Mad Men Season 6 Episode 11 Deconstructed

by: L.P. Hanners

In an episode full of poignant outings the biggest bombshell lands directly upon young Sally Draper…..

There is a saying in this world, a very popular one at that, which goes, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” It’s all about receiving in return for what you give to others. Yet, there is a school of thought that believes the joy is actually in the giving, that it is far better to give than to receive – for when we give without expecting anything in return we have done something good. This school of thought, we learned in this week’s episode entitled “Favors”, has no place whatsoever within the Mad Men universe; an episode where all “righteous” acts are performed selfishly, solely with the thought of what could be garnered in return.

An aroma of desperation swamped the office this week as everyone was bartering for that which they desire most. Dr. Rosen needs Don to surf through his connections and see if he can help his son ((I find it clever that Don ends up trying to get Mitchell into the Air National Guard, the same outfit George W. Bush joined in 1969.)), Don needs Sylvia, Dick Whitman needs a favor from Pete, Peggy asks Stan to play exterminator (offering sex in return), Bob offers Pete selfless devotion (looking to cash in on a previous favor), Julie attempts to help Sally get close to Mitchell (with friend like these….), Ted barters for peace with Don ((“I don’t want his juice, I want MY juice”  -Ted Chaough)), and our head is left spinning with all the wheeling and dealing going on.

While the episode, in hindsight, will remain unforgettable for the events that occurred between Don and his daughter (much more on that to come!) the tit-for-tat business dealings between the newly aligned agency (particularly Don and Ted) continues its course. It is compelling to see Roger and Don persistently shut out the new partners from their business dealings. They are oblivious to the steps necessary to make the company great, and how important it is that everyone is on the same page. And Don continues to prioritize his personal needs, even while at a meeting with SC & Partner’s trophy wife (Chevy), which has led to a heightened level of incompetence in the work place. Simply put, Don is fucking up.

In the most enjoyable scene of the evening Ted, Pete, and Peggy bond over drinks while out of town courting Ocean Spray. A love triangle, of sorts, is birthed as Ted and Peggy initially flirt across the table, and then Pete and Peggy share a moment. It is always interesting to be present for one of those rare Mad Men moments when two characters are completely open and honest with one another, as Peggy and Pete were this week unhesitatingly acknowledging their history as friends and lovers ((All set up by an interesting conversation between Peggy and Pete’s mother.  “I don’t even want to think about her brushing her teeth!” -Pete)). But, by episode’s end things with this trio come crashing back to Earth as Ted’s wife literally has him completely figured out calling him on his lack of devotion to his family, Pete is left alone eating Raisin Bran (not even enough for a full bowlful), and Peggy solves her rat (and companionship) problem by getting a cat.

The reveal that Bob Benson is gay actually invites more questions than it answers, chief among them is the perpetual one that has resonated throughout the Internet for weeks: “Who is Bob Benson?” It can possibly be surmised that Bob coming on to Pete is the “reveal” of the secret we have been waiting for, but is this alone the driving force for this intriguing character? Is Bob that naive to believe Pete would be on board with his advances? Is he truly in love with Pete? And why would Bob, seemingly so driven at his job, risk throwing it all away over a crush on Pete? It was a real curveball, and one of the factors that made this a great episode. Yet, one must believe there is more to it. How little we know about Bob is a deterrent to truly understanding this scene, and if the revelation of Bob’s sexual orientation is the crux of the characters role this season – well, that would truly be disappointing.

In an episode full of poignant outings the biggest bombshell landed directly upon young Sally Draper, who witnessed her father’s long awaited reunion with Sylvia.

In a scene which surely was a tribute to one of the most memorable moments of last season when Sally walked in on Marie giving Roger a blowjob at the end of  “At The Codfish Ball’”, Sally was present as Don finally caught what he has been chasing since “The Crash”, Sylvia. This time around we are sure this unwanted glimpse will undoubtedly traumatize her as Sally, who once loved Don fully, must now be completely and utterly disenchanted with her father.

Director Jennifer Getzinger, who has been responsible for some of Mad Men’s most intriguing episodes ((“The Gypsy and the Hobo”, “The Suitcase”)), artistically crafted both the reveal scene and the reactions by Sylvia and Don. Mad Men fans will not soon forget Sylvia’s frustrated pounding of the bed and Don’s zombie-like walk through the lobby as he tries to catch up with his fleeing daughter. Nor will they forget Don, later in the episode, standing once again in a doorway ((The title of the first episode of the season and a theme omnipresent throughout the entire season)) bartering to make things right, a near impossible feat.

It is important to look at this moment in historical context. Dick Whitman lost the most important woman in his life, his mother, moments after birth and he has been compensating for that loss ever since. He has dulled the loss with alcohol and affairs and with account after account, but he continues to yearn to fill an aching hole in his heart. Don has continually found ways to destroy every relationship he has been in, and he has now possibly darkened the most important one in his life – his bond with Sally.

Sally has always played favorites and worshiped her father ((Sally’s pain is foreshadowed brilliant with a remark made by Betty early in the episode as she accuses Sally of looking up at her father as a hero.)), and now we see her completely devastated ((Kiernana Shipka is proving to be a very impressive young actress.)). Being close to Don is dangerous. You aren’t simply likely to get hurt – it’s a virtual lock. Don’s relationship with Sally is forever altered now, and Don, in his attempt to save the life of Arnold and Sylvia’s child (and quell his guilt with Dr. Rosen while simultaneously finding his way back into Sylvia’s arms), ends up destroying his relationship with his own. The doorway between him and his daughter has been closed. Don has been reckless before, but Sally’s disgust might be the rare event that actually leads him to change.

Ted’s wife, who we learn sees things as they truly are, tells Ted that God can turn off the lights at any time. She is telling him that it is important to focus on what really matters in life, his family. It is easy to foresee, as we delve into the final two episodes, that the series of decisions Don has made that led to him losing his daughter’s trust and love will dramatically affect him. We are in the home stretch now, and this season has had an eerie feeling of impending doom peppered throughout it. One can’t help but wonder if God is planning to dim the lights on one of our key characters, and if the powder keg of Don and Sylvia’s relationship, that has been the foundation of the season and is now fully uncovered, will be the catalyst…..

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