Mad Men recap: Coups de Grace
Season 6's penultimate episode finds Don alienating himself even further, while Bob Benson's secret is finally confirmed
Don has never been one to forgive and forget, and the methods of his vengeance are always clever in their cruelty. Whether he’s stuffing Roger full of stomach-churning oysters and alcohol, drinking Ted under the office table, or vivisecting Peggy and Ted’s flirtatious relationship in full view of everyone, Don’s vindictiveness can be merciless, and the season’s penultimate episode saw our (anti-)hero taking a torch to yet more bridges.
A pair of twinned shots from above portray Don in isolation. In the first, he’s sleeping off a hangover in Sally’s bed, having returned late the night before. He’s starting to come apart at the seams, neglecting Megan for the cold glow of the TV and drinking far more than he should, his face turning that splotchy scarlet that makes Jon Hamm’s head look like a real ham. Megan advises him to slow it down, but he can’t even make it through breakfast without pouring himself a surreptitious screwdriver. (More oranges for The Godfather fans.) He’s building a wall around himself, mortared with alcohol.
Part of this is Don beating himself up about the damage he’s done to his relationship with Sally. Still, when Betty calls to tell him Sally refuses to visit, he acts like he couldn’t care less. “What do you want me to do about it?” he snaps and when Betty mentions the idea of boarding school, he jumps at the idea, offering to pay the full tuition just to get Sally out of the way.
Whatever residual guilt he’s still feeling—remorse generally tends to slide off him as if he were the Teflon Don—soon gets redirected when he finds out about Ted and Peggy. Megan takes him to see Rosemary’s Baby, the novel of which Sally was seen reading earlier this season. This matinee choice is rife with implications: For one, it underlines the possibility of a pregnant Megan (as do those two eggs she was cooking), as well as reaffirms that pesky Sharon Tate connection via director Roman Polanski. The film is also about a woman betrayed by her handsome husband when he conspires with the neighbors, a story with pretty obvious parallels, although I’m pretty sure Don wouldn’t have slept with Sylvia if she looked like Ruth Gordon.
NEXT: Ted Talks…
While at the movies, they run into Peggy and Ted, who have a quick-draw professional excuse—they’re basing an ad for St. Joseph’s children’s aspirin on the film’s final scene—but it’s pretty obvious what’s going on to anyone with two eyes and a brain. The flirtation is so conspicuous that’s it’s practically written out in neon. Don’s reaction at first seems inscrutable, and he pretends not to know what’s going on when Megan presses the issue. But as soon as he gets home, he calls Harry to tell him to move ahead with Sunkist, breaking his gentleman’s agreement with Ted. It’s petty, but like Don’s later revenge, it can be masqueraded as something he did for the good of the company.
Lest we feel too badly for Ted, let’s remember that he has a wife and kids. His reason for leaving the theater is he has to throw a football around with his son, so it’s not like his high-school crush on Peggy is going to lead anywhere good. Plus, their demeanor together is anything but professional and Don is right that Ted was blinded by his feelings for her when he let the St. Joseph’s budget balloon. Still, just because he’s in the right doesn’t mean he’s acting rightly. In the words of the Dude, “You’re not wrong, Don, you’re just an asshole.”
He calls a meeting with St. Joseph’s and promises Ted he’ll talk them around to the budget. Instead, he makes a quiet allusion to their “relationship,” watching as Ted squirms at the end of his hook before finally letting him off. He tells the representative that the idea was Frank Gleason’s last before he died, effectively wrenching the CLIO-worthy concept away from Peggy and showing that his anger wasn’t limited to Ted. If anything, he’s more upset with Peggy for what he sees as a betrayal. His contempt is such that he refers to her as a “little girl” as he remonstrates Ted after the meeting, telling him twice that he’s not thinking with his head (or at least not with the right head). The message gets through and Ted leaves for home early to avoid her.
Peggy confronts Don in his office and calls him a monster. Two of the most important women in Don’s life are now utterly disgusted with him, and the third would be if she ever found out about Sylvia. The episode ends with another ceiling-eye shot of Don, curled up in a fetal position on his office couch. This isn’t the first time he’s played the baby, either, having previously emitted a few slightly disturbing “wah, wahs” in the run-through for the aspirin ad. Even without this, Don’s childishness is evident. He pouts, he whines, he wants everything for himself. This season has done all it can to dry up every last drop of sympathy for Don, both from his fellow characters and from viewers. The episode’s title, “The Quality of Mercy,” comes from Portia’s famous speech in The Merchant of Venice in which she begs Shylock to reconsider taking his payment. Don is also too intent on extracting his pound of flesh to consider kindness. One wonders how much mercy the show’s final episodes will offer him. I imagine not much.
NEXT: “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
The episode itself was rather unmerciful when it came to poor Ken Cosgrove, who got Cheney-ed in the face by a couple of shotgun-toting Chevy reps while on a hunting expedition. It was the same brand of sudden, deadpan violence that Mad Men has made one of its trademarks. It was pretty mean of Weiner to make us wait through the next commercial break to find out if they killed Kenny (you bastards!), but luckily he came back from Detroit mostly intact, although looking a bit more like a Bond villain. “Chevy is killing me,” he says, quite literally, before mentioning that the reps tried to stop for lunch on the way to the hospital. He doesn’t care about the account if it’s going to work him to death. So Pete decides to reverse-Tom Sawyer him, making it seem as if he’s doing him a favor by taking over Chevy, when really it’s the best thing that could have happened to his stalled career.
Cooper is upset about the transfer: he likes Ken far more than Pete, probably because he’s a good judge of character. Cutler and Roger reminisce about the various sexual indignities they experienced at the hands of clients like a pair of old whorehouse hens. (“Lee Garner, Jr. made me hold his balls!”) Ken values his life too much to pimp it out, but Pete does not. However, he is clearly uncomfortable with Bob and last week’s implicative knee tap. Pete tries to get him off of Chevy, but it’s an indication of how far he’s fallen that the other partners would rather have Bob work on it than him. Of course, Bob doesn’t take Pete’s machinations lying down, declaration of eternal love or no declaration of eternal love. “This is not about my own interests, I care about Chevy,” he tells him. “You should watch what you say to people.” There’s some steel in that smile.
Pete puts Detective Duck on the case and finally the “What about Bob?” question is answered. It’s pretty much what many had suspected: Bob was, like Don, a self-made man. He used to work as a man-servant to a SVP at another firm before disappearing with an electric pencil sharpener and the Christmas card list. He conned his way into the office and now Pete has all the evidence he needs to jettison his enemy-slash-secret-admirer forever.
Except, he doesn’t.
NEXT: Pete Campbell/Bob Benson, Dream Team
Is Pete’s truce with Bob an act of mercy or is it simply Pete separating the personal from the professional? In either case, it’s something Don is incapable of. The scene in which Pete confronts Bob is probably my favorite of the episode. These are two hungry, ambitious men circling each other like sharks, each a mirror version of the other. Bob reveals that Pete unwittingly hired him: “You walked in, complimented my tie, and walked out. It was the best day of my life.” He asks for a day’s head-start, clearly intending to disappear once again, but Pete surprises him and us. He recognizes Bob’s drive and talent because he’s seen it before in Don, and he’s smart enough to ally himself with it rather than against it. “You’re certainly better at it than I am at am at whatever I do,” he tells him.
Pete has gotten his groove back. While Don Draper lies curled-up on the couch, Pete’s about to take over the world, armed with a big account and a trusty sidekick. He was on the ropes earlier this season, beaten, bruised and disheartened, but Pete Campbell doesn’t go down easy. He’s got the eye of the tiger. Now he’s managed to recoup his confidence and step back into the ring with a man in his corner: Bob Benson, his gay con-man Burgess Meredith.
Sally, too, makes a bit of a bounce-back. We should have known that all that worrying last week about her state of mind was unnecessary. Catching her father in flagrante delicto was traumatizing, to be sure, but after this week it’s clear the girl will probably be fine. While staying over at the boarding school with a couple of hazing prep girls, she invites Glen, who arrives dressed in an army jacket covered with a constellation of protest buttons, and his joint-rolling friend Rolo, to hang with them. When Rolo gets fresh, she interrupts Glen’s make-out session and tells him that he was forcing himself on her. The lines here are a little grey, but Glen gives her the reaction she was looking for, defending her honor by punching his friend, and ride home, in the face. Her father may have let her down, but that doesn’t mean every man in her life will.
Of course, that little smile she has while Glen is whaling away is a little unnerving. It’s also 100 percent Betty Draper. Everybody has a favorite parent when they’re young. For many, it’s the one that’s the most lenient, the one that lets you have ice cream for dinner and then says, “Don’t tell Mom.” But that usually changes as one grows old enough to see past the Good Cop/Bad Cop routine and realize that the parent you argue with the most is often the one you’re most similar to. Betty’s not exactly a model mother, but it seems that she’s been trying harder than usual lately. Sally has long given her the brunt of her teenage outrage, but seeing her father as he really is has given her new insight into the woman who raised her. It’s nice to see Betty being depicted as something other than a villain or a joke in a fat suit. “My father’s never given me anything,” Sally bitterly confesses, as both she and her mother puff on a cigarette, two women disappointed by the same man.
Ginsberg says cran-prune sounds like “a glass of diarrhea.” Now that’s a billboard idea.
When Megan picks up the phone and it’s Harry, she looks so utterly displeased it’s hilarious. To be fair, I imagine even Harry’s mother makes a similar face when he calls.
Ken kind of looks fantastic in that eyepatch. He’d probably sell a ton of sci-fi novels with that author photo.
Bob calling Pete an “hijo de puta” was definitely a highlight.
“Now get me a cigarette and give me some details.” This is a really good season for Betty.
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