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the benson interruption

Mad Men: The Other Bob Benson Shoe Drops

[Spoilers for those who haven’t seen tonight’s episode.] Last week we saw Bob Benson give Pete Campbell a loaded knee-nudge of dedication, sparking a display of panic and disgust that was filled with even more persnickety-Pete righteousness than most previous Campbell high-water marks. So was this all there was to the great Bob Benson secret, about which Mad Men fans had one-upped each other with conspiracy theories all season? Apparently not.

Turns out Bob Benson is a fraud with a fabricated past, the new Don Draper. (Beware alliterative job applications!) As Duck revealed to Pete, Bob’s  résumé (as well as family history) is a complete sham. He didn’t go to Beloit, probably didn’t go to Wharton, and might not even be 28 years old. He had only one verifiable job, and people at that agency remember him as “manservant to a senior VP” who took him to Europe on the Queen Elizabeth; Bob vanished abruptly from that office one day — presumably when someone discovered his secret.

Knowing all that, Pete realized it was futile to fire him. “You’re going to get the benefit of the fact that I’ve been here before,” he spat when Bob asked for one day’s head start to flee. Pete knows he’s outmatched by Bob’s type: Pete once threatened to reveal Don’s true identity to the partners if he didn’t get a promotion, Don called his bluff, and all Pete got from Bert Cooper after spilling the Dick Whitman revelation was “Who cares?” Pete, who was always so bitter about his own talents being unrecognized, has been coming to sad terms with his own middle-management permanence. Without Bob having to make a single threat (well, besides playing the Manolo card with Pete’s mother), Pete could look two moves ahead and realize that anyone who came from nothing and was shrewd enough to gain a toehold through manipulation would always best someone for whom success was always expected, and who tried to attain it with hard work and a sense of entitlement. “I don’t know how people like you do it. You’re certainly better at it than I am at whatever I do. But I would like to think that I have learned not to tangle with your kind of animal,” said Pete.

“I don’t understand,” replied Bob, and then seemed confused as Pete, instead of firing him, asked him to work together on GM (“but not too closely…I’m off limits”). Bob seemed stunned by the turnaround; it didn’t seem like this was all a foreseen, plotted checkmate. But Don wasn’t always slick and imperious either; he was once an aw-shucks fur salesman who turned a drunk evening with Roger into a career … just as Bob turned Pete’s complimenting of his tie into a job at SCDP.  Who knows, maybe in Don's early days at Sterling Cooper, he walked around holding two glasses of vodka all the time.

Matt Zoller Seitz will have his full recap up on Monday (UPDATE: it's up now!); until then, discuss Bob Benson below, as well as Sally’s night at boarding school (welcome back, mustacheless Glen!), the Ted/Peggy/Rosemary’s Baby threesome, Ken's Dick Cheney hunting moment, and everything else from the episode.

Photo-Illustration: AMCBrooks Kraft/© Corbis. All Rights Reserved.