Every week, Aaron Cohen (@UnlikelyWords) writes a recap of Mad Men for his blog Unlikely Words, and I illustrate something from the episode to go with it. Lately, Aaron’s been doing the recaps as an interview with David Jacobs. Here’s Aaron’s recap for season 6 episode 11: (Some thoughts then a discussion.)
-I don’t want it to get buried, but Adriana pointed out the song at the end of the episode was the Monkee’s ‘Porpoise Song.’ Watch the video and let me know of which TV show opening it reminds you.
-”Pretend it’s Ralph Nader.” Nader was already an enemy of the auto industry in 1968.
-”Oh my God, you killed Kenny! You bastard!” Oh, just shot in the face? That’s OK, then.
-”What do you want me to do about it?” I wish someone would make a super cut of Don saying something along the lines of this. It happens a lot, though not as often this season.
-Peggy and Ted were hotter and heavier this episode than any in the past. Like high school kids, actually.
-Like a hooker that accepts Traveler’s checks.
-Don and Megan see Ted and Peggy at Rosemary’s Baby, which is making it’s millionth appearance this season.
-I noticed a few different scenes where the characters went from dark into light. In the movie theater and when Don and Megan got home are two.
-Don flipped on Ted regarding Sunkist/Ocean Spray. I thought it was one of the more interesting moments of the season because of all that went into it. 1) Don and Ted are battling it out for sort of control of the agency. 2) Don is super protective/possessive of Peggy even if he doesn’t himself know why. 3) We got to see super salesy Don again. Nice of him to make an appearance.
-”That’s a dumb idea.” No one likes Pete.
-Roger was really being a jerk about Ken. Seemed a little out of character because while Roger will snip at people he doesn’t like, comment after comment, he doesn’t have an issue with Ken.
-”Thank you, all of you, for having this trust in me.” No one likes Pete.
-”You should watch what you say to people.” Bob gets aggressive.
-Interesting move by Pete to try to get Bob a job and then push him out.
-I guess Bob Benson speaks Spanish pretty well.
-Glen Bishop is a hunk now, I guess. Did you catch Sally’s smile when Glen went after RoLo?
-It wasn’t clear to me, but although I’ve been commenting on the similarities to Pete and Don, Bob Benson is pretty Donish, too.
-”You like trouble don’t you.” Boarding school can’t handle Sally.
-”Your judgement is impaired.” It really was, Ted.
-”You don’t respond well to gratitude.” No one likes Pete.
-”My father’s never given me anything.”
-”He’s not that virtuous, he’s just in love with you.”
-”You’re a monster.”
-1969 St. Joseph’s ad.
Aaron:The title of the episode tonight was “Quality of Mercy” and sometimes I lean on the titles as a crutch, often, in fact, so just go with it. Don showed “mercy” on Ted and Peggy during the St. Joseph’s pitch, and Pete showed “mercy” on Bob Benson after finding out he was actually The Talented Mr. Benson. Essentially the show is saying mercy is selfish. Don schooled Ted and Peggy to get hand back, and Pete mercied Bob to keep him close and use him for something. Did I miss any mercy? We’ll get back to both of these, maybe, but basically, the quality of mercy is pretty fucked up right now. I’m having trouble not seeing both these situations as sending the same message: Save people so you can save yourself.
David: This is an echo, of course, of Don taking mercy on Pete in season 1. Now Pete’s doing the same for Bob. Did the boarding school girls take mercy on Sally? Were they the Sisters of Mercy?
Aaron: Maybe. And they were being selfish, too. It makes sense why Pete was protecting Ted and Peggy. Or “protecting.” What are you thinking for Pete’s motives with Bob?
David: You called the Don/Pete parallel all season, by the way, so good on you! Immediately, I was wondering if Pete was laying a trap for Don – but I think it’s nothing so intricate (like the Sopranos, and this episode was directed by another Sopranos alum), the plot points rarely run tricky. Pete could not trust anyone anymore (just Joan?), but now he has Bob. I’m not excited for Pete to travel to Detroit. What will we do without him? He’s our moral compass. I wonder if he’s going to die next episode, or if Weiner was just teasing us with the gun.
Aaron: Pete won’t be missing for long. He’ll go to Detroit on the days the show isn’t taking place. Ken might be the closest you’re going to get to someone dying. You’ve been saying it was going to happen for almost two seasons now. Obviously, I like how Pete played Bob because it was how Don did it when he had the chance. That was a little different because Pete knew Don’s secret and it was more mutual mercy, but Pete’s really having a rough go of it at SCDP these days. Nothing is going his way. Having Bob under his control will allow him to build consensus for his ideas etc.
David: How soon you forget, Lane did die! And there’s just no way you can avoid the death symbolism. It may be the laying-it-on-thickest red herring in history, but it’s there. The closing song, “The Porpoise Song” by the Monkees, is about the band not knowing their place in the world. From Wikipedia: “In the Monkees’ 1968 feature film Head, the song appears at the beginning and the end of the production, when the group’s members jump from a bridge as a means to permanently escape their lives.”
Adriana notes that the Monkees, because they were assembled to consumed as a pop group (which of course is common now), were constantly trying to stretch their careers and performances to appear “real.” And now we know that in addition to Don’s great charade, Bob is doing the same. So I think Pete and Don are both headed for a fall. And of course we’ve discussed before, the Chevy car (probably the Vega) is a bomb, the instant cereal campaign results in a lawsuit, and Mohawk Airlines has an infamous crash in 1969. I was looking for some sort of crisis around St. Joseph’s Aspirin as well but I can’t find one. It’s out there!
Aaron: I guess this is as good a time as any for this question, but don’t you think analysis of the careers of the musicians playing the songs that end the episodes as thematic to the episode isn’t just a little too much? How do you know which performers’ careers have meaning to the theme of the show? The first sentence in this paragraph is horribly worded, so let me rephrase it: Come the fuck on. It’s an interesting connection, but I think the internet isn’t big enough -
David: Stop what you’re doing and watch the video. It’s clearly the inspiration for the opening credits. (I’ll wait.)
Aaron: Fuck. OK. You win this round. But don’t you guys dare do this again.
David: I loved it when Duck said Bob’s resume “might as well be written in steam.” What a wonderful turn of phrase. Does he get the best writing because the writers love him?
Aaron: I loved it when Duck said, ‘So you need an account man?’ and Pete cut him off.
David: Now THAT would have been too far – and they would have figured out how to bring Sal back too, right? Speaking of pleasant surprises, I was so happy to see Glenn. And just as I am annoyed at the idea of Pete & Bob being exiled to Detroit, so I am with Sally being sent to boarding school. It was nice to see Sally and Betty finally connect, after a season of frustrating exchanges. And Betty was play acting a bit in the interview, but he is clearly proud and loving towards Sally in this episode.
Aaron: I really miss Sal, and I honestly keep expecting him to at least make a cameo. I think he did make one at some point after leaving the regular cast, remember that pay phone scene? Or was that in the same episode? Anyway, not that Sal and Bob are the only two gay men in NY, but maybe Bob sticking around makes a Sal appearance more likely. Is that insensitive? Glenn has really improved as an actor and we can finally see how Weiner convinced his son to play a creep for 4 seasons. “Son, son, just listen. You will be reviled for 4 years, but I have an arc that will clear all that up in Season 6.”
David: It’s not insensitive, because Weiner certainly hasn’t shown the same sensitivity around race that we mysteriously have come to expect around gender. But it’s possible that Bob isn’t even gay, he just thought Pete was, and he was playing eager to please? Glenn turned down the role of King Joffrey to be in Mad Men.
Aaron: I’m getting behind. WHAT on Joffrey. I wish he had done it. That would have been two terrible roles by his 16th birthday. Also, he turned down a starring role to be a creep a couple times a season? Also, and this is what I wanted to get to. It’s funny you referred to Betty and Sally as connecting because my note for that scene was about how Betty was completely unable to relate to Sally on any level. Betty is mean and vindictive and Sally is just so over it. She wants to hurt Sally, but can’t resist expressing how excited she is that Sally performed well at the school, and then she offered her a cigarette.
David: Don’t forget that January Jones’ other prominent role of late is the one where she was literally a diamond. So it could be that she all of a sudden became an amazing actress, or that she didn’t obviously relate to Sally because she doesn’t relate to anyone (not even Harry), which is more or less consistent with the last six years of the show.
Aaron: Right, right. Another topic. Don was toeing the Ocean Spray/Sunkist line until he saw Ted and Peggy at the movie. What about that caused him to flip? He’s protective of Peggy, but more of like a platonic daughter, if that makes any sense. I see some similarities to Mrs. Whitman in California. Someone who knew him plain, but was able to see something in him anyway. Peggy doesn’t know about everything, but has seen him low down enough times he doesn’t really need to pretend anymore. That’s why I think Don went after Ted. You?
David: I think he just flipped on Ted at that moment. Peggy had sold Don on Ted as “the better man,” and after Ted saved little Rosen from the war, Don was ready to believe it. But then he saw them, clearly behaving like lovers, not co-workers, and playing hooky from work (again with people being in the wrong place at the wrong time!), he realized that Ted was no better, and that the biggest dollar amount should decide which account they kept. I really do think Don was acting motivated by what he sees as what’s best for the agency.
Aaron: No, you’re incorrect. You’re wrong. This was about Peggy.
David: Tell me more, I am open to this.
Aaron: Don doesn’t care about the business. Doesn’t care about anything. He just wants to win. He was fine letting Ted get his way, until it involved Peggy and then he needed to put Ted in his place and he did it in the most excruciating way he could think of. He’ll make noise about trying to protect Peggy from herself, but I think he selfishly wants to keep his sister-daughter to himself. (Obviously more nuanced.)
David: I can see it, but I’m not sold! I think Don was only thinking about Sally, and that’s why he was a little distanced. But the whole Peggy plot was a little off to me. I don’t buy that Peggy would go after this bad ad. She must know it was over-budget, and not a great idea. And she was going on dates, etc., so she is clearly over the stabby hippy.
Aaron: That’s another thing that bothers me. Since when did he start caring about what Sally thinks? You think that’s why he’s so low down at the beginning and end of the episode? Agreed also on Peggy knowing enough to know the ad would be over budget.
David: I do. Because you can’t hide from what Sally saw – remember, his kids don’t know his true identity. To them, he was still the straight man (in his mind, obviously Sally has seen hints of bad behavior before). But now she’s caught him in a big lie, and he did his best to talk his way out of it, and he couldn’t. I can imagine that being devastating!
Aaron: Before Pete found out Bob was a fraud, Bob got up in his face about leaving him alone. Any idea where that came from? Caged rat?
David: Yeah, no idea. I’m not sure how thought out all those little details are. It could have just been his reflex, a way to show a hint of his true self?
Aaron: Yeah, I wish stuff like this didn’t happen. Over and over this season, hints like this happen in the same episode for which they’re useful. In season’s past, I feel like this type of detail would have come out 5 episodes ago, and then again last episode. Same with how we’re supposed to believe Don is madly in love with Sylvia. Some viewers more careful than I have noticed some inconsistencies in Bob’s life story all season, but he’s never gotten aggressive.
David: We talk about this pretty often. And often you’ll say, “It was just a setup episode,” or “they’re going to get back to this,” or “maybe they didn’t get to finish this idea.” Maybe this is a setup season? We know there will be season 7, and we (Mad Men fans) all think that the Summer of Love is going to be huge for the Draper clans. It could be Weiner knew he wasn’t going to be canceled mid-stream (a la the Killing) so he just decided to do 26 episodes as one thematic arc. And by that account, we’ve seen quite a lot.
Aaron: That could be, I guess. Well, actually. It doesn’t address my point at all, but I agree with what you’re saying. If they want to hint Bob isn’t for real, they can’t hint it 15 minutes before they reveal he’s not real. It’s too convenient. That’s what happens on ER. I expect more from Mad Men.
David We’ll find out next week? Well, all of these brief glimpses of emotion (like Bob’s aggressive streak, Joan’s resentment towards Don, Sterling’s consideration of his own mortality) could be setups for next year. Well, they did hint at Bob’s plot, since as you note some of the facts he had shared about his life were inconsistent.