With only one episode left to go this season, “Mad Men” is officially on a roll. These last two installments have been the season’s best — as strong as anything the show has ever produced — and expectations have been duly raised for next week’s finale.
For an episode that begins with Don taking a sick day, much of the
action in “The Quality of Mercy” takes place in the offices of SC&P. Even as Don attempts at first to hide from his problems and then to bury himself in work, he can’t help but face reminders of what he’s done.
The episode’s most dramatic sequences rely on the audience’s knowledge of not
just what happens throughout the hour, but what has transpired over
the course of the series — from Pete finding out Don’s secret to Peggy
quitting SCDP to Sally catching Don. These characters and this show are
rich in history, but it’s what the writers do with that history that makes the drama so extraordinary.
[Note: In the spirit of showrunner Matthew Weiner declaring
that this season is about Dr. Arnold Rosen telling Don, “People will do
anything to alleviate their anxiety,” we’re tracking the happiness of key
characters week by week.]
The “Mad Men” happiness index, week eleven:
1) Joan (unranked last week): While Joan rarely lets her guard down at work, she seemed extra confident during that pitch rehearsal with Peggy, Ted and Don. We’re guessing things with Avon must have turned out okay. Either way, she knows Don respects her. And when she lets loose the budget info that Don ultimately uses against Ted, she obviously didn’t mean it maliciously. Did she?
2) Megan (last week, #2): Poor Megan, on the sidelines again. At least she finds distraction in gossiping about that encounter with Ted and Peggy at “Rosemary’s Baby.” (And yes, Don and Megan watching “Rosemary’s Baby” is more fuel for those silly Megan/Sharon Tate theories.)
3) Betty (last week, #3): She notices Don and Sally both acting strange, but doesn’t have enough information to connect the dots. Things may be different if she knew the truth, but instead she makes an effort by letting Sally bum a cigarette.
4) Pete (last week, #8): Maybe dabbling in pot has mellowed him out, but is it possible we’re witnessing the redemption of Pete Campbell this season? He’s been humbled both personally (by Trudy kicking him out) and professionally (by handling the minor accounts while others get the majors), but instead of turning into even more of a monster, Pete has shown signs of growth. Last week he expressed his admiration to Peggy, and this week was genuinely cordial in dealing with old rival Cosgrove. And then there was the way he handled Bob Benson. Instead of trying to expose and embarrass Bob like he did with Don, Pete took a step back and realized it may be more effective to work together. Unfortunately there’s still the Manolo factor, and Pete warns Bob to make sure the “Spanish fly” stays away from his mother.
5) Bob Benson (last week, #7): The truth is out. It’s not just that Bob is gay, he also faked his entire background and charmed his way into the agency � la Don Draper. Now Pete knows it. But after Pete’s experiences with Don, he’s willing to try things differently, which is good news for Bob. At least for now.
6) Cosgrove (unranked last week): Who knew Chevy would turn out to be such a dangerous account? Kenny’s almost died twice now. But he’s done with Detroit, so things should be looking up. Plus, his wife’s pregnant.
7) Sally (last week, #9): She obviously isn’t going to forgive Don any time soon, but there may be some light at the end of the dark tunnel Sally entered last week. Her visitation at Miss Porter’s School went well and it offers the chance to escape both of her parents, but how quickly can Sally adjust to the more adult lifestyle living away from home demands? Glen (Marten Holden Weiner) had to defend her honor after his friend Rolo (Liam Aiken, the little boy from “Stepmom” and “Lemony Snicket” all grown up) tried to take things too far, and we don’t yet know how finding her father with Sylvia will impact her romantic relationships moving forward.
8) Peggy (last week, #4): Peggy knew she needed to get away from Don in order to grow and she knew Ted believed in her talent and abilities, which was part of what made her resignation in last season’s “The Other Woman” so powerful. And now here she is, back in Don’s office, angry and frustrated over Don’s childish behavior. She doesn’t know all the reasons Don is lashing out, but it doesn’t matter. Her one-time mentor has morphed into a full-fledged monster. But does Don have a point when he dismisses her claims that Ted is a good man?
9) Ted (last week, #5): Poor Ted doesn’t know where to turn. Obviously conflicted over his feelings for Peggy, he makes the mistake of trusting Don — which backfires, big time. He doesn’t realize that Don’s anger (“Your judgment is impaired. You’re not thinking with your head!”) is actually self-loathing. So much for that truce they made when Ted offered to help Mitchell Rosen.
10) Don (last week, #10): Don Draper on a downward spiral is nothing new, but this level of downward spiral is something different. After internalizing the humiliation he felt when Sally spied him with Sylvia, he lashes out at Ted and Peggy — who he knows are involved in some way — during their pitch and attempts to humiliate them for his own sins. Instead of taking the higher road, like Pete, Don shows no compassion. No mercy. Curling up in the fetal position in his office isn’t going to save him from what he fears the most: himself.
Falling off the index: Even with the flurry of activity at SC&P, Roger didn’t have a very big part to play, and there was no sighting of Sylvia.
Relive Don messing with Ted and Peggy (and Ted’s response) in the following clip from AMC: