Mad Men Episode Commentary: ‘The Quality of Mercy’

Bob Benson…well, well, well.

First, on mystery: it is usually more fun than the truth. When it hangs over a television series like Twin Peaks, X-Files or Lost, there is a feeling that once you know what is really happening, it will not only make this show make sense, but it might just make your life, your job, and your current relationship do the same.

Naturally, once the reveal comes, it is a disappointment. The mystery can only be one of its possibilities, and cannot satisfy the need for closure on all fronts.

Bob Benson is indeed a parallel for Don Draper. Cheers to the folks online who came up with that one. When Duck Phillips told Pete Campbell that he’d never seen anything like it, Pete’s response was written by fate: “I have.”

Pete’s response was interesting. It shows that he has grown since he discovered Don’s charade way back when we still cared about Don. He seems willing to let Benson have his fun, as long as he is not involved. Even when Benson told Pete he had never really been legitimately hired, Pete shrugged it off. Either Pete is acting out of some bizarre form of compassion (which would explain the episode title), or he knows he can’t do anything about it.

Reality check: Don convinced Roger that Roger offered him a job, so Don got officially set up from day one. If Benson really just showed up, when and how did he start getting paid? Wouldn’t Joan, who has more reason than most to be curious about Benson, notice something?

Whatever the case, Mad Men is all about half-measures. Sorry folks: the FBI and Charles Manson are unlikely to make an appearance this season.

Yes, there is one week left. However, two things suggest that the Benson story has crested: Don Draper curled up on his couch and the ominous-though-welcome absence of Sylvia Rosen for an entire episode. It was nice for the baggage to get lifted. Without a paramour to moon about, Don Draper’s dark story is almost tolerable, provided it is counterweighted with something actually interesting. When other characters are allowed to exist, Mad Men is an interesting show.

But it never lasts, and it will not last this time. Mark it: the first shot of next week’s show will be a groan-inducing close-up of Sylvia, followed by an interminable hour of Don and nothing but Don, because the producers still don’t get that just like it is not 1968 anymore, it is also not 2007 anymore, and we are all really, really bored with Don Draper.

A glimmer of hope: who was Benson talking to on the phone in Spanish? Also, in addition to Benson’s past, we also saw a darker, more threatening side to him. Is there more?

On another front, Peggy is officially done with Don, and Don has taken his grudge match against Ted a little too far. The meeting was excruciating, and in Ted and Peggy, Don has burned two very important bridges. Don’s professional self-destruction is much more interesting than his personal one. Maybe we can focus on that next week?

But if Bob Benson has a badge (or an axe) in his pocket after all, that works too.

About Justin Mitchell 48 Articles
Justin Mitchell is a freelance multi-media journalist and writer working in New York. In addition to his work at Review Fix, Justin has written for Latitude News, The New York Daily News, and Feet in 2 Worlds. Follow him on twitter: @mittinjuschell

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