Mad Men 6×11 ‘Favors’: “I’ll make it worth your while”

MadMen6x11DonCover

The things we do for other people almost always come with some sort of catch, something that boosts ourselves as much as those we’re supposedly helping.  The social obsession with power certainly exacerbates this, contributing to the selfish nature that permeates people and the actions they impose on other people.  Mad Men has consistently been a show about how people’s inevitable selfishness creates barriers between them and those they care about.  Whether it be Don’s failing marriages, Pete’s infidelity, or Roger’s feverish attempts to feel young, the selfish search for power further continually isolates everybody from one another.  This particular episode continues exploration into that terrain by examining the toxic selfishness associated with favors.  “Favors” displays the usual brilliant intricacy of Mad Men, topping it all off with a powerful and chilling climax.

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Source: AMC

Pete Campbell has had a miserable year.  His wife left him after finding out about his infidelity, his mother’s dementia keeps getting worse, and the company seems to be caring less and less about him.  He’s a man losing more and more, the people around him alienating themselves from him.  Bob Bensen has been treating him well, suggesting that he hire a man named Manolo to take care of his mother.  But Peggy heard from Pete’s delusional mother that Manolo has been making love to her, and that drives Pete to fire him.  To make matters worse, Pete finds out that Bob is gay and suggested Manolo to win over Pete’s affection.  While Bob’s intentions are genuine and pure, that sort of motivation only proves to Pete that love comes with strings.  He just wants to feel the kind of unconditional love that he believed Trudy held for him, but there’s no such thing as unconditional love.  There’s always strings, and those strings make it harder and harder to connect with anybody.

The rest of the episode revolves around Don and Sally, as well as the people that deal in favors with them.  Don finds out that the Rosens’ son, Mitchell, is going to be drafted soon and sent to Vietnam, so he tries to find somebody to keep that from happening.  It just so happens that Ted Chaough knows somebody in the National Guard that can take Mitchell to be a pilot, but, in exchange for his help, he wants Don to back off his subtle war against him.  It’s the one decent favor of the episode, where Ted just wants the company to thrive and everybody to be at peace.  That’s why Don seems so taken aback by it all; he’s so used to propositions having angles that a decent one seems unreal.  It’s almost sad how twisted Don has become, how the advertising industry and his own turbulent past has irreparably damaged him.

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Source: AMC

Sally’s having a lot of trouble with her parents, especially Betty, who is so bitter and angry that she just snaps at her all of the time.  The “good” parent in the divorce has been Don, as Don has always treated her well and cared about her.  Now, as a teenager, Sally has to navigate through her developing sexuality, uncovering parts of herself that she’s unaware existed.  Her attraction to Mitchell is an immature one, but that’s where she is at the moment.  Her friend, who has gone further with boys than she has, decides to do her a “favor” and slip the Rosens a “love letter” of sorts that Sally wrote for Mitchell.  Of course, that’s not much of a favor, as Sally obviously isn’t ready to deal with a relationship with that level of outward sexual attraction.  But Sally’s friend would rather selfishly delude herself into believing that other girls are like her than realize that he’s different than Sally.  Their relationship is just another example of favors being bizarre and damaging power plays.

But the climactic point of the episode is what cements what all of these power-plays do.  Don, in getting Ted to help Mitchell, does a huge favor for Sylvia.  However, instead of just letting that go, he manipulates her into having sex with him again.  He sees the power shift after doing such a favor and takes advantage of it.  It’s the ultimate selfish act of the episode, twisting somebody in order to drain them for his own benefit.  But it backfires, as Sally walks in on them and witnesses them having sex.  (Side note: It’s interesting how Sally’s developing sexuality is usually juxtaposed with the amount of sex that she witnesses around her, as in “At the Codfish Ball”).

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Source: AMC

This is a turning point for Don, and certainly the most horrible and chaotic thing we’ve witnessed all season.  Where Don has been able to keep his lies in check all season, now he’s come close enough to oblivion to see the destruction of his family as a possible future.  It’s legitimately scary to see Don so terrified, so lost, like there’s no right way to correct what’s happened.  And the truth of it is that there really is no way to correct it.  He’s damaged the relationships around him to the point that there’s none left untainted.  It takes an amazing show to have the audience sympathize with a man like Don, but to see him so scared is just awful.  It’s as if Don is a scared child living with a malicious and foreign entity that pushes him to do all of these selfish acts.  He understands himself enough to know that he’s messed up; he just has no idea how to fix it before everything comes crashing down.

Not only is “Favors” an episode that meticulously puts all of the pieces in place in order to knock them all down, but it boasts a game-changing finale.  Selfishness and manipulation has everybody hurting, from Pete, a man who’s alone and miserable because his family is gone, to Don, a man who’s watching his family disappear in front of him.  Sally was the one person that Don still had a real relationship with, but now that’s over.  Just as the door to Sally’s room separated her and Don, the secret of Don’s affair has created an indestructible barrier between the two of them.  The more Don gives into his selfish desires, the more he alienates everybody around him.

And this very well might have been the final nail in the coffin, the destruction of the last decent relationship he had.

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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