MAD MEN, SEASON SIX/EPISODE 12: ALMOST OVER

by Claire Moshenberg on June 23, 2013

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Who’s excited to wrap up this season? You and me both, kids . . . you and me both.

PETE AND BOB: Positioned from the start as Draper’s baby nemesis, Pete Campbell has accomplished something that’s eluded Don for six seasons: growth. He seems to learn after he stumbles; he offers new stories and a changing character to a show that’s myopically focused on a glamorous, stagnant Draper.

“The Quality of Mercy” highlights Pete’s growth by offering him an identical situation to one he encountered in Season One. Pete was the first character to uncover Don’s origins. Now he’s discovered that Don Draper isn’t the only alliterative liar: Bob Benson is also an illusion, a character created to help the eager man at Pete’s side escape his possibly incestuous West Virginia roots and work history as a manservant, and instead to become a big time ad man in New York City.

Bob Benson is a combination of Pete and Don, a cocktail of early Pete’s fierce ambition (but using cheer and resourcefulness as the weapons in his arsenal, instead of bitterness and self-importance) and Don’s web of lies. His face and his actions in this episode reminded me of the flashback to Don in the fur shop in Season Four — eager and chipper, but ultimately conniving Roger into helping him become important.

Pete, when faced with a new fraud, takes a new course of action. He remembers when the smoking gun was turned on him, when his revelations about Don only helped Draper and Cooper to despise him more, and declares peace. “You’re going to get the benefit of the fact that I’ve been here before,” he says to Bob. “I have learned not to tangle with your kind of animal. Where you are and who you are is not my concern.”

Bob isn’t the only character who benefits from Pete’s calm combination of self-interest and benevolence. Earlier in the episode, Pete gets honest about his family situation, and is kind and polite in trying to take over Kenny’s account, which though it supports his self-interest is actually also pretty Kenny-supportive, a concept that couldn’t have existed in previous years between these two.

BETTY AND SALLY: Kiernan Shipka plays a disaffected, possibly devious teen so well that it reminds us all what a gift it is that she didn’t land on some asinine Disney show about trying to get famous but still trying to be normal while embracing increasingly garish slathers of eye makeup.

Betty calls Don to let him know that Sally isn’t coming back to New York and is running off to boarding school. He winces, offers to pay. The last blonde to competently disrupt Don’s web of lies was Betty. Sally’s style is quiet and satisfying. She saw what she saw, she knows what she knows, and she’s out of there. It’s distinctly Season Three Betty: when that last shoe dropped, Betty couldn’t keep performing her role in their complicated familial play. So she got a divorce and a new husband before Don could drunkenly shout, “Uncle!”

Sally deftly handles potential boarding school hazing, cracks wry jokes, sneaks boys in, offers to mix up a Tom Collins. She runs the show on her overnight: she sets the rules, she doles out the consequences. It’s masterful, and delightful to watch. Losing the fantasy of your parents can be disempowering, especially at fourteen years old. Sally turns it into a way to show her power, the potent combination of Betty and Don that’s resulted in a “bright, curious” kid who “likes trouble,” who’s on the cusp of a wild adolescence.

Betty and Sally share a cigarette on the ride home. “My father’s never given me anything,” Sally says, and Betty learns they’re sharing more than charred lungs — they finally share the same opinion about the man they have in common.

TED AND PEGGY: At this point, Ted and Peggy only speak in the secret, flirtatious language of people perpetually hovering on the verge of an indiscretion, even when they’re surrounded by a sea of raised eyebrows. “I just wanted to see if I could get him to respond to an idea that wasn’t hers,” Ginsberg says during a brainstorming session, after he recommends that everyone go to the bathroom. Ted and Peggy march off practically hand in hand.

Caught at the movies midday by the Drapers, they seem embarrassed, apologetic. And Don suddenly thinks it’s okay to call California, and the second Megan spells out the soap opera occurring under his nose — not as escapable as the one he flipped past on his TV. Ted’s sullen secretary watches the glowing not-couple through the window as they gesture and giggle. He touches her waist. Everyone exchanges knowing looks around the blind lovers, who only see each other. He’s lying to her left and right, hiding budget information, trying to set everything up for her to get a Cleo, to be grateful, to be somehow more in love with him.

Don makes the ad possible, but disrupts the seduction of Peggy by stealing her spotlight, pawning off the idea on Frank Gleason. “I know your little girl has beautiful eyes, but you don’t give her everything,” Don says to Ted, and Ted distances himself from his beloved protégée for the day. Peggy calls Don a monster for disrespecting her privacy, her relationship, and most of all, Ted. Where’s the fire? Don just destroyed her chances of getting legitimate credit for her work, and she only wants to talk about what a good man Ted is, the kind of good married man who seduces his employee  and jeopardizes both of their reputations.

Next week, we’ll wrap up this season. But I’ll tell you this now, as a taste: watching Peggy pander to the two men in her life has been my least favorite part of my least favorite season. I was always so impressed by the moves she made professionally, her increasing empowerment, the toughness she developed and nurtured. And this season she flitted between offices, patting powerful men on the head, furthering their ambitions and aims.

Quick Hits:

  • Gotta love the opening Kenny Cosgrove scene, with its hat tip to Cheney and reference to shooting Ralph Nader. Only Mad Men could take us to the late ’60s and the early 2000s simultaneously.
  • I will watch one more season of Mad Men just to see the boarding school wardrobe. Holy herringbone coats, that was a gorgeous explosion of prep.

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Claire Moshenberg is a San Francisco-based author, activist, and new-media consultant. She is co-proprietor of the web site Charm City Jukebox and a contributing editor of The Spleen.

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