Recapping the Mad Men Recaps: The Quality of Mercy

by Elizabeth Thompson
Each week PAPER helps you sort through your feelings about Mad Men by rounding up the best and brightest of the MM recaps. Join us below, as we wash down a few St. Joseph's aspirin with Don's special orange juice.

Peggy calls Don a monster for that stunt he pulled in front of the St. Joseph's Aspirin people. Nobody's arguing with that.

Don lashed out because he couldn't stand that, in his moment of grief and sadness over Sally, Peggy was flaunting an emotional attachment to another man. How dare she? But this is classic Draper: When Don's hurting, he lashes out, and -- as has been the case so often in the past -- Peggy was the most convenient target. [HuffingtonPost]

Don's fib in the client meeting arguing for a larger budget (that this was the late Gleason's final pitch) was sickening. He timed the presentation of the lie in a way that left Ted and Peggy no choice but to endorse it. That it just happened to be a lie that would rob Peggy of the Clio award Ted thought she might win (of course the agency would submit it under Gleason's name, hoping for a sentimental vote) was icing on the a-hole cake. This was Don in scorched earth mode. That he seemed oblivious that he was even in that mode -- feeling regret only after being dressed down by Peggy -- made it even more grotesque. [Vulture]

That scene was almost painfully taut -- and more than a little sick and sadistic too. I love that the episode title was "The Quality of Mercy." It just drives home how bleak the show runner Matthew Weiner's worldview is: We begin with Dante on the beach, we end with Lucifer's baby and Don so full of self-hate he's trying to bring everyone else down to his level. [Logan Hill, NYT]

When Don is not being a monster, he's a sweaty, alcoholic baby.

He pouts, he whines, he wants everything for himself. This season has done all it can to dry up every last drop of sympathy for Don, both from his fellow characters and from viewers. The episode's title, "The Quality of Mercy," comes from Portia's famous speech in The Merchant of Venice in which she begs Shylock to reconsider taking his payment. Don is also too intent on extracting his pound of flesh to consider kindness. One wonders how much mercy the show's final episodes will offer him. I imagine not much. [EntertinamentWeekly]

As we know, Don is starting from a huge deficit when it comes to his maturity levels. Given that he's spent most of his life as a self-hating, narcissistic a-hole, he can evolve a lot and the Dalai Lama wouldn't exactly be hearing footsteps. Let's face it: If Don is half as mature as Sally by the time he's 50, he'll be well ahead of the game. [HuffingtonPost]

Even Roger at his most trippy would have been able to spot the symbolism of the Don images that opened and closed the episode. We saw Don curled up on Sally's bed, still obviously distraught over his daughter's horrified rejection of him, and curled up on his office couch at the end of the episode, having just been angrily rejected by Peggy, the woman who knows him most intimately on a professional basis. (Symbolism alert: Don is the devil baby in the crib! [HuffingtonPost]

Ken Cosgrove is literally being worked to death this season. 

The episode itself was rather unmerciful when it came to poor Ken Cosgrove, who got Cheney-ed in the face by a couple of shotgun-toting Chevy reps while on a hunting expedition. It was the same brand of sudden, deadpan violence that Mad Men has made one of its trademarks. It was pretty mean of Weiner to make us wait through the next commercial break to find out if they killed Kenny (you bastards!), but luckily he came back from Detroit mostly intact, although looking a bit more like a Bond villain. "Chevy is killing me," he says, quite literally, before mentioning that the reps tried to stop for lunch on the way to the hospital. He doesn't care about the account if it's going to work him to death. [EntertinamentWeekly]

Kenny has featured in a series of increasingly horrifying cameos, culminating in this final defeat. The man hasn't had much to do recently besides get beat up, get shot, and tap dance. I wonder if his physical battering is supposed to be analogous to the moral battering that the characters keep taking from their jobs and love lives. [Slate]

Bob is Don 2.0, but are all of Mad Men's parallels and echos back to earlier plot lines this season getting a little tiresome?
In any case, based on the information we have now, we know that Bob (like Don) has taken a lot of huge chances in his life. He knew he was taking a risk by touching knees with Pete, but so what? If Pete flipped out and got him fired, he could always Draper his way into another job, another life. He's been doing it long enough -- it wouldn't be that difficult. One of the things I found most interesting about the confrontation was that Bob didn't even attempt to defend himself. He instantly assumed Pete knew he was a faker and prepared to ditch his job (and self-help records) immediately. It was obvious that Bob has been in this position before.[HuffingtonPost]

I was actually getting a bit impatient with how long this had been strung out -- and I'm a bit disappointed that it was such a history-repeats-itself parallel. This whole season has been an echo chamber of seasons past, hasn't it? [Logan Hill, NYT]

Great Caesar's ghost! Pete Campbell is showing growth, kicking ass, and is maybe, secretly, gay.
So Don is no longer an untouchable superhero, and though Pete is still Pete, thus prone to frequent bouts of petulance, selfish irritability and brattiness, he's changed as well. Rather than try to get Bob fired, he's going to use him. Pete set the terms of their relationship -- Bob no longer gets to hit on Pete or declare his "admiration," and Pete gets to tell Bob what to do (and that'll probably involve Bob doing most of the work on the Chevy account). Season 1 Pete wouldn't have shown that kind of foresight or shrewdness. [HuffingtonPost]

Pete once went to war with Don and lost utterly, but this was a very interesting move because, well, Pete won. Bob was ready to clear out, to vanish. Maybe Pete is growing and realizes he can get along if he doesn't push away the people who are kind and caring toward him. Or maybe Pete just wants to unleash Bob and see what happens. Or maybe it's both. Perhaps Bob is Rosemary's baby. [Slate]

But there was another aspect to Pete's anger that seemed not quite defined. It made me wonder (grasping at straws, perhaps?) whether my theory about Pete being a super-duper-deep closet case still had merit. He went into the confrontation with Bob radiating snitty rage that I half-expected to turn physical. But then he seemed to talk himself out of it without much help from the protesting yet still cagey Bob. "I surrender," he said, even though Bob hadn't done anything to indicate that he expected surrender. By the end of the scene, they'd seemed to reach a kind of truce that would keep Bob in the office. "I want you to graciously accept my apologies -- work alongside me, but not too closely," Pete said. [Vulture]

Glen protects Sally from his creepy friend Rolo and is maybe hopeful proof for Sally that not all men will hurt her as badly as her father has.

The lines here are a little grey, but Glen gives her the reaction she was looking for, defending her honor by punching his friend, and ride home, in the face. Her father may have let her down, but that doesn't mean every man in her life will. [EntertinamentWeekly]

I like that Matthew Weiner and the writers have resisted the urge to make Sally a rebellious wreck of a kid who has no respect for the law, like those criminals in Nixon's campaign ads (Oh, the irony!). Instead, she's just a shy girl who doesn't really want to drink or make out with a stranger. She just wants someone around who cares - and the only person who truly cares, once again, is Glenn. [Salon]

Sally and Betty have more in common, for better or worse. 

Of course, that little smile she has while Glen is whaling away is a little unnerving. It's also 100 percent Betty Draper. Everybody has a favorite parent when they're young. For most, it's the one that's the most lenient, that lets you have ice cream for dinner and then says, "Don't tell Mom." But that usually changes as one grows old enough to see past the Good Cop/Bad Cop routine and starts to realize that the parent you argue with the most is often the one you're most similar to. Betty's not exactly a model mother, but it seems that she's been trying harder than usual lately. Sally has long given her the brunt of her teenage outrage, but seeing her father as he really is has given her new insight into the woman who raised her. It's nice to see Betty being depicted as something other than a villain or a joke in a fat suit. "My father's never given me anything," Sally bitterly confesses, as both she and her mother puff on a cigarette, two women disappointed by the same man. [EntertinamentWeekly]

Her exchange in the car ride home with Betty was devastating.... She didn't want to be anywhere near her father (for the second week in a row, judging from dialogue earlier in the episode), and she flat-out said that her father never gave her anything. That's not exactly true, but you can understand why she would say such a thing. She's seen things she can never un-see. Her father's monstrousness was revealed to her. That sort of image is a stain on the mind. [Vulture]

Sally wants something Young Betty wanted. She wants to attend one of the oldest all-girls prep schools in the country and one that makes Dalton look like a YMCA on the South Side of Chicago. She wants Sally to smoke with her as an, albeit temporary, "just us girls" rite of passage. In this one moment, she does care. It's just that she cares about how much Sally is like her. [Sloan Crosley, NYT]

There's one episode left. Finale predictions:

What happens next? My two cents: Something radical. Don's as bereft and alone as he's ever been, and perhaps that will lead him to make an enormous change in his life in the season finale next week. He might not be the only one contemplating a break with the past, either. I've said this before and I'll say it again: I wonder if Peggy will strike out on her own, grabbing a few key staff members (Stan, Joan, Ginsberg) along the way.  [HuffingtonPost]

You know who I miss? I miss the Roger Sterling, who was more than decoration on the agency walls. Aside from the occasional quip (see also: "listen to the cyclops"), we haven't seen nearly enough of him or his relationship with Joan. Also, I am curious if Don's affair with Sylvia -- and the lesser-known play, What Sally Saw -- will keep until next season.  [Sloane Crosley, NYT]

Well, personally, I'd love to see a dystopic, sci-fi Escape From Madison Avenue finale starring an eye-patched Kenny Cosgrove as Snake Plissken. But I suspect it's going to be uglier than even that. Last season ended with Don and Megan's sudden engagement. I'm going to go for it and predict their sudden split. [Logan Hill, NYT]

In next week's season finale, we can probably guess who will become disillusioned with Don next: 1) Betty (who has almost stepped into Anna Draper's shoes this season), 2) Megan (ever his loyal wife, supporting him and trying to cook him breakfast even when he's sullen and hung over) and 3) Arnold (his admiring neighbor and close friend).Is it going to get ugly? Just think of Don and Megan, reacting to the end of "Rosemary's Baby." "That was really scary," said Megan, and Don agreed: "That was disturbing." [Salon]

GIF via FYeahMadMen

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