Mad Men 6×12 ‘The Quality of Mercy’: Soaring past windows

Mad Men 6x12 Cover

Mad Men is a subtle, quiet show, but only when it wants to be.  It knows how to navigate a person’s emotions, slowly pulling at them, teasing them, until pivotal moments when it just tears them apart.  Last week’s “Favors” was one of those episodes that delivered a gut-punch pivotal moment at the end, when we witnessed a horrified Don chase after his daughter after having been caught having an affair with Sylvia.  This episode offers up another one of those moments, slowly building to it with the attention to character and detail that we see so regularly on Mad Men.  Ultimately, “The Quality of Mercy” deals with the subject of mercy and power, weaving them together in order to show how a lack of genuine mercy can be so viciously damaging.

Mad Men 6x12 Pete

Source: AMC

The episode offers up a couple different takes on mercy, all seen through the lenses of either Pete, Sally, or Don.  Pete is, by far, the most merciful of the bunch, as he learns Bob Benson’s secret and lets him off the hook.  After Ken is accidentally shot in the face during a freak hunting trip with Chevy, he pushes Chevy off onto Pete, who is told to work on it with a bizarrely gracious Bob Bensen.  Of course, that freaks Pete out, as he knows about Bob’s homosexuality and wants nothing to do with him.  So, Pete tries to figure out how to destroy Bob, calling Duck to do it.  Duck finds out that Bob’s resume is completely false to the point of maybe even containing a false name, that Bob was a “man-servant” at his old “job”.  But this is something that Pete has seen before, when he found out about Don way back in Season 1.  He sees that his mercy won him loyalty back then, and that mercy now would only do the same.  So, he spares Bob from what would be a brutal firing and possibly some fraud charges.  His mercy wins him the loyalty of a fellow employee instead of Bob’s malice and possibly the malice of the rest of his co-workers.

Mad Men 6x12 Sally

Source: AMC

Sally, on the other hand, shows no mercy at all when Betty takes her to her interview at boarding school.  Sally wants to escape from her mother and father, that escape driving her so hard that she wants to go all the way out to boarding school to do so.  So, when Sally ends up having to stay the night at the school as a trial run of sorts, her and her roommates decide to invite some boys over, one of those boys being her old friend Glen.  And when the other boy Rollo hits on Sally, she lies and tells Glen that he was forcing himself on her, thus inciting a fight in the middle of the dorm room.  Sally, when she wants to, can exhibit the qualities of both her mother and her father.  She uses her sexuality as a means to get power, just as her father does.  She contains the vicious malice that her mother has.  And she’s as manipulative as the both of them.  So, the fight that she instigates is one void of mercy, one meant to exert control over a boy who was trying to exert control over her.  She doesn’t necessarily like trouble, but she likes to be the cause of it.  Causing trouble requires power, and considering how disempowered Sally is, causing trouble seems like a lot of fun to her.

And then we have Don, so beaten by his latest failure (the betrayal of Sally’s love and trust) that he finds himself trying to be a good person at work.  However, that doesn’t work as well as he’d like, as per usual.  Sure, he tries to give up some control to Ted.  He attempts to give up Sunkist since Ted already has Ocean Spray (which is competition that cannot be reconciled), but he ends up getting that anyway because of a media deal Harry makes.  However, over the course of the episode he notices Ted and Peggy cozy up to each other, laughing ridiculously like a new couple in love, having fun and being happy.  Of course, Ted and Peggy aren’t actually together, but they’re able to engage in a pseudo-relationship that keeps them happy at work.  But Don sees that as a threat, as if Ted is taking away his protégé, the one good thing he has left at work.  So, he tries to keep from being too judgmental, even though Ted is letting his love for Peggy get in the way of his work, since Ted decides to try to shoot over-budget a commercial that Peggy dreamed up.  Don even nods his head at an idea that he’s not entirely a fan of, a commercial for St. Joseph’s inspired by Rosemary’s Baby, in order to try to be a better, more accepting person.

Mad Men 6x12 Don

Source: AMC

However, when Don sees Ted getting walked on by St. Joseph’s because of the attempt to shoot the commercial over-budget, he makes a vicious power play.  He first terrifies Ted into thinking he’s going to tell the St. Joseph folks about Ted’s love for Peggy (in an attempt to explain the reason for shooting over-budget), but inevitably says that the commercial was Gleason’s last idea and that they were all being sentimental.  He later tells Ted that he’s not thinking clearly because of his love for Peggy, and that’s something Ted takes so heart, as he starts to avoid Peggy.  Don exhibits some mercy, but it’s so self-serving that it just backfires and alienates him further from the both of them.  He deludes himself into thinking that he’s a good person, that he’s doing what he can for the company, but the truth is that he’s a mad dog looking for a semblance of control.  He’s lost Sylvia, he’s lost Sally, and in an attempt to get Peggy back, he’s lost her as well.  She just calls him a monster who destroys whatever he desires and storms out of his office.  It’s a truly heart-breaking moment, to see Don’s protégé completely denounce him, but that’s the price of his selfishness.  Mercy would have saved his relationship with Peggy, but he doesn’t understand how to be merciful when it doesn’t benefit him.

Ultimately, Don’s misery is indicative of the way that people try to be good, but end up failing because of their own inability to overcome their selfishness.  Don could be merciful, could give up his power-driven ways to be a better person, but he lacks the drive to move forward.  And, of course, this results in yet another relationship dissolved.  Don’s selfishness has been isolating him for years, and it seems that this season has been placing the final nails in his coffin.  If Season 5 was about being defeated by the inability to satisfy one’s self, this season is about being defeated by one’s inability to move forward, the inability to change while the world changes anyhow.

So, if last episode has Don’s relationship with Sally dissolving, and this episode has his relationship with Peggy dissolving, then the season finale doesn’t bode well for our sinking protagonist.  He’s like the faceless man in the opening credits, falling from the top of a building, soaring past windows on his way down to the bottom.

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.

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.