This season of Mad Men may prove to be my favorite of the whole series. Not just because the acting is wonderful, the writing superb, and the direction inventive and exciting, but because the show does something that most others can't: it builds drama on top of memory and history. Be it personal history or world history, the tension and excitement in each episode this season has, in some way, mirrored or echoed parts of the past. And in the penultimate episode, "The Quality of Mercy," those same fears, anxieties, and mysteries of seasons past have come back to the forefront, reasserting them with interesting effect on the new guard.
Which is why Ken, Sally, Peggy, and Bob Benson were arguably our most central characters tonight. Each of them is a product of their respective environment, affected in that deep, insidious way of which we're only seeing the seedlings. Ken got an eyeful (but not that kind), Sally broke the rules, and Bob got put in his place. Whether it's getting shot, getting a shot, or getting shot down, the direct and indirect affect of other's actions are being played out to varying degree.
So Ken got shot by Chevy, and is sick and tired of playing the game. So Pete has oh-so-graciously accepted to takeover. The only thing is — woopsie poopsie! — Bob Benson's on the account. And he ain't going anywhere, y'all. Why? Because not only does he know the landmines, he's a Don Draper part two. And here's Pete, dealing with his own historical repetition: what to do with the pretty little liar? Expose him,
Sally Draper is so the product of her parents, huh? Now that she's lost her innocence, she's hanging out with the manipulative mean girls — just like her mother — and running away from her problems like good ole Don. In contemplating Miss Porter's Finishing School, Sally's trying to run away from the things that have scarred her (sort of like how Ken's running away from the physically-scarring Chevy account!), but all she's really doing is restarting the cycle again. On the ride home from Connecticut, Betty offers Sally a cigarette, noting that Don must've given her a bit of booze at some point in her life, Sally flatly (and brilliantly) quips, "My father has never given me anything."
Fathers! Man, what monsters, eh? Happy Father's Day, by the way. Love, Matthew Weiner.
And the fathers of the group — Pete, Don, Roger, Ted — can't seem to understand how their actions are affecting other people. It's downright childish, really. (Oh, how the tables have turned!) Ted and Peggy's lingering feelings for each other have become the business' problem, and in order to squash it once and for all, Don pulled the most childish move of all: shitting all over Peggy in the name of business. Her great idea for an ad campaign based on Rosemary's Baby (again with that text) is no longer her own, but rather presented as the last idea of Frank Gleason. And for what? An extra $10,000 on the budget? Sure, her relationship with Ted is obvious, but inter-office relation morality is hardly the wagon onto which anyone at SC&P could hitch their wheel.
It's funny to see the old boys like Don acting like bigger babies than the young kids on the show (made all the more hilarious by Ted "casting" him as the baby/camera of the ad's mock-up). The episode being bookended by overhead shots of Don lying in the fetal position was no mistake. Everything's a cycle: life, history, relationships, business, and if you just go along with it, you might end up a cog in the wheel. Probably why they picked a Monkees' song (a pre-fabricated pop group that later went on to assert their own individuality and independence from the machine that created them) to end the episode. Because the only thing you can rely on to break the cycle is self-awareness.