Mad Men Review: “Favors” (Season 6, Episode 11)

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Harry Hamlin and Kevin Rahm in Mad Men
But Ted, as he’s wont to do, can’t even kick Don while he’s down without immediately offering a helping hand up. Ted is more easily moved to purpose out of genuine compassion than anyone else in the company, so when he offers to get Mitchell a relatively safe position in the air force, Don accepts without hesitation. Granted, Ted does also finagle Don into surrendering in the office’s fruit juice battle between Sunkist and Oceanspray, but Ted does seem to care about both Don, and Mitchell. Don dragging the war out of the back of everyone’s minds, and out into the open is a wakeup call for Ted, and what he gains from doing Don a solid is a newfound appreciation for his family, one that includes two sons who are too young to get drafted…for now, at least.

The last prominent unexpected (and unwelcome) favor this week involves Sally’s friend Julie slipping a lust note under Mitchell’s door. Sally’s been MIA for much of the season, but she hasn’t grown up enough in her absence such that hearing her friend brag about getting to second base doesn’t leave her feeling a bit childish. Without much in the way of strong parental figures to offer her advice, Sally’s practically raising herself at this point, which is arguably a better alternative to staying too close to Betty, who regards her daughter with about as much warmth as Mrs. Campbell does Pete. Still, as so many of the characters on Mad Men have their adult lives defined by childhood trauma, Sally’s story just continues to tick on towards something horrible.

But that’s pretty much business as usual, just as Bob Benson continues to be an endless source of fascination, and Don will continue to keep letting his professional life burn down due to personal interests. There are no real twists to be found in “Favors,” things advance modestly within expected boundaries. Even Peggy trying to coo at Stan (what does “worth your while” entail for cleaning out a rattrap at midnight?) isn’t terribly surprising, seeing as Peggy’s Joan-ification was bound to intensify after the two spent so much time together last week. “Favors” takes many of the season’s slowly burning plots (which, admittedly  is how you can describe most of the show’s arcs) and raises the heat on them slightly, upping the anticipation for whatever payoffs come in the final two episodes, but making for a pretty muted individual hour on its own.

Theeeeeeeeeeen the last act opened with Sally walking in on Don and Sylvia getting dirty in the maid’s room, and everything went bananas for five glorious minutes. Coming off of last week’s Game of Thrones, it’s good to know that the nerves in my brain governing my “oh shit” response haven’t yet fully habituated. This was the horror sequel to what Sally witnessed “At the Codfish Ball”: louder, more explicit, and even more terrifying. This week’s episode of Mad Men ends on a devastatingly quiet note, and an accompanying moment of silence at the start of the credits, instead of an era-appropriate hit, is as effective as that clip from Bad Boys II at letting you know shit just got real.

At least when the Rosens are fighting, lots of yelling and slamming doors is a form of communication; for the Drapers, staying quiet and distant is the standard protocol. Neither father nor daughter knows quite how to respond, given what a mess the situation is -Sally having just had a bombsell laid at her feet, and Don assuming that any meddling with it might cause it to go off. The mutual closing of doors between the two is their unspoken agreement: she’ll keep his secret, for now. Maybe she’ll get to use it as leverage down the road like Pete would, or maybe her silence is a secret plea for affection like Bob might try. But Sally is doing a favor for her father by keeping quiet, plain and simple. And when family just starts becoming a game of who owes what, to whom, what’s the point of even calling it a family?

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