Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Mad Men Episode 6-12: The Quality of Mercy

Recap: At the start of the episode, Megan wakes up in the morning and discovers Don sleeping curled up in what appears to be Gene’s bedroom. He looks wasted and Megan advises him to “pull back the throttle.” While she’s helpfully making eggs for his breakfast and advising him to take the day off to recover, he’s slipping booze into his morning orange juice. Megan leaves for work and Don heaves a deep sigh.

During the day, Don hangs out at home watching TV. First we hear him listen to a political ad for Richard Nixon that attempts to scare the public about crime and promises a future of law and order, marking the start of a conservative era in America. Next, Don watches Megan’s soap opera, and sees Megan play a character who accuses her man of cheating on her. The character confronts her man with: “I’m talking to you. Don’t you dare ignore me.” After Don changes channels and turns off the TV, Betty calls Don to discuss Sally. Thinking Sally may have told Betty about his affair with Sylvia, Don braces for a confrontation, but Betty says Sally’s not coming this weekend, and she wants to attend boarding school. Relieved, Don offers to pay for it. Don half-heartedly tells Betty to tell Sally that Megan and he will miss her. After hanging up the phone, Don exhales with a deep sigh.

Meanwhile at SC&P, Peggy and Ted work on the Ocean Spray account with Michael and another creative guy. Peggy and Ted giggle and flirt as they refer to a tour they just took of the Ocean Spray plant, and they imitate their tour guide, a man who Ted dubbed “Rose Kennedy” for his accent. Michael objects that “Cran-Prune” sounds like a diarrhea drink, but he’s overruled, whereas everything Peggy suggests is considered golden, much to Michael’s frustration.

When Megan arrives home that day, she tells Don he looks better. The phone rings, and it’s Harry from California to talk to Don. Harry delivers the news that even though he told Sunkist SC&P couldn’t work with them, Sunkist now wants to work with the agency at 2-1/2 times the budget (because it’s TV rather than print). Don tells Harry the agency can’t do it, and treats Harry dismissively. Feeling sorry for Don because he had to take a work-related call on his day off, Megan then suggests that they get out of the apartment. They go to a movie, Rosemary’s Baby. At the end of the movie, which they thought was disturbing and scary, Megan spots Ted and Peggy walking up the theater aisle and says hello. They talk awkwardly, Ted makes excuses for why he and Peggy were there together, and Don looks at Ted and Peggy suspiciously. Ted returns the animosity with: “So, I see you’re feeling better” since Don was supposedly taking a sick day. Megan invites them out for a bite to eat, but they both decline. Megan later gossips to Don about Ted and Peggy, but Don shrugs it off and excuses himself to make a phone call, presumably to Harry in California. After he leaves the room, Megan sighs and says, “Okay.”

At work the next day, Don and Roger meet with Ted and Jim. Roger announces the $8M business opportunity with Sunkist per Harry, and Jim says, “Great Caesar’s ghost!” Ted rants that, since they’ve been working with Ocean Spray for about six weeks, it will be like a knife in their back, and the agency’s other customers will worry about getting the same treatment. He laments that “giving their word” doesn’t mean anything anymore, and points out that the agency looks bad because “the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.” Despite all of Ted’s observations, Jim realizes the greater business opportunity with Sunkist, and Ocean Spray is dropped. They all agree to improve their internal communications in the future, and Don apologizes for his “surprises.” Ted then requests that Peggy should be on the Sunkist account, since “she has juice experience,” and Don concurs.

Later, Don walks past the glass-enclosed board room and sees Ted, Peggy, and Joan laughing and looking at head shots. He steps up to Moira and asks what’s going on, and she gives a cynical look. Don enters the meeting room and sees Ted and Peggy acting like they’re in love. Ted and Peggy direct the others to act out the ad for St. Joseph’s Aspirin that Peggy has developed, based on Rosemary’s Baby. The ad involves several actors surrounding the baby, behaving like members of a coven who offer remedies for the baby’s illness. “You need to feel the conspiracy” Peggy explains. The final line of the ad is: “You don’t need anyone’s help but St. Joseph’s.” Don’s initial feedback is supportive, but he also brings up the issue of the number of people that will need to be hired. Joan advises Peggy and Ted to rush over to casting, and Don and Joan then discuss the budget overrun. Don learns that St. Joseph’s hasn’t even seen the budget yet, and he walks out of the room with a stern look on his face.

A little later, Don and Ted see each other as they’re both ready to leave work, and they stop to discuss the St. Joseph’s ad. Don had sent the budget to St. Joseph’s while Ted and Peggy were at casting, and St. Joseph’s had called Ted to stop production because the budget was exceeded. Ted says he didn’t tell Peggy, since he knew Peggy wanted to get a Clio award for it and has her heart set on it. Angrily, Ted tells Don: “Now I have to turn a no into a yes,” but Don replies, “You would have had to do that anyway.” However, Don agrees to back Ted up with the client. Ted rushes off to review the budget. Looking over his shoulder, Don watches Ted leave the room and looks deeply sad.

That night we see Don again sitting in front of the living room television, now looking depressed. The TV show features a dark topic, with a man mentioning homicide, robbery, and murder. Megan steps out of their bedroom in her robe and says, “You can do that in bed you know.” Don either doesn’t hear her or chooses to ignore her, and she walks out again, unnoticed and undoubtedly frustrated. This is interesting because it’s the opposite of her television scene, where her character yells at the man, “Don’t you dare ignore me!”

The next day at work, Don waits for the meeting with Byron from St. Joseph’s. Peggy enters the room and Don explains that he’s there to give the team more fire power, and that the problem involves residuals. Byron, Ted, Joan, and Jim enter the room and the meeting begins. Ted explains that the budget expanded from $15,000 as a result of expanding their ad concept, but that the cost of the ad will be offset by the sales it will bring. Byron asks for a reason, and Ted doesn’t seem to understand what he means. Byron says he took a lot of abuse in his company and is entitled to a reason. Don chimes in and claims the reason is very personal. Ted and Peggy begin to fear that their relationship is about to be exposed, and Ted starts to look pale. After prodding Ted to tell Byron the personal reason, Don says, “You don’t want to say anything? Fine, I’ll tell them. It was Frank Gleason’s last idea.”  Ted and Peggy are visibly relieved. Ted and Jim see this as a good story to build on, and Byron accepts the story and offers to increase the budget to $25,000 max. Ted agrees to it, and Jim, Byron, and Joan leave the room. Ted, Peggy, and Don remain, and tension mounts as Peggy says, “Don, was that necessary?” Ted tells Peggy, “Leave us alone,” and Peggy leaves the room. Ted says to Don: “What was that?” and Don replies, “That was the best I could do.” Don then confronts Ted about being in love with Peggy, says everybody in the office can see it, and says that Ted isn’t “thinking with his head.” Ted is stunned as Don sternly exits the room. 

Soon thereafter, Peggy walks over to Ted’s office and Moira tells her Ted’s gone home. Peggy asks when he left, and Moira says, “Right after I told him you needed to see him.” Peggy immediately storms into Don’s office to confront him with, “I know what you did, I just don’t know why you did it.” Don says he saved both of them and that he’s just looking out for the agency.” Peggy calls him a monster and walks out of his office. Don lies down on the sofa and curls up in a fetal position, deep in thought.

Another thread of the story begins in the woods near Detroit, with Ken and two executives from Chevy hunting for game birds. One executive commands Ken to shoot his rifle, and suggests he pretend that a nearby tree is Ralph Nader. Ken says, “Whatever you want,” but doesn’t shoot. The two Chevy men lift their rifles to aim at a bird overhead and then turn as the bird flies by. They shoot simultaneously in the direction of Ken and Ken falls to the ground. As it turns out, he was shot in the right eye and has to wear a patch over it. He returns to SC&P and talks to Pete about quitting the Chevy account. He explains to Pete that he told the Chevy guys his wife Cynthia was pregnant and they took him out hunting to celebrate. He then confides, “Chevy’s killing me…I hate Detroit, I hate cars, I hate guns…I’m going to be a father soon…” and he cries. Pete tells him to pull himself together and advises him not to give up the account because he’ll be laughed out of advertising, but Ken is set on transitioning out of Detroit. Pete then offers to take his place and asks Ken to back him up. Pete leaves Ken and heads to his office. He takes out his rifle, holding it up as if to shoot when his secretary enters the room and asks, “What are you doing?” She informs him that his gun is only good for squirrels and that Cooper wants to see him. Pete asks her, “Would you ever leave New York, Annie Oakley?” She smiles and straightens his tie but doesn’t take his question seriously.

In Cooper’s office, Bert, Roger, Jim, Pete, Ken and Bob meet to discuss Ken’s withdrawal from the Chevy account. At first some of them try to convince Ken not to let go of it. Ken says he’s not resigning Chevy because he’ll stay on the business in New York. Pete accepts the new role of account man on the ground in Detroit. Then Bert and Roger say that Bob will stay on the account to provide continuity, and Jim agrees. Pete argues for starting with a new team, but he’s overruled. Bob graciously offers to step out of the room to allow them to discuss the problem, but when he leaves, Jim tells Pete there’s nothing to discuss. They all like Bob so much that they’re willing to keep Bob and dump Pete from the account, so Pete changes his tune and thanks all of them for trusting him with it. After Pete exits Cooper’s office he encounters Bob, who asks: “Is there a problem?” Pete accuses him of being sick, and Bob asks, “Why would you say that?” Pete challenges him: “Did you not profess your love to me?” Bob replies: “Only my admiration, which is waning quickly…This is not about my own interests; I care about Chevy…You’d better watch what you say to people.”  Then Bob shakes Pete’s hand and says loudly enough so that others can hear him, “Congratulations…Can you believe this guy?” Pete walks away disgruntled and closes the door to his office.

Pete calls up Duck and asks him to find a new position for “a young account man whom we love but Draper doesn’t like…named Bob Benson.” Duck agrees to do so for a fee. Later, Duck calls Pete back and informs him that Bob Benson’s personal background record “might as well have been written in steam.” Duck says that many of Bob’s claims aren’t true, but that the Brown Brothers Harriman folks remember him as Bobby from West Virginia, whose parents were brother and sister or something, and that he was a manservant to a Senior Vice President who took him on a cruise to Europe on the Queen Elizabeth. Duck tells Pete he’s never seen anything like this before, but Pete says, “I have,” clearly in reference to Don, alias Dick Whitman.

Meanwhile, we see Bob in his office speaking Spanish on the phone, apparently to Manolo. Bob describes Pete as an S-O-B. Then he listens to Manolo and says, “I don’t care how nice she is. He’s a snotty bastard and he’s screwing with my future.”

Later, Pete’s mother, Dorothy, shows up at his office to his surprise and asks him for her passport. She says, “I’m planning a voyage and I spoke to Manolo.” This sets Pete off, and he forbids her to see “that Spanish fly” or to help her with her passport. Dorothy also tells Pete that Manolo is upset about the way he treats Bob Benson. Pete’s response is more anger plus threats to Dorothy’s new nurse, and he storms back into his office and shuts the door.

The next day, Pete goes to Bob’s office and politely says, “Good morning Bob,” before launching into his next invective. Pete confronts Bob with his knowledge of Bob’s work as a manservant, and Bob asks, “What do you want?” Pete says he wants Bob to stop smiling. Then Bob confronts Pete with, “You don’t respond well to gratitude.” Pete spews more venom but then says, “Where you are and who you are is not my concern…I surrender. I want you to graciously accept my apologies. Work with me but not too closely…and please can you find a way to get your friend out of my mother’s life?” Bob emphasizes that Manolo doesn’t like women. Pete walks out the door and sighs deeply after exiting Bob’s office.

A third thread of the tale begins when Betty drives Sally to her interview at an exclusive boarding school. Betty is excited for Sally but Sally doesn’t say much. When Betty tries to guess why Sally wants to attend boarding school, Sally responds: “If I say yes will you stop asking?” Sally comes back with the conversation-ending line: “I want to be grown up but I know how important my education is.” Then she gazes out the passenger window and sighs.

At the interview, Betty speaks of her own dilemma as the mother of a young woman. The lady conducting the interview seems impressed with Betty and tells her when to pick up Sally the following day. Sally is sent to one of the students’ bedrooms to talk with a couple of girls, Mellicent and Andi. The two girls greet Sally nicely but then create a hazing situation, in which Sally is told she’s not allowed to speak, and that she’s there to look after them: “You didn’t bring a bottle. Call your mother and tell her that you’re useless.” Sally’s response is: “I can get you anything you want.” Ultimately, Sally calls Glen, and Glen shows up with a pal named Rollo and some drugs and alcohol. Glen flirts with Andi and they pair off and go to Andi’s bedroom, leaving Sally alone with Rollo. Rollo moves in on Sally but Sally doesn’t like it and moves away from him. Eventually Sally calls Glen, and Glen fights Rollo off, saying that Sally is like a sister to him. Rollo says to Glen: “Are you suicidal? I’m your ride home” and he walks out. Glen soon follows, explaining that he doesn’t want to hitch. Andi then says to Sally: “You like trouble, don’t you?” and Sally smiles slyly but looks a bit uncomfortable.

When Betty drives Sally home the following day, Sally is again uncommunicative. Betty confronts her with, “So you’ve got what you wanted and now you think you can be rude.” Then Betty says she’s not going to tell Sally what the interview lady said when they were saying goodbye. Sally shows interest, and Betty reveals that Sally got glowing reports from all concerned: they thought Sally was curious and bright and they hoped she would choose their school. Sally appears happy to hear this, and Betty rewards her by allowing her to smoke one of her cigarettes. “You want one, don’t you?” she asks Sally. “Go ahead. I’d rather have you do it in front of me than behind my back. I’m sure your father’s given you a beer.” Sally responds, “My father’s never given me anything.” Hearing this, Betty frowns, takes a long cigarette drag, and looks worried.

A pervasive theme of this episode is the interplay of helpfulness and abusiveness. This includes bad treatment under the guise of being helpful and truly helpful behavior that garners abuse or lack of appreciation in return – as well as helpfulness to those who are not nice, despite their bad attitudes.

·         Megan’s helpful attitude towards Don, in her advice and her actions, is met with a complete lack of emotional response.

·         Ted’s helpfulness and supportiveness to Peggy by encouraging her work results in making them both look like fools to those in the office, thus garnering abuse from others.

·         Michael’s helpful comments about the “Cran-Prune” name are rejected rather than appreciated.

·         Harry calls Don to tell him about a huge, $8M commitment from Sunkist and Don at first blows him off like he’s a pest.

·         Don tries to help Ted by complimenting Peggy’s “coven” ad idea for St. Joseph’s, but also watching out for the budget. In doing so, Don undermines Ted and Peggy’s enthusiasm and throws a wrench in the process, which they fail to appreciate. Ultimately, Don “helps” Ted by embarrassing him and Peggy in the process of coming up with a reason why they went over budget for the ad, which feels to them like abuse. Finally, Don tries to help Ted wake up and realize how foolish he and Peggy look to the rest of the office, and to help him start thinking more clearly again. His advice to Ted leaves Peggy feeling totally abused. When Don tells her he saved both of them, she calls him a monster.

·         Don and Betty both help Sally get into a boarding school. Don helps by promising to foot the bill, and Betty helps her by taking her there, saying all the right things, and trying to relate to Sally through conversation. Sally fails to appreciate that her father has ever helped her with anything, and also doesn’t appreciate her mother’s efforts to understand her and converse with her.

·         Sally tries to “help” the girls she meets at the boarding school by giving them whatever they ask for, despite the girls’ mean hazing treatment.   

·         The mean girls give Sally a glowing report, thus helping her gain acceptance at the school.

·         Rollo helps Glen by giving him a ride to the girls’ boarding school, and in return, Glen beats him up, then seeks a ride back with him.

·         The St. Joseph’s ad is an interesting mixture of scary coven members offering weird remedies to help the baby, and one beautiful, radiant mother offering the pills.

·         The Chevy executives try to be supportive to Ken, only to shoot him by accident. Then on the way to the hospital, they consider whether they should stop for lunch.

·         When Pete hears Ken start to cry after talking about how much he hates Chevy, Pete tries to be helpful by yelling at him “Pull yourself together” and by telling him not to quit the account because he’ll be laughed at. Pete was trying to be helpful, but Ken may have felt abused by this treatment.

·         Pete helps Ken by taking over the Chevy account, and Ken appreciates it. However, when Pete hears that Bob will stay on the account with him, Pete brings up so many objections that Bob has to know he’s unwanted. Nevertheless, Bob remains excessively polite towards Pete. On the other hand, Bob may be plotting behind the scenes to get even with Pete in a most abusive and criminal way (see comments at the end of this essay).

·         When the SC&P executives tell Pete that they’d rather have Bob on the Chevy account than him, Pete probably feels angry and unappreciated, but he responds to them with extra politeness, thanking them for their trust in him.

·         Dorothy asks Pete for help finding her passport, and is met with verbal abuse. In return she is demanding as a mother but attempts to remain polite.

·         Pete says “Good morning Bob” very politely before confronting him, calling him sick, and then asking him to work with him “but not too closely.”

·         Betty is mean to Sally when she accuses her, “So you’ve got what you wanted and now you think you can be rude.” Then Betty joyfully tells Sally the good news about being accepted to the school.

·         Don has paid for Sally’s life, and offers to pay for her boarding school, and in return Sally tells Betty, “My father’s never given me anything.”


The episode’s title, The Quality of Mercy, is a quote from a Shakespearean play, The Merchant of Venice, in which the gentleness of mercy is contrasted to the harshness of justice, by which none of us would achieve salvation if it were applied to us. In this episode, justice-seeking on the national front (as articulated in Nixon’s law-and-order, anti-crime ad on TV) creates a high level of fear throughout society that is reflected in this episode.

·         Almost every scene ends on a sour note or a point of deep frustration or other negative feeling for one or more of the characters.

·         The Chevy executives advise Ken to pretend a tree is Ralph Nader, and to shoot at it. The implication is that they feel no mercy towards Nader, the man who caused Detroit to spend money on things like mandatory seatbelts and other safety measures that cost them money.

·         Megan appears to apply mercy to Don when she goes out of her way to care for him, but it looks to me more like she’s experiencing fear that something’s wrong and frustration that she can’t fix it, rather than mercy.

·         Pete has no real mercy for Bob, just an awareness that he can’t get rid of Bob because everyone else likes him better. He experiences fear for his job plus anger and hostility on a daily basis.

·         Bob shows a thick veneer of politeness to Pete, but it’s hard to tell whether he is secretly plotting against him, especially when he seems to threaten Pete by telling to be careful about what he says to others.

·         When Pete yells at Josephine, she looks frightened for her job.

·         Don sees Ted acting as foolishly just as he himself has done in the past, and he fears for the company because of Ted’s impaired judgment.

·         Hearing Sally say that her Dad hasn’t ever helped her, Betty fears that something is deeply wrong that she hasn’t been aware of before.

·         Ted constantly fears that his relationship with Peggy will turn into something it shouldn’t or that it will be discovered, and yet he also fears losing his marriage and family life with Nan.

·         The fearfulness of the times is also reflected in the scary, disturbing movie hit of the time, Rosemary’s Baby.


Finally, a subtle suggestion of intrigue appears in the Bob Benson story. First, Duck tells Pete about the Senior Vice President whom Bob served as a companion during a cruise to Europe. Apparently Duck wasn't able to locate this man to interview him. Second, Bob’s conversation with Manolo suggests that Bob is asking Manolo to take Dorothy on a cruise. Could he be planning to get even with Pete by asking Manolo to harm or kill Dorothy?  Why else would Manolo apparently protest, “But she’s a nice lady”? We also hear Bob use a threatening tone with Pete when he says, “You’d better watch what you say to people,” suggesting that Bob himself may intend to provide some sort of negative consequence.


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