Written by Ross Scarano (@RossScarano)
For those of you who aren't hip to the Mad Men live broadcast, AMC has been sprinkling the commercial breaks with recent excellent moments from the show. It's nostalgia for two, three episodes ago. The airing of last night's episode "Favors," the 11th episode of the sixth season, did not include Roger's monologue about doors and pathways from the first episode of this season, so here's a refresher:
"What are the events in life? It’s like you see a door. The first time you come to it, you say, 'Oh, what’s on the other side of the door?' Then you open a few doors. Then you say, 'I think I want to go over that bridge this time, I’m tired of doors.' Finally you go through one of these things, and you come out the other side, and you realize that’s all there are: doors and windows and bridges and gates, and they all open the same way and they all close behind you. Look, life is supposed to be a path, and you go along and these things happen to you, and they’re supposed to change you, change your direction. But turns out that’s not true. Turns out the experiences are nothing, they’re just some pennies you pick up off the floor, you stick in your pocket, and you’re just going in a straight line to you know where."
We've been on but one path this season. The road to hell is paved with things like 'I'm going to keep my lover's son from going to Vietnam.'
There's no easy way to talk about "Favors"; it was brutal. It was an episode of surprises, none of them good. The show opened up doors for us, and then slammed them shut. It's a cold world out there, and we're all alone.
Peggy's shocked by the rat marauding her empty apartment, empty because she stabbed her boyfriend. She shuts the door on this as she goes out in the morning. She's surprised to learn that Pete's mother knows they have a child together—will the secret finally come out, taking us down a different path? No, that's the dementia talking; Pete's mother thinks she's Trudy. And anyway, Mrs. Campbell only wants to brag about how her new nurse, Manolo, is attending to her loins.
Pete's shocked at the fact of his mother's loins, even more so by the stimulation of said loins. He takes this shock-turned-disgust to Bob Benson, the one who arranged for Manolo in the first place. Their conversation was the kind of GIFable moment you saw on Tumblr soon after, but what did it reveal? Did Bob make a pass at Pete? Yes. Did his cliche-ridden monologue about the possibility of true love when one person takes the best care of another person indicate that Bob is gay, instead of, you know, a robot? No. Because it's not as if Bob's attention to Pete has been unique. This is how the Servo Benson 2000 relates to all the humans in the office. Didn't we just see him packing a picnic lunch with Joan? Let's not jump to conclusions about knowing anything about Bob beyond his capacity to serve. Maybe he thought Pete was gay and that this would be the best way to serve him on his path up the ladder at whatever the hell they're calling the firm now.
The most possibility-rich introduction in "Favors" came in the form of a 19-year-old with long hair and a great ass: Mitchell Rosen. Don comes home to find Mitch sitting with Megan—was your mind racing? Has Megan taken a young lover? Nope. It's just Vietnam. Sylvia and Arnold's child is 1-A, eligible for service. Eligible to die. He's been chatting with Megan about the possibility of fleeing to Canada. At first Don isn't sympathetic. Over drinks with Dr. Rosen, Don reconsiders. You can see he's thinking of young Dick Whitman not wanting to die in Korea. He's thinking of Sylvia, and what the loss of a child would do to her. He changes his mind.
Meanwhile, Sally and a friend with a knack for dissembling will be staying with Don and Megan on the eve of a Model UN event. As they enter the building, they run into Mitchell. At this point, the viewer is activating protective parent mode: Betty's warned that Model UN is just a means to make out with boys, and Dr. Rosen spoke of his son's success with the ladies while traveling in Paris. The viewer is thinking, "If Mitchell so much as tosses his greasy hair at Sally, I will destroy him."
Unfortunately, that's not what this is. We've been on but one path this season. The road to hell is paved with things like "I'm going to keep my lover's son from going to Vietnam." Hell, then, is your daughter getting the keys from the doorman and heading up the stairs while you're comforting your lover. Hell, then, is the key in the lock, and the door opening. Hell, then, is your daughter watching you atop a woman you aren't married to.
Has there been a more painful, stomach-plummeting moment for Don? No. He and Sally have had one of the better relationships on the show. And the show has allowed us to care for Sally, and hope for her in a way that's impossible for most of the show's broken characters. That's gone now.
Look at Don in the elevator, finally finishing tucking his shirt back into his pants. He's almost crying. In the lobby where the doorman had a heart attack, Don's face is slate gray. He paces back and forth before walking straight down his path. He pushes through the glass doors. He gets drunk. He's praised and thanked by Mitchell and Dr. Rosen. He lies to Sally about what she saw. Finally, he seals himself in a room, alone.
There's so much craft to appreciate in these moments. Jon Hamm is an incredible actor, with a face that, when wrung out, wrings the viewer out, and the decision to keep the scenes quiet and free of music made them more jarring. It's impeccable direction, and it makes you feel like shit. With two episodes left, we'll find out if we can feel worse.
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