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SOMETHING GIVEN, SOMETHING GAINED: MAD MEN, SEASON 6 EPISODE 11, “FAVORS”

June 11, 2013

This episode of Mad Men, “Favors,” was true to its title. In an almost cyclical rhythm, each character asked favors of another, and the motive behind old favors was revealed. In thinking about this episode, I used the word “favor” so much that it started to lose all meaning. When I looked it up (in an online dictionary, of course) to ground myself, I was struck by this definition: “a gracious kindness.” The favors in this week’s episode were not generally motivated by gracious kindness — these were the kind of favors given out with the hope that they will be repaid.

The first request comes from Mitchell, Sylvia and Arnie’s son. He asks Megan, a Canadian citizen, to help him escape the draft. This is actually the purest exchange in the episode; Megan genuinely wants to help Mitchell, but Don shuts her down. It’s only when he sees what he can gain — that is, Sylvia — that he dedicates himself to Mitchell’s cause.

This sets Don off on a favor-requesting spree; first he asks Pete (not the first time he’s done this), then, awkwardly, he feels out the Chevy people, who are certainly NOT going to help him. This leads to Ted, who WILL help — if Don will concede the war between them, lower his weapons, and join his team. They shake on it: favor exchanged.

Once this arrangement is made, it DEVASTATINGLY coincides with the favor that Sally’s bitchy little friend, Julie, has done for her. Amidst much larger problems, Julie is purely boy-obsessed, and she slides Sally’s notes about Mitchell’s best assets under Sylvia and Arnie’s door. Practical Sally can’t bear this, and so – begging a favor of the doorman, who gives her the master key ring — she goes to retrieve it — at the exact moment that Don’s favor to Sylvia has paid off. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. It’s horrifying; really horrifying.

Sally is not the only child who must contend with her parent’s sexuality; Pete, too, is trying not to picture his mother with Manolo, the nurse that he hired at Bob Benson’s suggestion. Mrs. Campbell tells Peggy that Manolo has awakened a fire in her loins. Peggy, drunk, relays this to Pete (she glosses over the fact that Mrs. Campbell mistook her for Trudy, and begged her to stay with Pete for the sake of their child — HELLOOO).

PeteBob

Anyway, this leads to the big reveal of the episode. After an exchange with his mother about the whole situation, Pete comes to the source of the problem: Bob. Bob says: “Is it really so impossible to imagine? Couldn’t it be that if someone took care of you, very good care of you, if this person would do anything for you, if your wellbeing was his only thought, is it impossible that you might begin to feel something for him? When there’s true love, it doesn’t matter who it is.” His eyes sparkle and his knee touches Pete’s – collectively (I assume), we flash back to Bob running out to get Pete toilet paper and it all becomes clear: Bob is in love with Pete. BOB IS IN LOVE WITH PETE.

Not knowing what else to do, Bob has shown his affection for Pete entirely through favors. I can’t help but to now view Bob as an updated Sal – Sal, who once invited Ken Cosgrove over for dinner to discuss his story. Things are ever, ever so slightly easier for Bob — after all, he dares to speak as he does, and so far hasn’t been fired for it – but it’s still completely devastating. What will become of Bob now?

The final piece of this episode’s puzzle is Peggy, who lives alone now and must contend with the blood of dying rats. She calls in a favor from Stan (offering her own favors in return), but he can’t make it – his bed is full. Peggy is surrounded by the hints of connection — her friendship with Pete seems strong, even with the reminders of their long-lost child, and Ted does seem to be silently in love with her, as even Pete can see. But at the end of the day, she’s alone.

Peggy

Ted, though probably lonely, is not alone, and his last appearance in the episode is a testament to his character. Earlier he’d dealt with the disappointments of his wife, but he stands in stark contrast to Don as a man who won’t give up on his marriage and who wants to be the best that he can. For Ted, the episode ends with the picture of good fatherhood: he sees his boys watching TV while their mother sleeps, and, with his finger on his lips, carries them out of the room so that she can rest. Don, drunk, leaves his cuckolded wife at the dinner table and his angry daughter in her room so that he can pass out alone with his indiscretions.

Favor after favor after favor, and yet everyone but Ted ends up alone: Don in his room, Sally face down on her bed, Megan drinking wine with Julie, Pete eating the remains of a box of Raisin Bran. We didn’t get to see another shot of Bob, but he must feel exquisitely lonely. This was an intricately plotted, and ultimately sad, episode.

Observe the favors on Portable.

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