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‘Mad Men’ recap: no party favors

Jun 10, 2013
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The pieces, moved into place ever so slowly over the past 10 episodes, finally click in. The characters’ interests twist, intersect, and clash. Sally grows up in the worst way. Old flames flicker and others are extinguished. Bob Benson reveals himself and is quickly shot down. While it contained very few surprises, this episode offered resolution as we near the season finale in two weeks.

A rat appears in Peggy’s apartment. He scurries, oblivious to both Peggy’s fear and the danger he would encounter. Later we meet Mitchell, Dr. Rosen and Sylvia’s son, who, after sending his draft card back on protest, was classified as 1A. 1 He too, seems oblivious to the danger he is in. Later, the rat is trapped but not killed, streaking blood across Peggy’s floor. Mitchell’s situation elicits mostly unsympathetic reactions, even from Don, who eventually works to save him. “He can’t spend the rest of his life on the run,” Don says, and it’s one of many conflicting, even hypocritical, statements Don makes in this episode. Don himself has been running from a wartime secret for years. Perhaps he wishes Mitchell could do what he could not: face the war head-on, come back unscathed, make his parents proud. Just last episode Don hallucinated that PFC Dinkins was dead and now he is nonchalant about Mitchell going off to war? “It was different,” Don says. But it wasn’t and it wouldn’t be.

Don decides, almost certainly just for Sylvia, to see if he can help out Mitchell. He needs a favor. Pete‘s old DOD friend has moved on–not that Campbell was into the idea of helping Don anyway. The Chevy reps won’t take. But Ted, after yelling at Don for making the GM folks uncomfortable (a sacrifice Don was willing to make), says he can help out Mitchell as long as Don stops “the war you’re waging on me” as Ted puts it. The look on Don’s face says he didn’t even realize what he was doing. Don, for all his wisdom, is still so wrapped up in Don, he barely realizes the effect he has on those he chooses not to notice. So he does the deal with Ted, but it’s barely a favor.

Peggy, too, asks for a favor, this one an “Annie Hall” moment asking Stan to come over at three in the morning to kill the rat for her. She offers to “make it worth his while,” but he doesn’t take the deal (probably because he can’t get away from the girl sleeping next to him). Peggy, now free of Abe, seems content to flirt both with Ted and with Pete in a wonderful scene in a restaurant. Pete immediately recognizes how she looks at Ted and seems almost wistful (“Because you really know me,” he says with heartbreaking earnestness.) Pete, more than anything, wants to share that look with someone who cares for him. Ted leaves the table and Peggy reveals Pete’s mother’s odd, licentious confession. It’s Ted’s turn to be jealous when he comes back and finds Pete and Peggy in uproarious, private laughter.

Ted is tired of being left out. Like at the dinner, Ted misses the memo (though he evidently sent plenty of his own) on Don’s plans to move forward with a media strategy for Sunkist even though it conflicts with Ted’s wooing of Ocean Spray. Ted is stuck in Don’s shadow, in the shadow of a slightly older generation. Ted often feels like the younger brother at SC&P. He and his wife hash out the classic “Mad Men” argument: Wife is pissed that husband spends too much time at work and, even when he is home, is too distant. It’s a conversation Pete and Trudy, Don and Betty, and Don and Megan have all had. I was hoping Ted and his wife would handle it differently, a more new-age approach to a common marital issue, but he swears to be different and they both know he won’t be. Not every sacrifice takes place on the battlefield. Ted’s service is to his job and his family is a casualty.

Sally’s innocence, cracked and threatening to break simply from age and friends like Ms. Second Base, is wiped away for good when she spies her father, err, “consoling” Sylvia. The audience is left to imagine what Don is thinking in the long elevator ride down to the lobby after he is finally caught. Sally’s discovery was remarkably similar to Don spying on his father at the brothel. I wonder if Don is imagining his early exposure to his parent’s sexuality. Like imagining your own child being sent to war, as Don proffers at dinner with the Chevy execs, surely Don is imagining the type of world he has sent Sally into to. Not every casualty occurs on the battlefield. Pete must confront his parent’s sexuality, too. Dot’s imaginary sexual liaisons with her gay nurse, Manolo, reminded me that we often imagine our parent’s sexuality as made up or not real. Don’t we all half-assume that our parents have only had sex once? Or twice if we have a sibling? I loved Sylvia’s reaction too, not grief, but anger, almost horror. Like a spell broken, Sally’s appearance made their sin incredibly real.

Pete, I realize, had an odd week. After hearing the maybe/maybe not story about his mother cavorting with her nurse, he is hit on by Bob Benson. What’s strange is that Pete tossed off an insult, calling gays “degenerates,” after Bob assures Pete that Manolo wouldn’t even be interested in his mother, and yet Bob still makes a pass. While there were hints that he was gay, mainly his lack of flirtations with Joan, he puts it all out there, even after hearing an insult from Pete. I hadn’t noticed that he had eyes for Pete, but it sure seems like he does. He’s turned down, and it’s hard to believe he’ll make it far in SC&P with one of the partners finding him “disgusting” (Pete says as much in his coded response about Manolo).

Sylvia gives into Don one more time. Perhaps in gratitude to the favor he did for her. I liked the way their storyline was rekindled and I really liked the talk between Don and Dr. Rosen. Have we ever seen Don have drinks with a male that doesn’t concern work? Is that all Don’s personality or a sacrifice he made for the job? Ted even picks up on the fact that Don has very few friends. Don leans against Sally’s door and lies to her. Sally knows. She knows what they were doing and she knows what it means. What favor will she ask for in return for her silence?

Notes:

  1. Mitchell would have normally received a deferment for going to school, but his protest caused his status to be reclassified. 1A meant you were eligible to be drafted. The classification meant he would likely have been sent to Vietnam.

Austin, Texas. Good with words.