Bullet Points – Mad Men 06:12

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

Once in a while, Mad Men, will go out of its way to make a theme evident. Titling an episode “The Quality of Mercy” is a pretty obvious move. And while everyone may recognize the lines from The Merchant of Venice, it might be helpful to take a look at that scene in relation to what is going on with the story of the play and how it plays back into what we saw in this episode.

For those who might not remember this from their British Literature class, Shylock (the titular merchant) has taken Antonio to court to claim his payment for forfeiting the loan; a pound of Antonio’s flesh. The princes Portia has been disguised as a judge to hear the case. And while she states that clearly he is right, Shylock should show mercy. When he gets petulant and asks why, she launches into this speech:

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.
– The Merchant of Venice  – IV:1

Like Portia’s admonishment to Shylock, there were many questions about the aplication of mercy in this episode: who is giving it out, who is worthy of it, and who doesn’t deserve it.

One of the surprising recipients of mercy this week was a character who often doesn’t get treated with mercy by anyone: Betty Francis. When Sally declared that she wanted to go to boarding school, Betty imediately thought it was becasue of something she did (whereas we all know that like so many things, it’s Don’s fault). It was lovely to watch the thawing of relations between Sally and Betty: the drive back was an interesting moment when Betty relaizes just how deep Sally’s angst about her father is right now when Sally utters the immortal line “My father’s never given me anything.” (Come to think of it, that’s a line that Don himself could use when discussing his parents.) But Sally has also picked up a few mean girl tricks from her mother as well, by playing Glen Bishop to arrive with booze and weed to impress the girls of Miss Porter’s School, and then having Glen beat up his friend just because Sally wasn’t interested in him.

Another person who received some mercy this week was Bob Benson who went from awkward gay man making it in the world less than one year away from the Stonewall Riots (and for more on that topic, I can think of no better piece than Tom and Lorenzo‘s brilliant analysis of Bob from last week) to a closeted gay version of Single White Female with Pete. But we got to learn a lot more about The Best Little Bob In The World (apologies for the pun on that seminal queer novel) and Pete discovered to his horror that Bob Benson’s resume was written in steam and is in fact a gay Don Draper (remember, Bob was hired while Don was away in Hawaii)! Basically, Pete was in the same position that he was in when he found out about the dirty little secret of Dick Whitman. This time, however, Pete was in a much more charitable mood. After inheriting Chevy from Ken, Pete has basically said that he won’t go after Bob, but that the flirting is off and Manolo is to be sent packing. Knowing what Chevy does to account men, why do I have the feeling that Pete’s little gesture of kindness is going to resort to him using Bob as Chevy’s plaything for gun-fueled driving trips and what not. (On a side note, Pete’s ultimate kindness towards Ken in taking over Chevy was a sweet move for a character who has often been portrayed as despicable.)

Wait a minute: Betty and Glen are the good guys? Pete is manning up? Has the world gone mad? Well, it is 1968 after all, and some things still remain constant; namely that Don Draper is a monster.

Don’s once again in a bad place thanks to Sally discovering him “comforting” Sylvia. That, combined with a matinee screening of Rosemary’s Baby where he and Megan run into Ted and Peggy doing “research” sent Don into pulling a series of dick moves. The first was ramping up Sunkist over Ocean Spray (thanks to an $8 Million media deal brokered by Harry). The second was cutting Ted’s balls off in front of everyone at the St. Joseph commercial pitch. On the one hand, you could say that Don was being an asshole (and he most certainly was by lying and saying the concept was Frank Gleason’s last work and not the work that could have won Peggy a Clio). On the other hand, he had a very valid point: Everyone from Don and Megan, to Joan, to Moira, to Ginsberg were all noticing the mutual admiration society that Peggy and Ted have been engaging in to the detriment of the work. Also, as it has been shown time and time again, Ted is often too nice to go for the kill in a meeting and needs someone like a Jim Cutler who isn’t afraid to ask for it. Compare how Ted asked for the additional money for the ad (by saying the content was so good) to Don’s skill at manipulating them by hook or crook. And while Don ended up the episode the way he began it (curled up in the fetal position because a woman he cared about called him on his bullshit), he is finding that the quality of mercy is most definitely strained when it comes to him.

A few random thoughts to close:

– Loved Peggy’s beige & orange dress in that scene in the conference room.

– In fact, the whole commercial rehearsal was actually quite hilarious (Don’s deadpan baby cries were comedic gold), and an inverse of last year’s aborted Cool Whip pitch.

– So what do we think is Bob’s full story? His background as manservant sounds like a euphamism for live-in rent boy. But then how does he know fluent Spanish? Are he and Manolo lovers? Relatives?

– “You like trouble, don’t you?” Ah, Sally is proving to be the true child of Don and Betty.

– Does anyone else think it’s a bit morbid to use Rosemary’s Baby as an inspiration for a commecial for children’s aspirin?

– The closing music was The Monkees “Porpoise Song (Theme from Head)” with an eerily reminiscent video.

Finally: What do you think will happen in the season finale? My guesses are as follows…

  1. SCDP SCDPCGC SC&P will open a Los Angeles branch to deal with Sunkist but also to deal with the television boom out on the West Coast. This will also predicate the rise of Harry as a partner. (Ugh!)
  2. While I highly doubt Pete and Bob will do the deed, I wouldn’t put it past Pete to prostitute Bob out in case the Chevy boys want to have a little fun.
  3. Sally turns Miss Porter’s School and everyone in it into her own cynical army.
  4. The Draper Marriage Part 2 (Electric Boogaloo!) will dissolve. Megan will run away to Los Angeles and as long as she stays far away from Cicelo Drive, she’ll be just fine.
  5. Sylvia Rosen returns, to the consternation of everybody. (Ugh!)
  6. Megan finally gets a clue about what is really going on. (Remember when last season she was the smartest person at SCDP? Good times.)
  7. A new agency is formed (and I’m guessing it’s going to be Cutler, Gleason, Olson, and Campbell).

Sound off on your ideas in the comments below!

Photo Credits: AMC

Originally Published 17 June 2013 as part of “The Idiot Box,” my television column for l’étoile magazine.

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Bullet Points – Mad Men 06:13 | Todd O'Dowd

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