On "Mad Men," Don Draper Demands His Pound of Flesh

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On "Mad Men," Don Draper Demands His Pound of Flesh

By Sarah Carlson | TV Reviews | June 18, 2013 | Comments ()


The definitions are simplistic, but they have stuck with me since I learned them in a middle school Bible class: “grace” is getting what you don’t deserve; “mercy” is not getting what you do deserve. The difference between the two stood out in “The Quality of Mercy,” the 12th episode of “Mad Men’s” excellent Season Six. The title is a reference to William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” a play that also originated a key phrase that comes to mind when considering the actions in this episode: demanding one’s pound of flesh. Don Draper in particular is on a tear here, demanding more than he is owed — if he’s truly owed anything at all — and making his designator debtor suffer inordinately. Don is in a downward spiral of self-hate, and unfortunately, Ted and Peggy were found to be in his way.

DonMegan6.12.jpgPerhaps Don is jealous seeing Ted and Peggy happy and in love, even though they aren’t explicitly acting upon their feelings (which Don probably doesn’t know). His own affair with Sylvia has brought him nothing but shame in the aftermath of Sally discovering them in the act. He is filled with regret and loathing, and when one is as far down as he is, it is easy to only want everyone else to be down, too. Even Megan isn’t safe from his quips: recommending he stay home and rest, she tells him sincerely and with love that he looks awful. So do you, he retorts, as he sips his vodka-spiked orange juice. He is quick to send Sally away to boarding school if that’s what she really wants — “I’ll pay for all of it,” he tells Betty immediately on hearing the proposal. He wants her to have her way more than he wants her out of the way. After all, he spent the night on her bed at the apartment. He’s afraid of the secret getting out, and his own life of lies is spurring him to act out against those he thinks aren’t being very honest, either.

One of the key annoyances about Don is that when it comes to work, he is usually right. Even when he’s being difficult, he usually has a point buried in there somewhere. And he is right about Ted — he isn’t thinking clearly. His judgment is clouded by his feelings for Peggy, and any smart ad man would not have pushed an ad so hard against a client — tripling his agreed-upon budget — all because said ad for St. Joseph’s aspirin was created by the person he loves. Don shocks and embarrasses him into seeing his mistake, but he didn’t have to stoop so low to get the point across. Don and Ted have been in a power play for months now after the merger, notably with the Sunkist-Ocean Spray dilemma. Thanks to Sunkist executives finally buying into the idea of TV advertising, that account just jumped to $8 million. Goodbye, Ocean Spray. “Forget about giving someone your word, which obviously doesn’t meaning anything to you,” Ted says to Don. “How does it look? The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.” Don issues a mea culpa, admitting the partners need to be better at communicating. Although he avoided doing a touchdown dance when his account won, he saved his ultimate exertion of authority for the St. John’s pitch. Ted is squashed.

Peggy is the real loser here. Thanks to Don, the St. Joseph’s rep thinks the expensive pitch was the late Fred Gleason’s last idea, so if the ad wins anything, she won’t get the credit. As for how she is viewed at the office, all the knowing looks exchanged among her co-workers make it clear they are aware of her and Ted’s affections and have likely leapt to various conclusions. Society is progressing, but not that quickly. Because Ted is the married one, Peggy likely will be viewed as the real home-wrecker. Is Don punishing Peggy for “leaving” him for Ted, a man she still sees as good as opposed to Don, whom she calls a monster? “You hate that he is a good man,” she tells Don after the pitch gone awry. “He’s not that virtuous,” Don replies, “he’s just in love with you” — and what’s so great or virtuous about that? “Well you killed him,” Peggy said. “You killed the ad, you killed everything. You can stop now.” Did their love really deserve such punishment?

MandyGlen6.12.jpgBoth Don and Betty are reflected in Sally’s actions during her overnight stay at a boarding school. She exerts control over her old friend Glen Bishop (Marten Holden Weiner) by inviting him and his friend, Rolo, over to the dorm and easily pitting them against each other by claiming Rolo tried to take advantage of her. That’s stretching things a bit, although it is true Sally didn’t seem interested in any of the goings on at the school or with what the mean girls she was crashing with, Mandy (Kathryn Love Newton) and Millicent (Sammi Hanratty), wanted to do. She is, however, pleased with her ability to incite a fight, as well as with Glen for defending her. Sally isn’t typical, and her “rebelling” is more going through the motions of what she think she is supposed to do at her age. She was forced to grow up too quickly; she is years ahead of her peers just by virtue of being the daughter of the infinitely screwed up Don and Betty. Her instinct now is to flee, and who can blame her? Kiernan Shipka has been phenomenal growing into this role. The shot of her as Sally smoking a cigarette on the drive back home (nice parenting, Betty) and saying “My father’s never given me anything” has to be a standout scene for the series — a scene you can point to and say, this is what “Mad Men” is about. This is what has been done to the younger generations.

The most interesting character development belongs to Pete. As opposed to Don, when Pete had the opportunity to do so, he didn’t go in for the kill. When Duck fills Pete in on Bob’s mysterious background — from nowhere, West Virginia, he spent three years as a “manservant” to a senior executive at Brown Brothers Harriman, only to disappear one day “with an electric pencil sharpener and the Christmas card list” — Pete sees him as Don Part 2. Here is yet another man who has climbed his way out of obscurity by hiding his past and being eager to please. But Pete decides it is best not to try to compete with Bob — he’s clever enough to make it this far, what makes Pete think he can beat him at his own game? And does Bob really deserve that? “I don’t know how people like you do it,” Pete tells him. “You’re certainly better at it than I am at whatever I do. But I would like to think that I have learned not to tangle with your kind of animal.” Pete extends him mercy by not only agreeing to keep his past in the past but letting him stay on the Chevy account now that Ken — who was shot in the face by careless Detroit-dwellers in a scene that reached farce levels — has stepped down. “I want you to graciously accept my apologies,” Pete says. “Work alongside me, but not too closely. … I’m off limits.”

MM_612_JT_0325_0031.jpgOne has to wonder how much of Bob’s flattery has burrowed itself deep inside Pete. Bob says Pete has a hard time accepting gratitude, but perhaps it is Bob’s professed feelings for Pete that actually saved him. Pete is always after praise and recognition, feeling under-appreciated at the firm (which is partly warranted), so of course Bob thinking him grand isn’t going to remain offensive, no matter if Bob is gay or not. (I still think he is.) Bob calling Pete a snotty bastard to a friend, likely Manolo, on the phone doesn’t prove that his feelings for Pete are a ruse. Maybe they are, but Bob’s reaction to Pete trying to sabotage his career mainly reflects his feelings towards those actions. It doesn’t refute how Bob could potentially feel about Pete over all. Sometimes, we can’t stand the people we’re attracted to. If the thinly veiled love confession was part of a master plan, it is one that has not made itself clear. It also would mean that Bob, the character, is an amazing actor. His confrontation with Pete at the end of the episode was not as a man claiming checkmate. Bob hides his past and his true self in several ways, and his expressions throughout last week’s “Favors” and “The Quality of Mercy” reflect both fear of losing what little gains he’d made as well as hurt by being so coldly regarded by a person he’d like to consider a mentor. Not everything has to be a conspiracy. For certain, Bob remains the most mysterious character in this universe. But as someone who was shown mercy when he needed it most, I wouldn’t count on him turning against the man to which he is indebted. Pete played his cards well. Don, who essentially lives in a house of cards, should expect them to fall down any day now.

Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Dammit! Creepy Glen is back. Here's hoping he won't return until next season.

  • Glen's real life father is creator of the show. I've got a crispy new dollar bill that says Glen and Sally sneak off to Woodstock next season and drop acid with Roger and Megan's mother as Yasgur's Farm.

  • Leigh

    I thought that the kid must have taken some acting classes because he wasn't nearly as awful as he has been in the past.

  • Sal

    Can we talk about how 3/5 of all the gay male charachters ever featured (that I can recall) on Mad Men have been Italian (or Italianesque). Is there something I don't know about Italian guys? Should I get a plane ticket?

  • PaddyDog

    I don't see that. Sal was Italian. Manolo is either Spanish or Hispanic. The Lucky Strikes guy was a generic "American" of the time (probably WASP); Bob is West Virginia:do we know his ethnic background? The beatnik from an earlier season was German, right?

  • vic

    Yeah, Lee Garner (the Lucky Strikes guy) probably has lineage in the UK or Germany, from a Google search on "Garner." Euro Kurt's home country was never disclosed, but it seemed to be Northern (maybe Eastern) European more than Southern. Bob B's the only mystery, and first guess with a West Virginia background (unless that's ALSO a lie) suggests British Isles.

    No other gay Italian guy on the show I can think of. Heh, I remember reading that Federico Fellini once lamented there weren't really any Italian homosexuals. Which is odd, considering many other famous Italian male directors were gay or bisexual.

  • John G.

    Sarah, have you seen "the orange couch"?

  • SandAnderson

    Anybody else think that screenshot with Glen looks like it could be have come from some awesome '80s sitcom? That pic, taken out of context, has "Facts of Life" hijinks written all over it!

  • mairimba

    Betty letting Sally smoke in 1968 was completely normal. As normal as it was when Betty was drinking and smoking while pregnant a few seasons back. Not that I'm encouraging it, but it's not surprising that during this time no one really saw much bad in smoking. Especially someone like Betty.

  • cgthegeek

    A few seasons ago, Betty caught Sally smoking in a closet, and as punishment chopped off her hair. I think letting Sally smoke was a complete turn-around for Betty. Also, she's trying to play the "I'm a cool mom" angle there. But she did look alarmed when Sally said Don never gave her anything. For someone who likes to be the most-liked parent, Betty didn't seem to enjoy that moment as much as we've come to expect.

  • vic

    True, but surely it was seen as an exclusively adult thing even then? I'm not sure how they rationalized it back then, but it was seen as shocking to see children smoking back then, right?

  • mairimba

    I don't think it was seen as shocking. More like as kids you still haven't earned the right to do whatever you want and this includes smoking instead of a health issue and how it can affect their lives.

  • vic

    I suppose. I think an earlier episode some seasons back had Roger or someone talking about smoking was supposed to be bad, but they did it anyway, so I'm sure there were known risks to health.

    Now I'm really interested in this subject; are there any well known movies in the 50s/60s period where kids clearly younger than 18 were smoking? The only one I remember was "Rebel Without a Cause," but James Dean didn't look 17, from Wikipedia. Did Sal Mineo's character smoke in that movie?

  • apsutter

    The health dangers with smoking were only becoming widely known at the start of the series when they mentioned that Lucky Strike can no longer advertise a "safe cigarette" or get doctors claiming that Luckies weren't as dangerous.

  • Blake

    All this and not a single mention that Don was sporting Sterling Archer's tactical turtleneck?


  • Justin Kuhn
  • Homestar

    Didn't mean to downvote, was just trying to click the link!

  • Superasente

    Sarah, you just kill these reviews week after week. You almost always say everything I want to say, and a dozen things I didn't know I was thinking.

    And what's this? Somehow my top button became unbuttoned, allowing just a flutter of manly chest-hair to curl out?
    I like where this is headed.

  • BWeaves


  • cgthegeek

    I keep seeing reviewers write that Sally made up the boy's advances to her, and I find that odd because she says no, pulls away, tells him to stop, gets up and walks to another part of the room... all signs she didn't want to kiss him (or do anything else). When she says "he tried to force himself on me" she's not "claiming" anything except the truth. He DID try to force himself on her. He didn't hold her down and climb on top of her, which is the typical way media portrays assault, but he did try to go for a kiss multiple times when she rejected him, and then he called her a slut. How is that not trying to do something to her she didn't want done?

    Now Sally knew that telling Glen would make Glen beat the boy to a pulp. But she wasn't making up the fact that he didn't try to force himself on her.

  • apsutter

    Exactly!! She tried to re-buff him several times by pulling away and trying to change the subject but he was being persistent. Then the little bastard calls her a tease. Just because she invited them over to shut the mean girls up doesn't mean she has to do anything with that little douchebag.

  • PaddyDog

    Also, Sally has just seen her dad screwing another woman which could easily make her feel hypersensitive about sex and assume more than was there just from a touch.

  • katy

    I'm tired of everyone saying how awful Don was for calling Ted and Peggy out. I know he's the hypocrite, but don't forget that Ted is a married man who is openly flaunting some sort of romantic relationship that was beginning to affect others. And the people from SC&P who were at the table knew what he was talking about, but the client didn't, and isn't that what matters? When someone is engaging in behaviors that are not only self-destructive but beginning to take a toll on others someone needs to call them on their shit, and that's just what Don did. But, and it's a big BUT, Don being the one to do this is so outrageous that it definitely becomes more than just some sort of friendly intervention. But the act itself, on it's own, was necessary.

  • googergieger

    "openly flaunting some sort of romantic relationship that was beginning to affect others."

    And when did that happen?

    They were flirting at worse. They haven't acted on anything. Da fuck is up with people. Beyond all that, they weren't knowingly dating/cheating/anything. Just working and enjoying each others company.

    Don is just Don. He and the show have no idea who he is or why he does what he does. Think the guy is just bored with life, and occasionally accidentally looks in the mirror and notices how much of a nonperson he really is that it hurts him.

  • apsutter

    Yes Ted needed to be called out for it. But the way Don did it illustrates perfectly the petty little man that he is. He should have said something in private but chose to do it in front of a client while blaming Ted's dead friend. Also he screwed Peggy out of any recognition that the ad will get. He's in a downward spiral and is actively striking out and trying to take down as many people as he can with him.

  • BWeaves

    1. Holy Dick Cheney! Poor Ken. You’ll shoot your eye out. I loved Pete getting his gun out, again.

    2. So THAT’s the deal with Roberto Bensonmum. He’s Melanie Griffith to Pete Cambell’s Sigourney Weaver. I suppose that if you’ve spent most of your career doing everything for a high powered executive, and you had some smarts, you could think, “I could do that if I could just get my foot in the door.” Yeah, he’s Don 2.0. There’s a big difference between being a con artist (which is what I thought he was originally), and really being able to do the job, but just not able to get the chance. I’m curious to see how Pete and Bob’s dance continues. Pete can’t rat Bob out, because Pete already tried that with Don, and Stirling and Cooper didn’t care. Also, I think Pete realizes that Bob really wants to please him, and could help Pete's career.

    3. Gah! NOOOOO, not Glen, again.

    4. Whoever is doing Sally’s makeup this season is slapping it on with a trowel. Lighten up.

    5. Speaking of Sally, I didn’t believe she was drunk. So I can't decide if she really wasn't drunk and just said so, or if it's the first time her acting was off.

    6. Poor Ted and Peggy. They have a GREAT working relationship to channel their attraction. It’s a shame everyone is crapping on it. Then again, they did need to dial it back. I just hated the way Don embarrassed them into it.

    7. And Don to Harry. “You found a hooker who takes traveler’s checks?” "I wish I'd never told you that."

    8. Speaking of Don, he’s even more of a Dick this week. I can’t decide if he just likes crapping on Ted, despite Ted trying to make the partnership work; or if he just doesn’t want to see Ted and Peggy go down the same road Don and Roger and Joan have gone down.

    9. I guess Betty wants to be the cool mom. “I’d rather you smoke in front of me than behind my back.”

    10. Does the creative guy from CGC ever sit down? (The pencil neck dude who’s always in the meetings with Ginsberg and Peggy.)

  • PaddyDog

    Does anyone really think that ad would have won a Clio? It was an amusing but utterly useless concept that might have appealed to a few people but in the real world would never have been considered by any pharma company for even a second. You don't with mess with babies and their health, now or in 1968 PERIOD.

    Also, while I despise Don, I really disliked Peggy and Ted this ep. They were completely unprofessional in the office and while I hate for Don to be right, they deserved to be taken down.

  • googergieger

    Don wasn't really right though, and they weren't really unprofessional. I mean they weren't making out at the office. Maybe flirting and such, but most people are okay with it in my experience. Don just wanted to make a huge deal about something to be a dick. The thing that is annoying about Don and the show, already. Fucking make up your mind about what kind of man you want to be. If he wants to be an asshole, be one, if he wants to be a good man, be one. Guy pretty much just had the goal of not being a whore's son, and for a good while now, has no idea what else to do with his life.

  • mlurve

    A lot of agencies come up with "award bait", creative ad executions that are cool and clever but not necessarily effective. I wouldn't be surprised if this ad would've been up for an award, even though it didn't increase sales or whatever.

  • PaddyDog

    But that ad would never have been submitted for a Clio because it would never, ever have been accepted by the client it's very unrealistic that they say they like it). There is no more conservative industry out there when it comes to advertising than the pharma industry. They can't think beyond golden retrievers and beaches. When Pfizer tried a very mildly racy ad for Viagra 5 years ago, it was a huge scandal and pulled very quickly. And that was for Viagra in 2007: not baby aspirin in 1968.

  • googergieger

    If you're wondering how he eats and breathes and other science facts. Lalala. Just repeat to yourself it's just a show, I should really just relax!

  • mlurve

    Yeah, you are probably right, I didn't consider the pharma angle.

    I have heard of, although I'm not sure if it happened back then, agencies coming up with creative that they think will win an award but would not actually be an effective campaign, so they'll run it once at like, 3 am in a local market when few people would actually see it, but would technically make it eligible for an award.

  • PaddyDog

    Oh yes, that does happen: sometimes they even just put it up in the Internet without asking the client and pull it after a few daysso they can consider it out there so they can submit it for consideration. I don't know if that happened back then.

  • BWeaves

    I don't think that ad would have won a Clio, either. I think it was too artsy for a baby aspirin commercial. I'm not sure satire really works for ads. It's fine for an SNL skit, but I don't think it would have sold more baby aspirin.

  • "Oh my God, they killed Kenny! You bastards!" That actually went through my brain and out of my mouth when the hunting trip went wrong. It was only after that I giggled at the irony.

  • Leigh

    My friend and I turned to each other and said the exact same thing at the same time. I freaked when they showed him crumpled on the ground... with all these conspiracy theories about how people are going to get killed, I was shocked that it would be Ken!

  • googergieger

    You giggled at something alright.

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