Mad Men 6×12 – The Quality of Mercy



The imagery of Mad Men often walks a fine line between poetic and on-the-nose. But for an episode that opens and closes with Don in a foetal position, this one manages to stay just on the right side of pretentious. Todd VanDerWerff has a wonderfully in-depth analysis of all the Freudian underpinnings of this episode, so I’m just going to look at the episode on a more superficial level.

The bulk of this episode draws us back to the 3-way of Don, Ted and Peggy that we first saw fully formed in ‘The Better Half’. However in this episode, Peggy and Ted (with Abe out of the way) have only grown closer. Needless to say, Don is not pleased. In the episode’s standout scene Don tries to painfully embarrass the pair in a meeting to raise their creative budget for St. Josephs. Sure the tactic of saying the idea belonged to Frank Gleason worked, but Don’s methods were unusually cruel in his attempts to force a confession of love out of Ted. However Don still remains a sympathetic character throughout. The show has gotten to the stage where it can push these characters into ugly directions while using our knowledge of the show’s previous six years to inform their behaviour. Don’s possessiveness of Peggy, despite turning him into an occasional asshole, comes from a place of great affection. He has a father’s love for her and that often causes him to treat her like a child. But I believed his talk to Ted after the meeting wasn’t solely Don being petty. Yes he is incapable of being happy for Peggy, because in Don’s mind his student has found someone more nurturing, but what he said wasn’t wrong. Ted and Peggy were indeed acting inappropriately. Ted was neglecting the good of the company to make Peggy happy and people around the office including Ginsberg, Joan and Ted’s secretary were not impressed. Despite his petty schoolboy antics, Don knows Ted isn’t a bad man (although he’ll never admit Ted’s a better man), but he also knows Ted is married and has to tone down things with Peggy.

In fact, at first Don appears to be going along with Peggy and Ted’s uninfectious good mood. He plays along with ad role play ‘wah – wah’ and is generally good humoured throughout, ‘you know this is the best photo these people will take in their lives’. But as soon as Ted touches Peggy around the waist, out come the claws and Don (he of confused maternal issues) starts taking down Ted, first with Ocean Spray then with Peggy. It is worth noting that before the slightly inappropriate touching, Don was willing to lose the company millions in order to hold up the deal he made with Ted in ‘Favors’. But as usual its Peggy who has to live with the brunt of Don’s pettiness. Should Don’s not a monster, but until he allows her the respect to live as she chooses, Peggy won’t easily forgive Don’s behaviour. The most unfortunate thing about the episode is that it forces Don to neglect the woman in his life who actually wants his attention. She is the model of a perfect wife here and ends the episode continuing to fall into shadows at Don’s waning interest.

One of my very first thoughts while watching this episode was if Ken is dead, I’m going to have a rage fit. Thankfully Mad Men isn’t usually one to off a character so offhandedly; they’re more content with a bayonet to the gut, or a lawn mower over the foot. Anyway the point of that scene was to force Bob and Pete to work more closely together. I was quite impressed with how this episode handled this storyline. At several points it threatened to boil over into melodrama (for some reason people talking angrily in Spanish have gave that Bob scene a whole Telenovela vibe). I love the fact that Bob’s resemblance to Don is part of what saved his job. Although Pete hates the idea that Don faked his way into advertising (despite Pete obviously getting far on his family’s name), he’s always had a begrudging respect for Don’s ability to invent and reinvent himself. As someone who really does hate himself and his family and constantly feels smothered and trapped by almost all facets of his life, Don (and Bob) is what Pete has always wished to be: free, independent and able to get what they want. The big scene between Pete and Bob says a lot more about Don than Bob, but I do love that we get to see a tougher, more dangerous side of Bob. He’s not all smiles and coffee cups.

I’m not as fond of Sally’s storyline. Sure the show in the past has focused on the idea of the youth in the 60s, but only as a demographic; its never been very comfortable depicting teenagers, because less face it, they’re kinda dull. I supposed this episode at least shows us the way teens were starting to rebel in the 60s more than previous decades, but really it just reinforces how lame the idea of teenage rebellion is (this isn’t a knock on the episode, more on teens in general). I’m barely out of my teens so I can attest to this. I much prefer Sally’s scene with adults because it allows us to actually see why this girl would feel the need to rebel. This whole plotline was mostly watchable for Betty’s scenes which continue this season’s trend of making Betty a more likeable character. Her genuine concern and confusion after Sally’s ‘My father never gave me anything’ line was a nice character touch, well played by Jones.

I have no idea if we’re going to getting any kind of season-long resolution in the finale next week, because frankly a lot of the plots were tied up in this episode and the previous one. Overall I feel this season will be lumped in with season 3, very work-focused but lacking a sense of purpose and cohesion.

What I Likes:

– Everybody hates Harry.

– I’ve enjoyed the consistency of Don’s love for the movies. Of course Don loves to ‘escape’. Personal side note: Rosemary’s Baby never did much for me.

– I used to hate the fake CGI backdrops that Mad Men would put behind car and train rides, but it really does fit in with the 60s aesthetic of the show.

– ‘Did you finally find a hooker that takes travellers cheques?’ – ‘Why did I ever tell you that?’

– It’s very nice to see Don and Betty being capable of carrying a civilised conversation, free of pettiness.

– Loved the entire ad pitch scene. Firstly I think the idea is pretty great, but the idea that Don and Joan would play along just makes it so much fun.

What I Don’t Likes:

– The scene of Ken getting shot annoyed me. No one can be that stupid. Besides they were really hammering on the hurt with Ken. Surely the car crash in ‘The Crash’ would have been justification enough to quit.

– Sally’s roommates. I felt like I was watching a really bad horror movie set in an elite girl’s boarding school. Such a movie would also see these girls getting killed off one by one and would show them in their underwear more often than necessary. *SPOILERS* Creepy Glen is the murderer.

Overall Grade: 8.5 Disfigured Ken Consgroves

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