'Mad Men' recap: 'The Quality of Mercy'

  • Pete Campbell, played by Vincent Kartheiser, from "The Quality of Mercy."
Pete Campbell, played by Vincent Kartheiser, from "The… (Jaimie Trueblood/AMC )
June 17, 2013|By Karmen Fox | For The Baltimore Sun

"The quality of mercy is not strained.”

The title for this episode comes from Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.” On this Father’s Day, Don could use mercy from his daughter and himself. Instead we find him curled up in a fetal position on his couch, ready to admit defeat.

The penultimate episode didn’t pull any last-second twists, like Sally walking in on Don and Sylvia. That is, except for the fact that Bob Benson is not who we think he is … again! Only this time, it feels more believable. I knew he was up to something sneaky.

Mostly, "The Quality of Mercy" felt like a set-up for next week’s episode, especially with Don’s increasing detachment from Megan. Since Don and Megan’s relationship is fizzling, let’s start off with Ted and Peggy’s flourishing romance.

Much to the annoyance of everyone at SC&P (and the audience), Ted and Peggy are in love. Over-the-moon, out-of-this-world, in-your-face love. Don walks past the conference room to see the pair giggling. They’re working on their slightly funny/esoteric TV ad for St. Joseph. Peggy wrote it and Ted couldn’t be prouder -- or more smitten.

The lovebird’s re-enactment of the ad is obnoxious and a tad nauseating. The only redeemable part is Don. How satisfying must it have been for Ted, Peggy and even Joan to see Don portray a baby, wah-wah-wahing and all?

But then Ted pulls Peggy by the waist and calls her the “beautiful bride.” That’s where Don flinches and the jealousy comes out. Later Joan gives him the ammunition he needs: There aren’t enough funds for a cast that big.

Rather than let Ted handle it, Don surreptitiously sent St. Joseph the updated ad costs. The upset client comes in and Ted can’t sway him.

Don, as vindictive as ever, says the reason for Ted’s push on this ad is personal. It’s clear he means Peggy -- even Joan throws a side-eye at him -- but says that it was Gleason’s last idea.

Ted, irate, upbraids Don after the meeting. Don coolly justifies his decision. True, his sabotage/save of the St. Joseph ad was mortifying and cruel, but he has a point: Ted’s infatuation with Peggy has impaired his judgment so much that they barely bother to hide it.

Everyone, including Ted’s secretary, knows about their romance. In fact, his secretary was fed up with Peggy, heavily hinting she pays too many visits.

And she’s not the only one annoyed. Joan rolled her eyes during their cutesy ad reenactment, and Ginsberg was frustrated that Ted only gushed over Peggy’s ideas. The only person who seemed intrigued and not repulsed was Megan, thanks to her obsession with juicy soap angles.

“You hate that he is a good man,” Peggy snarls when she storms into Don’s office. “He’s not that virtuous,” Don states matter-of-factly. “He’s just in love with you.”

Again, this comment stems from Don’s deep-seeded jealousy, but mostly from the fact that he’s right: Ted isn’t that genuinely nice of a guy. If he were, he wouldn’t get Peggy wrapped up in an affair.

Whether Ted and Peggy’s affair is purely emotional or recently turned physical is uncertain. Sure, we assume they go on a date together after running into Megan and Don, but don’t see them head back to Peggy’s rat-infested apartment. Hopefully, Ted sprang for a hotel room if they did have a post-dinner tryst.

But I’m convinced that Peggy is more in love with the idea of Ted than Ted himself. He lavishes her with adoration that none of her previous beaus (Pete, Abe) or bosses (ahem, Don) have given her.

While that might be conceived as virtuous, I find it repulsive when he sends her out of the room whenever there’s a confrontation with Don. I realize she’s his subordinate, but his general let-the-men-handle-this vibe is off-putting. Let the girl stand up for herself.

Last week, Sally and Don’s relationship unraveled after she witnessed her father’s indiscretion. Sally coped by applying to boarding school. Don dealt by drinking himself into a stupor. Because why talk it through when you can drink it away?

What a sigh of relief it was to see Sally sign up for boarding school. That’s certainly a step up from The Village or a hippie commune that I dreaded she would join in rebellion.

Instead, we got this: “I want to be a grownup, but I know how important my education is.” How is Sally this functional with such emotionally unavailable parents? That child shrink worked wonders. Pity she couldn’t’ do the same for Betty.

But then I saw the girls at her boarding school. “You’re not allowed to talk anymore. Our opinion is crucial to your acceptance.” Uh oh. Catty, bossy bitches. Does Sally really need the teen version of her mother? Didn’t think so.

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