By Karmen Fox
For The Baltimore Sun
7:45 AM EDT, June 17, 2013
"The quality of mercy is not strained.”
The title for this episode comes from Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.” On this Father’s Day, Don could use mercy from his daughter and himself. Instead we find him curled up in a fetal position on his couch, ready to admit defeat.
The penultimate episode didn’t pull any last-second twists, like Sally walking in on Don and Sylvia. That is, except for the fact that Bob Benson is not who we think he is … again! Only this time, it feels more believable. I knew he was up to something sneaky.
Mostly, "The Quality of Mercy" felt like a set-up for next week’s episode, especially with Don’s increasing detachment from Megan. Since Don and Megan’s relationship is fizzling, let’s start off with Ted and Peggy’s flourishing romance.
Much to the annoyance of everyone at SC&P (and the audience), Ted and Peggy are in love. Over-the-moon, out-of-this-world, in-your-face love. Don walks past the conference room to see the pair giggling. They’re working on their slightly funny/esoteric TV ad for St. Joseph. Peggy wrote it and Ted couldn’t be prouder -- or more smitten.
The lovebird’s re-enactment of the ad is obnoxious and a tad nauseating. The only redeemable part is Don. How satisfying must it have been for Ted, Peggy and even Joan to see Don portray a baby, wah-wah-wahing and all?
But then Ted pulls Peggy by the waist and calls her the “beautiful bride.” That’s where Don flinches and the jealousy comes out. Later Joan gives him the ammunition he needs: There aren’t enough funds for a cast that big.
Rather than let Ted handle it, Don surreptitiously sent St. Joseph the updated ad costs. The upset client comes in and Ted can’t sway him.
Don, as vindictive as ever, says the reason for Ted’s push on this ad is personal. It’s clear he means Peggy -- even Joan throws a side-eye at him -- but says that it was Gleason’s last idea.
Ted, irate, upbraids Don after the meeting. Don coolly justifies his decision. True, his sabotage/save of the St. Joseph ad was mortifying and cruel, but he has a point: Ted’s infatuation with Peggy has impaired his judgment so much that they barely bother to hide it.
Everyone, including Ted’s secretary, knows about their romance. In fact, his secretary was fed up with Peggy, heavily hinting she pays too many visits.
And she’s not the only one annoyed. Joan rolled her eyes during their cutesy ad reenactment, and Ginsberg was frustrated that Ted only gushed over Peggy’s ideas. The only person who seemed intrigued and not repulsed was Megan, thanks to her obsession with juicy soap angles.
“You hate that he is a good man,” Peggy snarls when she storms into Don’s office. “He’s not that virtuous,” Don states matter-of-factly. “He’s just in love with you.”
Again, this comment stems from Don’s deep-seeded jealousy, but mostly from the fact that he’s right: Ted isn’t that genuinely nice of a guy. If he were, he wouldn’t get Peggy wrapped up in an affair.
Whether Ted and Peggy’s affair is purely emotional or recently turned physical is uncertain. Sure, we assume they go on a date together after running into Megan and Don, but don’t see them head back to Peggy’s rat-infested apartment. Hopefully, Ted sprang for a hotel room if they did have a post-dinner tryst.
But I’m convinced that Peggy is more in love with the idea of Ted than Ted himself. He lavishes her with adoration that none of her previous beaus (Pete, Abe) or bosses (ahem, Don) have given her.
While that might be conceived as virtuous, I find it repulsive when he sends her out of the room whenever there’s a confrontation with Don. I realize she’s his subordinate, but his general let-the-men-handle-this vibe is off-putting. Let the girl stand up for herself.
Last week, Sally and Don’s relationship unraveled after she witnessed her father’s indiscretion. Sally coped by applying to boarding school. Don dealt by drinking himself into a stupor. Because why talk it through when you can drink it away?
What a sigh of relief it was to see Sally sign up for boarding school. That’s certainly a step up from The Village or a hippie commune that I dreaded she would join in rebellion.
Instead, we got this: “I want to be a grownup, but I know how important my education is.” How is Sally this functional with such emotionally unavailable parents? That child shrink worked wonders. Pity she couldn’t’ do the same for Betty.
But then I saw the girls at her boarding school. “You’re not allowed to talk anymore. Our opinion is crucial to your acceptance.” Uh oh. Catty, bossy bitches. Does Sally really need the teen version of her mother? Didn’t think so.
The girls start boozing and smoking up. As always, Kiernan Shipka delivered a stellar performance. Her tense body language and her uneasy laughs showed that no matter how much booze she drank, she felt out-of-place and inexperienced.
Not that she didn’t try, of course. To prove she was boarding school material, Sally invited a peach fuzz-free Creepy Glenn and his sleazeball friend, Rollo.
In fact, it doesn’t seem fair to call him “Creepy Glenn” now. Beating up Rollo for forcing himself on Sally is probably the most decent thing a man has done for a (young) lady on ‘Mad Men.’ Ever. Maybe “Heroic Glenn”? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. “Groovy Glenn” will do for now.
Even though it looks like she doesn't fit in, Sally is accepted to the prestigious boarding school, much to Betty’s satisfaction.
As apprehensive as I am that she’ll be surrounded by those snotty and toxic girls, I’m relieved that Sally is distancing herself from her parents. Maybe the time spent away from her father can help repair their relationship. That is, if there’s enough booze to drown Don’s demons.
Just as I hoped, the Pete-Bob connection continues to unfold. And, just as expected, Pete recoils in disgust when Bob is assigned to work with him on Chevy.
Pete’s homophobia -- and fear of losing his job to the up-and-comer -- fuels his suspicion. He calls Duck to look into Bob’s history. Only there is none. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” Duck remarks bewildered.
Bob’s act is one big lie. No Wharton degree, no fancy pedigree, nothing. Just a manservant from West Virginia who conned his way into SC&P. Where have we heard this story before? From his alliterative associate Don Draper.
Bob’s climb through the ranks was more impressive and sneakier than Don’s. Don merely got Roger drunk, which is hardly a feat with that lush, and tricked him into thinking he hired him.
No one actually hired Bob. He hung around the office long enough for someone to assign him a role, put him on payroll and give him an office. Try pulling that off in today’s painfully sluggish job market.
Whether his facade includes his homosexual display of affection with Pete (really, Pete of all people?!) last week is uncertain. Bob is friends with Manny, who he admits isn’t attracted to women.
Homophobia ran rampant in the 60s. So, either Bob is the most progressive male character on ";Mad Men"; or he truly is gay. That’s why I’m not entirely convinced his knee graze was a sign of “admiration,” as he claimed.
Just one episode left. Time to fine-tune your predictions. Namely, put the Megan-as-Sharon-Tate conspiracy theory to bed. Yes, in spite of all the references to violence this season (see: muggings in the park, Nixon’s fear-mongering campaign ad in this week’s episode), no one is getting killed off. At least not this season.
Even if Megan manages to stay alive after the next episode, I’m betting her marriage to Don won’t last another episode. He’s pushed himself away from her all season, especially in this episode.
She doesn’t even have any luck catching his eye when she’s on TV. “Don’t you dare ignore me!” her soap character declares with a cheesy French accent. With a click of the remote, he changes the channel just as quickly as he changes the women in his life.
MORE HIGHLIGHTS FROM "THE QUALITY OF MERCY":
BEST ROGER ONE-LINER: Tied. “Well, shiver me timbers!” Roger to Ken sporting an eye patch, followed by, “I’d listen to the Cyclops, Pete.”
SADDEST THING OT HEAR ON FATHER’S DAY: Betty, giving Sally a cigarette: “I’m sure your father’s given you a beer.” Sally: “My father’s never given me anything.” Sally might want to check her orange juice the next time she’s visiting Manhattan.
CREEPER OF THE WEEK: Rollo. “I’ve been with lots of girls. I know what I’m doing.” Boasting about your numbers is never a selling point to get a girl in bed. Three cheers for Glenn for tackling this douche to the ground.
WORST JOB EVER: Catering to Chevy’s every whim. First a cane, now an eye patch. Who knew advertising came with such occupational hazards? And how dreadful was Ken’s quail hunting trip with Chevy? They shot his eye out! It was a tragic mix between Dick Cheney’s infamous quail hunt and ";A Christmas Story."; They even wanted to stop for lunch on the way to the hospital. Even more disappointing? No meth-induced dance routines.
BEST STRATEGIC EMMY CONSIDERATION AD: Don, Betty and Bobby singing to “Father Abraham” on Father’s Day.
MOST SCOFF-INDUCLING LINE: “We’ve all been there, not with Peggy.” Ha, Don, don’t even.
WORST WAY TO QUICK-FIX HEM A SKIRT: Staples. Scratched up legs? Ouch. Try double-sided tape next time.
STORY WE WISH WE GOT TO HEAR IN MORE DEPTH: Harry’s attempt to use travelers checks with a hooker. No matter how hard he tries, he just can’t pull off that California cool.
MOST SWOON-WORTHY MOMENT: “Pete Campbell es un hijo de puta!” Bob Benson called Pete Campbell a son of a bitch… in Spanish?! Be still, my heart.
WORST BEVERAGE NAME: “Cran-Prune.” Shame Ted was ignoring Ginsy’s pitches, because the “it sounds like a glass of diarrhea”-observation was spot-on.
SASSIEST SALLY BACK TALK: Betty: “Did I tell you she hated her mother?” Sally: “Good for her.” Atta girl, Sally.
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