A Guy Watching Mad Men: The Real Bob Benson (“The Quality of Mercy,” S6/E12)


Last night’s episode of Mad Men could have only been topped if the whole gang attended a wedding where Joan was to be married to a partner at Gray, only to be ambushed and slaughtered by a battalion of Gray copywriters in the name of J Walter Thompson resulting in Don and Joan’s death.

Instead Don Draper, after helping his neighbor’s son avoid a court martial, slept with his neighbor’s wife in front of the all-too-mature eyes of his daughter. When we catch up with Don this week, we quickly learn that Sally has kept quiet, albeit by avoiding Don and Megan all together.

Before we move on, speaking of Dr. Rosen and his wife, has anyone taken a moment to wonder why the wrath of Don Draper’s sex drive is so often inflicted upon the few Jews that appear on the show?  Sylvia is the third if I’m counting right, and it’s been four if you count her husband.

And what about her husband?  This season kicked off with Don in a rare streak of fidelity, or so it seemed. The episode ended with an image of Dr. Rosen ski-walking his way through the Manhattan snow to save a life, in an almost Saul Bellow-ian image of adoration and selflessness.  Seconds later came the reveal that Don was shtupping his wife.

But someone has to be the victim, right?  As we stated, Don’s period of being faithful has passed, the era ended when his wife decided to share herself with the rest of the world by pursuing a daytime TV career.  This is important, because Mad Men is a show about eras. Nay, it’s a show about history, and if you need a sense of the time period our characters find themselves in, I direct you The White Album by Joan Didion.  The world is at war. People are distraught. When people get distraught, they do bad things: their peaceful protests turn violent, their hero’s get taken out senselessly, their well meaning sub-cultures get absconded by acid-crazed-murder-cults. Rosemary’s Baby sets the tone.

This week’s episode began with an outright reminder of this.  Nixon’s campaign commercial featured hippies and junkies galore, and urged that something had to be done.  Creeps like car safety Nazi Ralph Nader are making their way into the political landscape.  The irony being the buckshot to the face that Mad Men OG Ken Cosgrove took came from his high-born hunting buddies at Chevy.

At first we’re led to think Sally wants to go to boarding school to escape boys altogether.  Maybe at first she did. But when the girls at the boarding school prove to be more sophisticated hedonists than she’s used to, Sally provides them with the hottest commodity of in an all-girls private school: boys. Perhaps Sally is not running from her father’s dark side, but trying her best to keep up with it, to understand it.

What would this recap be if we didn’t discuss Bob Benson?  Pete Campbell likely makes a big mistake in this episode, as Pete Campbell tends to do.  As soon as he finds out that Bob Benson is not who he says he is, he retreats. He assumes tangling with Bob will yield the same fate as his clash with Don. A guy like Pete wishes he cold re-mold his identity.  The truth is, Bob Benson is likely a whole different kind of animal, a new generation of changeling, and we know nothing if not how different this new generation of American can be.  It case you don’t believe it, Sally’s last moment in the car with mom, smoking and professing her alienation from her father, should be proof enough.

That’s it for this week.  Next time you’re lying on the couch in the fetal position, remember, don’t let the residual sneak up on you.  It’s a mad world out there.  We aren’t all born with the tools to bear it. Everyone’s just looking for their plop plop fizz fizz.

Thanks for reading, and for Jason for letting me fill in this week.  Come visit me sometime at my blog.

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