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‘Mad Men’ Discussion: The Bob Benson Mystery Revealed

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.

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“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.

The other juicy, fun subplot was the continued emergence of Sally Draper, who is also serving to reinforce that theme of duality, specifically how Sally has become an awesome version of Betty. Not only is she (rightfully) blowing off her Dad, but during her stay at the boarding school she’ll be attending next year, Sally quickly took a situation with some “mean girls” and turned it into her favor.

That also meant the return of Glen Bishop, who is just as creepy as ever. And after Rolo tried to get into Sally’s pants, Sally pulled a total Betty and manipulated Glen into protecting her, leading to one of the most hilariously weak fight sequences I’ve ever seen. The important take home here, however, is that Sally has the power that comes with those looks, and the intelligence to use her mind to get her out of sh*tty situations. I mean, come on Rolo! Did you really think she’d sleep with a guy who wears sandals and jeans, you f***ing toolbox.

“I’ve been with lots of girls. I know what I’m doing … I don’t want to talk anymore … Are you frigid?” — Rollo

The exchange with Betty was even more important in driving home not only the similarities between Betty and Sally, but to illustrate once again that Don has lost yet another woman in his life through the sheer force of his douchebaggery. He’s got no one left except Megan, and he’s just barely clinging to that.

That, of course, leads us to Don Draper, who — like Walter White in Breaking Bad — has transformed from the bad ass anti-hero into the show’s major antagonist, and just when you thought that Don Draper couldn’t get more despicable, last night happened. In the meeting with Ted and Peggy with a client, basically what Don did was to throw Ted under the bus, let the bus wheels roll over him, and then pull Ted out of the undercarriage, dust him off, and expect Ted to thank him. That was stone cold. I mean, on the one hand, Don is right — everyone in the office knew (I mean, look at Joan’s adorable “are you kidding me?” face):

On the other hand, what Don pulled was unecessary and mean, and reminds me of something that Glen Bishop once said.

Don is not getting his way, so he’s being a goddamn baby, another point that was reinforced several times over the course of the episode.

And then the Peggy’s brutal tag at the end of the episode was the perfect compliment to Sally’s line in last week’s episode.

This Vine basically captures the spirit of the entire episode.

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For what it’s worth, both lines — “You make me sick,” and “You’re a monster” — are lines from the 1966 movie, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and if Weiner was the kind of guy who used movie references as a foreshadowing device, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is about the breakdown of a marriage.

Another outstanding episode, one that pulled us out of the rabbit hole, but pushed Don Draper further into his own self-destructive, loathsome illness.

Random Thoughts

— “YOU NEED TO FEEL THE CONSPIRACY.” I couldn’t help but feel that the line was directed at many of us in the audience. That said, if you were inclined to go along with the Megan will die theory — and just push it ahead until next season — there were a ton of bell ringing moments in last night’s episode, one of which was the juxtaposition of what Don was watching on TV: Nixon’s political ad about America’s crime wave and a scene with Megan on her soap opera.

— I love that Bob Benson speaks Spanish. He must have done it for his lover.

— “It’s probably expired, like everything else in your life.” — Pete Campbell to his mother, because Pete Campbell, whether he’s learned his lesson about turning in frauds or not, is still a little sh**.

— “I know how to make a Tom Collins.” Of course you do, Sally Draper. Of course you do!

— Harry’s contribution to last night’s episode was brief, but priceless.

— Is it just me, or does Sally’s new friend look like a blonde Winnie Cooper?

— “Come on, we’ve all been there. Well, not with Peggy but … ” You’re such a dick, Don Draper. It’s not enough that you crap all over Ted and Peggy, but you have to make him feel inferior for his crush on her, as though Peggy is not worth crushing on. I think the reality is, Don is just jealous because he could never have Peggy.

— “During all this levity, did you happen to mention that cran-prune sounds like diarrhea?” Ginsberg has the best lines.

— The episode ended with the Monkees’ “Porpoise Song,” the lyrics of which call into question the order of the world and one’s place therein. Sounds about right for Don Draper right now.

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