'Mad Men' Recap: Killing Everything
And Some History on Residuals and St. Joseph's AspirinPublished: Jun 17, 2013
For the better part of season six, Bob Benson was an ingratiating hollow man, a handsome, eager-to-please cipher whose mysteriousness enabled any number of Internet conspiracy theories -- like the particularly ludicrous one placed him as a secret agent sent by the government to spy on Don Draper. Now we find that Bob Benson is Don Draper. Ish.
There are a few differences. Bob is ambiguously gay and over-obliging, while Don is all-too straight and a real pain in the ass. What unites them is that they're both frauds that have concocted their backgrounds out of the ether. The connection was there all along if you saw the Easter egg in their names, both alliterative and with the same number of letters in both the first and last names. Bob, like Don, isn't who we thought him to be. His blue blood is more like West Virginia moonshine, his education faked. And his corporate experience is limited to being a man-servant for a Brown Brothers Harriman executive who takes him to Europe in what, after Bob's recent pass at Pete, sounds like a coded gay tryst.
This knowledge comes to Pete Campbell through the most delicious of conduits: the detective work of Duck Phillips, who Pete has enlisted to remove Bob from the agency. Bob is an impediment to Pete's desperate search for relevance, now that he's insinuated himself into a Chevy account-management role that's up for grabs after Ken Cosgrove is wounded on a hunting trip with those boorish General Motors executives.
Pete is teachable in the subject of office politics if not in his shattered personal life. He knows what to do with this sort of information because he was the one who tried to out Don Draper's real identity years before. That was a spectacular failure, you'll remember, because Burt Cooper and Roger Sterling didn't give a hoot that Don Draper was really Dick Whitman. They only cared that Don kept clients cooing.
Would Bob Benson enjoy the same level of air cover if the partners found out? Probably not, but the Pete tried to out Don and got nothing for his trouble knows a more sure-fire way to use the information is to turn Bob into an indentured ally on a tough client. It also doesn't help that Pete was complicit in the shoddy hiring practices that allowed Bob onto the agency's payroll without a background check. "You walked in, complimented my tie, and walked out," Benson tells Pete after his boss interrupts another of his Frank Bettger listening sessions.
Provided that this strange-bedfellow set-up survives -- and we do have one more episode this season in which the arrangement can unravel -- the question becomes: Why do we need another Draper figure?
The easy answer is that the ranks need to be replenished because the original Draper is on his last legs. Matt Weiner has informed us that no one will die this season, but it is certain that Don is still headed for a bottom. Because he is, even in the best of times, a bottom-dweller, this is no easy task for the writers to communicate.
The episode opens with Don enlivening his orange juice with a stiff pour of vodka. This, I think, is a meaningful drink. Part of the aforementioned bottoming-out requires us to understand Don Draper as a Full-On Alcoholic rather than just An Extremely Heavy Drinker and that takes some doing. We've already seen the bottle of Canadian Club on the nightstand this season and now we get the breakfast screwdriver, an effective trope of TV alcoholism at least since Tom Hanks guest-starred on "Family Ties" as Alex P. Keaton's drunk Uncle Ned. (He also quaffed vanilla extract, memorably.) But the mechanics of his drinking are ultimately less important than the torment he heaps upon himself and the women in his life.
Megan, for instance, has gone beyond naïve and is squarely in the territory of idiotic by this point. Her apparently unconditional love for the sociopath is tough to watch and she's not helped out much by the flickers we get of her ludicrous soap opera. It's funny that the movie she takes Don to see is "Rosemary's Baby," the classic horror film in which a young wife living in a fancy New York apartment is completely oblivious to the fact her husband has done a deal with the devil to help his acting career. The real terror of that film is less her Satanic spawn than the inability of Rosemary, played by a waifish Mia Farrow, to see how she is being manipulating by her husband and neighbors, which, um, yeah, sounds like Megan.
Then there's Sally, who was pictured earlier this season reading "Rosemary's Baby." That image of her dad boning the neighbor lady hasn't sat well, natch, and Sally is no longer up for visiting Don and Megan. The answer is boarding school, where she spends a night as part of the audition and encounters a couple boy-, drink-, and weed-hungry students who, hazingly, want her to turn up some of the above. She delivers the familiar face of Glen Bishop, grown-up peacenik and pretty handy with the ladies. He awesomely roughs up a dude who gets fresh with Sally. Is it too much to ask that Glen ends up being the man in Sally's life? We know she needs one, after the Don let-down. "My father," she tells Betty, "has never given me anything."
Lastly, there's Peggy, who at the start of the episode has two things going for her that, by the end, Don has undermined. The first is a great if expensive ad idea for St. Joseph's children aspirin inspired by "Rosemary's Baby." The second is her ever-complicated relationship with Ted Chaough. To the repulsion of the other creatives, the two are flirty and giggly as they brainstorm ideas for Ocean Spray. They're at the movies at the same time as the Drapers, supposedly to fact check whether there's "a Japanese" in the ending scene.
Taking Peggy to the movies is really treading on Draper turf, and there are repercussions. Don tries to torpedo Peggy's ad by alerting the St. Joseph client to the attendant budget concerns, which gets us a classic Draper-handling-the-client moment and an ensuing trademark "Mad Men" compromise. After Don claims that the idea was the last from the late Frank Gleason, he wins more budget for the ad and a confrontation with Ted.
Don's "you're not thinking with your head" speech brings the Peggy-Ted thing to a halt, which naturally has storming Peggy in his office. "You killed everything," she tells him. "You're a monster." The episode ends up with Don in a fetal position on his office couch and a bit of psychedelia from The Monkees playing over the credits. "The Porpoise Song" is the theme from the movie "Head," the opening of which features The Monkees plunging off a bridge, in sort of "Mad Men"-like fashion.
The high cost -- $50,000!! -- of the St. Joseph ad is blamed on the residual payments that would be made to its many actors. Back in 1968, soaring ad production cost were firmly on the radar of agencies. Per a New York Times story from back in the day, TV commercial costs were up 72% over five years. Residuals were an issue -- a report from the 4A's even urged overseas shoots in places where actors don't get them. Other culprits were union pay increases as well as the creation of original music, the use of star directors, and the rise of color advertising. Color, it's worth noting, was behind Sunkist's decision in the episode to ramp up its ad budget. (We had more on Sunkist and Ocean Spray in last week's recap.) To keep those costs in check, Grey launched a Commercial Production and Administration Department back in June 1968.
The Dick Cheney moment that left Ken Cosgrove in a eyepatch yielded a terrific back and forth about the risks of client management. "I once had a client cut my wife's breast," offers a consoling Jim Cutler. But Roger Sterling one-ups him: "Lee Garner Jr. made me hold his balls."
The St. Joseph's client mentions that when the company got hold of the commercial budget he got reamed out by "Mr. Plough." No, he's not talking about Homer Simpson's side business, but rather Abe Plough, founder of the eponymous company. Plough bought St. Joseph in 1920.
As of the early 1960s, St. Joseph was a big believer in spot advertising, putting the lion's share of its budget into daytime programming, possibly even around Megan Draper's show. In the late 1960s, it lost its spot as number-one children's pain-reliever to Bayer. The brand was discontinued in the 1980s and then relaunched in 1993 and marketed to heart attack-fearing adults.
Many years after the "Mad Men" days, the brand came up with a pop culture-inspired ad.
Its source material was not a Roman Polanski movie, but an episode of "Happy Days" when Potsie displays his knowledge of biology.