‘Mad Men’ recap: “Favors”

Sorry folks – wasn’t too good on recapping Mad Men because my personal life prevented me from watching the past few episodes (from “Crash” to this week’s “Favors”). So I won’t do individual recaps of each episode, I’ll just pick up from last week’s episode – I may do a brief overview of the episodes I missed (I did a Mad Men marathon last night – and the less said about the excruciating “Crash” the better).

Like a lot of folks, I feel this season is a let down, but I’m not as harsh as some of the critics. I still think overall, the writing is pretty fantastic and some of the character arcs are pretty amazing. We’re nearing the end of this season, so there’s a lot of revelations that seemed piled up like an accident on the freeway.

“Favors” comes right before Father’s Day, and it’s interesting because we get to see Sally’s heart broken by her daddy. Don has never been a great dad – in fact, I doubt that he actually loves his children – oh sure, he goes through the motions, but I think he’d love it just the same if he was able to indulge in his parallel life with the late Anna Draper and forget about Sally, Bobby, and Gene (even I forget about Gene sometimes). But this episode also sees Don at his most compassionate, so yet again we’re left with conflicted feelings about Mr. Draper – all this character elasticity makes Jon Hamm’s performances all the more impressive.

Because this is Mad Men, we’re also assaulted by cleverly-added real-live brand names that we’re invited to chuckle over (“there’s this new product…Cool Whip?”). This time it’s Sunkist vs. Ocean Spray. The firm (which I’m still trying to figure the name of) is going after two juice giants – because the ad agency is essentially a Frankenstein monster of two separate agencies, we’ve got that whole too many  cooks spoiling the broth; Roger and Don are going after Sunkist, while Ted and Jim are chasing Ocean Spray. Ted being the conscientious worker bee has been carpet bombing the office with memos for meetings – so many, in fact, that none of them get read, really…

Ted really wants Don to like him…Like really, really like him. It’s endearing because Ted’s on okay guy – a lot less complicated than Don. He gets an awesome moment when he pouts like a toddler “I don’t want his juice, I want my juice!” when complaining about the conflict that arises from the firm going after both Sunkist and Ocean Spray. He then gets a killer line – one of the best of the season: “Imagine every time Ginger Rogers jumped in the air, Fred Astaire punched her in the face.” I still have to take a mini-break and laugh out loud at this awesome line (the image is a killer, as is the idea that poor ole Ted is poor ole Ginger, while Don is the smooth and slick Fred Astaire).

Of course Ted doesn’t know Don like the rest of us do, so he doesn’t know not to take things personally with Don – he should turn to his protegé, Peggy for some advise on how to handle loving Don Draper too much and seeking out his approval. Too bad this was before Oprah.

While Don’s self-important world of advertising keeps chugging along, history is being experienced in the outside world. We’re getting subtle hints of the impending rise in violence in New York City – carefully made comments of shootings and muggings are dropped into the conversations; and in some not-so-subtle ways, Peggy’s domestic life in the inner city has her face-to-face with urban blight on a daily basis. We’re also reminded of the Vietnam War, via the Rosens – the Drapers neighbors.

Sylvia’s and Arnie’s kid Mitchell recently was classified as 1A after sending back his draft card. Don finds the kid chatting with Megan – maybe hoping that she could exploit her Canadian connections to get him up north to avoid going being drafted. Don feels bad but is initially reluctant to get involved – firstly, it’s not his kid, and secondly, his split with Sylvia was messy, and nothing gets more complicated than trying to save your ex-mistress’ son from war.

But Don does manage to come through – and we’re reminded why we’re following this dude in the first place – he starts to plot how to help Mitchell avoid the draft. He tries his hand at a meeting with some burley manly men from GM – and fails spectacularly – the guys are arch-conservatives who wrap their ideology in the American flag. Don also steps in the shit with Ted because the latter assumed this was just another way of Don getting up his nose – again, Ted is taking things too personally, which shows just how green the guy is when it comes to traveling in Draperland.

But there’s a resolution of sorts. While getting chewed out, Don admits what exactly he was trying to do. Ted’s a good guy and promises to get Mitchell enlisted in the National Guard which will protect him from service in Vietnam (shades of Dan Quayle). And while Ted’s act is an act of kindness, he does have a condition: Don has to start treating him like an equal, and Ocean Spray wins over Sunkist.

Don gets to be the hero and calls Sylvia to share the news. The two have a heart-to-heart and all is lovely.

But wait for it.

Unbeknownst to the grownups Sally and her girlfriend Julie have their adolescent eyes on Mitchell. The two girls are in the city for model UN and during a giggly night, Sally admits to admiring Mitchell’s ass. Julie – a supreme stirrer of shit – I’m talking elbows all out stirrer – her cauldron is massive – leaves a love note for Mitchell by Sally on the Rosens’ kitchen counter. Sally gets the keys to the Rosens’ apartment from the friendly – if slightly creepy – doorman and lets herself in, finding the note. She also finds her dad having sex with Mrs. Rosen.

We’ll remember that Sally had a similar moment catching Roger bang her stepgrandmother, Marie last season.

Don is scared shitless while Sylvia is angry at herself.

And Sally finally takes her last step in growing up. I won’t say she lost her innocence, only because she did that a while ago – and also, how innocent can you be when you’ve got Don Draper and Betty Francis as parents? If anyone deserves the award for Worst Parent of the Year it’d be either one of those two.

The drama ends on a low note with Don’s pathological inability to be completely honest with those around him. Arnie brings Mitchell to the apartment to thank Don for his favor, and the good doctor starts to sing Don’s praises – he practically passes out with gratitude – understandable, as the kid’s just got his draft deferred. Sally of course sees through Don’s hypocrisy and hurls a mean “You make me sick!” before retreated to her bedroom. Don chases after her and does some of the lamest attempts at reconciliation ever – instead of just talking to Sally like she’s a human being, he thinks he can pull one over on her – he’s treating Sally like he treated Betty and how he’s treating Megan.

This is all enough for one episode – but wait! There’s more. Poor Pete Campbell is slowly descending into a cesspool of self-pity. His mother is exhibiting signs of dementia. She arrives at the ad agency, resplendent in Jackie Kennedy pink with her nurse Manolo – who was referred to Pete by creepy-nice-creepy-nice-depending on what day you catch him Bob Benson. While Pete and Manolo talk privately, Peggy and Mrs. Campbell sit together and have a heart-to-heart, during which the old woman expresses relief that Pete and Peggy have reconciled, for the sake of the baby.

Whaaa?

Peggy’s immediate reaction is shock, but that melts into jarred, startled relief when it turns out that poor Mrs. Campbell confused Peggy for Trudy, Pete’s too-good-for-him wife. Feeling chatty, Mrs. Campbell wants to indulge in some girl talk and starts to share how physical her relationship with Manolo is. Peggy’s impossibly uncomfortable. Later she shares with Pete what was said and Pete confronts Bob about Manolo – Bob reassures Pete that the nurse is not that way, which has Pete sniff contemptuously that Manolo’s a “degenerate.”

And then things get messed up.

Bob sidled over with two drinks and stares balefully into Pete’s peepers and gives a speech about the need for love, and he gives Pete’s knee a quick bump and looks longingly into his eyes. Pete rebuffs the advance, and Bob’s creepy Bob again and disappears. And the audience is left with a Scooby Doo-style “Whaa’? (I know, it’s my second “whaaa'”).

Questions abound – firstly what does Bob see in Pete – I’m just not getting it – and I’m not going for the obvious Bob’s way better looking than Pete. I mean besides that why would Pete be attractive to Bob at all? Pete’s become the sniveling, whiny, petulant man-child, who is incapable of acting like a sane adult for more than a half hour before throwing a tantrum.

Which makes me think that Bob is up to something – and it ain’t good.

Remember there are rumblings about how unsafe the city’s getting – maybe our friend Bob will turn out to be some sort of crazed ax killer. His “pleased to meet you” smile is way too permanent and fixed for my taste.

What I liked about “Favors” is that we’re finally getting to a place with Don where he’s cornered – his catting around has finally come full circle and his biting him in the ass – it didn’t take his wife leaving him to realize that his way may not be working, but it took the devastating look of disappointment and disgust from his precocious daughter.

Some random observations/notes:

  • Elizabeth Moss has a guaranteed career in sitcoms after the final season of Mad Men. More so than any other performer on this show, she handles the light moments beautifully, with a near-perfect sense of comic timing. That being said, she’s also the most consistent of the cast, breaking our hearts, inspiring us, and making us laugh – I dare you not to laugh when she peevishly muses, “Did she go to China for that tea?” after Mrs. Campbell started opening up about her sex life.
  • I’m thrilled that Kirenan Shipka is getting some real work in this season – she’s developed into an amazing actress – it’s too bad Emmy voters don’t like nominating kids for their awards because she’s tremendous.
  • Roger Slattery could juggle oranges – who knew?

 

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