When news came on Friday that NO ONE would die for the rest of the season on Mad Men, I won’t lie, I was hugely disappointed. Not just because we’d be deprived of that death, and not just because all those wild theories that I had a hand in spreading wouldn’t come true, but because it meant that perhaps all the symbolism, the allusions, and the references were choices by the set and design teams, or coincidences of the time, and not meticulously considered additions by Matt Weiner. “Rosemary’s Baby was popular at the time,” Matthew Weiner said, explaining away all the Rosemary’s Baby allusions. You mean that was it? No subtext? No layers? I really have been reading too much into Mad Men.
But last night’s episode assuaged all of my concerns because in the case of Mad Men, the grounded reality is better than the wild conspiracy theories, anyway. There’s so much drama, such brilliant writing, amazing acting, and fantastic plot turns that it’s actually OK that the Sharon Tate T-shirt was just that: An homage. Not predictive of anything.
It didn’t hurt, either, that there was meaning to all the orange symbolism, not necessarily as foreshadowing death, but foreshadowing something bad happening. Roger juggled oranges last week, and Sally walked in on Don comforting Mrs. Rosen. This week, this image came from the scene exactly before Ken Cosgrove was shot in the face.
Matthew Weiner, you cheeky bastard. Also, THEY KILLED KENNY. Well, no: He lived, but for a few minutes there — because we didn’t get the reveal for a full ten minutes until after Ken was shot — we were left to believe that he was dead. But what’s better than a dead Ken Cosgrove? Dread Pirate Cosgrove, of course!
So, orange does mean something; in fact, the entire season — specifically the conflict between the two sides of Sterling Draper & Partners, between Ted and Don — appears to be coming to a head over Sunkist, the orangiest of orange products. But more importantly, Ken Cosgrove getting shot in the face Dick Cheney style gave us a clinic in sass from Roger Sterling, Bert Cooper, and Jim Cutler.
“I’d listen to the cyclops, Pete.” —- Roger Sterling, that sassy son of a bitch.
The shooting, of course, led to Pete taking over the Detroit side of things on the Chevy account, pairing him with Bob Benson, which led to the moment we’ve been waiting for all season: The Bob Benson reveal. Assuming there’s nothing more to it — and I don’t think there is — the truth about Bob Benson is that he’s another Don Draper: A fraud. He basically pulled a Kramer — he hung around in the lobbies to give the impression that he belonged long enough to actually belong. I almost want Bert Cooper to fire Benson next week just so they can have this exchange.
Cooper: These reports you’ve handed in, it’s almost as though you have no business training at all. I don’t know what this is supposed to be. I’m sorry. There’s just no way we can keep you on.
Benson: I don’t really even work here.
Cooper: That’s what makes this so difficult.
But Bob’s pass at Pete would cost him, because it forced Pete to look into Bob, which led to the discovery that he’s actually just some West Virginia hick whose parents were probably siblings who has made a habit of ass-kissing his way into employment only to vanish after he’s found out. That’s all there is to it, but that’s all there needs to be, because the important thing we’ve taken away from Bob’s past is that Pete has learned something. For all those arguing that Bob Benson was another Don Draper, you were right in a way, and rather than out Benson’s past — as he’d done with Don, only to be humiliated by Bert Cooper — Pete took the high-ish road and decided to work alongside Bob, with one caveat: “I’m off limits!”
There’s still some mystery, although I think it’s become clear that Bob is gay, and that Manolo is his lover or something akin to that. But it does appear that Bob Benson’s function this season — besides just being awesome — was to reinforce those themes of duality, specifically that Don Draper/Dick Whitman duality.