Well, after a week of tearing up the web with some amusing, creepy, and weird conspiracy theories, Mad Men fans may have sat down last night with unrealistic expectations for the show to become about the FBI, about the Manson family, or about the final unraveling of Don Draper when there’s still over a season left of the show. “Favors” was a stern reminder on what Mad Men is really about. The fact that it proved a bit disappointing could say some unfortunate things.
More Don. Yes, yes, more insufferable, recycled Don. Just when you thought the Sylvia nightmare was over, it sweeps over the horizon and refuses to allow anything else to shine. This show has become an over-the-hill rock star who expects you to love his stale, dispassionate readings of once-vital hits. The Bob Benson and Megan-is-or-will-be-dead camps were chomping at the bit, and instead the show rolls this out. Sigh.
Yes, yes, Sally caught Don and Sylvia. Yes, it is a big deal. But why doesn’t anybody care? This show wants to move on from Don so badly, but the writers seem as terminally in love with him and he is with himself. They will obviously never let him go; not only will he never recede into the background to let something actually interesting happen, he also will never develop past a certain point.
Now, onto something actually compelling: Bob Benson may or may not be gay. This scene was strange. The way Benson came on to Pete seemed…desperate. As if it was less his long-awaited moment to connect with a possible paramour, and more a last-ditch attempt to maintain his newly-found pull with Pete. As if Benson was in a tough spot, and had a hunch about Pete that he tried out for a lack of other options. Something about Benson seems more complicated that just being a gay man struggling to reconcile himself with a world that does not accept him. Ever since that first scene with Don in the elevator, there has seemed to be a larger agenda. But then again, maybe Bob just saw the same things in Don as Betty, Megan, and Sylvia, and maybe this character is just the writers making good on the sad fate of Sal Romano.
Whatever the case, the scene manages to seem like it is showing us more of Bob, but in reality it keeps him just as inscrutable as before.
This all is in danger of overshadowing the biggest event of this episode, which, not ironically at all, took place in shadows: Ted Chaough’s confrontation with Don in his office. Ted is far from a perfect person, but he does have a genuine dedication to his work that has revealed Don as something of a phony. For all his haughty talk, Don does not really care about advertising. It is a means to his end of joining what he imagined the American Dream to be. For Ted, the work seems to come first. His personal life is problematic, but it is nowhere near as off the rails as Don’s. He rejects Don’s competitive territoriality, and takes the high road towards solving their issues, something Don would never do. For years, Don has pretended to be Ted, and now he is rapidly forgetting how to do that. This is the truly meaty story that could be told about Don Draper, and would make the entire show a macro-narrative of one man’s slow dissolution. It may still be that, but it’s taking too long to get there, and sacrificing too many other interesting characters.