In a season rife with themes of control, desperation and duality, “Favors,” the eleventh episode of “Mad Men” Season Six, couldn’t have been more perfectly titled. Truly: What is it called when you do something for someone else with the motivation of getting ahead yourself? Altruism wasn’t always on display among the back and forth of characters trying to help each other out. Some acts were small, such as Jonesy (Ray Abruzzo) the doorman lending Sally his keys for a few minutes. Other acts were dangerous, notably Don’s willingness to potentially jeopardize the firm’s Chevy account by poking around the General Motor executives’ thoughts on draft dodging. Jonesy has a variety of motivations for helping Sally, sure — he wants to keep the buildings’ residents happy so he can keep his job. But it also is apparent he not only cares for her and other residents but for his job. He takes the time to talk to each of them, and even chastises a fellow employee’s lack of dress code decorum once off the clock. He takes his work seriously, and he is kind — good. His actions, likewise, are good. The opposite is true for our dear Mr. Draper, however, and the shocking turn of events involving Sally were not only inevitable but will surely go down as one of the more memorable sequences in the series’ history.
Viewers can give Don a little benefit of the doubt when it comes to Mitchell Rosen’s situation. After returning his draft card in an act of protest, Mitchell (Hudson Thames), Arnold and Sylvia’s son, is reclassified as 1A (Available for unrestricted military service) despite being in college. As Mitchell considers fleeing to Canada, a part of Don really does sympathize with the situation based on his own military service, his view of the current war as “wrong” and as a father of two sons. But his scheme is ultimately about him and what it would mean for his ended affair with Sylvia. The news that Mitchell may have an out as a pilot, thanks to Ted’s connections with a brigadier general in the Air National Guard, is enough to provoke a nearly hysterical Sylvia into softening her approach to Don. “I hope you know that I was just frustrated with you,” she tells him in a phone call. “I do now,” he replies. “I didn’t want you to fall in love,” she says. “You didn’t feel anything?,” he asks. “No, I just … I don’t want to go through this again. You were good to me — better than I was to you.”
Sally’s discovery of Don and Sylvia having sex not long after the phone conversation was the perfect way to get the message of selfishness across to Don. He is perfectly aware of just how horrible the situation is — just look at his expressions and demeanor once he returns home that night from bingeing at a bar. He looks terrible. His chasing Sally through the building after she caught him and Sylvia that afternoon left Don disoriented; he stumbled through the lobby looking lost, shocked at how quickly everything turned. (Remember, this is the lobby where Jonesy died from a heart attack before being brought back by Arnold, a trip a drunk Don already asked him about once and may have experienced himself while face-down in a Hollywood Hills pool.) Don’s deceit is all the more cruel given the part he played in potentially saving Mitchell from war. “You are the sweetest man,” Megan tells him. “I owe you,” Arnold says after he and Mitchell stop by to offer their gratitude — a promise to return the favor. “You make me sick!” Sally yells. From behind her bedroom door, she doesn’t fight her father’s story of the “complicated” situation in which he was “comforting Mrs. Rosen,” but her silence may not last long.
It was the thoughtless behavior of Julie (Cameron Protzman), Sally’s silly and less studious friend, that sent her into the Rosen’s apartment that afternoon with the help of Jonesy’s keys. Julie thought she was doing her friend a favor by sliding a love note for Mitchell signed with Sally’s name underneath the Rosen’s door, but if she actually understood Sally, she wouldn’t have embarrassed her so. Peggy’s requested favor of Stan is less callous but comes with too much baggage. No, he isn’t her boyfriend, so no, he’s not going to come kill a rat in her apartment in the middle of the night. He doesn’t buy her last-minute offer to make the trip worth his while, either. She has grown used to having a partner around, and she has to learn how not to rely on that sense of security. Ted’s favor for Don by calling his connection had the most decency to it of all the acts in “Favors,” and even Don was surprised at the undeserved grand gesture — “Well, I bet you don’t have a lot of friends, Don, so I’m going to assume this is important,” Ted told his partner. What he wants in return is for Don to lower his weapons in the current war waging at the agency, still unstable after the merger. As Don and Roger worked on a Sunkist account (uh oh — oranges), Ted flew Pete and Peggy to meet with Ocean Spray reps, two similar companies with way too similar of products. They can’t keep competing, Ted tells him. “We’re on the same damn side.”
Ted’s confrontation with Don isn’t too far removed from the discussion he had with his wife, Nan (Timi Prulhiere), except now the roles are reversed. Ted’s family misses him, and Nan can’t compete with the chaotic world of advertising, not to mention Ted’s favorite young copywriter. “You’re obsessed,” she tells him. Earlier that night, Ted said as much while he served as Ted served as designated pilot for the Ocean Spray meeting: “This is the agency I’ve always wanted: ambition, brains and beauty.” Yet he was clearly jealous of Pete and Peggy’s joking and familiarity. Pete believes Peggy is the one who really knows him, and Ted could just feel the same way about her. But he also cares about his family, and his return home the next night to play with his sons could almost be seen as his granting Nan’s request that he at least try to enjoy his home life as much as his work one. Even if he doesn’t feel that way, his attempt to heal the rift is admirable. For now, he has been set up as the anti-Don, and I hope it isn’t only so Matthew Weiner can come in and send him down the same path as our anti-hero. Ted’s status quo is bound to change somewhat, though; situations of false happiness can turn unhealthy after too long.
Bob Benson has perfected the art of the fake smile, and now we know the reason. He is gay, and he is in love with Pete. Bob’s barely coded confession came thanks to Pete’s disgust at the idea of his mother, Dot (Channing Chase), and her nurse, Manolo (Andres Faucher), having an intimate relationship. (The hilarious banter about her newfound feelings between Pete and Peggy was an episode highlight — “Did your father ever give her spa treatments that released a fire in her loins?”) Manolo’s interests turn a different way, Bob assures him, and bless him for continuing after Pete dubbed Manolo as a “degenerate.” But why is it impossible, Bob wonders, that an elderly and easily confused woman would consider it love when someone — anyone — takes care of her and shows her kindness? If she’s happy, let her be. And is it so impossible for Pete to begin to feel differently for Bob after all that the young account man has done for him, when Pete’s “well-being is his only thought”? “When there’s true love, it doesn’t matter who it is,” a dreamy-eyed Bob says before he shifts his knee over to touch Pete’s.
Bob’s confession behind his desire to assist Pete is a nice contrast to the few lines shared between Pete and Peggy about Ted. As Pete let Peggy know he could tell she and Ted are in love, she retorted: “You’re the one who’s in love with him.” “Well, I could use an account,” Pete replied. “And he’s been generous.” Pete has saddled up to Ted as much as Bob has to Pete, but it is hard to believe anything sinister or even sneaky lies behind Bob’s workplace maneuvering. That Bob is eager to please and get ahead at SC&P is nothing new. But instead of him being a spy or a psychopathic murderer, much of Bob’s motivation actually comes from his heart. No, we can’t help who we love — look no further than the fact women and now men keep falling for the likes of Pete Campbell. We can, however, control our actions. Look at Ted. Now look at Don and Sylvia. “Tell him I’ll give him a month’s pay,” Pete says to Bob after he moves his knee away. “And tell him it’s disgusting.” Manolo is fired and Bob is harshly demeaned rebuffed before he can get his smile back on straight. Sometimes, a good deed really can’t go unpunished.
Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.