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Mad Men Season 6 Ep. 12 Recap: ‘The Quality of Mercy’

Photo Credit: AMC

As always, spoilers lie ahead…For an episode that began with Ken Cosgrove getting shot–gotta tap dance faster buddy–”The Quality of Mercy” was kinda a low-key episode. While there was nothing as heart-stopping as Sally walking in on Don and Sylvia mid-coitus, the after shocks from it, as well as from Bob Benson’s confession to Pete and the rekindling of Ted and Peggy’s potential affair, permeated the proceedings.

Sally has decided to be merciful to Don–though she really just wants to get the hell away from him and the mental picture of him with his pants down–by choosing to head off to boarding school. On the way there, Betty tries to suss out her reasons for wanting to leave home, and Sally, as required by teenage law, tests her patience with a series of non-answers. Finally she throws Betty a bone with “I want to be an adult, but I value my education.”

She and Betty may have sat down with the headmaster for a greeting/pre-interview, but it’s her future dorm mates she really has to worry about impressing. Apparently they run this mother, and whatever girl they decide is cool, gets in. The way they lay this news on her is condescending, which I guess par for the course when you come across queen bees (in my head Andy, blonde girl, grows up to be Regina King’s trashy mom in Mean Girls), but at least they were kind enough to clue her in. After rolling their eyes and drolly reprimanding her for not smuggling refreshments(cigarettes, pot, booze etc.), they call over some boys, one of which is Betty’s old crush Glenn Bishop. After drink and weed are passed out, Glenn follow s Andy into her room, while his friend Rolo stays with Sally.

Rolo tries to make a move, but Sally resists, though it’s hardly surprising she’d be less than thrilled about going all the way with a boy, given the psyche-throttling image she got last week. It’s why she didn’t just shoot the guy down, but knocked on the door and insinuate to Glenn things went further than they really did so he’d get angry and beat his friend down; teenage boys can be pushy about sex, but boasting about how other girls you’ve been with (though I’m guessing Rolo’s number is probably should be adjusted for the rule of three), saying you’re tired of talking and expressing mild frustration (“You’re a tease”) when all signs led to getting laid but morphed into a  big red “NO,” is not forcing someone to do anything.

The Mona Lisa smile that spreads on her face as Glenn knocks some chivalry into Rolo, shows she wasn’t really scared. Or it could be she’s just happy there’s one male figure in her life she can count on to protect her. Creepy or not creepy (I happen to fall in the latter camp. Some kids are just kooky) Glenn’s always been open and honest with Sally in a way Don never has. If anything, Sally may have subconsciously been using Rolo as a scapegoat for her lingering anger and frustration at not only seeing Don’s infidelity in the flesh, but not feeling she can say anything about it to anyone. Was it any coincidence Rolo’s hair style, while youthful, was pretty much a more stylish dead ringer for Don’s trademark flop sweat side part ‘do? Me thinks not, but I’ll leave that Tom and Lorenzo to dissect, if they deem it so.

On the car ride home, Betty informs her the headmaster told her that, given the family she comes from, she can have her pick of boarding schools, which means she’s gotten in. Betty hands her a celebratory cigarette. “I’d rather have you do it in front me than behind my back,” she says, earning her a few cool Mom points. “I’m sure your father’s given you a beer.” “My father’s never given me anything,” Sally says in an arctic tone that could have sprung from her mother’s lips. It’s the first of many similar statements she’ll probably spend the Eighties uttering on a couch to her therapist.

Sally’s not the only woman in his life Don’s disappointed. Things haven’t been right between he and Pegg since she walked in Ted’s office after the Chevy meeting and saw him sitting on the couch. And since the merger, he’s consistently put her in a position where she must choose between his ideas and Ted’s, and by extension, between him and Ted as people. Peggy has clearly chosen Ted as both her new professional role model, and whether or not she wants to admit it, still hopes for him to be her romantic partner as well.

Ted, whatever his earlier misgivings, is clearly still attracted to her, and the way they giggle and carry throughout the episode makes you wonder if they aren’t already sneaking back to her place during lunch hour for a quickie. If you need more evidence Ted is acting the way Don did when he was on “love leave” with Megan, look no further than Ted championing Peggy’s elaborate Rosemary’s Baby-inspired idea for a St. Joseph’s commercial. Even though Don points out said commercial would go $35,000 over budget, Ted pushes for it anyway, believing it’s award-worthy even after the client says he doesn’t want such an expensive ad.

Later, during a meeting Ted tries and fails to convince the St. Joseph’s exec that going with Peggy’s idea, while costly, is the best move. When he doesn’t budge, Don pulls a showstopper out of his hat  by saying the commercial is very “personal” to Ted. After twisting the metaphorical knife in deeper by letting the tension in the room thicken until Ted and Peggy look as if they might spontaneously incinerate, Don says it’s personal because it was late partner Frank Gleason’s last idea.

The exec agrees to go on along with it, but the cost of salvaging the ad  comes at Peggy getting no credit for what sounds like an amazing commercial (stereotypical references to Japanese people always having cameras on hand notwithstanding). It’s not the first time though. Remember the Clio-winning Glo Coat ad? Peggy no doubt does, and seethes until Ted asks to be left alone with Don so they can talk. He tries to read Don about letting he and Peggy twist in the wind in front of a client, but Don points out what everyone else already knows: Ted’s in love with Peggy and it’s clouding his judgement.

“I know your little girl has beautiful eyes, but that doesn’t mean you give her everything.” Damn when did Don become Bert Cooper? Ted denies it, but Don tries to make him see light, saying “we’ve all been there” when comes to having your head turned by a pretty face, and Ted’s protest of “don’t say that about her” doesn’t go a long way in dismissing the notion he’s over heels. Though the women who had Roger and Don punch drunk with love, Jane Segel and Megan, don’t really hold a candle to Peggy when to comes ambition, talent and sheer ambition, he has a point, and to his credit lets Ted know he and Peggy never slept together. In the end, Don is right, but like Pete, he often can’t speak or make others see the truth without doing it in the shittiest way possible.

Even so, Don’s words hit a nerve with Ted, because he’s gone home by the time Peggy goes to check on him; though his secretary Moira didn’t have to mention he left right after he was told she wanted to see him. Anyway, Peggy marches into Don’s office and proceeds to ream him out. Like season four’s “The Suitcase” and “The Other Woman” their conversation is tense and barbed, and comes after an incident that left Peggy feeling totally disrespected. “You hate that he’s a good man,” Peggy says, and she must be deep in infatuation land, because Ted has proven time and time again that while he is better man than Don in some ways, he can be just as cold (rejecting her the morning after she broke up with Abe) impulsive (Don didn’t merge SCDP and CGC on his own) and at times is just as much a part of old boys’ club (immediately thinking of Pete for Avon instead of Joan) as her former mentor. Don, right on the money but being dickish again, says “He’s not that virtuous. He’s just in love with you.” He would know, as he’s describing himself as much as he is Ted.

Peggy is emotional, but unlike their showdown in “The Suitcase,” or her wrenching goodbye in “The Other Woman” she’s neither tearful, enraged or affected by Don’s words in any way. All her feelings are for Ted. She’s officially through with him, and is steely as titanium as she lets this zinger rip. “Well you killed him. You killed the ad, you killed everything. You can stop now. You’re a monster.” With that she walks away, leaving Don alone to curl up on the couch and wallow in his own self-loathing. If he was seeing clearly himself, he’d realize Megan is trying as much as she can to be there for him. The sight of him pouring Vodka into his morning OJ the morning after he got absolutely blasted actually had me feeling sorry for Don for a moment. But it’s obvious he’s intent on pushing her away, the flicking off of her soap opera thematic evidence of his overall attitude toward her; he won’t even try to win Sally back.

Of course, the only way to do that would be to man up and tell Megan the truth, something he doesn’t look remotely courageous enough to do at this time. Sally’s discovery of Don’s affair has made his latest downward spiral stick more than his other trips to the abyss. There is a witness who won’t, or can’t, pretend it never happened. He’s going to have to make some drastic changes and finally realize he’ll have to save himself if he wants his daughter to start respecting him again.

Enough of Don’s drama. After getting shot in the face, Ken is done with Chevy, leaving the door open for Pete to become their new account man. Of course that also means Bob Benson will be joining Pete on trips to Detroit, as Cutler placed him on Chevy a few weeks back. Pete tries to push Bob off the account, but Cutler and the other partners put the kibosh on that. Sensing things may be going south, Bob decides to let everyone discuss things further without him and leaves the room.

I fully expected Pete, never one to pass up a self-sabotaging low blow, to blurt out “Bob’s a homo and he hit on me” to the whole room. But he’s clearly desperate to restore some luster to his career–and besides, after Roger’s admission Lee Garner Jr. once made him cup his balls (shout out to Sal), who’s to say how much shock value that particular announcement would have had? If anything, hearing everyone trade all these war stories sent the overriding message that when it comes to clients, personal discomfort or indignities suffered must be brushed aside in the name of new business. Of course Ken doesn’t agree, but Ken’s always done foolish things like not having his total self-worth wrapped up in work and seeing the value of building a real, separate life outside of the office.

Pete goes out and tells Bob he doesn’t want to share a hotel room with him or get too close to him, as he’s “sick.” But Bob forcefully (or as forcefully as Bob has addressed anyone in the office) informs Pete in no uncertain terms “this ain’t personal bitch, this is business,” when it comes to Chevy and that he should watch how he speaks to people. Later, we see Bob screaming on the phone in Spanish to someone who is likely Manolo, complaining Pete is a son of a bitch (no arguments here) and saying he’s trying screw with his future.  His suspicions are right as Pete is calling up Duck Philips to see if he can find some job options to offer Bob when shows him the door.

However, Duck comes back with a big ol’ bag of “oh snap”: it turns out Bob or “Bobby” as he was referred to back in West Virginia, reinvented himself as Bob Benson and worked as manservant to a big-time exec for three years before snatching his Rolodex one Christmas and applying for corporate jobs. Gay translation: he was a kept boy (think Scott Thorson and Liberace since Behind The Candelabra is popping right now) for a rich closeted queen, and when things turned sour, he pulled a stunt, knowing he wouldn’t suffer any consequences from his sugar daddy because he wouldn’t want to be outed, and struck out on his own. Duck’s not even sure of his real name or age .

At first it looks like Pete will use the information to his advantage. After all, unlike his discovery of Don’s past, he’s Bob’s superior; the power dynamic is dramatically different from the one he and Don had in season one. But instead, Pete surprisingly (and thankfully; it would have been supremely messed up if the show got rid of Bob just as he was becoming really interesting) decides not to hurt Bob with  what he knows. Given his experiences with Don’s Dick Whitman mess and the sacrifices he’s had to make over the years to keep it quiet (giving up the North American Aviation account in season four comes to mind) the last thing he wants is to get sucked into anyone else’s secrets. Bottom line: as long Bob “doesn’t get too close’ to him, their working relationship will be just fine.

Will things will remain just fine among any of these characters? Only next week’s finale will tell.

 

 

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