Mad Men Review: "Favors" (Episode 6.11)
We’ve seen a litany of doors being symbolically opened and closed on this season of Mad Men—they crop up almost as frequently as the elevator, which really deserves its own title card in the opening credits at this point—but never so heartbreakingly as in “Favors.”
Viewers have been presented with two assassinations, riots, a stabbing, a home invasion and a hopeless war this season, but it’s that shot, that image of poor Sally Draper leaning against her locked door and crying quietly as her father offers the world’s lamest excuse for being caught with his pants down, that feels the most shocking and grim.
Internet conspiracy theories would have you believe that season six’s big gut-punch is going to be the destruction of Don’s marriage or his career. But Megan’s still alive and kicking (or at least alive and nobly lying as she tells Don he’s “the sweetest man”). Bob Benson’s big secret is revealed, and it’s sort of a dud; he’s not spying on Don for a rival agency, he’s not a murderer and he’s not a g-man investigating a deserter. He’s gay—and while just three seasons ago homosexuality was a fireable offense at Sterling Cooper, now all it gets a guy is an uncomfortable look from Pete Campbell as he politely shifts his knee a few inches away.
So while we were all off chasing red herrings as hungrily as Don chases skirts, Matthew Weiner and his team were quietly sneaking through the back door and planting a bomb—although instead of blowing the story open, it closed that door between father and daughter and left everything feeling fragmented and unbearably sad. Sally starts off this episode defending her dad to Betty, who sarcastically replies “your father’s a hero” before delivering the kind of theme-encapsulating line that so often crops up on Mad Men: “Like everything else in this country, Diplomacy Club is just another excuse to make out.” And after engaging in a little intra-office diplomacy of his own and agreeing to a ceasefire with Ted in exchange for a favor from his buddy in the National Guard, Don plays hero by saving Sylvia and Arnold’s 1-A son from combat in Vietnam and then promptly has his way with his grateful damsel in distress.
When he’s caught in the act by Sally, it’s the first time since he was confronted by Betty about his past as Dick Whitman in season three that we see him completely unhinged and unaware of what to do. He chases her, and it sounds like he’s not entirely sure if he should be mad or apologetic, so he settles on desperate. The elevator ride down to the infernal lobby from the purgatory of Sylvia’s place is spent by Don gazing up to the heavens (perhaps hoping for some sort of salvation) before he puts his head in his hands and weeps when he realizes it’ll never come. Sally certainly had to know her father wasn’t perfect, but now she knows he’s a cheat—and when he tells her through the door that now stands between them that he was just comforting Sylvia, she learns he’s a liar. She can mutter a resigned “OK” all she wants, but that door’s been shut, and it can never be opened again.
-“Please tell me you don’t pity me.” “I don’t.” “Because you really know me.” “I do.” (The Pete and Peggy scenes this week were pretty close to perfect. With all the doubles/halves imagery this season, it’s important to remember that these two have always been cut from the same cloth, and now that Pete’s loosened up a bit and Peggy’s edged a little closer to the establishment, who knows what lies ahead for them? Plus, we got a surprise mention of their baby!)
-Peggy’s new cat is probably for killing all the rats in her apartment (since Stan turned down her sexual favors-for-rat killing offer), but remember what her mom told her when she introduced her to Abe: “You’re lonely? Get a cat.”
-While Don loses one of the only real familial relationships he had, Ted appears to have taken his wife’s advice and reconnected with his boys by the episode’s end.
-All those boxing pictures on the wall behind Don and Arnold at the bar sure reflected the conflict between them.
-“Imagine if every time Ginger Rogers jumped in the air, Fred Astaire punched her in the face.”
-“Couldn’t it be that if someone took care of you—very good care of you—if this person would do anything for you, if your well-being was his only thought, is it possible that you might begin to feel something for him?” This is not just Bob Benson hitting on Pete. This is his worldview.