Right up until the last act, “Favors” was an unexpectedly downshifted week for Mad Men. At this time last season, the great Jaguar debacle was being conceived in an upscale Manhattan hotel room, and with the Avon account left hanging in the balance last week, it was surprising to see the first of season six’s final three episodes take such a relaxed approach to things. As has always been the case, Mad Men is about its characters first and foremost, so it’s not like we need monumental twists and lawnmower massacres every week. It’s the little moments that often reverberate loudest down the line, but too much of the low-key stuff can frustrate viewers into preparing for a blindside hit that’s never coming, filling what appears to be downtime with wild theories about ghost wives and spies when the routine starts to feel, well, routine.
A couple of the less consequential irons in the season’s fire get their temperatures taken in “Favors,” as Pete’s mother makes a rather hilarious return that quickly turns sour, and Peggy winds up attracting yet another possible suitor, at the same time that Ted’s home life is checked in on. Sally tags in for Bobby again as the Draper child of interest, with Sylvia’s hunky son showing up in desperate need of a haircut, marking his first, and perhaps only appearance. All the plots pivot around the characters asking for, offering, or receiving favors both expected and unexpected, so “Favors” is functional to a fault, right down to the title. Even without a California getaway for Don and Roger, a lot of tonight felt very episodic, as plenty of time is spent catching up with second-tier characters, while the headliner relationships merely get a little clarification.
Hell, most of the episode’s runtime has you thinking that the standout moment is just going to be a pair of knees touching. Granted, it’s a riveting game of footsie, though I’m casting my lot in with the conspiracy theorists when I say I’m not entirely convinced by Bob’s pass at Pete. Removed from the question of how it is anyone could find Office Pete worth falling for, there are still a good half-dozen characters of either gender that Bob would seem more interested in than Pete. At what point was it that Bob decided he had feelings for Pete? Did the two share a connection during their visit to the bordello, or does Bob have a thing for easily offended misanthropes who cry about not getting a chair at the big kids table during a meeting? The outing of Bob only serves to madden the mystery behind the man himself, as it’s an expected answer that just leaves more questions. Knowing what we know about Pete, how could anyone like, let alone love him?
And yet, “Favors” does uncover some of Pete’s nicer side, as the loosening investment he has in his place at the company has certainly made him more tolerable. Getting back to his main drug of choice after last week’s (presumably) first toke, a sloshed Pete and Peggy are surprisingly candid and carefree with one another after a meeting with Oceanspray, somewhat to Ted’s chagrin. Joking about his father’s death, and his mother’s sex life, it would appear that the stick up Pete’s butt has receded considerably, enough at least that he doesn’t react to Bob’s advance with outright hostility. He’d be justified for acting more upset though, as Bob is confessing to a betrayal of sorts; previously, Pete probably only thought of Bob’s sycophancy as a ploy to get ahead in the office, not get into bed with one another.
It’s unlikely Pete understands just how huge a risk Bob is taking by coming clean, but he’s also insulted that Bob wasn’t more straight with his intentions. The caretaker Bob recommended for Pete’s mother at first seems to be a miracle worker, but the revival of Mrs. Campbell’s sex drive is a cringe-inducing by-product of a favor offered under false pretenses. Even if he might secretly be a little flattered by the proposal, Pete is in no place to have anyone tell him they like him, regardless of sexual preference. When the one person who’s supposed to love you unconditionally is telling you you’re unlovable, it’s not something you can shake off easily, so Pete actually helping his mother as she storms out (and letting out his anger on cereal boxes) actually marks a bit of an upward trajectory for the season-long Campbell tailspin.
“Favors” is an episode dealing heavily in the effects parents have on kids of all ages, with younger boys having the smoothest time of things. Sylvia’s son Mitchell gets his A-1 status after leaving school, pulling Don into his situation after he goes to Megan for advice on avoiding the draft (hot tip: drive 400 miles north, and learn to like hockey). Don capitalizes on the vulnerability of a mother who actually does love her son, trying, and failing brilliantly to extract a “get out of ‘Nam free” card from the folks at GM during a hob-knob meal. Ted is understandably upset that Don’s first move in the Chevy campaign in months is one that could cock-up the account for self-interested, and politically dangerous reasons. Increasingly, where everyone stands on the war is having an impact on business, which isn’t to anyone’s benefit.
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