Mad Men: Ambition, Brains, and Beauty

By  · Published on June 10th, 2013

This week’s Mad Men is called “Favors.” Which thematically, makes a lot of sense, as Bob does a favor for Pete via Manolo the male nurse, Peggy asks a late night favor of Stan, Don does a huge solid for Sylvia and the list goes on. But so much more happens. Being Mad Men, these favors are not exactly selfless ones. Though this episode in particular, written by Semi Chellas and Matthew Weiner and directed by Jennifer Getzinger, did a lot to propel the show toward its season finale in two weeks. While there were a few drawbacks, it was a very dynamic Mad Men installment, boasting two brilliant standout scenes, amazing performances, and some show-changing events that up the stakes for the finale.

Right off the bat, we start with a queasily wonderful allusion to the Peggy/Pete spawn, which ‐ surprise! ‐ is made in error by Pete’s batty mother, who is visiting SC&P. She thinks Peggy is Trudy, it would seem. She also thinks that she is having a rapturous love affair with her aid, Manolo (as recommended by Bob). Elizabeth Moss serves it as Peggy with the absolute shock and terror that registers in her face as she thinks that Pete ratted on their dirty little secret to his mother. Then in a snap, shock and terror turn to bemusement with the old lady’s newfound lust. And it’s still pretty unclear whether or not any actual senior copulating happened (hopefully not!).

This bridges into one of my favorite Mad Men scenes ever. Ted, Peggy, and Pete are having a convivial dinner and drinking in a restaurant en route back to New York. Ted flew them out for a rather successful meeting with Ocean Spray, so he’s not drinking. but Pete and Peggy are ‐ and they share quite a laugh over Peggy’s reveal of Pete’s mother’s alleged tryst. The energy of this scene is just so refreshingly natural and ebullient. Moss and Vincent Kartheiser both deliver such pitch perfect performances here, as (a) it is REALLY hard for actors to convincingly play drunk and (b) they effectively convey the rather complicated evolution on Peggy and Pete’s relationship. They went through a lot of weird shit together, with the whole I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant situation and the feelings of betrayal involved and those intermittent romantic entanglements. But now there’s just a certain sense of camaraderie. And a lot of respect and candor. In fact, Pete notices the obvious love shared between Peggy and Ted after he witnesses this telling exchange:

Ted: “This is the agency I always wanted: ambition, brains, and beauty.”

Peggy: “Yeah, but what about [Pete]?”

Ted: “I’m cutting you off too, my dear.”

Though, and thankfully uncharacteristically, Pete doesn’t use the romantic undercurrent between Peggy and Ted against them. Instead, he gets it. And it’s so great in this moment that Pete gets a reprieve from the drama going on at work, or with his mother. He is genuinely enjoying life, enjoying being around people who love their jobs. And that can also be said for Peggy and Ted here. Mad Men often brings forth such dark themes ‐ let’s face it, mostly having to do with death ‐ but this scene is light and breezy, yet still so wisely referential of past happenings and perhaps a nod to future ones in terms of Ted and Peggy…

…though it would seem that Ted is stuck in the trap of having a family. Is it terrible that I am rooting for Ted and Peggy? Ted clearly loves his children. And Mrs. Chaough, who apparently never gets out of bed, complains that Ted prefers to be at the office instead of being at home. Though I think the same goes for most people who work at SC&P. It certainly did for Don when he still had that creative spark. It definitely does for Peggy, especially since she has that gross rodent situation to come home to. And anything is probably better for Pete than being at home. Maybe.

In perhaps the weakest portion of the episode, the “mystery” of Bob Benson was somewhat solved tonight. Surprise, he’s gay! As revealed by him telling Pete that Manolo was gay… while knee grazing to meaningful eye contact. While I feel that revealing Bob to be a murderer or a spy [as some internet speculators hypothesized] would be jumping the shark, I do think that prefacing him to be somewhat “unseemly” then explaining it all with a same-sex advance seems somewhat reductive. Is homosexuality supposed to explain the false cheery nature, the Wham!-short shorts and opportunism? If so, then that’s a bit stereotypical. And a little too easy. Sure, his sexual preference sure can exist outside of these aspects of his personality, but since Bob was treated as somewhat of an enigma, so to speak, this “reveal” just reads so… empty.

Which brings us to conclude with the saga that is the enigma himself, Don Draper. Sylvia’s son is poised to be drafted any day now, as he is labeled 1A for sending back his draft notice is protest. Don gets all unprofessional in SC&P’s dinner with GM and tries to weasel the kid a reprieve, much to Ted’s horror. Though Ted, being the best, pulls through and phones in a favor for the kid with the guy who taught him how to fly a plane… who just so happens to be the Brigadere General in the Air National Guard. Yay, Ted!

Sylvia turns this into a “Yay, Don!” situation, of course, and the two go at it. Again. And sneaking in to the Rosens’ apartment to get back a love letter, Sally watches in horror as her father commits adultery with his married neighbor. Whoa ‐ shit just got real. never before has Don actually had a full-on witness to his philandering ways. Not to mention the witness being his own daughter, who will never see her father in the same way again. In the episode’s other standout scene, Sally storms off to her room in the middle of dinner as Don pounds on her door and claims he was “comforting” Sylvia. First off, let it be said that Kiernan Shipka has got to be one of the best child actresses out there. She claims to believe her father with the whole “comforting” line, but you can see in her eyes that she doesn’t. They both know a big change has occurred in their relationship and will continue to not mention this incident again. Don walks down the hallway from Sally’s door and in a long shot, closes another door in a very The Godfather fashion. They will likely remain distant and closed off. Perhaps forever.

Sally is noticeably disillusioned with Don ‐ two episodes ago she says that she barely knows him ‐ and now she really doesn’t know what to think. He is a drunk. He is a blatant liar. He is a cheat. Sally will now probably start to question her whole nuclear family beginnings. And up against Don? Henry seems like a much better option, in that he encourages Sally to be one of the only two girls in the Model U.N. and is supportive of her spreading her wings scholastically. Don? He probably knows nothing of Sally’s life besides the fact that she is his daughter. And is apparently in the Model U.N.

The myth that is “Don Draper” is finally starting to crumble. He phones it in at work and is a relative figurehead compared to Ted. And now the last place where he held any sort of pure adulation ‐ with his children ‐ is damaged permanently.