TV Club

Mad Men Favors review: Is this Bob Benson’s secret?

I am really worried about Bob Benson. And about Sally.

Michael Yarish/AMC

Seth, Hanna,

Sally really has a knack, doesn’t she? First she walks in on Roger Sterling and Megan’s mother last season, and now she stumbles in on her father and Mitchell Rosen’s mother. But that knack runs in the family. Remember young Don Draper earlier in the season, looking through the keyhole at his stepmother and his “Uncle Mac”? The loss of innocence, as Seth discusses, is often as much the consequence of your own actions as much as what happens to you. Quiet, monastic types don’t lose their innocence as quickly as the girls running around breaking and entering with keys cadged from the doorman.

Speaking of, I wonder what happened to Sandy, that girl from the beginning of the season who played violin, and went to live in the East Village? She was disgusted with the world around her, and now Sally may also have equal reason to be disgusted, to run. Although we also know her mother will chase her.

What’s remarkable to me about Don’s situation with Sally, and about this entire season, is that over the last many years the people with the most power and privilege on the show made their very big, adult decisions, and everyone else had to pay for them. Typically the person who pays is the person who can afford it the least. And that process has been breaking down lately, just failing, especially for Roger and Don. (Ted, on the other hand, is getting what he wants: out of the firm, out of Don, and possibly even out of his family.)

And now we have Don back at the doorway (the title of the first episode) whispering, well, advertisements into his daughter’s ears, trying to restructure her reality. Sally is being tested.

Can she understand what her father is asking? I don’t think he is asking her to forget what she’s seen. I think Don is describing a reality that is easier, simpler, better than the ugly reality. Giving her the choice, letting her pay the bill later. This is the awful part of adult life: When we choose, actively, to deceive ourselves. Here she was obsessing over Mitchell, and now she’s got to make a decision as to whether to follow along with her father and act as if nothing happened, or stick to the facts. We’ve seen him beg this season, and plead, and squint, and fall back into the arms of Sylvia. As I’ve watched Don this year I thought he was a man who can’t stop himself, who takes what he can get. But watching him whisper at the door I see a drunken, miserable guy who doesn’t know what he wants. And who, when he tried to do something noble for Mitchell, found himself right back in a sinkhole of moral failure. And who, also, has a bad cough.

I’m worried about Sally.

I’m also worried about Bob Benson, Seth. Thank you for asking. Because at some level he has been treated so cruelly that it would make a regular person disappear into oblivion. His small speech to Pete was one of the most revealing moments for the character:

“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 well-being was his only thought, is it impossible that you might begin to feel something for him? When there’s true love, does it matter who it is?”

I suppose the fact that Bob came on to Pete could be seen as the “reveal” of his secret, but is sex the only driving force of this character? What I saw in particular was that, after his speech above, he is ordered to fire Manolo. Bob’s face changed so suddenly, from soft empathy to one of pure do-goodery, and he said: “Of course.” As he marched out of the office there was, I thought, a look almost of wonder in his eyes, as if to say Did that just happen? Because for all the awkwardness of their knees touching, Pete still needs Bob.

Bob’s naivete is surprising, though. When there’s love, it very much does matter who it is. That’s been one of the themes of the show, back to Don’s early flings and the tragic story of Sal Romano. But it’s also a theme with Don and Sylvia (and many other women); and of Roger with Joan, and Joan with Roger and also Greg Harris. And with Peggy and everyone.

Poor Peggy. She literally can’t give it away. She tells Pete about his mother’s possible fling with her nurse to get the weirdness off her chest, and once again her actions lead to a terrible outcome—Manolo fired, Pete’s mother alone. Peggy can’t get a break, so she gets a cat. Pete is surrounded by people who would do anything for him and yet is left alone eating Raisin Bran, sending Bob out to do his dirty work. It’s a mess.

Also, as Seth asked,what was going on with the Moshe Dyan poster in Stan Rizzo’s bedroom?

The thing that set off so much of the terrible action this episode was Don acting not just selflessly but actively trying to preserve the innocence of a young man: Willing to sacrifice the relationship with General Motors, willing to make an oath to Ted (and Don’s code, for all his failings, will bind him to that), trying everything just to keep this young man, the son of a woman who ditched him, from having to suffer through Vietnam. He tried so damn hard to put something right, to organize the universe, to preserve innocence. And then it all crumbled, everything crumbled, exactly because of his attempt.

My hobby is coming up with names for the XP,