You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Life is always full of mutually advantageous exchanges, isn’t it? And Mad Men’s Episode 11 serves up sexual favors all round – as convenient currency for whatever we think we want or need.
Go ask Alice? Nah. Let’s ask Sally, though Don’s daughter may opt for a trip on magic mushrooms after witnessing her father “comforting” Sylvia in a surprise reprieve of their ardent affair.
Perhaps it’s just a thank you for the favor he’s done. Problem, Sylvia? Out of stationery?
Shall we pass the hat now for Sally’s therapy?
Who Needs Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice?
We don’t quite have the Hollywood version of Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, though we aren’t too far off with Bob (and Pete?) and Ted (and Peggy?) and Don, and Sylvia, and any number of others.
Peggy finds herself cooing over the phone to Stan, as she’s literally in her rat trap of an apartment, with a squealing, bloody, dying rodent she’s desperate to have dealt with by a man! Hoping Stan will come to her rescue, she attempts an unconvincing “I’ll make it worth your while.” But no bite. From Stan, that is. He’s already in bed with someone and our intrepid heroin will need to hum a few bars of “help me make it through the night” – all on her own.
And speaking of Peggy, there are some amusing and satisfying moments with Pete – first as his mother visits the office with her slick male nurse Manolo, and Mrs. Campbell mentions the child Peggy shares with Pete, to the young woman’s understandable shock. Turns out the confused Momma Campbell mistakes her for Trudy. Let’s hear it for mental confusion!
Next we’re privy to a client trip, and the peculiar ménage à trois of Ted, Pete and Peggy enjoying their libations. A nice moment ensues between Pete and Peggy, acknowledging how long and how well they know each other.
My my, are we being manipulated to cut Pete some slack again?
Beard for Bob? Thanks and No Thanks
Not to worry. Pissy Pete reclaims his weasel status when he thinks his mother – blissfully content with her male nurse – is actually getting it on with the slightly smarmy fellow.
Not only does Mrs. Campbell disclose to Peggy that she’s suffering a “fire in her loins,” but the relationship (she says) is anything but bounded by professionalism. Um, of the non escort profession, that is, or so Pete comes to understand.
Enter Bob the charmer to set things right!
Pete takes Bob to task for his Manolo recommendation, and the obsequious go-getter diplomatically proposes that Mrs. Campbell is an unreliable source. Moreover, it seems her nurse is otherwise inclined. When Pete understands the inclination Bob is referring to, the bright-eyed boy makes a very subtle move, and Pete is both reviled and rude with a clear thanks but no thanks!
Benson exits stage left… At least he still has Joan as his beard…
Serious Favors, Serious Missteps, Serious Consequences
Moving on to more serious matters, Vietnam is raging, Arnie and Sylvia’s son has been classified 1A, and they’re desperate for any means to keep him from being called up. Don seems genuinely touched when Arnie comes to see him and eventually pulls strings with Ted of all people, in exchange for a cease fire of their office war, and an agreement to engage in real cooperation.
Don is attempting to do something selfless, yet speaking to Sylvia on the phone sparks a certain je ne sais quoi, as the affection between them is rekindled, and through a series of twists and turns, Sally walks in on Don and Sylvia in bed.
Hello? Remember age 14? Can you imagine catching a glimpse of your parents together much less the one you idolize going at it with a neighbor?
Yo! Don! Nail Betty in a mutually desirous moment? Sure. She’s the ex. We’ll cut you some slack. But Sylvia – again? Are you working on becoming your very own PSA for STDs? Care to salute the slogan “Just Say No” – albeit a few years early?
Sally’s unlikely to keep the lid on this. She’s caught between two dysfunctional households, and hey – she’s a kid! I must say though, Betty’s looking better in the domestic department these days in comparison to Megan’s indifference and Don’s irresponsibility.
And the friendship with Arnie? Now that’s going to be a loss. Ted makes a remark that Don must not have many friends – and he’s bordering on losing the only one he’s got.
Prostitution, By Any Other Name
What did Don said about becoming whores when SCDP nabs a car account?
We all prostitute ourselves when the stakes are high enough in order to get what we want – or what we think we need.
In contrast to the adult lapses of sense or sensibility, we can’t help but ache for Sally’s stolen innocence – she and friend Julie, yet to acquire the routinely accepted duplicity of the adult world. After all, Betty settled for Henry in exchange for the status and security she hoped to acquire; Don is the epitome of the self-interested deal maker; Megan has seen (and refused) the favors her director’s wife, though surely she’s making a deal with herself to turn a blind eye to what’s going on in her marriage.
Peggy isn’t above offering an exchange of her own for what she wants, Pete has few scruples, which was long ago established, and Joan is the most honest (or has been) in using what she has to achieve a measure of power.
You have to love the moral relativism in most of these characters which some might simply say is a matter of accepting adulthood. Still, can you imagine Peggy willing to trade her body for rat carcass removal? That one is a hoot, or should I say squeal? Then again, she has a tiny hankering for Stan though she’s lusting after Ted – and even Pete can see it. Would she have delivered on that favor, if her creative buddy had shown up and assisted?
And speaking of Ted, he comes out smelling like a rose in this episode – not pursuing Peggy, home early and with his sons, and a straight shooter with Don to set things right at the agency.
Spotlight on Fatherhood
Rather than focusing on Don the son in “Favors,” it’s intriguing to see the spotlight on so many of the characters as parents. And in case you’re wondering, no one’s taking home a trophy for Father of the Year, though the timing of the paternal leitmotif isn’t missed on any of us.
With the mention of Peggy’s baby, we recall her indifference or, as Don once suggested – “it never happened.” Then again, might we acknowledge that Pete seems to have forgotten about the child?
Ted engages with his children more at the insistence of his wife, while Arnie and Sylvia are both worried for their son, though they approach the dilemma differently. Don is empathetic (for a change), and genuinely goes out of his way to help – if he can.
But didn’t dallying Dick think he might get caught with his pants down at some point? Perhaps not by Sally, but putting everything including his kids at risk again?
The closing scenes are wrenching. Don tries to talk to Sally about his bedding Sylvia. Understandably shaken, Sally won’t open her bedroom door, so her dad talks outside.
Nothing like a tangible symbol of a brand new barrier between them!
Sure, she calms down as he tries to soothe her, but she’s walled up in that room, and Don is where he’s always been – unable to sustain entry to those closest to him, and hovering in hallways – as he was in his childhood, as he was outside Sylvia’s kitchen – relegated to the status of perpetual outsider.
The final shot is striking, as Don moves slowly, heavily, and quietly down the long posh corridor in his apartment, then closes doors behind him. We sense is growing distance, and eventually, our crumbling hero will be even more alone than he is already.
Images: Don, Michael Yarish; Click to access original at AMC. Sally, still from video clip; Click to access video at AMC.
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