Mad Men Recap: Pull Back the Throttle a Little

Mad Men RecapWanna know how amazing and intriguing this week’s episode of Mad Men is? Ken gets shot in the face in the first few minutes… and that’s one of the least interesting events to take place during the hour. Don meddles, Sally interviews, Ted and Peggy make googly eyes at each other and Pete gets to the bottom of this Bob Benson business. Read on as we review the finer points – and one big reveal – that happen in “The Quality of Mercy.”

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SOUR LOVE HANGOVER | In the aftermath of Sally catching him “comforting” Sylvia Rosen in last week’s episode, Don seems to be on a prolonged bender. Megan finds him one morning looking the worse for wear and curled in the fetal position on the bed in Sally’s room. I’m not sure if Megan’s just given up at this point, but her advice to him is more like what you’d say to a casual acquaintance than your visibly downwardly spiraling husband. “I don’t know what’s going on, but you have to pull back on the throttle a little, honey,” she offers, which is ironic, because Sylvia seemed to have a pretty good grip on his throttle last week. (Too soon?) Don surreptitiously pours some vodka into his OJ as Megan bustles about and leaves the apartment, begging him to call in sick and sleep it off.

In the only instance of this happening all episode, Don listens to his wife. He gets two calls during the day. The first is Betty, who wants to discuss something that “concerns Sally.” Gulp! Don’s daughter has declared that she never wants to visit him and Megan again, though Betty’s not sure why, and has been asking if she can go to boarding school. “I’ll pay for all of it,” he blurts so quickly that I laugh out loud. Feeling a little guilty there, Draper? Maybe because he’s drunk, maybe because he’s relieved, Don then phone-flirts with his ex-wife – and she does it right back.

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The next call comes from Harry, who’s in Los Angeles and has big news. “You finally found a hooker who’ll take traveler’s checks?” Don quips, which is funny on its own, but Harry’s exasperated “Why did I tell you that?” makes it 10 times better. Anyway, Sunkist has decided it wants to spend bushels of cash on a TV campaign, which is awesome… except Don agreed that Sterling Cooper & Partners would drop the citrus company so Ted’s Ocean Spray account could flourish. (If you think for one moment that Draper is going to do the right thing here, I’d like a hit of whatever’s in your hookah.)

FOOLS IN LOVE | Ted and Peggy act like swooning high school kids around each other, and it irks pretty much everyone in the office — most notably Don. Maybe that’s because he and Megan run into the former CGCers at a 5 pm weekday screening of Rosemary’s Baby (for the record, Ted and Pegs claim they’re doing research for a children’s aspirin ad that invokes the movie’s imagery, which is terrible in theory but pretty great in execution). Megan is sure the pair is doing it, but Don doesn’t want to talk about it… but he does want to call Harry and have him move forward with Sunkist. Time for another round of What’s My Motivation? – and this one’s so involved, class, we’re gonna have to go with a blue book exam. In the space provided, please provide an answer to why Don feels the need to so thoroughly screw with his former underling and his current nemesis. Possible themes to consider: Don’s inability to let anyone in his orbit be happy, his fear that Ted is strong in all the ways he is weak (trustworthiness, kindness, overall sobriety) and his screaming jealousy – after all, going to a workday movie with Peggy is “his” thing. Good luck!

When Ted finds out about Sunkist, he calls Don out – but Draper plays it off like he set the whole thing up during his California trip, then offers such a meaningless apology that I half expect Ted to ring up his Air National Guard contact and put the kibosh on Mitchell Rosen’s draft deferment. Don later alerts St. Joseph’s aspirin to the rapidly expanded budget on Ted and Peggy’s horror-themed ad, leading the client to demand an explanation. (Side note: Don’s actually correct in this instance – the residuals for all of those actors in the commercial have to come from somewhere — but he’s right for all the wrong reasons.)

BUSTED! (ALMOST) | At the meeting with the aspirin rep, Draper is unstoppable in his desire to make Peggy and Ted feel terrible. After throwing it out there that Ted’s reason for the souped-up commercial is “a little bit personal. In fact, it’s very personal,” he lets the would-be couple sweat for an unendingly uncomfortable moment before lying and saying that the commercial was Frank Gleason’s last idea. (Please re-watch the scene for Kevin Rahm and Elisabeth Moss’ reactions when they realize Don isn’t going to out their escalating schmoopiness. Perfection.) Mr. Aspirin is all, “Why didn’t you say so!” and eases up on the budget a bit before taking off, satisfied.

But Ted and Peggy are horrified, and after she leaves the room, Ted and Don go at it in an amazing exchange. “I know your little girl has beautiful eyes, but that doesn’t mean you give her everything,” Don mocks, alluding to an earlier conversation in which Ted basically said he was moving forward with the Peggy-created ad so she could clinch a Clio. “Your judgment is impaired. You’re not thinking with your head,” he says. Yes, Don. Of the two men in that room, Ted is really the more messed up one. (Also, “We’ve all been there – I mean, not with Peggy” deserves a heh of its own.)

The Chaough-Draper face-off is nothing, though, compared to when Peggy comes knocking. She’s mad that her mentor is acting like all of his actions were for the good of the company. “Stop hiding behind the ad. You know what you did,” she spits, adding that he’s just perturbed that Ted is actually a good egg. “He’s not that virtuous,” Don scoffs. “He’s just in love with you.” It’s another great Hamm-Moss encounter, which ends with her calling him a monster and saying, “You killed him” – at which the needle on my Mad Men paranoia meter leaps into the red, and I start picturing all the ways that Matthew Weiner might off the earnest SC&P partner. (Psst… have you heard the Ted Is Sharon Tate theory?)

WHAT ABOUT BOB? | Early in the episode, one of the Chevy guys Dick Cheneys Ken while they’re duck hunting in Michigan. Back at the office, Cosgrove sports an eye patch and a huge chip on his shoulder: Now that Cynthia’s pregnant, he no longer wants to be the firm’s guy on the ground in Detroit, he tells Pete between frustrated sobs punctuated with grimaces as he gingerly dabs under the patch. (Heh.) Pete sees an opportunity to advance himself and oh-so-selflessly offers to take Ken’s place. But Bert, Jim and Roger think Bob – who’s already on the account, anyway – is the best guy for the job. After last week’s events, Pete is determined not to let that happen, and lets Bob know it. “You should watch what you say to people,” Benson growls, and the suddenly menacing tone is reminiscent of Willow’s “Maybe you shouldn’t piss me off” to Giles on Buffy. (Careful there, Pete. There aren’t enough yellow crayons in the world to save you.)

Things we learn about Bob as the episode progresses: He’s fluent in Spanish, he considers the day Pete hired him as “the best day of his life” and all of his backstory – his schooling, his work history, his family connections – is rubbish. In fact, as Duck learns, Bob was at Brown Brothers & Harriman for three years… but as a manservant to a senior vice president, not in finance like he claimed. When Campbell confronts him, Bob asks for a day’s head start so he can vamoose. But Pete’s reaction is surprising, to say the least. “I like to think that I have learned not to tangle with your kind of animal,” he calmly says, equating Bob’s deception with Dick Whitman’s Don’s. Instead, Pete declares that they will go about their business as normal and that Bob will remember “I’m off limits.” As Pete leaves, Bob looks as shocked as I do.

PREP SCHOOLED | Sally’s interview and overnight at Miss Porter’s School kicks into high gear when her WASP-y student hosts turn into a mini-prison gang and demand that she provide some contraband. So Sally calls her old pal Glen (hi Glen!), who brings a friend, some booze and some weed and sneaks into the dorm through the window. The evening of forbidden delights unfolds like you’d think it would, but when Glen goes into the bedroom with one of the host girls, his friend Rollo gets handsy with Sally.

For a moment, I fear that I’m going to have to witness Sally’s not-so-into-it first time, but Ms. Draper makes me proud when she stands up and makes Glen come out to help her. The boys tussle (Sally’s smile!) and then leave. In the car home the next day, Betty informs her daughter that the school has accepted her, and they share celebratory cigarettes. But when Betty jokes that the cancer stick is no worse than the beer Don’s probably given her, Sally exhales and tiredly says, “My father’s never given me anything.” Oh god, I fear for this teenager-going-on-40-year-old.

Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Are you looking forward to next week’s season finale? Sound off in the comments!