Commentary

Episode 612: 'The Quality of Mercy,' or, Jewish Mothers, Crying Babies, And They Shot Kenny!

Mad Men Season 6 Episode 12The title of this season’s second-to-last episode (yikes!)  is “The Quality of Mercy,” which comes from Portia's famous speech in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” Lest Shakespeare seem too highfalutin' a reference, the writers also liberally sprinkle in allusions to “South Park,” Patty Duke, The Monkees, “Plop plop fizz fizz” and Roman Polanski.

Add to that Don’s incredible “wah-wah!” moment, Joan’s turn as an old Jewish lady, and Roger’s magnificent delivery of this unexpected gem: “Lee Garner Jr. made me hold his balls!” -- and we’ve been given a bright and shining episode to cradle, like a golden orb, in our hands.

So here’s the money line from “Merchant”: “The quality of mercy is not strain'd.It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven…. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

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Twinsies again! Obviously, we’re always “twice blessed” with DD in MM.

But new examples of duality include bookending the episode with Don’s pathetic fetal funk, the result of the incredibly “bad judgment” that he has the temerity to accuse his sometime work twin, Ted, of having. (And thinking with a second head! What incredible levels of projection and hypocrisy, even for Dick/Don.)

Mad Men Season 6 Episode 12We later learn that there’s another DD doppelganger in the office, BB: Bob Benson, a Xerox of an invisible-ink copy of Don. In truth, Bob had actually been a “man servant” to a finance senior vice president, who took him on a cruise, where he probably met his own “Manny.”

But this week, the real funk has to do with Don and the women:  he has lost and damaged Sally, and, later, Peggy. And with Sally’s sordid discovery, there’s no more Sylvia to kick around anymore. (Nixon reference!) And God knows why Megan is hanging around to mother him and be ignored, but that’s another story.

Indeed, the show opens with Don sleeping in his daughter’s bed, mourning a child who is now lost to him, who saw him as heroic and now calls him “disgusting.” It ends with an overhead shot of him lying in a fetal position on his office sofa after his only protégé  calls him a “monster.”

There were also lighter twin moments: Home with his joint poultices of Formula 44 and a vodka a la Tropicana,  Don watches Megan on her soap opera playing her own evil twin with such a remarkably bad, Pepe Le Pew-level French accent that he has to turn it off. Then he changed channels to find the “Patty Duke Show” on. That was the ultimate non-twin twin story, as the theme song explained it: “But they're cousins/Identical cousins all the way./One pair of matching bookends,/Different as night and day!”

Mad Men Season 6  Episode 12A hot dog might have made Patty famously “lose control,” but coming back from Detroit, Ken is a wounded warrior who now hates “steaks, guns, and yahoos in cheap suits.” 

His shoot-'em-in-the-face hunting scene with the Chevy men was one of the most deliciously written bits ever (and much more believable than the “Sopranos”-like nightmare driving scene.)

While the clients were getting in digs at Ralph Nader, we got a sly Dick Cheney buckshot reference.

If you recall, Cosgrove was the one who introduced the ride-on mower indoors in the office at that fateful Christmas party with the Brits that resulted in high spirits and some very bloody ankle mulching.  In “Merchant” terms, it is impossible to produce a pound of flesh, so G-d, (and/or Matt Weiner) has taken an eye for a foot.

Ken’s dashing, Arrow-collar eye patch is also a callback to the Moshe Dayan poster over Stan’s bed in the last episode.

But let’s get to the Ted offensive: Obviously, in the last two months, Ted and Peggy have spent considerable time in the bog, drunk on Cran-Prune and love. (I thought the comically mocked combo names alluded to the surprisingly short post-merger name of the agency, with no there there.)

Mad Men Season 6 Episode 12Ted wants to give Peggy a few things, but also a Clio, and displays that same twinkly, smiley, shot-by-Cupid’s-arrow behavior in the office that Don exhibited once he married Megan. (And which Peggy had to put up with.)

The commercial for St. Joseph’s Aspirin that Peggy is so proud of is based on the movie of  “Rosemary’s Baby.” (For the Megan-wearing-the-Sharon-Tate-T-shirt conspiracy theorists, Roman Polanski, aka Sharon Tate’s husband, directed the film.) It is the story of an immaculate conception, except this time the baby is the spawn of  the devil. (Hello, “Dante’s Inferno,” Don’s light vacation reading!)

The religiosity of the spot also alludes to Peggy’s previous ice pop commercial, which showed Mother Mary breaking the frozen treat in two. And this ad ends with a mother (Peggy, who gave up her own child in a birth she denied ever happening) bathed in white light, who can step away from the evil coven to depend on her own immaculate instinct about what the crying baby needs: St. Joseph’s, with its own sanctified plop plop fizz fizz. That’s a long way to go to sell baby aspirin.

But my favorite mother/child scene involved Betty and Sally. Obviously, both parents are extremely relieved that Sally is going to be out of their hair.

Mad Men Season 6 Episode 12Betty herself is very into this Miss Porter’s  thing. (She wanted to go to Rosemary Hall, but her parents wouldn’t let her.) It gives her bragging rights, and also a connection to alumna Jackie Kennedy, who has just shocked the world by becoming Jackie O. (Don points out that both Jackie and Betty married well, twice. Twins!)

Sally summons all of her courage, knowledge of booze, and connections to pass the mean girls’ test.

Shockingly, Glen comes climbing into the dorm window -- now a somewhat dashing young man, not creepy at all. The way Sally fends off the sexual attack (with Glen to the rescue!),  shows that Sally is not doomed at all, but preternaturally mature and in control. Again, compared with her father, now in his infancy, and her mother, a teen peer (conspiratorially sharing her smokes on the way home), Sally is the adult in the family. The decision to go to boarding school might  save her.

I was afraid that someone would die during this episode, and was relieved that the violence amounted to a loss of an orb. The loss of Ken’s eye has allowed Pete to get his foot in the door in Detroit. He seems to have matured since he outed Don and nothing came of it. He negotiated a détente with Bob, and now he’s polishing up his rifle for the move. 

Will Don pull back the throttle, as Megan suggested?  Or will Pete find a new hell? Stay tuned!

22 comments about "Episode 612: 'The Quality of Mercy,' or, Jewish Mothers, Crying Babies, And They Shot Kenny! ".
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  1. Rob Frydlewicz from DentsuAegis, June 17, 2013 at 9:44 p.m.

    Barbara, I'll write more later, but just wanted to point out that, according to the show's classic theme song, it was a hot dog that made Patty lose control. Patty Lane - a more innocent precursor to the vile Snooki Polizzi?

  2. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, June 17, 2013 at 10:12 p.m.

    My prognosis on what's next for everyone is a lot less positive than yours. The last time we saw Pete holding that gun, he was considering the ultimate act, a la Hamlet (my knowledge of Shakespeare is highly limited, but you put some in so I had to try). Pete also has a new weapon in Benson. I think both Joan and I (I wish) were taken in by him and thought he was harmless. But now that Pete has harnessed him, I expect Pete to use him at will, strictly for evil. And Benson is hardly in the position that Don was to call Pete on it. As for Sally, while she showed some skill in passing her dorm room trial, she has a Mom who shares smokes with her, and a Dad who is just happy not to be ratted out. She has no support system and could end up in big trouble. With all that, my memory of this episode will still be only one scene. I'm so happy Vine was invented. The only reason I have to use it so far, is for this clip: https://vine.co/v/hBrzXDpdazm

  3. Phyllis Fine from Mediapost, June 18, 2013 at 12:36 a.m.

    Thanks, Rob, for pointing out the mistake in the theme song quote -- "hot fudge" has been corrected to "hot dog" as the item that leads to loss of control for Patty, the girl "who's only seen the sights a girl could see from Brooklyn Heights." Shoulda sung the whole song to myself before editing!

    Phyllis
    MediaPost Editor

  4. Bob Shiffrar from Lehman Millet, June 18, 2013 at 9:33 a.m.

    And what of the cranberry juice blends? Twins of a sort, no? Peggy and Ted made much of how the cranberry-apple blend is "tart and light." Don and Bob Benson? Or maybe, just Benson. He certainly showed a tart side in this episode. And who could be cranberry-prune? In any case, we're seeing how each character is a "blend" of him/herself and another character. Sally becoming her mother, Benson a version of Don, Peggy becoming (against her will) Gleason.

  5. Rob Frydlewicz from DentsuAegis, June 18, 2013 at 9:53 a.m.

    As much as I despise him, I think Don's quick thinking at the St. Joseph's meeting prevented the agency from losing the account. The meeting was spinning out of control and Ted was oblivious to the direction it was taking. I was also in Don's corner when he suggested that using the "Rosemary's Baby" premise for the ad was risky, as Peggy making a big assumption that viewers outside of NYC would "get it".

    And so Bob Benson was once a "man servant" for a Wall St. big-wig? So was Mr. French for Uncle Bill, on the popular sitcom at the time "Family Affair", and there was no big fuss!

    Finally, I chuckled over 14-year-old Sally's world-weary drag on her cigarette (it's hard to remember her age - they grow up so fast!). She's already seen it all. However, I would have applauded if Betty had pulled over and given her daughter a good slap.

  6. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, June 18, 2013 at 11:21 a.m.

    This may not have been the best episode, but it is your very best column, so much so that I plan to re-read it even more times than I will view the episode. However, your knowledge of Catholicism is found wanting...as you confuse the Virgin Birth with the Immaculate Conception. The latter refers to Mary's conception, free of original sin. Plop-plop fizz-fizz may have anticipated the work by a couple of years. I will ask Howie Cohen, old alka copywriter and get back to you.

  7. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, June 18, 2013 at 1:05 p.m.

    Mr. French! Hah! and each character a blend-- great.h, Tom, sorry about the error. Feel free to explain Rosemary's Baby as an analogy for Peggy's commercial.
    Any deaths next week? what do we think?

  8. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, June 18, 2013 at 2:05 p.m.

    Absolvo, te
    Ite non peccati

  9. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, June 18, 2013 at 4:17 p.m.

    Of course, St. Joseph--being Mary's most chaste spouse--the reference to the Virgin Birth is somewhat connected.

  10. Bob Shiffrar from Lehman Millet, June 18, 2013 at 5 p.m.

    Any deaths? Well, in 1968, neo-Nazi Angel Angelof opened fire in Central Park, killing a 24-year old woman and an 80-year old man before being gunned down by the police.

    How old is Megan? About 24?

    Of course, Stonewall was raided in '69, so the chances of the show depicting Benson (with Pete?) being arrested is slim. Still, they've played a little fast and loose with the years before.

  11. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, June 18, 2013 at 6:04 p.m.

    What I don't like about the general plot line is that they missed an opportunity for office conflict because of the Heidi game. I would expect that Harry would have a star moment, supporting the cut-away while everyone else would have a fit. I'm guessing everyone who reads this column knows what I'm talking about.

  12. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, June 18, 2013 at 6:25 p.m.

    Thanks, Bob. I guess 1968 was full of violence in the city. and Jonathan, what year was the heidi debacle?I'm just wondering, again, that with the city getting more violent, clothing getting freer and uglier,facial hair more abundant, if that would make us less attracted to the show. It's a factor, certainly. BUt the biggie here is that Don is a lying lump of a lox. , something's gotta give, Don-wise.

  13. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, June 19, 2013 at 9:02 a.m.

    1965 was, according to the title of a new book, The Eve of Destruction. 1967, of course, was the summer of love, followed by 1968 which was just bonkers with killings and riots and Nixon running on a platform of Law and Order and Bring Us Together, not exactly triangulation but definitely bifurcating. Using Rosemary's Baby for St. Joseph's aspirin would have been useless and pretentious, but a lot of commercials (great ones) at the time recalled movies (VW used Charlie Chan, Of Mice and Men and Alka=Seltzer casted George Raft in a prison spot. But there was a great movie trailer for the rosemary's baby....a VO saying simply "Pray for Rosemary's Baby" with a baby carriage, a cry, ominous music. I remember it more than the film, although Ira Levin was an interesting writer during that era right up to sliver. I also thought St. Joseph's was definitely a children's aspirin...smaller dose, pink color, and a soft jingle advertising it. Maybe Peggy wanted to "re=position" it as baby aspirin.

  14. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, June 19, 2013 at 10:09 a.m.

    St. Josephs was chewable, and was supposed to have an orange flavor. I chewed a fair amount of it. And lived. The Heidi game was in November, 1968 (although I recalled it being in October, so it would have to be after the election). It would have been a diversion from the social troubles of the time, as the Jets, Mets and the space program were.

  15. Terry Wall from First Impressions VIdeo, June 19, 2013 at 4:53 p.m.

    So we've got one more episode before this 'season' ends. I hope we don't have to wait another year + before the next one kicks off. Otherwise, I'll banish MM, just like I did "The Sopranos!" You can't jerk your viewership around and expect to be followed! But that's me....

  16. Richard Brayer from Car-X, June 19, 2013 at 5:51 p.m.

    what struck me was ken getting shot and the "clients " laughing

    I started as an count upon graduating from media;then after about a year as an assistant AE - I got a chance to be a client

    it was very funny how little respect the client- Miles Labs S.O.S pads had for our agency account group- DDB this was 1974

    Oh, yes DDB used to have plop, fizz I don't believe I ate eh whole thing- alka seltzer was our Sister brand

    anyway after several years, I got a chance to go to a big league agency as a full AE

    It was Leo Burnett - and to my surprise the account staff was treated with great respect by clients

    But I sure understood Ken's feeling

    used to be a lot of jealousy for agency people and contempt for clients

  17. Larry steven Londre from Londre Marketing Consultants, LLC and USC, June 19, 2013 at 7:02 p.m.

    A few comments regarding Sally, Pete and TV's Dragnet: Sally is THE adult in the family. I agree when she tells her mother ...I know how important my education is, plus "My father has never given me anything." I didn't buy that Pete would yell Loudly at his mother and her helper in the office. Didn't feel authentic to me. Account managers, like Pete and Kenny, need the support of the staff so yelling at your mother from my agency experience in front of the staff would not play well. Mean spirited, with employee backlash.
    Got one more: The use of "Dragnet" TV show music and dialogue (Gannon to Friday) were priceless with a heavy hint of uncovering more information. And we had plenty of new info and soap opera intrigue. All the best, Barbara, and thanks.

  18. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, June 19, 2013 at 11:24 p.m.

    the notion was that miles laboratory parked alka-seltzer at ddb for a time so that mary wells's non-compete from tinker/ipg would run out....i don't know if that was true, but someone told me and it seemed plausible....i know DDB did some terrific stuff (marvin honig, roy grace, bob gage....passed away all....evan stark writer on mama mia still with us and still funny)..............i never met a single client as stupid as they appear on the show, but it is a show after all......

  19. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, June 20, 2013 at 9:40 a.m.

    Yes, Sally is the adult, Larry, and another point: she really has no one. She turned to prep school as a safe haven, and obvously it won't be.
    What was the Dragnet line?
    Because in her role as the evil twin with the really bad French accent (how is that, since she really is a French Canadian?) she says something like, 'don't run away from me! You must listen!"

  20. Larry steven Londre from Londre Marketing Consultants, LLC and USC, June 20, 2013 at 10:21 a.m.

    Barbara, I thought it was clever for the writers/director to play a portion of "Dragnet," the TV show with Jack Webb, as they or the viewers, us, are discovering all of this new information in this episode.

  21. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, June 22, 2013 at 6:27 a.m.

    FROM HOWIE COHEN (copywriter on can't believe i ate the whole thing):
    8:18pm Jun 21
    Yes, they screwed up big time. Plop Plop, Fizz Fizz was created by Paul Margulies just after our campaign ended, which would have made it around 1973! We can forgive them if they just show us Betty with her pants down.
    .......
    i think paul is the father of the fine actress, julianna....by the way...

  22. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, June 24, 2013 at 12:09 p.m.

    wow, thanks Tom! five years later!

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