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An In Flagrante Discovery and a Meaningful Knee Touch Bring Some Awkwardness to ‘Mad Men’

An In Flagrante Discovery and a Meaningful Knee Touch Bring Some Awkwardness to 'Mad Men'

The article below contains spoilers for “Favors,” the June 9, 2013 episode of “Mad Men.”

The sixth season of “Mad Men” is unlikely to end with an episode entirely from the point of view of Bob Benson (James Wolk), but wouldn’t it be great if it did? The show could forget the merger infighting and Don’s (Jon Hamm) malaise and just focus on the ingratiating, forever cheerful Bob, who seems to spend his days at Sterling Cooper & Partners just taking abuse and smiling through it, only to go home and… what? Polish weapons? Self-flagellate while muttering “must try harder, Bob, must try harder“? File a report to the government agency on whose behalf he’s been spying? Plug himself into the wall and power down for the night? Fall into the arms of Sal Romano (Bryan Batt) and sob “I don’t know how you ever worked with these people”? We’ve spent years looking at the functional disfunction that is this workplace — how entertainingly grim would an extensive look from the perspective of someone still trying to chisel out a place there be?

While “Favors,” directed by Jennifer Getzinger and written by Semi Chellas and Matthew Weiner, presented glimpses of Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) watching TV on her couch, Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) attempting to have Raisin Bran for dinner, Ted (Kevin Rahm) giving his kids piggyback rides and Don returning home half expecting his marriage to be over, the home life of SC&P’s most enigmatic new employee remained a mystery,

The episode did introduce an unexpected wrinkle when Bob made an unwelcome (but, all things considered, fairly skillful) pass at Pete in the context of love unbound by gender. His wince on the way out offered a glimpse behind the smily mask, but Bob still seems unknowable enough that even that deliberate knee nudge is difficult to parse — is he gay and the only person in the history of Sterling Cooper beside Peggy to like Pete? Or was that more about ambition, and his misreading the situation while looking at sleeping with Pete as a potentially beneficial political move? Is the reason for Joan’s (Christina Hendricks) thinking she was going on a date last week that, despite clearly spending time with Bob outside the office, she’s aware he’s not interested in a romance with a woman?

As a character, Bob continues to raise questions, even as his overture to Pete set back any progress he may have made in connecting him to male nurse Manolo (Andres Faucher) as a caregiver for his increasingly senile mother (Channing Chase). And, whether or not Mrs. Campbell’s romance with her hired and now fired companion was all in her head, her appearance summoned the memory of a past entanglement — the one between Peggy and Pete. It’s been so long since that early affair that it’s easy to forget that it was once one of the show’s main dramatic forces, and that the two have a child together. 

They were back in each other’s orbits in this episode, and not just because Pete’s mom mistook Peggy for his wife — in that wonderfully staged, drunken, jolly conversation between the two of them and Ted, their shared history was obvious enough that Ted spotted it, while Pete called out the mutual appreciation going on between the Peggy and her boss. “I’ve seen that look,” he said. The ensuing honesty between the two of them was a sign of how much each had matured (and maybe how tipsy they were) — Peggy not denying it but not making more of it either, and Pete admitting his current (self-perceived) precarious place in the company without entitlement or bitterness. Both lonely and vulnerable, the moment raised the possibility of the two getting involved again in some way — which, despite how they’ve changed, still seems like it would be an ill-fated development.

While the once again bachelorette Peggy waged a gruesome war with a rat at her new place, even offering to entertain (or entertain) Stan (Jay R. Ferguson) and his lady friend if he were to come over to assist (one of the many favors of the title being asked for or done), Ted faced problems at home with a wife (Timi Prulhiere) who pointed out he’s more interested in life at the office than at home between his thwarted romantic crush on Peggy and his platonic competitive crush on Don. But it’s Mr. Draper who once again took the prize for trouble on the domestic front when he hooked back up with his downstairs mistress Sylvia (Linda Cardellini) just in time for Sally (Kiernan Shipka) to spot the two in mid-clinch. “I was comforting Mrs. Rosen,” he pleaded to her through the door. “It’s very complicated.” It’s no wonder that Sally was so much less enchanted by the idea of a romance with Sylvia’s long-haired son Mitchell (Hudson Thames) than her friend — the examples of adult relationships with which she’s grown up are all, to use Don’s euphemism, awfully complicated.

Walking in on Don and Sylvia’s embrace wasn’t the first eyeful that Sally has gotten — there was that glimpse of her father’s nude bride asleep in his bed last season, a dreamy sequence the final scene of this episode recalled with its deliberate distances down the hallway. And there was the look she got at Roger (John Slattery) getting serviced by Megan’s mother (Julia Ormond) at the ACS dinner.

But while we’ve long been accustomed to Don’s infidelities, Sally was faced with not only the reality of her father having an affair but his having one with the married member of a neighboring family they’re friendly with. She has to deal with not only the shock of knowing he’s cheating, but the extent and ease of his lies, which she sees as having included his stepping in to help Mitchell. It perhaps speaks to how rote Don’s extracurriculars have gotten that what will happen to his marriage seems less pressing than what will becomes of his daughter. Megan (Jessica Paré) is somewhere between stepmother and big sister to her, but this betrayal by Don is as much personal — he revealed to her just how much of his life she doesn’t know.

Don was telling the truth about one thing — his relationship with Sylvia has been complicated, as revealed by her admitting she ended things because “I was just frustrated with you.” She claimed to have pull back because she didn’t want him to fall in love with her, but they’re already more wrapped up in one another than whatever breezily continental fling she’s suggested she wants. Their continued association has been one of the show’s most exasperating developments this season, because the depth of their connection has been told to us more than shown — there’s no sense of why this relationship has shaken Don more than those in his past.

Sylvia feels like a plot device, and that didn’t change in this installment, when she shifted her stance on Don either out of gratitude or sincerely missing him seemingly just so that the two could be discovered. At least Don’s ruining of that client dinner in his efforts to help Sylvia’s son had more to it than just his affection for her — the Vietnam War has been a shadow over this whole season, from the meeting with PFC Dinkins in Hawaii to the protests to, at last, someone in the Drapers’ comfortable world in danger of being shipped out. A war gave Don a whole new life (one he stole from someone else), but he admitted to the despairing Arnold (Brian Markinson) that this one is wrong — and the troubles that shape you are rarely ones you’d wish on your kids, as formative as they can be.

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