Mad Men: Favors
Pardon us while we do a victory dance. It’s obnoxious; we admit it, but we think we’ve earned it.
We’ll put some spoiler space here, just so it doesn’t pop up on the front page.
HE GAY HE GAY BOB BENSON IS A BIG OL’ GAY
Sorry about that, y’all, but in a season where attempts to thoughtfully read and analyze the story seemingly got hand-waved away while people spent way too much time on silly theories that were never going to pan out, we would like to take this opportunity – of us being right. Did we mention that part? About how we were right when we pointed out that Bob might be gay? – to let people know that with Mad Men, taking time to look at the text thoughtfully and analytically is always going to be a more accurate and more enjoyable experience than spinning off silly theories that sound like they came off the back of a cereal box. You would not believe the high-fiving going on in our living room the moment those knees touched. We actually had to pause the show just to savor the moment.
We’ve seen some attempts around the internet this morning to hang onto the theory that Bob is some sort of mole, con man or spy, but it’s time to give that one up, folks. People can – and will – quibble about where Bob fits on the Kinsey scale and whether or not he’s bisexual, but the point is and always has been that Bob’s sometimes odd behavior was explained away in the most mundane, real-world manner possible: he’s a man with a secret and that secret is he’s in love with his boss. In other words, Bob Benson fits perfectly into the world of Mad Men, after all.
Having said that, despite Matthew Weiner’s attempts to be coy about it in the “Inside Mad Men” post-show video, we think it’s fairly clear that Bob is gay and not bisexual. Or at least, the story is going out of its way to give that impression. It’s hard to put our finger on it exactly, but Bob comes across “culturally gay,” as in, he isn’t like Sal Romano, who was a totally closeted gay man. His friendship with Manolo indicates someone who socializes in the gay community (such as it was in 1968) and the lengths the story went to to indicate his utter lack of sexual interest in Joan do not help paint a picture of someone in the middle of the Kinsey scale.
Can we just point out the UTTER WEIRDNESS that the two gay male characters on the show are named Sal and Bob? As in … Sally and Bobby? Weiner likes his little name games but that’s just … odd.
Okay, enough back-patting. Other things happened this episode besides the revelation that Bob Benson has taste in men just as bad as Peggy and Joan (those three SERIOUSLY need to go out for drinks and dish). To be honest, in the light of day, despite the massive shift in the relationship between Don and Sally, we find so much of what happened last night in the world of Don Draper to be of the “Oh. We’re here again?” variety. That’s not perhaps fair, since we thought this was easily among the best episodes of the season, but we simply can’t reiterate just how much we dislike the Sylvia character and we found ourselves quite annoyed to be back in the orbit of the Rosen apartment. To our thinking, Season 6 has been the most uneven, least satisfying season of the series, due almost entirely to Matthew Weiner’s insistence on spending the entire first half of it on yet another one of Don’s affairs. And despite the attempts to make her appear fascinating, Sylvia isn’t even in the top five of Don’s most interesting women. She’s dull, hypocritical and judgmental. We couldn’t roll our eyes at her hard enough when she was pounding the bed in the throes of her Catholic guilt – not over what she did, but over the fact that she got caught. Give us the ladies who know themselves well and confidently make their way through the world, like Bobbie, Rachel and even Midge. Those were always the best, most interesting of Don’s mistresses. Sylvia’s just another bored housewife in a show that’s sometimes heavy with that type of character.
Her purpose as a character was made a little more clear in the phone conversation with Don. It turns out she actually broke his heart. We knew she hurt him – and that does tend to make her a rarity among Don’s women – but we didn’t realize until they talked about it how much she hurt him and how much this relationship was a reversal of pretty much every sexual relationship Don ever had. “You were good to me, better than I was to you,” she says. It still doesn’t make her fascinating, but at least it explains what Weiner was trying to do with this character. Apparently, she rocked his world like practically no other lady has. We find that a little hard to swallow, given Don’s romantic history, but we suppose what’s happened with Sylvia is less about her and more about Don’s pathetic wheel-spinning and compulsion to make the same mistakes over and over again. It’s not so much that she rocked his world as it is that she happened to be the one standing there while his world got rocked. Like Betty sleeping with him again, a whole bunch of emotional factors needed to be in place for Don to wind up in this place; a sense of failure, disappointment and loneliness worse than at any other time in his life. We’d like to say we felt sorry for him in that elevator scene, when he pretty much fell apart, but we can’t say we do.
But at least Sylvia was used as an agent of change in this episode. We’d be a lot more annoyed with the show if Don simply fell back into bed with her for no reason. Instead, his obsession with her paid off by both healing his rift with Ted (inadvertently on Don’s part; deliberately on Ted’s) and opening up a huge, unlikely-to-ever-heal rift between him and one of a tiny handful of people who matter to him: Sally. To steal a line from Betty, “That poor girl.” It’s been a running joke for years among the show’s fandom that Sally going to have some massive therapy bills in the ’80s, but now it seems sadly inevitable.
Interestingly, there was a bit of a theme of children being repulsed by the sexual natures of their parents. Sally’s absolutely glorious – and LONG overdue – “YOU MAKE ME SICK!” was an echo of Pete’s laughing “You’re making me sick!” at the thought of his mother experiencing pleasure at the *ahem* hands of her nurse. Of course that scene was all about someone’s parents having a bit of a moment, wasn’t it? A long overdue moment. There have been times when we thought Peggy’s and Pete’s relationship – years of working side by side, knowing they had a child together that neither of them have ever met – sometimes strained credulity. It was nice to see them have this moment, not because we entertain thoughts of them getting together, but because it was human and realistic. “Because you really know me,” he says to her, and for the second time that day (the first being Dorothy Campbell’s inadvertent bomb drop of “the child you and Peter have together” into an innocuous conversation) her eyes fill with tears as the ache resurfaces. “I do,” she squeaks. It’s good that Mad Men doesn’t wallow in the histories of its characters because it would be tedious and unrealistic if they did. Besides, it gives the audience these beautiful, graceful moments where two characters can connect deeply without every saying anything overtly.
This was the episode for Peggy to cycle through all the possible men in her life, post-Abe – and boy, did she get over that one quickly or what? She’s clearly still infatuated, if not in love with Ted (and he clearly still feels the same about her), she had a lovely moment with the father of her child, and then she wound up calling good old Stan to come and save her from the violent, bloody home invasion the fans have been salivating for all season. Except instead of Manson Family members somehow finding themselves in NYC penthouses, it was merely a bloodied rat under Peggy’s couch. But when none of these men panned out for her – Ted, because he recommitted himself to his wife and family; Pete, because … well, she’d be a fool, and besides, she’d have to fight Bob Benson for him and Bob outweighs her by about a hundred pounds; and Stan, because as he reminded her, he’s not her boyfriend, and his night was booked – she finally took the advice her mother gave her years ago and got herself a cat.
And finally, Ted and Don ended their long war and each of them got to be reunited with their families at the end of it. But Ted, as we’ve seen again and again this season, isn’t really like Don at all and he got to go home to a loving family and make amends to a wife he’s seemingly more committed to. Don just walked into another kind of war zone, because for him, the war goes ever on, fueled entirely by his own demons and bullshit.
Much, MUCH more in our Mad Style post on Wednesday. For now, have some bullets:
- We think if AMC had any brains at all, they’d have a “Name Peggy’s Cat” contest, but since that’s not likely, we’re instituting one here. You won’t win anything except our respect. Throw out names in the comments section. We’re going with either Ralph, Waldo, or Emerson; possibly Napoleon.
- Since we’ve trained you all so well to look for color and costuming motifs and you’re already throwing out observations, we’ll just say that in an episode dealing with orange juice vs. cranberry juice, there was a sudden explosion of oranges and reds.
- “What’s the point of having a mansion if you’re going to spend all your time in here?” was actually a funny little meta moment.
- “I don’t want his juice, I want my juice!” They really are a bunch of toddlers having temper tantrums and playing with themselves, aren’t they?
- Sally’s friend Julie is quite smooth. “Are you a musician? What’s a good place to eat around here?” Quite the player at 14. Also: “You smell like Prell. ” MY GOD, did that bring us right back.
- “Tuesday” is clearly an agreed-upon code phrase for Stan and Peggy. “Tuesday morning’s great,” he said to her this episode, a callback to the hilarious “Your wig will be ready on Tuesday, ma’am” when Ted walked in on them talking on the phone.
- Don did a favor for Sylvia, Ted did a favor for Don, Stan refused to do a favor for Peggy, Pete turned down Bob’s offer for favors, and Julie thought she was doing Sally a favor. THEMES!
- We thought it was kind of darkly hilarious that after Dorothy said cruelly to Pete, “You were a sour little boy and you’re a sour little man. You’ve always been unlovable,” he let her wander out onto the streets alone, which in 1968 was a highly dangerous prospect in NYC for a woman dressed like Dorothy.
- “Like everything else in this country, Diplomacy Club is just an excuse to make out!” And with that, Betty’s transformation to perfect Republican candidate’s wife is complete.