Mad Men – Season 6, Episode 12 “The Quality of Mercy” Review

Rating: 9.3

Ken Cosgrove is The Governor, Teddy and Peggy are organizing ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketches in the office, Harry’s trying to pay hookers in travelers checks, Don’s crying like a baby, creepy Glenn is a knight in shining armor for more reasons than just bringing the beer, Sally’s smoking in the car with Betty, and Bob Benson has a secret beyond his ability to speak perfect Spanish.

Just another week on ‘Mad Men’, right?

Let’s start with Bob Benson and Pete Campbell, in a story that felt eerily and intentionally familiar, and served as the spine of this whole hour.

Since the polite young man known as Bob (real name: unknown) became a junior account executive at the agency, fans of ‘Mad Men’ have been furiously theorizing about what his play is. Nobody in the ‘Mad Men’ universe is nice, let alone polite, so he must be hiding a dark secret, right?

Why yes, yes he must.

We already know that the only person in the office with the particular combination of pettiness, spitefulness and persistence to suss out a false identity is Pete. He did it in season one, when he ‘borrowed’ a package from Don’s late brother and meticulously pieced together the story of Dick Whitman.

Back then, the catalyst for Pete’s detective work was Don’s stated desire to fire him. Here, it’s the pass that Bob made at Pete last week, and Pete’s unique tendency to respond to getting 90% of what he wants by letting the remaining 10% ruin his life. Ken takes a buckshot to the eye courtesy of the Ford yahoos and hands over the agency’s biggest account to Pete. But the partners want continuity, and despite Pete’s protests, keep Bob on the account. Things get heated between Bob and Pete – apparently the one thing Bob Benson doesn’t tolerate is impoliteness – and the two retire to the quarters to pout.

Bob confides to his lover(?) Manolo, while Pete starts scheming, calling up the always-available Duck Phillips to try to get Bob another job offer. But Duck uncovers something much more juicy, mainly that none of Bob’s resume checks out, that he was a manservant in some kind of West Virginia-based cult. Or something; I don’t know I think I might have blacked out.

For the second time, Pete knows the deepest, darkest scret of one of his co-workers. He remembers how it turned out the first time: Pete played hardball with Don, backed him into a corner until Don called his bluff, followed through and spilled the beans to Burt Cooper, and was rebuffed with what is arguably still the most devastating line of the series to date: “Who cares?”. Bob isn’t in the same position of power that Don was then, but he’s liked by all the partners, Cutler especially, and making a play to get Bob disgraced or blackmailing him into quitting could have unforessen consequences. Pete is aware of this.

So this time he plays his hand close to the vest, realizing that as long as he keeps Bob’s secret, he retains a healthy measure of control over him. In a spellbinding rapid-fire sequence, Pete goes from appearing to force Bob out of the company to agreeing to work with him, provided Bob stops trying to seduce him and Manolo stops canoodling with Pete’s mom. It’s a savvy play for Pete, one that’s been five years in the making, and a rare triumph for him in a season that’s seen him crash almost as badly as Don.

Speak of the devil, Don joined Pete this week in taking control of a work relationship. With evidence of Peggy and Ted’s affection for each other unavoidable, Don makes an old-school Don Draper play to drive a wedge between them with shocking force while simultaneously scoring a minor victory with a client. By the end of the hour, Ted is humiliated, and Peggy is on the verge of tears calling Don a monster.

Is he? You can make a case either way. On one hand, you could argue that no one is more qualified than Don Draper to warn against the perils of office relationships. He himself turned down Peggy’s advances once upon a time, and judging by the way his current marriage is going, he’d probably like a do-over on his own foray into office love (not that any of it is Megan’s fault). And though Ted understandably believes otherwise, Don actually wasn’t responsible for going back on his word regarding Oceanspray; he tried to talk Harry out of it, despite the fact that it’s a great account for the company.

On the other hand, you could read Don’s actions as motivated entirely by selfish reasons, mainly his longstanding desire for everyone around him to be as miserable as he is. He has to recognize that Ted is a much better man than he, and Don can’t bear to see him live happily ever after with hi former protege. And despite the fact that his big play worked, putting Teddy on the spot like that in the meeting and invoking Gleason’s death to squeeze another ten grand out of a client is, well, pretty monstrous.

Finally, there was a healthy dose of Sally this week, who following last week’s seminal moment made the incredibly wise decision to get the hell away from both her parents and try her chances at boarding school. Sure she has to deal with obnoxious cliques and almost being raped by Glenn’s somehow-creepier friend, but it’s still probably preferable to life with Don or Betty. Glenn rides to her rescue at the last minute, and Sally copes with the lingering trauma the same way everyone on this show does: smoking.

Another outstanding episode of ‘Mad Men’. What are we in store for in next week’s finale? Your guess is as good as mine, but based on this series’ track record, I expect ‘Mad Men’ to nail the landing.

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