Monday, June 10, 2013

Mad Men Season Six - Secrets & Lies

Aside from the sex, adultery is just another form of gambling. Gambling that you won't fall in love, that you won't get caught and can live with yourself in those quiet moments when it's just you, alone with your thoughts. Cheating on your spouse is a selfish act where the consequences are always clear but difficult to quantify unless and until the day comes when you do fall in love, get caught or can no longer live with yourself. 

And so it was that through a confluence of events that led Don back into Sylvia Rosen's arms, that the big reveal in the episode titled Favors was Don getting caught cheating by his daughter Sally in the tawdriest of ways - in the heat of passion, with his pants literally around his ankles as he and Sylvia rekindled their affair. Sylvia's reaction was one of shame and anger, she had escaped Don's clutches without getting caught and thrown it all away again because she could not resist him at a time of vulnerability. Don hid at the bottom of a bottle, fully expecting to walk into his penthouse apartment and a shitstorm from Megan, but instead, finds an ordinary (if icy) dinner playing out with Megan, Sally and Sally's friend from school. 

It is only when Dr. Rosen stops by to thank Don for helping put the Rosens in touch with the Air National Guard that Sally's rage surfaces. Megan, unaware that Don had done this favor, lovingly kisses him, calling him the "sweetest man in the world." This is all too much for Sally, and she storms off, locking the door to her room and weakly (and unconvincingly) accepting her father's excuse that he was simply "comforting" Mrs. Rosen during a time of need. In this moment, as we have at so many other points along Don's continuum, we were left to wonder whether it was the consequences or discovery of his secrets that Don feared more. When Betty found out about his Army desertion, Don came clean, feeling unburdened; [1] but when forced to confront his liaison with Bobbi Barrett, the best he could choke out was that he had been "disrespectful" toward his wife. [2] 

Now, as the closing shot made Don's bedroom seem like a million miles away and as ominous as something out of the Overlook Hotel [3], we are left to wonder in which direction Don will go. On the one hand, his interest in his wife waxes and wanes, but a man who only likes "the beginnings of things" did not back up his admission to Megan that he had been "away" with much in the way of action.  Forget the one off he had with Betty, Don's eye was already wandering again during his trip to California, and it took little to get him back into Sylvia's apartment. Now, he has shamed himself in front of his daughter and must live with the gamble that a rebellious teenager will not divulge his secret, never mind the corrosive effect her discovery will have on the parent-child relationship.

Spilling the beans may be the least of Don's concerns as they relate to Sally. For years, she has generally ignored his spotty parenting. All the way back in Season 1, he got drunk and forgot to pick up her birthday cake, but returned home with a dog to make up for his error. [4] More recently, he scored tickets to see The Beatles after a dust-up with his sometimes wayward daughter. [5] Of course, Sally has always been precocious and in the aftermath of the "Grandma Ida" incident she told her father that she didn't really know anything about him, but now, she knows more than she would ever want to. The devastation, to parent and child, that played out after her accidental discovery of his liaison felt total, complete and irreparable.

Of course, favors also come with strings, or at least the opportunity for the one granting the favor the chance to ask for something in return. For Bob Benson, who referred Pete to a male nurse named Manolo to care for his ailing mother, this meant finally, albeit elliptically, expressing his feelings toward Pete. And while this is far from the first time that the show has flirted with closeted gay men, [6] the Benson "reveal" must have crushed the army of Internet bloggers and commentators who were hoping that Bob's presence at Sterling Cooper & Partners was either more nefarious or surreptitious. [7] 

It was unclear whether Pete's impotent rage, taken out on an empty box of Raisin Bran, was directed at Bob's flirtation or Pete's own lonely lot in life. He got to share intimacy with Peggy as the two of them decompressed after their Ocean Spray pitch, but regardless of the years (not to mention parentage) between them, Pete sees Ted's infatuation with Peggy and is non-plussed. For her own part, Peggy is thrown when Pete's mom encourages their reunion, only to realize that the older woman is confusing her for Trudy. Another secret revealed, another shame experienced. 

Ted Chaough's request to Don for helping him get Mitchell Rosen into the Air National Guard seemed more innocuous - a truce to the undeclared war that Ted felt has been waged ever since the two men came up with the idea to put their heads (and agencies) together in an effort to secure General Motors. And while Ted certainly has an interest in the appearance of laying down his arms, he has been schooled by his now deceased partner Frank Gleason about doing battle with the enigmatic Mr. Draper. [8] With GM firmly in Ted's pocket, pulling a small string because Don feels sympathy for young Mitchell or wants to ingratiate himself with the Rosens or simply make himself feel like "the sweetest man in the world" is of no moment. Don, a man of his word (at least when it comes to things outside his wedding vows), earnestly thanks Ted for this favor, and (perhaps) with it, handing a strategic gain to his longtime rival. After all, a favor is rarely done without consequences.

Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy


1.  The Gypsy and the Hobo, Season 3, Episode 

2.  Meditations in an Emergency, Season 2, Episode 13. 

3.  The name of the hotel in the book and movie, The Shining.

4.  Marriage of Figaro, Season 1, Episode 3.

5.  Hands and Knees, Season 4, Episode 10.

6.  The Hobo Code, Season 1, Episode 8, Out of Town, Season 3, Episode 1, Wee Small Hours, Season 3, Episode 9. 


8.  Gleason quoted from Sun Tzu's Art of War in advising Ted "If I wait patiently by the river, the body of my enemy will float by." He also suggested a nascent version of the rope-a-dope, allowing Don to win "the early rounds" and expend all his energy, allowing Ted to win a victory as the "fight" wore on. Man With a Plan, Season 6, Episode 7. 


  1. Last paragraph is the best insight I've read out of all the MM blogs I follow...

  2. Great recap, especially the opening paragraph about how adultery is similiar to gambling. It's true Don did give up a certain amount of power to Ted, but what was interesting to me about that scene was it showed how much Don Draper had gotten in Ted's head, to point where he was seeing his pursuit of Sunkist(which was really Roger's baby) and his one-man mission to kill the mood at the Chevy dinner as these mental chess moves when really Don was clueless about Ocean Spray and was just trying to find someone to help Mitchell (or really Sylvia and maybe Arnold). Don's done such a good job at being mysterious and inscrutable that even when he's on autopilot people think he's plotting power plays.

    As for Bob, I suspected he was gay when he deftly dodged Ginsberg comment, but when his face winced at Pete's degenerate commment, I knew he was a friend of Dorothy. He can do a hell of lot better than Pete, but the heart wants what it wants I guess. My recap:

  3. Mad Men is a drama about one of New York's most prestigious ad agencies at the beginning of the 1960s, focusing on one of the firm's most mysterious but extremely talented ad executives, Donald Draper. It tells the lives of the men and women who work in an advertising agency in New York in the 1960s. The agency is enjoying success, but the advertising game becomes more competitive as the industry develops. The agency must adapt to ensure its survival. Don Draper is a talented ad executive at the top of his game, but the secrets from his past and his present threaten to topple his work and family life.