And speaking of Pete: It may not make sense now, Bob Benson, but you dodged a bullet with this one. We've touted Pete as the socially progressive SC&P staffer because of his views on race, but this episode showed his attitudes toward sexuality—be it homosexuality or just non-traditional sexuality—aren't nearly as accepting. (For the time period, that's not all that surprising. But even back in Season 3, Don showed humanity and discretion after finding out Sal Romano was a closeted gay man, so we've seen Mad Men characters handle it better than Pete does.) I think you're right, Eleanor, to say Bob's on his way out, and I think he probably knows it.
Amy, you're up: Your reactions on Don and Sylvia and Sally's big awkward surprise? What's next for single Peggy? And how about Ted and Don's shaky peace agreement—should we be taking over-under bets on how long that lasts?
Sullivan: Wow. My high school Model U.N. competitions were nothing like that. The only conceivable teeny tiny upside to Sally's traumatic surprise is that it redeemed one of the many Dick Whitman flashbacks we've been treated to this season. The scene immediately recalled Dick peering through the keyhole to see his stepmother on her back as their new landlord claimed her.
If Don were the self-aware type, he would be worried not only about the possibility that Sally will tell someone but also that he's just poisoned his daughter's view of men the way his own view of women was warped and shaped at a young age. In a way, that would be more tragic. Dick Whitman grew up knowing his mother was a prostitute and spent part of his childhood literally living in a whorehouse. But Sally—despite the rough spots you mentioned, Ashley—has largely maintained her innocence. The closest she's come to having a boyfriend was creepy Glen, who was actually pretty sweet to her. She's still at the age where she can develop a massive crush based on two minutes of seeing a boy in the lobby. And I found most endearing and heartwarming the warning Sally gave Julie about boys not liking her if they knew she wasn't prepared for Model U.N. Please don't let go of that, Sally. There are men who like smart women.
But as Roger said at the start of the episode, "Not all surprises are bad." And, God help me, I actually liked Pete in that scene with Peggy and Ted. It worked partly because Elisabeth Moss and Vincent Kartheiser can be so darn charming together. But on a show that likes to posit that people never really change, it was also refreshing to see these two characters so at ease and comfortable with who they are (Pete's bout of self-pity aside) in a way that wouldn't have been possible several seasons ago. Although I'm another fan of Peggy and Stan's friendship, Pete is the one who has traveled the path with her as they've risen up the ranks of their careers. "You really know me," he tells Peggy. And she answers, "I do" with tears in her eyes.
That said, Peggy, don't you dare end up with Peter Dyckman Campbell. You asked what's in store for our newly single Peggy, Ashley. Based on her history, I'm a little concerned. She wouldn't be the first smart, professional woman to have horrible taste in men, but let's review: Pete, Duck, Abe. I'm hoping the cat takes care of Peggy's rat problem—and of any thoughts that she needs a boyfriend at the moment. Pegs could do with a breather. It's actually a relief that the whole Ted thing has dialed back to the occasional drunken flirtation.
Because Ted can be an insecure child himself, as we saw in this episode. I'm fascinated by the fact that he's so obsessed with Don, usually so much better at reading people, and yet thinks Don is purposely sabotaging him. For once, Don didn't have to bluster or play dumb—he honestly didn't know what Ted was talking about because lately he's just been too checked out to consciously undermine Ted. "Be better at it," Ted lectures Don about his job, and it's kind of shocking to realize how much Don has dropped the ball at work this year. He comes through in a crisis—sometimes—like snagging the Chevy account. But he's pretty awful on the day-to-day stuff.
Don's head was elsewhere for most of this episode, as soon as he learned that Mitchell Rosen was 1-A. He initially blusters to Megan—and it is interesting that he so often plays the role of her father, intentionally pissing her off by criticizing her generation—calling Mitchell a "stupid kid" and oh-so-hypocritically noting that "he can't spend the rest of his life on the run." But Mitchell's plight hits Don harder than he lets on at first, and not just because it involves Sylvia's son.
The conversation between Don and Arnold at their neighborhood pub is worth watching again, because Arnold really is one of the rare people Don seems to both admire and like. (My favorite line of this episode? Ted's spot-on observation before he helps Don: "I bet you don't have a lot of friends, Don, so I'm going to assume it's important.") Don actually defends Mitchell to Arnold—"You have to admire his ideals" and "The war is wrong" and finally, "I'm sure he's a good kid," to which Arnold quietly says "The best," and breaks down.
Don had to have been brought back to his experience in Korea as a terrified young soldier who was just looking to get away from home. "I wanted to go," he tells Arnold, "and then when I got there..." When he got there, he wanted out, by any means necessary. Don spends this episode doing everything he can--even totally ruining a client dinner—to get someone else out of the position of ending up frightened out of his mind in the middle of a war. He may not realize that's why he's doing it, but his commitment to the effort—Don almost seems terrified himself by the idea of going back into war—is very personal.
As for the Talented Mr. Benson? I have no doubt he'll figure into the last two episodes of this season. And I don't buy that his eager beaverness has all been for Pete's sake.