Lost in the Movies: Mad Men - "Favors" (season 6, episode 11)

Mad Men - "Favors" (season 6, episode 11)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Monday I will review another episode of seasons four, five, and six. Both parts of season seven will be covered in the summer of 2022 (now updated to winter 2021-22). I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on June 9, 2013/written by Semi Chellas and Matthew Weiner; directed by Jennifer Getzinger): The arc of this episode finds Don saving a friend's son and losing a daughter's love. The Mitchell Rosen crisis drives most of the narrative action; after spending the spring in the streets of Paris, the shaggy-haired child of Arnold and Sylvia has decided to prove his radical mettle by sending back his draft card. Now he's classified as 1-A, heading off to the Vietnam War unless the panicked parents can figure out a solution. Initially Megan is the one trying to intervene, talking about Canadian relatives who could take him in if he fled the country, while Don warns her not to get involved. Of course, he can't take his own advice and soon he's poking around at work: Pete's Pentagon pal will be no help and the defense-wed GM reps are simply angered by talk of draft resistance. Then Ted, in exchange for Don's promise to drop Sunkist so it doesn't conflict with his own client Ocean Spray, comes through with a fix: a friend in the Air National Guard can get Mitchell a spot in the sky. Meanwhile, Sally's friend Julie (Cameron Protzman) has more earthly concerns about Mitchell. She and Sally giggle through a sleepover, making a list of all the reasons they have a crush on the young man, and then Julie has the bright idea to sign Sally's name, seal the list in an envelope, and place it in the Rosen apartment when she's supposedly taking the trash out. Sally is, of course, appalled by this gesture and races back from the Model UN event they are heading to. At this point a number of threads coalesce into a perfect disaster.

Others have their own issues at the office. Ted is falling harder and harder for Peggy after a trip to a a cranberry juicery in Cape Cod. His wife Nan (Timi Prulhiere) isn't quite onto him, but she is concerned that he's spending too much time at work and may be growing bored at home. Bob's fix for Pete's maternal issue, a gentlemanly nurse named Manolo (Andres Faucher) backfires when Mrs. Campbell decides she and Manolo are in love (while also informing Pete that he was always an unlovable child). At first Pete chuckles, then he grimaces, and finally he's infuriated. Bob defends himself and Manolo by digging his own hole deeper, telling Pete that it's not unreasonable for someone's admiration and affection to coalesce into love...as he himself edges his knee into Pete's and stares into his increasingly uncomfortable eyes. In an episode full of such discomfiting discoveries and suspicions, however, none open up more fissures than what Sally witnesses. Borrowing the doorman's keys to sneak into the Rosens' kitchen and retrieve her envelope before any damage is done, Sally hears a noise and turns toward the bedroom. There, a grateful Sylvia is rewarding Don's generosity with one last tryst - until they see (and hear) Sally's reaction. It's hard to say who is more horrified in the subsequent emotional explosion, as Sally flees into the hallway, the elevator, and the city outside. She keeps her mouth shut until dinner, when Arnold and Mitchell show up to thank Don profusely and Sally storms from the table screaming, "You make me sick!" Perhaps not as sick as he makes himself.

My Response: Throughout this episode, I had a sinking feeling of dread. It was clear something bad was going to happen which could potentially derail Don's marriage, Mitchell's draft evasion, the partnership of the new Sterling Cooper, or all of the above. None of that happens, yet the episode delivers on its ominous hints anyway, climaxing in a discovery that Mad Men has hinted at several times and been leading toward all along. I can also admit I was wrong about the Don/Sylvia relationship and particularly my suspicion that some of its narrative turns were being developed ad hoc. Despite Cardellini's excellent performance, this element initially felt to me like a misfire or a retread. However, their break-up (or "break-up") already made it clear that this story has much to offer in terms of both psychological depth and dramatic potential. None of Don's many affairs was quite like this, involving not just a couple and a mistress but an interlocking group of friends living one floor apart. Don is not just betraying his wife but his friend (and now his daughter), further complicated by their gratitude for saving Mitchell. Prior to this, he was a man who's always lived in different worlds and tried to keep them apart. The young woman who taught his kids and lived in the neighborhood was probably the closest he'd come to this violation of intimacy, but nothing has risked his sharply-defined boundaries as clearly as Sylvia. And so it makes perfect sense that, despite not even living in the building herself, Don's daughter is the one to make that trespass explicit.

As the closing montage underscores, Don's predicament is one of many characters' struggles with loneliness and emotional distance: Ted, Pete, and Peggy - the trio saturated in camaraderie at the bar - are all examples of isolation whether married, estranged, or newly single. And for once, just once, Bob's endlessly affected mask drops and we see what he's been hiding too. No wonder Pete's mother desires what she thinks (and only thinks?) Manolo is offering her. What we need now, before the finale, is a moment with Megan - a whole episode ideally - so that we can feel her frustration and perhaps share her sense of discovering what we've known all along. A few episodes ago, Sally was reading Rosemary's Baby in bed and there are ways in which Megan's predicament recalls the 1968 film adaptation, even if Megan rather than her husband is the actor in this marriage (at least professionally). There's no supernatural Satanic cult onhand, but Megan is a young, innocent housewife whose handsome husband is just a little too involved with their suspicious neighbors in an upscale apartment building. An opportunity to trace Megan's steps as she puts the pieces together, maybe even as she realizes she - like the West Coast vision Don experienced in "A Tale of Two Cities" - is carrying a child? In that latter scenario, though, it could be Sally who faces a crisis. If another Draper child is about to be initiated into this ritual of deception, the big sister-to-be may have decide she has something to say after all.

Or, that's just the end of it, and Sally will silently carry on: one more damaged soul locking her secrets away until they eventually re-emerge to harm others in turn.

Next (active on November 22, 8am): "The Quality of Mercy"Previous: "A Tale of Two Cities"

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