’s seen that look, with Peggy’s surprise season one pregnancy being the living, breathing proof.

Unlike ninety percent of the time when he calls attention to something, Pete doesn’t remind of their long-ago tryst in way that comes off as snarky or bratty. Instead it comes off with a fond, knowing air; for a moment Pete’s face even regains it’s old youthfulness, before the career flailing, impending divorce and a mother with crippling dementia (though her scathing insult of “you’ve always been unlovable” hardly seemed to be coming from a senile place) started weighing him down. “At least one of us ended up important,” he tells Peggy, before softly asking her whether or not she pities him. It’s hard to tell whether or not she truly does pity him as she ponders his request, but she does know him well enough to know when he’s vulnerable, and does him the favor of saying “I don’t.” Though after confessing to him an very, shall we say, enlightening conversation she had (though it was more like an experience than mere chit-chat) with his mother Dorothy about her relationship with her caretaker Manolo, her words feel less like a favor and more like genuine empathy as they laugh and gag at the thought of fire being set to his mother’s loins.

In it’s own twisted way, Dorothy’s mental illness gave Pete and Peggy a glimpse into what life could have been like for them had circumstances been different. Trudy was good wife–better than what Pete often deserved– and the two had their nice moments, but it’s hard to think of one in which he and Trudy were as relaxed and loose as he and Peggy were at that table. Of course, Peggy’s workaholic attitude would likely rankle Pete and his douche bag tendencies would alienate her in the long-term. And a lucid Dorothy would no doubt have treated her like garbage, given her Brooklyn Catholic girl status. Then again, maybe Pete would have appreciated having someone who understood his world. And Peggy’s original choice of an upper east side apartment shows she was/is striving to become a part his old money world.

But enough what if’s–let’s talk Bob Benson, who has been doing favors for Pete all season long, offering to pay for his prostitutes, getting him toilet paper and securing Manolo for Dorothy. Everyone in the MM blogosphere has been suspecting whether Bob’s gay, Don’s illegitimate son or a mole sent in to gather info and destroy SC&P. It looks like the Weiner and Co. have chosen door number one, which I saw coming long before his knee nudge to Pete during his speech about taking care of someone. Going to the beach with Joan–the ultimate fag hag–and interacting with her in a way that felt completely nonsexual was one thing (there are straight men who can be friends with women after all), but deftly evading Ginsberg’s “are you a homo” question last week definitely pinged my gaydar. However, what sealed the deal was when Bob, trying assure Pete that Dorothy Manolo are not knocking boots, says in no uncertain terms Manolo plays for the other team. The look on Bob’s face when Pete calls Manolo a degenerate “who’s capable of anything” says it all.

While what he does next doesn’t exactly do much to advance old school perceptions of gay men as sinister predators (at least in the eyes of men like Pete), I guess it’s a testament Bob’s attraction to him that Pete’s clear distaste for homosexuality didn’t stop him from letting his true feeling be known. Though it’s hard not to be sympathetic towards Bob–him downing his liquor in one gulp and taking a deep breath already had me thinking “oh honey”–Pete makes it even easier by telling him to pay Manolo for the month, and to inform him his behavior (and by extension Bob’s) is disgusting.

Look, I’m not trying to defend Pete here, but his vitriol likely stems not only from homophobia, but from feeling violated. Here was someone he trusted who turned out to have an ulterior motive. Yes Pete’s being a homophobic jerk. He could have given him a polite “I don’t swing that way” kind of brush off and let that be the end of it. But one another level his reaction could have also been fueled by a feeling of betrayal. However,unlike Arlene’s advances towards Megan, Bob’s far from predatory. His words and body language were so open and honest–it’s the first time we’ve seen him be himself, not whatever someone needs him to be–that it’s obvious he was looking to start up something serious with Pete. Also, I get that this is 1968. Stonewall is still a year away, sodomy is still illegal in many states and public attitudes towards LGBT folks aren’t all that great (the previous year CBS aired a special titled The Homosexuals, which wasn’t exactly a pride parade). This is not the era of It Gets Better. But just once on this show I’d like to see a gay man seek to get or get served some cock sans dire emotional consequences.

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All being said, Bob, girl you can do a lot better than Pete Campbell, so his rejection is all the better for you in the long run. Now you can hook up with Manolo and Joan for nights out in the Village.

Over in Don’s world, Vietnam and the draft have spilled into their living room via Sylvia and Arnold’s son Mitchell. Turns out he sent his draft card back in protest and has been reclassified (which basically means he’s been bump up to the top of the list). Mitchell asks Megan to use her familial connections to get him to Canada, which she explains to Don, who at firsts instruct her to stay out of it. “He cant’ spend the rest of his life on the run,” Don says, and it’s hard not to roll your eyes given whose windpipe it’s coming out of.

Later he has a heart to heart of sorts over drinks with Arnold, during which the good doctor opens about Sylvia’s small lies, his belief something’s off in their marriage and his regret over letting Mitchell go to France. The two talk about their own military service, with Don mentioning how lucky they were not to experience any action. For Arnold though, luck means getting to live in America, and part of the price of getting to be a citizen is service and sacrifice. “We knew that that,” he says, referring to himself and, Don the deserter who was less interested in sacrifice or service to anyone other than himself. The man who has fashioned an entire existence out of fleeing headlong from his past.

At one point Arnold tears up and Don looks empathetic, but it’s hard to believe the main reason he goes on out on a limb for Mitchell is for anything other than getting back into Sylvia’s good graces. He and Arnold have a little bromance vibe going, but not enough for him to pull these kinds of strings. Why else would he kill the good mood at a table full of Chevy execs to see how they felt about the war, or agree to drop the Sunkist account for Ted if he would put in a good word for the kid with a military buddy? After Ted promises to put in a good word, he calls Arnold but gets Sylvia, and tells her the potential good news. She’s understandably overjoyed, then expresses disbelief he’d do this for her, seeing through his BS that he’s doing it because he has children too.

“You’re were good to me. Better than I was to you,” she says, and I don’t know what adulterous affair she was in, but being locked in a hotel room for days without even a book to keep you company isn’t my idea of good. Their fling wasn’t about love, but about control, power and domination, at least on Don’s end. Sylvia repeats her earlier warning that she didn’t want him to fall in love, but if anyone’s falling down the amorous rabbit hole, it’s her. And as Betty hipped us to in “The Better Half” loving Don is the worst way to get to him, but she’s so caught up in his goodwill gesture–and likely the whole situation with Mitchell–she’s blind to just how dark things were between them.

Things get more precarious when Sally(goodness hasn’t this girl seen enough?) trying to snatch back a note her friend Julie slid under the Rosens’ door for their crush Mitchell to find, catches Don and Sylvia in the act. Sylvia curls into a ball and berates herself, while Don goes into a shocked, zombiefied state, drinking himself into a stupor then stumbling home to find a disgruntled Sally sitting with an oblivious Megan and Julie at the dinner table.

To further twist the knife, Arnold and Mitchell come in to thank Don for his good deed (and it is good despite its selfish origins). Megan kisses him and calls the sweetest man, causing Sally to scream “you make me sick” before sprinting off to her room. Don pulls out the best lie he can think of at the moment and explains to Sally’s closed door he was “comforting” Sylvia, and that “it’s very complicated.” Deep down Sally’s way too smart to believe that garbage, but more than anything she probably just wants to forget she ever saw her father with his pants down, and manages to utter a weak “okay.” She does him the favor, for now at least, of sticking her in sand and pretending she didn’t catch her father about to sleep with another woman, but who knows how long she can keep that game up?

Ted’s home life, while not as perilous as Don’s is quickly becoming, is in its own state of unrest. At home his wife calls him out not only for working too much, but taking a junior copywriter (i.e. Peggy) on his plane and being obsessed with Don Draper. Given the way he comes off the morning after the Chevy dinner, she may have a point. When Ted confronts Don about what he saw as sabotage, Don doesn’t go into his default mode of arrogant prick. He’s too concerned about Mitchell and of course Sylvia. Feeling out the Chevy execs for a new friend in a high place and going after Sunkist, unknowingly pitting it against the Ocean Spray account, were not the masterful manipulations Ted interprets them as. Even Jim Cutler questions why Ted is freaking out over SCDP side missing a memo.

It looks like his wife’s message sinks in when later on, when Ted comes home and indulges in some play time with his sons. Though as Pete pointed out, he hasn’t completely snuffed out his attraction to Peggy. Speaking of Peggy, it looks she may her mother’s advice to get a cat, thought not to ease her loneliness. With Abe gone, someone’s got to take care of the mice roaming around her house, and Stan’s unwilling to come get rid of her furry friends in the middle of the night, no matter how flirtatious she acts. Maybe Pete will do her a favor and brave a trip to the west side.

–Other Thoughts

—Watching Roger juggle oranges? Awesome.

—The argument between Ted and his wife could have been any spat Don and Betty had in seasons one and two. From the way his wife (a blond by the way) sat up on the right side of the bed to Ted sitting on the edge, tie off and shirt slightly unbuttoned, it was almost an exact call back to the original Mr and Mrs. Draper’s former suburban life.

–Peggy to Stan (a shirtless Stan BTW): “Why are you using your sexy voice?”

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