Mad Men, Season 6, Episode 11: “Favors”
Written by Semi Chellas and Matthew Weiner
Directed by Jennifer Getzinger
Airs Sundays at 10pm ET on AMC
The final ten-minute stretch of “Favors” consumes everything that came before it. A tender scene between Pete and Peggy, undercurrents of war and disfigured mice, they all scatter as Sally drops the doorman’s keys to the floor. Angles and approaches, ways into the episode are tainted by that moment. The discussion Don and Arnold share concerning the innocence of youth, how children make the best soldiers because they’re unaware of their own mortality, suddenly seems to presage this moment—a daughter instantly dispelled of all illusions pertaining to her father.
There have been many echoes of previous episodes ringing through the halls of season six. Sally’s realization clearly recalls the moment she witnessed Megan’s mother going down on Roger Sterling. She understood what she saw then was untoward (she told Glen the city was dirty), but her fascination with Mitchell Rosen’s ass suggests she now possesses a better understanding of adult sexuality, which makes Don’s patronizing attempts to placate her all the more insulting. It’s in that moment that it becomes clear their relationship will never be the same.
Don spends the entire episode going out of his way, to the extent that he nearly sabotages his relationship with the firm’s most important client, to help someone else’s child. It initially appears as if he’s motivated by the memories he brought back from Korea, but in a phone call it becomes clear he saw it as a way to put himself back in Sylvia’s good graces. The solipsism that constantly drives Don’s interactions should prepare us for the moment when he all but tells Sally he doesn’t respect her, but it still hurts.
The relationship cultivated between Don and Sally seasons is one of the few examples of symbiosis in Don’s life. The only obvious analogue is the mentor role he played for Peggy early on. Sally has always been drawn towards her father to the detriment of the bond she shares with Betty. That is gone now, and perhaps the moment of betrayal will grant her a deeper understanding of her mother’s plight. It’s just as likely, perhaps inevitable, that it will lead to a dedicated relationship with a therapist, possibly on the other end of a drug problem.
Pete’s mother is the other major catalyst in this episode. Her addled conversation with Peggy gives way to the moment she shares with Pete at dinner, one that leaves Ted feeling at sea. It’s fun to hate Pete Campbell, especially when Trudy asserts her will over him, but the show is always keen to remind us there’s a human at his core. One that Peggy relates to on some level, even if it’s Stan she calls when a mouse is loose in her apartment (as a friend pointed out, home invasion seems to be a motif this season).
There has been plenty of speculation surrounding Bob Benson over the last few weeks, and it seems to have been put to rest with the misguided pass he makes at Pete (in a conversation initiated by Pete’s concern over Manolo’s relationship with his mother). It’s been suggested that his eagerness to please is motivated by a deeper insecurity, a fear that he’ll be found out. On the contrary, he appears to have a crush on Pete—which, come on Bob, you could do better (how quickly Pete returns to being a punching bag)—and is attempting to ingratiate himself by satisfying his every need.
The episode dances around these relationships between parents and children: Don and Sally, Pete and his Mother, The Rosens and Mitchell. Sally’s disillusionment in particular could be seen as a metaphor for an entire generation of children dissatisfied with the ways of their fathers. The only one who comes out ahead is Ted. In an episode that positions Don and Ted on opposite sides of a conflict, the moment he shares with his children is presented in direct counterpoint to what’s going on with Don and Sally. It’s the only scene that interrupts the aftermath of Sally’s unfortunate discovery. Ted’s the only one willing to sit down and say, “Let’s end this war.” Everyone else seems dedicated to perpetuating the status quo, and it’s not doing them any favors.