Mad Men Review: “The Quality Of Mercy” (Season 6, Episode 12)


Kiernan Shipka in Mad Men

What’s made Ted an interesting addition to the office this season is that he’s supplanted Pete as the obvious Don doppelgänger, which “The Quality of Mercy” makes note of by demonstrating just how much like, and unlike Don Pete has become. After yet another incident with the boys from Detroit which leaves Ken in an eye patch (Snake Pliss-Ken, if you will), it’s an added reminder that nice guys aren’t built to last in this business. Morally flexible ones, on the other hand, are, and after a season of slights and personal disappointment, Pete’s career is back on the upswing by episode’s end, now that he gets to hobnob, hunt, and eat steak with one of the company’s biggest clients.

There’s just one problem: the other guy working Chevy has been Bob Benson, and after last week’s heartfelt confession was met with contempt from Pete, there’s a big question mark dangling over how the two can possibly work together anymore. Like a lot of you, I wasn’t entirely convinced that being gay was the skeleton key to unlock the full enigma that had been built up with Bob Benson all season. Tom and Lorenzo make a strong case for his coming out of the closet to Pete as not just being truthful, but earned…. and yet, it seemed like there still had to be something bigger at play.

Turns out, just about everyone was right about Bob, to some degree, as his sexuality is made a tad more conclusive in the process of Duck revealing that Bob Benson is a well-dressed, coffee dispensing apparition -a fake who managed to glad-hand and smile his way into one of Manhattan’s biggest advertising firms. It’s almost preposterous when you hear Duck tell Pete that none of Bob’s references are legitimate, and that he’s come so far on no one’s word but his own. “I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Duck tells Pete. “I have,” Pete replies, cold as ice water, reminding us there is precedent for men with fake lives going far in this business.

“The Quality of Mercy” has Pete and Bob spar back and forth a bit at first, unveiling the sociopath in the latter that Ken saw initially, but no one else had yet noticed. We finally get to see the real Bob, and hear him (if only in Spanish), as he sets out to counter Pete’s attempts to have him sent away (Don would be proud), but after Duck’s phone call, Pete’s got his hands on nuclear technology. You know Bob is beat when he all but begs Pete for a day’s head start on getting out of town, but then, Pete does something strange. He lets Bob Benson, the Platonic ideal of an account man, and rising star of Sterling Cooper & Partners, live. Despite Bob’s confusion, Pete makes it clear that one going after the other could very well be the ruin of both, so as long as theirs is a strictly professional relationship, the office really can be big enough for the both of them.

In that moment, Pete is as close to being a replica of Don Draper as he’s ever been; he’s authoritative, calculating, and confident, even managing to fit in a tossed-off line about Manolo as he exits the room. Just like his toke a few weeks back was like a call for surrender, the hearty breath of office air he takes in after laying down the law with Bob rebirths Pete. He, like his idol in season 4, has pulled out of his drug and divorce-fuelled tailspin; slap a cute French-Canadian on his arm, and Don and Pete could practically be twins. That doesn’t bode well for Pete long-term, mind you; if he really is following in Don’s footsteps, that means he’s not swimming in permanent success, he’s just caught in the upward draft of a wave that’ll eventually come crashing down.

And just as Pete appears to reclaim his place as Don’s shadow, “The Quality of Mercy” brings in a final double for the evening, and it’s one I can’t say I saw coming. Last week, I mentioned that Sally’s best option might be to leave her parents behind entirely, and as dangerous as boarding school would be to the continued presence of actress Kiernan Shipka, for Sally, it might be the only safe place left. Despite telling her mother that she’s looking to grow up, school is a refuge from the real world most kids don’t appreciate until they’re out of it, so matriculating at any academy -Jackie O alma mater or otherwise-, might be the only escape from the filth and lies of the city.

Unfortunately, since the school Sally visits is populated by equally disenfranchised young girls, their collective baggage is enough to make their dormitory a true home away from home. Sally quickly adapts to the sorority/prison social hierarchy, with offerings of booze, drugs, and a newer, hipper Glenn, though she’s quickly made uncomfortable when left alone with another boy (in her defense, the kid’s a total creep, and named Rolo). Pushed out of her own home, and maybe not ready for this new one, Sally only truly looks in control for one moment during the evening, and that’s when she gets Glenn to pound on Rolo for his advances. She flashes a wicked step-mother-worthy smile that’ll give you chills, probably because she learned it from seeing it a million times on the reigning ice queen, Betty. As the two drive home, slamming Don between drags on their cigarettes, Sally looks more like her mother’s daughter than ever.

Pushing one of Mad Men’s few rays of hope into the clutches of its White Witch is in keeping with the sort of thing a monster would do, so Peggy’s right on that score when she calls Don out, even if she’s only aware of his monstrousness in relation to Ted. But it’s actually incredibly tired to make such a joke about Betty, because one of Mad Men’s great strengths is how it unveil multitudes to each character, slowly but surely, no matter who. Bob isn’t the squeaky clean guy he once seemed, just as Pete may have actually become, if not a better person, at least a better businessman. Ted will have his true nature revealed while wallowing in defeat, but Peggy looks like she’s ready for the fight of her life, and career. But is there anything left to explore with Don? Are we approaching, or have we already passed the point where Mad Men’s main character has nowhere else to go but down? We’ll have to wait until next week, when hopefully the show will indicate either a new direction for Don Draper, or at the very least, a new low so deep, it’ll crack the foundations of the entire office.

  • Stray Thoughts

-That being said, Joan has been so underutilized as of late, she had better play a big part next week. The Avon account being left up in the air between seasons would be a massive disappointment.

-Roger once had to cradle Lee Garner Jrs.’ balls. True story.

-I think I’m done defending Megan’s continued presence at this point. Her actual contributions to the main stories each week are so minimal, they could be excised entirely, though she is right to be suspicious of Peggy and Ted seeing a movie together. Peggy does have a certain history when it comes to theatres.

-Ginsberg ‘Stache Report: Velvety, and oiled with the sweat of writerly frustration.

-Because you know you want to relive the magic:

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