Mad Men Review: "The Quality of Mercy" (Episode 6.12)
We’ve seen this all before.
Demonic imagery, Pete discovering a fraud and deciding how best to leverage the information, worldly Glen comforting Sally as she stares adult vice in the face, Don going to the movies to clear his head, Bert Cooper’s Rothko painting looming in the background—it all screams “seasons past” for Mad Men. But that’s exactly the point of this week’s episode.
Once again, the internet theories get an old “close, but no cigar” from Matthew Weiner and his team, as we come to realize that Don’s not really the devil; he’s Adrian. The copy of Rosemary’s Baby Sally was reading a few episodes ago was a pistol waiting to be fired, and this week the story of a woman who gives birth to the spawn of Satan was all over the place. We open on Megan in a yellow nightie (it’s too much to go into in this review, but Google the use of color in Rosemary’s Baby, or rewatch it on Netflix and see for yourself how frequently yellow appears in it) waking up in an empty bed, followed by an aerial shot of Don looking pretty infantile, curled up in the fetal position in Sally’s bed. He and Megan see Rosemary’s Baby in the theater to try get him out of his post-Sally-discovering-his-cheating-ways funk, and Megan in particular is extremely unnerved by it. All Don can muster is a flat “It was disturbing.” Later, he’s literally saying “waah waah waah” in the office as he plays the baby while his team acts out an ad for St. Joseph’s aspirin that spoofs the movie. Ken takes some shrapnel to the face while hunting with the Chevy guys and sports an eyepatch throughout the episode, and his injury leads him to resign the account and make way for Pete to step in and snatch it up—an allusion, perhaps, to the fact that in Rosemary’s Baby, struggling actor Guy gets his big break after the lead actor in a play suddenly goes blind and must be replaced.
So, sure, Don’s not the devil; he’s his spawn. If you really think about it, we’ve known this to be true for years. His childhood was a nightmare, and he was raised by unloving parents in the seediest of conditions. Like Adrian (and all of us, really), so much of who he is today is tied to who his parents were and how they treated him. But where does that leave poor Sally? If Don’s not Lucifer, is she spared Adrian’s fate? After all, it’s Betty’s childhood friend Annie who attended the not-at-all-subtly chosen Rosemary Hall for boarding school; Sally’s headed to Miss Porter’s, and she’s going to escape all the scary adult sins she’s been exposed to by her parents. But once she’s there, she discovers she’s surrounded by everything she was trying to get away from, so she gives in, calling Glen and his friend to bring booze and weed to impress the girls she’s bunking with. She’s got a little of her father in her—not just the drinking and smoking, but the fact that she’ll do whatever it takes to get what she wants—and when her mother offers her a cigarette on the car ride home (the same mother who memorably locked her in the closet after catching her smoking in the bathroom at the end of season two) and she accepts, it’s obvious she too is a product of her environment. She didn’t ask for the parents she had, but she’s become another link in a chain of pain—bad parents damaging their kids, who then grow up to be bad parents who damage their own children. Like everything else in this episode—or perhaps even in this series as a whole—we’ve seen it before, and the message here is that we’ll see it again. And that, as Megan so aptly puts it, is really, really scary.
-All the acts of mercy alluded to in the episode’s title turn out to be self-serving (and thus, perhaps not so merciful after all) in the end. Pete chooses to keep his knowledge of Bob’s background to himself not because he’s being kind, but because he’s been through it before with Don and was nearly fired for ratting him out to Bert. He knows better now, so instead, sensing Bob will eventually grow up to be another Don, he uses the information to make him an ally. Meanwhile, Don “helps” Ted in the St. Joseph’s budget by humiliating him and scolding him for flirting with Peggy while keeping the client blissfully unaware. When Peggy later tells him “You’re a monster!”, Adrian—I mean Don—curls back into the fetal position on his office couch. Diplomacy club strikes again!
-“Cran-prune sounds like a glass of diarrhea.”
-Pete’s rifle—the one he traded the chip-and-dip for so long ago—crops up again too. It’s almost like he’s the one who shot poor Ken in the face.
-Of course Bob’s only prior work experience was as a manservant. Of course.