Mad Men, Season 6, Episode 12: “The Quality of Mercy”
Written by Andre Jacquemetton & Maria Jacquemetton
Directed by Phil Abraham
Airs Sundays at 10pm ET on AMC
“You’re a monster,” is the key line of tonight’s episode. It’s almost comically literal when you think about it alongside the exchange between Duck and Pete. Duck claims he’s never seen anything like Bob Benson before, and Pete chillingly intones “I have.” You can almost hear the theme from Phantom of the Opera in the background as it cuts to Don. Variations on this theme have been strung throughout the season. Think back on the moment Peggy walked into Ted’s office only to find Don there. He was reintroduced to us in the premiere reading Dante’s Inferno, suggesting a descent into hell, but now it seems as if he would feel at home there, a monster among monsters. Maybe he and Walter White could get a beer.
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After robbing Sally of her innocence last week, Don spends the majority of “The Quality of Mercy” debasing Ted to establish his dominance over Peggy. As soon as he returns home from Rosemary’s Baby (more satanic imagery), he’s calling California in order to sabotage Ted’s Ocean Spray account. To what end? He’s never shown the slightest bit of romantic interest in Peggy. Perhaps he’s intent on burning all his bridges, but the final shot of him curled up in the fetal position would belie that. He’s shocked and hurt that she didn’t bend to his will. Just as he was shocked and hurt when Sylvia decided enough was enough in the hotel room.
Sally has decided boarding school is the best way to remove herself from the blast radius of her father’s self-destructive tendencies. Her alienation from Don has inspired her to behave more like Betty. “My father’s never given me anything,” she says before taking a drag on a cigarette. Betty seems uncomfortable with the resemblance, but the marks Don has left on her are still there. “I know how to make a Tom Collins,” she boasts to her potential roommates. Of course she knows how to make a Tom Collins. She withdraws from Rolo’s advances, perhaps seeing her father in him, but a satisfied smile spreads across her face as Glen fights him.
Pete becomes frightened when he realizes Bob Benson is, for all intents and purposes, the second coming of Don Draper, and with good reason. But the resemblance seems to be superficial. Sure, he forged his resume and stole an electric pencil sharpener, but in direct opposition to Don he conveys a willingness to help everyone around him. He doesn’t see, for instance, Pete’s success as a direct threat to his own. They are both self-made men in a very literal sense, but Bob is of an era that places an importance on community.
The theme of “we” vs. “I” has been in development throughout the season. Joan explicitly voiced it in an earlier episode, and perhaps that’s why she and Bob get along so well. In the case of Bob and Don, Bob is the “we” and Don is the “I.” The times are changing (if only temporarily, let’s not forget the Baby Boomers pushing for peace, love, and community quickly become The “Me” Generation), and, while Bob may not be a time traveler as some of the more esoteric theories have posited, he is in some ways the Don of the future.