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The dread and fear of kings
June 17, 2013 - Ray Eckenrode
“Mad Men” 6x12
Episode title: “The Quality of Mercy”
Significance: Borrowed from Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” a reference to Don’s merciless and petulant takedown of Ted and Peggy and the measured mercy that Pete shows Bob Benson.
Time passages: The episode takes place in October of 1968, the leaves are in full blaze as Betty takes Sally on her boarding school visit, Jackie Kennedy has just married Aristotle Onassis and Dick Nixon is running “law and order” TV spots in his quest to become president.
Episode essay: Andy Warhol, who borrowed so much from Madison Avenue in his art (and who helped give this blog its name), was big on repeating images. In that context, “The Quality of Mercy” was positively Warhol-esque with its book-ended Draper fetal positions, dueling eye patches, mother-daughter smoking and a children’s aspirin commercial cast that mimicked a pack of devil worshippers.
But perhaps the most important point in the episode, another strong one down the stretch of Season 6, was a mistake that wasn’t repeated. It’s been almost eight years to the day (in TV time) that Pete Campbell went to Burt Cooper with the whole sordid story about Don Draper the whiz kid really being Dick Whitman the deserter and was slapped in the face with a resounding “Who cares?” Now faced with another alliterative office salamander in the form of hillbilly/manservant Bob Benson, Pete has learned his lesson. Nothing to see here, move along, as you were. “I have learned not to tangle with your kind of animal,” Pete tells his astounded “colleague.” But are Pete’s terms for his silence – “I am off limits” – strictly personal or professional or both?
Meanwhile, personal and professional are all mixed up for Don Draper, who’s driven both his daughter and his protégé to other men (that’d be Glen Bishop and Ted Chaough if you’re scoring at home).
Of course, Don responds in the only way he seems to know, by consuming massive amounts of alcohol to deal with the loss of Sally and by childishly (but brilliantly) and publicly exposing Ted and Peggy in a pitch meeting.
Don begins the episode curled up on Sally’s bed (as we learn she hasn’t been back to Manhattan in the month since witnessing Don and Sylvia mid-coitus and likely won’t be back any time soon) and closes it curled up on his office couch (after the only person who really knows him calls him a monster). In between, we saw some classic Don Draper maneuvering – finagling Sunkist and its $8 million TV budget back into the agency fold and putting a resounding end to the Ted and Peggy Flirtathon. “I know your little girl has beautiful eyes, but that doesn’t mean you give her everything,” he tells Ted, with just a touch of jealousy in his voice. But despite Don’s hollow justification that he’s just looking out for the agency, we see that, as always, he’s just looking out for Don.
About last week: In case you missed it, Matthew Weiner said in several interviews last week that not only is Megan not dying in the Season 6 finale, but “no one is.” Hmmmm, what else would he say? We’ll see.
About next week: Unless Matt Weiner pulls a David Chase and does an extra-long Season 7, there are exactly 14 episodes of “Mad Men” remaining. That makes next week’s Season 6 finale perhaps the most important and intriguing episode in the series’ history. The final scene of Season 5 – where the girl at the bar asks Don if he’s alone – set the thematic tone for Season 6, the season of Don’s greatest discontent. So we expect some major signposts next week as to what we can expect before the curtain falls on “Mad Men,” presumably at the end of 1969 in TV time.
Brand names: Tropicana, not Sunkist, makes an orange juice cameo (in a glass jar, no less) during Don’s day off while Formula 44 gets a mention. Sally munches from an old-school McDonald’s bag while Fritos are the munchies of choice for the pot-smoking teens.
+ Miss Porter’s School, attended by Jacqueline Bouvier and visited by Sally (and creepy Glen) is located in Farmington, Conn.
+ Was that the first “Three Stooges” cameo in show history? We think it was.
+ The “Frank Gleason’s last idea” pitch meeting has got to be right up there with any of the great agency scenes we’ve seen.
+ “Dragnet,” which occupied some of Don’s afternoon off, was in the midst of a four-year revival on NBC, featuring Harry Morgan as Officer Bill Gannon alongside Jack Webb’s Joe Friday.
Sweet tweet: From @LenDamico: “Clearly #MadMen isn’t pandering for ratings. Why else whould they have anyone but Pete Campbell get shot in the face?” (Blogger’s note: Valid point.)
Lines of the night:
+ “Chevy is killing me.” –Kenny “Cyclops” Cosgrove
+ “That Spanish fly!” –Pete Campbell
+ “I can get you anything you want.” –Sally Draper
+ “You like trouble, don’t you?” –Mandy
+ “You’re not thinking with your head.” – Don Draper
+ “Now get me a cigarette and give me some details.” –Betty Francis
+ “My father never gave me anything.” –Sally Draper
Roger and Don just might get their orange juice account yet. It's an $8 million windfall, but what is the true cost?