There have been a few historical milestones that viewers have been anticipating Mad Men dealing with since the show’s inception. While some things are alluded to cryptically (as is Mad Men‘s wont), that hasn’t always been good enough for fans who wanted to see more of an impact or reaction or anything from the characters regarding issues of race, political assassinations, and of course the Vietnam War. Vietnam has been brought up in whispers and side-comments for two seasons now, but it wasn’t until “Favors” that things became overt. They did so, naturally, because it affected Don selfishly. That’s the only way things are dealt with or considered, because that’s what Mad Men has always been about. “Favors” did also hint though at the possibility of change, though. Or at the very least, the idea that Don is starting to realize there are consequences to his actions. Hit the jump for more.
Mad Men‘s last two episodes before “Favors” were great in that they finally dropped the interminable Don / Sylvia storyline, and got back to Sterling Cooper (formerly SCDPCGCABCXYZ). They were also episodes that showed the personal growth of the show’s female characters, which was refreshing for two reasons: one, people actually do, apparently, change (but only women), and two: it was nice to get some positive examples of strong females on the show. Then this week, the show, like Don, regressed.
The war became important for Don because of Mitchell’s connection to Sylvia. Don loves rescuing people and asserting his dominance by making things happen that seem impossible. It caused him to lose his cool in front of Chevy (in one of the worst and most transparent segues ever), though it did eventually lead to Ted saving the day. The only good thing about Don rekindling things with Sylvia is it allowed Sally to say to him what so many viewers have been thinking: “you disgust me!” The Don said to her, like Matthew Weiner is probably saying to us, “calm down. It’s complicated.” It’s also tired.
Speaking of which, the Bob Benson theories reached a fever pitch last week. What’s his secret game? Is he a spy? From the government? Or another agency? This week we got a glimpse of what ole Bob might have up his sleeve, and that is his hidden homosexuality. But this feels like a tired rehash — this was all explored with Sal. And why would Bob still come on to Pete when Pete is a fairly outspoken homophobe? Does Joan know Bob is not interested in her in that way, or is she getting played again? If it’s the latter, I’m not sure viewers can take any more Joan torture. Let’s keep pretending Bob is a government spy … it could still happen!
Anything is possible on Mad Men, except Don growing as a person. But there was surely a glimpse of regret after Sally spied him with Sylvia, if only because he was afraid of the consequences of being caught. Sally witnessing that act also paralleled Don peeping at the brothel to see his “Uncle Mac” and step-mother having sex. It was clearly a traumatic moment for him that has haunted him all of his life, and as if Sally wasn’t already destined for a lifetime of therapy, that act certainly sealed the deal.
It seems unlikely that Sylvia will invite Don back downstairs again, but it was especially painful to see Mitchell and Arnold extend their hands to him in gratitude knowing what he had done. Ted astutely points out that Don probably doesn’t have many (read: any) friends, and so doing something for someone else must be a really big deal. Ted is the antithesis of Don truly, even though they do share some superficial things (unhappy wives and an interest of any kind in Peggy). While Ted sees Don as attacking him willfully, which perhaps he is, it seems more like Don grasping at any power he has left as he slides down the rabbit hole.
Whether anything ultimately comes from Sally seeing what she did (and the position Don put her in was truly awful) remains to be seen, but those who continue to defend Don and feel sorry for him will have a lot to contend with this week. Further, that the series believes most viewers were now or ever invested in Don’s relationship with Sylvia, or that there’s any way he can really bounce back from this is the most confusing of all.
Episode Rating: B
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Mitchell did look like a member of a rock band.
— I really loved the Pete and his mother storyline, but it felt familiar … any other Good Wife fans feel like that was ripped exactly from Jackie’s plot, confusion and all?
— Megan was so clueless about everything in this episode, even Don’s feelings about the war.
— I really love Ted and Peggy together, even though it’s wrong! Pete and Peggy talking about that as well as them giggling was so weird but also great.
— “You really know me” – Pete to Peggy
— Peggy cannot catch a break with her living situation. She is catching the men though … was that a suggestion she and Stan could still be on, as long as he doesn’t have “guests”?
— “Imagine every time Ginger Rogers went into the air, Fred Astaire punched her in the face.” – Ted
— Taking off clip-on earrings to answer the phone. Classic.
— Megan is starting to treat Sally like Betty does (i.e. as a child, not a friend).
— Ted’s wife made some fair and rational points to him, but I wonder if him taking the boys into another room while she slept was a good sign for their marriage or a bad one …
— Seriously though, poor Sally.