Retrolicious–Mad Men 6.12: “Quality Of Mercy”

Hosted by Tami Winfrey Harris and Andrea Plaid

Yes, Dawn, warm-and-fuzzier-than-thou Ted said “a Japanese.” Gurl…

One more episode before we say goodbye to this season of Don & The Gang. This season’s penultimate ep is full of fatherly angst, mostly coming from Don dealing with the fallout of Sally finding his in delicato with Sylvia, his mistress and neighbor, and with his protégé, Peggy, saying some nasty stuff about his treatment of her paramour and boss, Ted. Pete finds a younger version of Don in his midst; Megan’s still unaware of Don’s affair; Roger’s still blithely himself. And no sighting of Dawn this week–but you know we rectify that omission here at the R, as seen above.

Tami and I gather for our weekly ‘table, complete with side dishes of spoilers.

Tami: Now it begins…I think we are seeing the beginning of the future fans of the show always imagined for Sally. She is going away to boarding school and I imagine will become quite a handful. She is both her mother and father’s child. She can procure things for “clients,” in this case cigs for the girls at Miss Porter’s, and can use “feminine wiles” to her advantage. There was something very disturbing about her “he tried to force me” to Glenn that was reminiscent of Betty using the attraction of another man to turn Henry on. It’s true that Glenn’s friend was being aggressive and trying to cajole and then shame Sally into “fooling around,” still what she (purposely, I think) implied was something more sinister. And the smirk as the boys began fighting was telling. It was a Betty moment.

It’s also good to see Sally coming to turns with her mother. She has always seen Betty’s flaws, but put Don on a pedestal–a perch he fell from rather ingloriously. I suspect Betty and Sally’s relationship will always be contentious, but I think Sally has more insight now into why Betty is Betty.

Andrea: At the same time, what disturbed me about Sally smirking about the fight between Glenn and his friend is that it lends credence to the rape-culture myth that women start early about lying about sexual coercion. She didn’t lie; Glenn’s friend did try to force her into a sexual situation. And I’m glad Glenn took Sally’s side instead of pulling some crappy dude-bonding move and blaming Sally for what happened in front of his friend–which was probably another reason why Sally smiled. She was happy to see her childhood friend stick up for her.

Another thing Sally will blame her mom for doing to her.
Taking mother-daughter bonding a nicotine bridge too far.

I’m glad Sally’s mellowing out in her judgment about Betty, though it reminds me of the classic psychological stereotype of same-gender hatred between mothers and daughters. At the same time, I think Sally is going to be that kid who’ll dread family dinners when she’s grown because of all the shit she’s seen her parents pull on each other and her–and whose friends and partners won’t ever understand her dread because her parents weren’t abusive or negligent to her. (“They didn’t beat you, and they sent you to boarding school!”) But I think Sally’s dread will come from the cumulative effects of parents who she never quite seen as being decent adults, though they loved her and, in their way of thinking they showed that love, provided a very upper-middle class life.

 Tami: This week, Weiner and Co. handled race/racism in the way they do best, as barely visible subtext. After so many missteps this year (Mammy Thief!), I am hoping Mad Men stays that course for the rest of the show’s run. Ted and Peggy’s St. Joseph’s ad was rife with the sort of ethnic and racial stereotypes that would blow up my social media timelines in 2013: a Borscht Belt Jewish mother and “a Japanese” with a camera…always with a camera. It was a casual bias that I imagine was unremarkable in 1968.

Andrea: Completely. But we’ve also said before that Mad Men isn’t the 360-degree show about race and racism in the 60s and 70s, but specifically how white people of certain socio-economic classes in a certain geographic location handled the issue at a certain point in US history. The verdict: not very well. In essence, they’ve mostly segregated themselves from people of color, allowing only so many–OK, about three or four (Dawn, Carla, Paul’s ex-girlfriend who dumped him, and the domestic worker Megan fired–all of whom were women of color, BTW)–into their homes and workplaces. (Which, for some of the women of color, the white people’s homes were their workplaces–which, technically, we could say about the Mammy Thief.) And it is that “not very well” has been transferred to the generations after them, even as people of color have entered more and more public and private spaces since that era. Really, if you want to understand the current state of race relations and discussions about race in the US and specifically in places like the Northeast–where racism was more permeable but still intact (and it still is)–then Mad Men is a good study of it. As the cliché goes, the apples don’t fall too far from the tree.

Tami: A minor point, but it cannot go without mentioning that Harry Crane tries to pay sex workers with traveler’s checks.

Andrea: But we know Harry Crane is a bit of a fool, so…

Miranda dismissing
I’m at Ken Cosgrove having to deal with the company’s ableism, what with the partners calling him “Cyclops” after the clients shot him in the eye and Pete trying to sleaze his way into taking over the Chevrolet account. Then Pete met up with his new foe, Bob Benson.

Tami: It was interesting Monday morning reading the different interpretations of Pete’s handling of Bob Benson. Over at AV Club, Todd VanDerWerff spent a lot of time in his recap dissecting the episode’s title, “Quality of Mercy.” His take is that Pete showed Bob mercy. On Television Without Pity, some people saw Pete as not showing Bob mercy, but keeping Bob at his mercy. You can stay, but you will do my bidding and stay in line.

My take is different. I think, for once, Pete saw a battle he couldn’t win and walked away. A man with the steel to risk everything to reinvent himself can be a formidable foe, especially when threatened. That sort of person might, say, eagerly send his own daughter to boarding school to better assure she doesn’t rat out an illicit affair. Or, motivated by jealousy, undermine a fellow executive and a longtime protege.

In other words, Pete has been here before–with Don. He tattled about Don’s secret past and got nowhere. Who would ever side with pissy, self-righteous Pete over the brilliant alpha Don Draper? Pete already feels his value slipping in the office. Meanwhile, “servile” Bob Benson has been ingratiating himself one cup of coffee at a time.

You watch how you roll up on a cornered rat. And Bob’s “You need to watch what you say about people,” said through a clenched smile, while shaking Pete’s hand, sent a signal that he will bite. I suspect Pete finds the gamble of blowing up Bob’s spot not worth it. As he said, “I like to think I’ve learned not to tangle with your kind of animal.”

P.S. And now we know why Bob is forever listening to those business self-help records. He’s learning his role.

Andrea: In other words, Bob showed Pete mercy by his public fakeness undergirded with the threat of getting Pete out of Sterling Cooper & Partners. But I also wonder if that won’t come back to bite Bob–maybe not with Pete, but with another person. If nothing else, Bob has the reputation of being a weasely asskisser. Only so many reindeer games a person like that can play and get away with…

Tami: Hmmm…what are Peggy and Ted doing? They are dancing way too close to the flame. Really, the best course of action would be for Peggy to move on elsewhere. While their relationship is chaste, clearly there is great affection brewing between them that has not gone unnoticed. No good can come from them working closely together. And, given the office structure, they will always need to work closely together.

Andrea: I think half of their relationship’s frisson is that they are flirting with disaster. But, as one of the Racializens pointed out in an earlier Mad Men post, Ted is no different than some of the other straight men at the company in their infidelities. Since Ted’s nurturing management style is what we consider standard now (compared to the just-do-as-I-say style of the other partners), as Don pointed out to Peggy, Ted being in love with her doesn’t make Ted a virtuous man. He’s cheating on his wife with Peggy, feelings notwithstanding. Not that Don isn’t behaving badly regarding Ted–the fuck was that St. Joseph’s pitch Don was doing at Ted’s expense?–but Don is right about Ted as far as his relationship with Peggy.

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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at

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  • nicthommi

    I just thought of one more reason Don’s speech to Ted rubbed me the wrong way. His comment about I know she’s your little girl and you want her to have it but she can’t.
    B/c Don got Megan shoved into the copywriting department precisely b/c she wanted it. She didn’t have to earn it. She didn’t have to work for it. Much like her acting career, she only had to want it and Don made it happen. Funny how he forgets it. (And no, the fact that she did well does not mitigate the fact that she would not have gotten either chance had it not been for Don. She was already auditioning before she became his secretary. White women benefit so much from who they sleep with. Their powerful husbands frequently serve as their passports to the “big time.” Hilary Clinton’s political career is a good example of that. He may not have been responsible for her going to Yale or being a successful lawyer, but he is the reason why she’s been a presidential contender, a Senator, and Sec’t of State. Look at the biographies of several of the high profile white women in politics and academia and you’ll see that several were able to spend 10-15 years at home and still wind up as tenured professors at top schools or as powerful elected officials, catapulted ahead of WOC who have impressive credentials and who never stopped working).