Mad Men Monday Recap – The Quality of Mercy

By: Daniel Reynolds

Heading into its sixth season, the Same Page welcomes you each week to the Mad Men Monday Recap. A show as deep as this one needs a little diverse commentary so jump in and enjoy the irreverent breakdown of each episode. 


What’s Happening on Madison Avenue?

It is worth taking a minute to discuss what happened in each episode, right? If you’re looking for some straight talk on what we just saw on Mad Men, read this section (and then read the other sections because, why not).

We shouldn’t be shocked that elements of Mad Men are starting to take an ugly, or perhaps grim, turn. Things have gotten so far along that Matthew Weiner even had to step out from behind his shadow cover (or stack of many moneys) to let everyone know that “no one’s going to die”. It is hard to feel reassured though, with the threat of betrayal hanging around in every corner of the SC&P offices, and beyond.

To begin with, Peggy and Ted, in a season long storyline that reached its clear nadir, finally get called on their “secret” dalliance. Everybody can see it. Stan, sadly absent and easily the most perceptive guy on the show now, called it way, way back in the season premiere. Unfortunately for the happy couple, Don knows about it too and decides he wants to teach Ted a lesson. Remember, he’s the only one who gets to mix business with pleasure, to make impulsive decisions. No one gets a happy relationship (could Peggy ultimately be happy with Ted? We’ll table that discussion for another day) if Don has to wake up in the fetal position on his absent daughter’s bed. But hold on, let’s not make this all about Don.

As if preparing herself for some psychodramas of the future, Sally asserts that she would like to attend an upper crust boarding school (the one that counts Jackie O among their alumni). We see her continue to throw just obscene amounts of shade at her mother, Betty. The spectre of Sally’s reluctantly gained knowledge from last week looms over all of her scenes now. You wonder when she’ll spill to Betty (who already knows the worst of Don) or perhaps Megan (who must have some inkling but will not pick at the mismatched wallpaper covering Don’s damaged psyche). In a nice bit of mirroring though, we see how small and resolutely child-like Sally can remain when suddenly confronted with, in order: spectacularly mean girls, booze, weed (prepared by future burnout Rolo) and proto-sexual advances. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but man, I was glad that Glen was on hand to stand up for Sally’s honour. He’s still a weirdo (and the ‘acting’ in these youth scenes was a bit stilted) but Sally recognizes the power she has over him and the relative safety she can feel in his presence.

You know who doesn’t feel safe in anyone’s presence right now? Pete Campbell! That guy cannot chill. In the process of one episode he had to calm his wounded friend Ken (more on this later, breathlessly), weasel in on the Chevy account (managed by “fat yahoos in cheap suits”), deal with his mother going rogue out of country, and fend off the possibly maniacal Bob Benson. Oh, the cat is out of the bag with Bob (or perhaps, el gato está fuera de la bolsa). The sight of him standing outside the partners meeting with that vacant smile on his face, as if he were a powered down robot waiting to be engaged, was unnerving. Fortunately, Pete has already learned how to deal with men with no true identity. He will not fall backwards onto that knife this time. And hey, unlike when he tried to take down Draper way back when, Benson is still technically an underling. Rest easy, Pete.

Thinking about it all, I suppose Ted’s right; it is an ugly thing when the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. But Ted, sweet puppy dog-eyed Ted, does not realize that that’s not the worst of it. There are games beyond the game; and behind closed doors the right hand is working very diligently to cut off the left hand.

The Symbolism Rankings

Enjoy, with minimal comment, the weekly rankings for whatever symbolism Matthew Weiner has heavily stacked into each Mad Men episode. A show set in the world of advertising is only as good as its symbolism, right?

1) Eye patch

2) Cranprune juice

3) Hunting rifle

Back in the Day

Remember the 1960s? Mad Men really values its sense of place. To that end, here’s where we make mention of whatever anachronistic or historical element popped up this week.

I know what you guys would like to talk about. I mean, it was a pretty small moment in the episode, but when I conceived of this entire section I was thinking of an exact moment like the one we saw last night.

Betty offering a cigarette to Sally, her 14 year old daughter. Success.

There was a noteworthy Nixon commercial in the background of this episode and we get some insider information on the thrilling battle between Sunkist and Ocean Spray in the 1960s. But really, why even bother talking about any of that? All any of us can remember is Betty and Sally, enjoying celebratory cigarettes. Rock on, ladies.

This Week in Ken! (Cosgrove. Accounts.)

As the most likeable guy in the entire series, Ken Cosgrove deserves his chance to shine. Here’s where we discuss what everyone’s favourite earnest moonlighting sci-fi writer was doing or not doing on the last episode.

Deep breath.

There was a stupid internet joke that was hanging out right there involving the death of someone named Kenny.

I had it sitting in my back pocket for weeks but I always told myself, no, no way would that happen. No way would Ken(!) actually get killed by those maniacs at Chevy, right? I mean, they’re still businessmen, family men. They have to understand some limits. As the show quickly cut away from the scene of the crime, I was speechless. Was Ken Cosgrove dead? Had his unsavory work at SC&P finally killed him? When Harry called Don, I thought he’d have the news: “Kenny is dead!”. Of course, Harry did not know. No one at SC&P knew anything about it. I was distraught.

As it turns out, Ken survives. I didn’t have to use my stupid obvious South Park joke. The world continues to spin. But still, the fallout! First, we have to see Ken get emotional. I don’t want to see Ken get that emotional about work. He’s always been able to separate the insane asylum aspects of his work life from his home life, but here, it is all hitting him like, well, a shotgun to the face. Ken, unlike Pete, and Don, and Jim, and Roger (“Lee Garner made me hold his balls”, awkward silence), understands that he is going to be a father. No amount of industry clout and financial reward are worth literally putting your life at risk day in and day out, in goddamn Detroit of all places.

Ken, go be with your family. And if you ever fall on hard times, know that you could definitely find work as a tap dancing pirate in a low end Broadway show. Hell, with your writing background, you could probably write the story! If we never see you on Mad Men again, it’ll be for the best. (But please, find a way to at least make it into the finale because that would really help me out.)

Know Your Role

Since so much of Mad Men is predicated on minute character interactions, here’s where we discuss the top conflicts that happen in each week’s episode and decide on a winner.

Come one, come all, for one day and one day only we’re going to mix it up in the ol’ Know Your Role ring. How’s that you ask? Simple: It’s Battle Royale time! This time out we’re featuring five of our combatants who were locked in vicious conflict across the pristine floors of their Madison Avenue office. Let’s meet our entrants:

Challenger #1: Don Draper, coming in with a mysterious past, an iron jaw, and the slicked back hair of a born confidence man, Draper is looking to put his in-office rival Ted in his place.

Challenger #2: Ted Chaough, he’s smaller and nicer, but he’s got a passive-aggressive meanstreak that could talk you into all kinds of wild things. Ted’s willing to fight for you, and you, and probably you, too. You’ve just got to be his friend afterwards.

Challenger #3: Peggy Olsen, a darkhorse candidate, and a contestant in need of a win. Don’t slouch on her as she wows the office with her copy. She’s risen from the small town circuit and now throws more weight around than everyone but the bosses.

Challenger #4: Pete Campbell, not much of a slugger (he’s already lost a highly controversial bout to a former wimpy Brit) but he’s got a survivor’s instinct. He wants to win by any means necessary.

Challenger #5: Bob Benson, may be nobody’s idea of a winner. He comes on too strong, too unnerving, but my God, he gets results. He’s gone toe to toe with everyone from Campbell to Cutler and lived to tell the tale.

Ring the bell!

Here we go, everyone is in the ring and the emotional conflicts start to sort themselves out pretty quickly. Don lands some solid knowing haymakers on Ted, giving him a late round KO after working his “secret” dalliance angle with Peggy like a speedbag. Meanwhile, in revenge, Peggy peppers Don with body shots that eventually move Draper into a turtling position. It’s doubtful though, even by shear attrition, that this will have any long term effect. In the opposite corner, Pete bobs and weaves around Bob’s wily defenses, and with an assist from his corner man (Duck Phillips) manages to force Benson out of the match on a little known technicality. Having cleared Ted, Peggy and Benson from the rumble, only Pete and Don remain.

And well, that just ain’t a fair fight.

Winner: Don (he needed a win)

Actual Advertising

Between the drinking, the social commentary and the drinking, sometimes the people of SCDP and Madison Avenue actually do some work on advertisements. Here is where we sit in the seat of the client, trying to figure out what the hell these ad guys are talking about.

Finally! We’re working, we’re talking juice, we’re talking St. Joseph’s, which I surmise is some sort of cough syrup/medicine? Damn, how did I miss that? I’m going to blame the Ken Cosgrove shooting. It was a tough 20 minutes. [Update: Aspirin! Of course!]

Anyway, the tart seeds of trouble are planted early in this episode as Ted and Peggy yuk it up while working on the Ocean Spray account. They’re ostensibly working on campaigns for all the juices, including the blends (Ginsberg: “Do they realize cranprune sounds like diarrhea?”) but really, they just want to crack New England JFK accent jokes and make out in darkened movie theatres. Everyone sees trouble.

The St. Joseph’s product (cough syrup? some sort of baby thing?) [Update: I need to take better notes] is one of those boring accounts with a modest budget backed by largely conservative thinking. They’ve been buying the same print and TV ads for years because, hey, that’s what works (and people will always need their product). So, naturally, Peggy and Ted want to go ahead on an expensive commercial that uses Rosemary’s Baby (I repeat: Rosemary’s Baby!!) as its inspiration.

I’m not gonna tell those two lovebirds how to do their jobs, but seriously guys, if you were hoping to keep your relationship secret, don’t draw attention to yourselves by pushing an ad that uses the movie about a woman having the son of Satan.

This is Ted's "Oh man, who farted?" face.

This is Ted’s “Oh man, who farted?” face.

Next Episode Predictions

This is where we watch the totally opaque preview for next week’s episode and make wild guesses as to what will happen next.

You there Matthew? Let’s talk. We’ve been at each other like cats and dogs about the back end of these episodes. First, it was bad enough when they appeared as completely opaque tone poems of nonsense and context free drama designed only to drive us crazy. Then, as if you were really trying to troll us, your episodes would run longer than they should (and we’re talking about some of the season’s early episodes. Anyone else still think William “Randall” Mapother was particularly necessary?). As a result, we’d get no next episode promo at all.

And now this latest insult. A clip montage set to escalating horror music.

I’m not going to even talk about the content of the montage, but that music, yikes. Just yikes. I would expect this from The Killing, maybe even the Walking Dead, but you? Matthew, you need to have a talk with AMC and give them the straight goods here. You already have the run of the entire network! Let’s just go back to the good times we had together. You’d put together clips of Don saying “Shut the door”, we’d scratch our heads and say “what the hell does that mean?”. Everybody wins. One more episode to go. Let’s all agree to do the right thing here.

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