Family drama takes a backseat to office politics and campus shenanigans in “The Quality of Mercy,” the penultimate episode of Season 6, which finds Don Draper in the fetal position, Ken Cosgrove an expectant father, and “Rosemary's Baby” as the inspiration for a children's aspirin TV ad spot.
Ken has been missing for the last three episodes, and for a few minutes, it looked like he might have been gone for good: While on a celebratory hunting trip with Chevy execs, Ken is the victim of a Dick Cheney-esque misfire, which leaves him not dead but temporarily disfigured. The eye injury is the last straw for Ken, who'd already had it up to his ears with Chevy. Upon his return to Sterling Cooper & Partners, Ken tells Pete Campbell he wants off the account – Ken has had at least two brushes with death with Chevy at the wheel, and now that he has a baby on the way, he's putting safety first. Though Pete warns him abandoning Chevy could be career suicide, he's more than happy to take Ken's place – until he learns that Bob Benson will be put on the account with him. (Reminder: Last week, Bob looked like he was hitting on Pete – but now we're not so sure that's what was really going on.) Since Pete can't convince the partners that Bob shouldn't be on the account, he enlists Duck Phillips, now a "freelance" headhunter, to find Bob an offer he can't refuse. Duck charges Pete a cool $1K, which sounds a bit steep, but what he discovers may be worth more in the long run than getting rid of Bob in the short term. Or maybe not.
Sally Draper also wants to get out of Dodge - she's refusing to visit Don and Megan in the city (no surprise there) and wants to enroll at the prestigious Miss Porter's boarding school in Connecticut. Naturally, Betty Draper is pleased as punch – Jackie O. went there! – and mother and daughter have a rare bonding moment on the drive back from Sally's overnight visit. The admissions officer is plenty impressed with Sally (or maybe her parents/stepparents' social status?) but in any event, her acceptance is all but guaranteed. We've already seen that when it comes to backhanded manipulation, Sally Draper is a rising star, but she really outdid herself this time. When her old friend/boyfriend Glen Bishop shows up at Miss Porter's to party with Sally and her new friends/Mean Girls, he takes a shine to one of her future classmates and they retire to her dorm room. Cool as a cucumber, Sally interrupts this budding romance not by throwing a fit but by calmly accusing Glen's friend of trying to force himself on her (which isn't completely unfounded, but more than a little bit of an exaggeration.) The damsel in distress routine works spectacularly: Glen defends Sally's honor and leaves prematurely, before anything can happen with the girl. Curiously, said girl is more impressed than annoyed with Sally, rhetorically asking her, “You like trouble, don't you?”
Indeed, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, and Sally has two scheming trees to nourish her. Don displays his evil genius once again in the meeting with St. Joseph's, as Ted Chaough is desperate to help Peggy Olson win a Clio with her “Rosemary's Baby” TV ad idea. The casting has put them way over budget, and the St. Joseph's marketing guy needs to be convinced that it's worth the money. When Ted and Peggy fumble the pitch, Don jumps in, announcing that the creative team has a “personal” motivation for wanting to see that ad come to fruition. Peggy and Ted are panicked, fearing that Don will expose their romantic attachment, and Don is clearly having a ball watching them squirm. But instead, Don stoops to an even lower low, claiming that the ad was the late Frank Gleason's last creative idea. It works, but Ted and Peggy are understandably disgusted. Don employs his usual ends-justify-the-means defense, and scolds Ted for letting his love for Peggy cloud his judgment. That works too – at the end of the episode, Ted avoids a meeting with Peggy, and she sees the writing on the wall. “You're a monster,” she tells Don in his office, before he assumes the fetal position for the second time in the episode. (The first was in Sally's bed.)
Now, what about Bob? When Duck looks into his personnel file, he learns that Bob fudged his entire resume and references; as we've long suspected, Bob invented an identity, and he was never qualified to be hired at Sterling Cooper & Partners. When Duck tells Pete that he's never seen anything like it before, Pete replies, grimly, that he has. This development certainly gives weight to the theories that Bob Benson is a mini-Don Draper, but there is still much we don't know. The million-dollar question at the moment is why Pete chose not to expose or dispose of Bob, who was ready to make a quick getaway, asking only for a day's head start. But instead, Pete offers Bob an apology, and assures him that they will be working together on the Chevy account – as long as Bob understands that Pete is “off limits.”
Maybe it's the very parallel between Don and Bob that inspires Pete to keep Bob around. For all of his deceptiveness, Don is Pete's hero, and so far, their working relationship has served Pete rather well. (His attempt to blackmail Don, however, did not.) And while Pete isn't as enamored with Bob as Jim Cutler is, he's not quite as turned off by Bob's eagerness as some of the others are. As far as we can tell, he only balked at working with Bob on the Chevy account because he was concerned that Bob might make another pass at him – but he seems to have gotten over that. Perhaps now that Pete has realized how much of a fraud Bob is, he can tell himself that Bob's advance wasn't sexual in nature; that maybe it was just a misguided attempt to gain Pete's favor. Either way, Pete isn't often admired, and he may see the benefit of keeping someone around who wants to be like him, especially now that he has the added benefit of holding something over Bob's head. Still, there's always a chance that Pete has something in store for Bob, but wants to keep his plans on ice until he gets a better sense of just how conniving he is: When he told Bob he was off-limits, he may have meant something other than in a romantic sense. And Pete may be wise to be on guard: We saw in Bob's brief phone call with Manolo, Bob has Pete's number, just as Pete now has his.
–Themes of Shakespearean deception and betrayal are signaled by the episode's title (a line from “The Merchant of Venice”) and two references to Julius Caesar: One about a knife in your back, and another – “Great Caesar's ghost” – which is also a timely reference to Superman: This was a catchphrase of Perry White's, the Daily Planet's editor-in-chief.
– We still don't have an explanation for Bob's relationship with Manolo, or what exactly his former job as a “manservant” entailed. Bob and Manolo clearly know each other fairly well, and it's safe to assume it's not because Manolo was Bob's father's nurse (Bob contradicted that claim when he said another time that his father was dead.) It's far-fetched, but if Bob was somehow involved in a male escort business, it wouldn't hurt said business for Bob to move and shake with some high-rolling movers and shakers. (Hat tip to Nadine DeNinno.) Prostitution has long been a pet theme in “Mad Men,” and why should it only apply to lady hookers? If Manolo was in fact a gigolo, that would certainly explain Pete's mother's insistence on their romance; as we saw in “The Quality of Mercy,” when she feigned forgetfulness, maybe she's not quite as demented as Pete thinks she is.
-- The music from the episode's closing credits, “Porpoise Song,” is from the Monkees' movie “Head,” a psychedelic rock opera-celebrity satire directed by Bob Rafelson, who created the Monkees, and who co-wrote the script with Jack Nicholson. The movie was made at a time when the Monkees were rejecting their manufactured status – the group was formed exclusively for the purposes of their television show of the same name – and is concerned with themes of thwarted free will (and drugs, and more drugs.) At the beginning of the film, Micky Dolenz leaps from a bridge and falls in slow motion into the water; the rest of the Monkees follow. Look familiar?
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Ellen Killoran is the Media & Culture Editor at IBTimes. She previously contributed to The L Magazine, Brooklyn Magazine, and The Daily, and co-produced the HBO...