This is why “Mad Men” is still TV’s best drama.
My confidence may have been shaken by last week’s uneven installment —
one of three average, momentum-stunting, episodes this season along with
“The Flood” and “Man with a Plan” — but as we’ve seen repeatedly in the past, be patient with
“Mad Men” and you will be rewarded.
“Favors” was downright masterful in its confluence of storylines, major reveals and welcome callbacks. This was “Mad Men” craftsmanship at its finest, and while it provided several miserable developments in the characters’ lives, it made us incredibly happy as viewers.
[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 ten:
1) Roger (last week, #1): This hasn’t been a sterling season for Roger, who is reduced to juggling oranges and apologizing for courting possible conflicting business (Sunkist versus Ted’s play for Ocean Spray). John Slattery must have needed a break after directing last week’s episode.
2) Megan (last week, #7): Let’s give Megan a break this week, because she definitely deserves it. We’ll just note a meaty storyline for Don’s poor wife is overdue. Any week now, please.
3) Betty (unranked last week):
Making the most of her single scene, Betty proved her relationship with Sally remains strained at best.
“Like everything else in this country, diplomacy club is just another excuse to make out,” spat the woman who recently slept with her ex-husband at their son’s summer camp. Does she even recognize her own hypocrisy?
4) Peggy (last week, #5): Back to living alone without Abe, Peggy remembers it’s not always easy being single. Especially when there’s a rat mangled and possibly lifeless in a trap under your couch. She calls Stan in the hopes that he’ll help. Tough luck. But the real disorienting thing for Peggy is her office chat with Pete’s mother, Dot (Channing Chase), who suffers from dementia. When she mentions that Peggy has a child with Pete, Peggy is floored. Until she realizes Dot has mistaken her for Trudy. Still, we have to wonder what kind of memories (and feelings) that stirred up inside Peggy, who also has an awkward discussion at dinner with a drunk Pete. “At least one us ended up important,” he tells her.
5) Ted (last week, #4): We finally had a peek into Ted’s unhappy home life, and the sad truth is it’s not that dramatic, especially compared to his ongoing conflict with Don. That’s exactly what worries his wife, Nan (Timi Prulhiere), who is justifiably concerned that their family can’t possibly compete with the drama at SD&P. (Nan’s description of Ted’s obsession with work sounds an awful lot like Peggy, doesn’t it?) But with all the talk of planes and plane crashes in this episode, maybe Nan should be worried about something else.
6) Sylvia (unranked last week): Her concern over her son, Mitchell (Hudson Thames), possibly getting drafted and sent to Vietnam turned to gratitude and a reconciliation with Don when he solves the problem (thanks to Ted’s National Guard connections). Too bad for both Sylvia and Don that they picked the worst possible time to… reconcile. Sylvia doesn’t begin or end the episode in a great place, but considering she appears to get what she wants for her son (and Arnold still doesn’t seem to know about the affair), she has it much better than some.
7) Bob Benson (last week, #2): Last week the ever-perceptive Ginsberg wondered if Bob was gay, and this week delivered what appears to be confirmation not only of Bob’s sexual orientation but also of his crush on … Pete Campbell?! That sheds a new light on his insistence on paying for Pete’s prostitute back in “For Immediate Release.” And while the reveal wasn’t entirely unexpected, how many people actually thought Bob was crushing on Pete? Poor Pete could’ve been flattered, if he wasn’t so appalled. Then again, as with everything involving Bob, even this scene played out suspiciously. Bob comes on to Pete after Pete’s “degenerate” comment. Tone deaf timing, or a weird play motivated by something else?
8) Pete (last week, #9): The rejection Bob endures from Pete was no match for what Pete himself is going through. He’s miserable about his career (“Please tell me you don’t pity me,” he says to Peggy), his mother (“You were a sour little boy and you’re a sour little man … you’ve always been unlovable!” she rails at Pete in an exchange that speaks volumes about their history, after he threatens to fire her male nurse) and his broken marriage. Although he’s frequently considered the most “punchable” character, the show’s portrait of Pete through the years has consistently been far more than one dimensional. This season in particular has shown us Pete at his lowest and most — he wouldn’t like us to say it — pitiful. Like all these characters, Pete is capable of loathsome acts but remains fundamentally and unshakably human.
9) Sally (unranked last week): As soon as Sally gets the key to the Rosens’ apartment after Don’s phone call with Sylvia we know disaster is coming. And like witnesses to a terrible car crash, we can only watch in horror as the last bit of respect Sally might have had for her father is completely shattered. “You make me sick!” she screams at Don after Dr. Rosen brings Mitchell up to thank Don in person. Megan is baffled. Julie (Cameron Protzman) mistakenly believes it’s because Sally has a crush on Mitchell and doesn’t want to see him leave. The truth is so much worse, and something it feels like the show has been building towards for six seasons now. “Your father is a hero,” Betty sarcastically yells at Sally earlier in the episode. Now Sally knows the sad, sad truth.
10) Don (last week, #10): Don’s determination to help Mitchell Rosen and his obliviousness to Ted’s interoffice rivalry both take a backseat to the episode’s final moments. Everything comes crashing down when Sally catches him in the act with Sylvia. He tries to explain he was just “comforting” her, but that won’t work on the not-so-little-girl who also spied Roger and Megan’s mother in last season’s “At the Codfish Ball.” Don has built his life on lying and cheating, but can he maintain that life if it costs him his children?
Falling off the index: We didn’t see Joan or Ginsberg at all this week, and after playing a major role last week, Jim Cutler returned to the sidelines.
And relive Sally’s horror and Don’s humiliation in the following clip from AMC: