the recap recap

The Best of This Week’s Mad Men Recaps: ‘The Quality of Mercy’

This week, Mad Men granted us the answer to the most ubiquitous mystery of season six: Who the hell is Bob Benson? As Matt Zoller Seitz theorized last week, he’s Dick Whitman 2.0, with a résumé “written in steam.” Critics analyzed the power dynamic between the infuriated Pete and his shape-shifting opponent, celebrated Sally’s foray into teenage rebellion, and called Don a big baby. Get me a cigarette and I’ll give you some details. Here’s your penultimate recap of the recaps.

“The more one focuses on that [overhead shot of Don getting into the fetal position], the more the episode’s fascination with babies — born and about to be born — becomes apparent. Ken and Cynthia are on the cusp of being parents. Pete only sees Tammy every other weekend. Rosemary’s Baby is screened. Sally says her father never gave her anything when seemingly recommitting to her mother as A-number-one parent. Peggy’s big idea for her St. Joseph’s ad involves a riff on Rosemary’s Baby, to the degree that she gets Don to say, ‘Wah, wah, wah,’ like the whiny little baby he is. Like a small child, he wants what he wants, and he wants it now. Seeing Peggy fall under the influence of Ted has thrown him for a loop, and now he’s spending long nights watching Dragnet and not having sex with anybody in particular but especially not his wife. Happy Father’s Day.” —AV Club 

“Sally wished to escape from the home life that she finds out is so common among girls from her background, just like Don wants to escape from the life he’s built for himself that he no longer identifies with. He sleeps separately from Megan and drinks all day, unable to watch her soap opera and stand her character begging ‘him’ to listen to her. At the end of ‘The Quality of Mercy’ he curls up, defeated, in stark contrast to the Peggy and Don bonding episode so lauded in the past, ‘The Suitcase.’ Don’s world continues to fall apart, and he’s becoming passe, being replaced by the Teds and Bobs of the world. Last week Sally told Don he made her sick, and this week Peggy calls him a monster. Is it possible that Dick is finally getting the message that Don needs to go?  And what will that mean?” —Collider

“Of course, that little smile she has while Glen is whaling away is a little unnerving. It’s also 100 percent Betty Draper. Everybody has a favorite parent when they’re young. For many, it’s the one that’s the most lenient, the one that lets you have ice cream for dinner and then says, ‘Don’t tell Mom.’ But that usually changes as one grows old enough to see past the Good Cop/Bad Cop routine and realize that the parent you argue with the most is often the one you’re most similar to. Betty’s not exactly a model mother, but it seems that she’s been trying harder than usual lately. Sally has long given her the brunt of her teenage outrage, but seeing her father as he really is has given her new insight into the woman who raised her. It’s nice to see Betty being depicted as something other than a villain or a joke in a fat suit. ‘My father’s never given me anything,’ Sally bitterly confesses, as both she and her mother puff on a cigarette, two women disappointed by the same man.” —Entertainment Weekly

“[Don] stayed home from work to drink vodka and avoid dealing with Ted Chaough. But even when he pulled a sick-day sneak-out to the movies, well, what do you know? There’s Ted Freakin’ Chaough with Peggy, the colleague Don once ran into at a matinee when she was sitting alone and happy to see her former mentor.” —Esquire

“It’s been almost a decade since Pete tattled on Don to Bert Cooper, and though he’s failed to evolve in some ways — check out how publicly nasty he is with both his mother and her nurse, and the fact that he still hangs onto that damn rifle he traded the chip-and-dip for — he’s grown wiser in others. He’d likely have an easier time getting rid of Bob (junior accounts man who just happens to be in the right place at the right time) than he did Don (creative star and newly-minted junior partner of Sterling Cooper), but he recognizes there’s no point to it. Bob could still outmaneuver him, and besides, he might be more valuable this way. As Cooper told Don the last time this happened, ‘One never knows how loyalty is born.’ The Pete who emerges from his failed attempt to get the partners to reassign Bob is a bitter, paranoid wreck; the Pete who leaves Bob’s office after granting him a reprieve is once again king of the castle. It may seem like a surrender to us, but a shaken Bob Benson feels like he’s just been given his life back, and that has puts Pete back into a power position.” —HitFix

“Let’s not forget that, as Don has, Bob has spent a lot of time observing how people behave and copying their rituals and speech patterns. Pete’s actually not wrong about the fact that Bob’s prior job as a servant was great preparation for what Bob does now. What’s the difference between bringing rich guys their towels and coffee and sucking up to jackass clients? Not much, really, and Bob and Don probably both had the same thought at one point: If these idiots can make so much for doing so little, I’m going to try to get in on that action. They’re both certainly smart enough to pull it off.” —Huffington Post

“If there was any doubt in your mind that Matt Weiner wants us to suffer when we watch his show, he tortured us with the possible death of butterscotch prince of all that is good Ken Cosgrove at the slippery triggered hands of some Dick Cheney–channeling car execs in Detroit. Ken is as beloved in his fandom as Arya Stark is in hers, so dangling the threat of Ken meeting an untimely end while Harry Crane lives to screw another day felt especially cruel. Ken is the secret hero of Mad Men, the only good guy still left standing from the early days of Sterling Cooper. Even his former ally in moral behavior Peggy has almost crossed over into evil by now, although her dark side is merely shaded gray.” —Grantland

“Since the series pilot when Peggy first arrived on the job at Sterling Cooper, she has served as a proxy for the viewer. But her role as audience ambassador has never seemed more fitting than it does now, as her feelings for her former mentor curdle into disgust.  Just like us, she once admired and was fascinated by Don; just like us — or at least most of us — she now views him as a kind of abomination. While not quite the unholy spawn of Satan and Mia Farrow, Don now seems something less than entirely human.” —Los Angeles Times

“I now loathe Ted’s goodness as a sign of weakness — wait, that was Don speaking. (And Pete, Bob, Cutler and everyone else.) Yes, that scene was almost painfully taut — and more than a little sick and sadistic too. I love that the episode title was ‘The Quality of Mercy.’ It just drives home how bleak the world view of the show runner, Matthew Weiner, is: We begin with Dante on the beach, we end with Lucifer’s baby and Don so full of self-hate he’s trying to bring everyone down to his level … Or is he recognizing his own descent into hell and using his evil powers for good? That meeting was effective, was it not? The client upped the budget. And as for Peggy and Ted and the giggle fits? Don’s right. It does need to stop. I kept thinking of that song, ‘We Almost Lost Detroit,’ throughout this episode — for the obvious reason, but also because decency is hanging on by such a thin thread in Weiner’s world, even within high-ground stalwarts like Peggy and Ted.” —New York Times

“Later, in the car with Betty, Sally’s eating her feelings with McDonald’s french fries and wearing her hair in a low side ponytail, a style that can’t be an accident, as we last saw that hairdo on her world-weary, sycophantic friend Julie last episode. ‘I want to be grown up, but I know how important my education is,’ Sally tells Betty, in a blaze of Don Draper-esque BS glory.” —Rolling Stone

“Don’s condescending paternalism, his insistence on talking to Ted and not Peggy, the shame he lays on Ted for doing something (falling in love with a co-worker) that he himself has done before (utterly without shame, too), comes off like a one-man reenactment of the tail end of the ’60s. ‘I know your little girl has beautiful eyes,’ he tells Ted, ‘but that doesn’t mean you give her everything.’ Where Ted sees in Peggy a beautiful person, full of possibilities, whose dreams he wants to support (however paternalistic that is), Don sees a child and an underling, an echo of those shiftless young people in Nixon’s ad, who dare to threaten this great country of ours. Bring the hammer down, give that kid less and less, and what happens? The answer lies in Sally’s school visit: She’ll disregard you entirely and take whatever she wants. (And truly, it’s not hard to imagine Peggy and Joan running the whole show in the end.)” —Salon

“Let’s say Peggy’s ad idea is brilliant (it is, and a little bit racist, but okay). Let’s say it’s high time for her to get more recognition for her work, as opposed to her uncanny ability to find the light of a boss’s attention and bloom in it. Let’s say she’s caught in the forces of history, at a moment in time in which, like never before, an ambitious woman is a castrating bitch or a minx — Liz Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or Liz Taylor in Cleopatra. Let’s say even Peggy herself must be bored of this damned-either-way dilemma. We must also say, all the above being true, that this situation grows less interesting by the week. Week after week, Peggy is told to leave the room, and she does, and each time she does one perhaps aches a touch less for her return. We’re all begging you, Peggy: please just stay in the room.” —Time

The Best of This Week’s Mad Men Recaps