|Julie (Cameron Protzman) and Sally (Kiernan Shipka) Jamie Trueblood/AMC|
Just when I thought I was out, they kinda, sorta pulled me back in. That’s how I felt by the end of Mad Men‘s 11th episode of the season, “Favors”. It’s hard to imagine that this season is almost over when it feels like nothing has really happened, aside from Don’s continued downward spiral and the merger of SCDP and CGC. What I liked about this episode in particular, however, is that it felt like new things were happening in ways that will eventually lead to a satisfying finale. Don has finally been caught cheating on Megan, and unfortunately the person who caught him was Sally, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is even more conflict at the office with Ted, Jim Cutler, Don and Roger with the men fighting for different accounts. We even get to learn a little bit about Ted’s life at home. But perhaps most importantly of all, there is more character development on Bob Benson! The development involves Pete in a way that some had already guessed based on earlier episodes’ clues, but it was still interesting to see. “Favors” represents people doing things for people under the guise of “just doing a favor” while really attempting to feed their own selfish desires.
“Favors” really snuck up and surprised me with how engaged I felt in Don’s storyline. It was classic misdirection, as he makes an effort to save Dr. Rosen and Sylvia’s son from being drafted in the war. Though I knew he was going out of his way because it was Sylvia’s child in question, I assumed that that’s where the motivation stopped. I should have known it was significant when he intentionally makes the Chevy executives uncomfortable at dinner by bringing up the war, since it goes against his own philosophy about always keeping the client happy. When that fails, he reaches out to Ted in desperation, who subsequently agrees to help him out. Based on their conflicts earlier in the episode, this was a bit of a risk on Don’s part, considering the duo hasn’t exactly seen eye to eye since the merger began. We’re also so used to seeing Don deceive everyone around him that we’re almost predisposed to assume that Ted will double-cross him. Fortunately, Ted is not a terrible person so he follows through on the promise. Don calls Sylvia to relieve her of her worry but that’s not the only way he relieves his former flame… but more on that later.
Another reason to like “Favors” is because Sally finally gets a legitimate storyline. Despite her mother’s wishes, Sally goes into the city with her friend, Julie, on a Model UN field trip comprised of mostly boys. Once there, they meet Sylvia’s son Mitchell and think him quite handsome, long hair and all. Staying in Don’s apartment, the girls giggle about Mitchell and write out a list of things they like about him. Julie, being wonderfully immature, writes Sally’s name on the list and slides it under Mitchell’s door. When Sally finds out, she gets the keys from the hotel doorman and runs up to retrieve the note. While there, she stumbles upon yet another traumatic experience in her already troubled childhood. This one might just be the most humiliating. She witnesses her father, pants around his legs, lying on top of a moaning Sylvia. Thus far, the most explicit behavior she’s witnessed was Roger going down on Megan’s mother at the Codfish Ball last season. This is even worse, since this involves her own father proving what an unfaithful, lying excuse of a man he really is. Much as he may try to mend fences with Sally at the end of the episode, there’s no way she can consciously forgive or forget what she saw. I shudder to think what kind of issues Sally will come to have as an adult after being exposed to things a girl of her age should never see. The amount of crap she’s had to deal with is almost verging on tragedy porn, but it helps that Kiernan Shipka has been such a compelling presence over the years.
Meanwhile, Pete is dealing with his own trauma after hearing about his mother’s new “sexual awakening.” Bob Benson had arranged for his friend Manolo to take care of his mother in the previous episode, but Pete is soon shocked to learn through his mother that Manolo is having sex with her. She is so convinced that she has become a lover to Manolo that he tells her to leave his apartment out of disgust. He unleashes his anger upon Bob in his office, but Bob assures Pete that Manolo doesn’t exactly swing that way. Then things start to get fun. Bob sits down across from Pete, getting much too close for comfort, and asks, “When there’s true love, does it matter who it is?” Bob smiles slyly and touches his knee to Pete, clearly indicating his interest. What is perhaps most intriguing about this scene is that Pete considers Bob’s offer for a split-second. Pete is so beaten down by his male co-workers and his lack of a love life that he briefly revels in the idea of someone loving him, regardless of who it is, as Bob says. Pete then expresses his disgust and Bob leaves with a curious smile on his face. Despite this scene, Bob remains a complete mystery to me, as I’m not sure if he’s playing Pete or if he’s simply attracted to men. Either way, I assume there will be some interesting Bob Benson storylines in the final two episodes of the season.
I was very impressed by “Favors”, a great synthesis of acting, writing and directing. Jon Hamm’s performance in this episode was probably his best of the season, especially after Sally catches him on top of Sylvia. Most of the actors were on their game in this episode, including Kevin Rahm, whose performance as Ted is quickly becoming one of my favorites on the show. His scenes at home with his wife and kids were so natural feeling that you couldn’t guess that this was our first glimpse into his private life if you didn’t know any better. Peggy gets a minor storyline in this episode, involving a dead rat in her apartment, but Elisabeth Moss’s mannerisms continue to make Peggy one of the show’s most hilarious characters. Going forward, I’m cautiously optimistic about Mad Men‘s final two episodes of season 6. I hope some of these storylines can resolve themselves in time, especially Don and Megan’s fractured relationship, Pete’s happiness and the mystery of Bob Benson. This hasn’t been my favorite season but at least there have been a few outstanding episodes to prove that Matt Weiner’s still got it.
MVP: Jon Hamm
Lead Actor in a Drama Series: Jon Hamm