Mad Men is at its most compelling when the action is focused on the agency and Don Draper. “The Quality of Mercy” does just that as the penultimate episode of season six. Far from merciful, it is an episode about suffering and the killing of relationships. Don sinks even deeper into an abyss of despair and his torments are powerful opening and closing bookends for the episode. “The Quality of Mercy” opens on Don sleeping off another drunken day and wallowing in his guilt over Sally catching him “comforting” Sylvia in the bedroom. It closes on Don curled up on his office couch after absorbing the gut wrenching rejection and disdain delivered by Peggy.
On Don’s relentless march to ruin everything he touches, he loses the connection to the only two females he seems to listen to and really care about. Both Sally and Peggy have run out of mercy for Don.
The détente at the office is short lived as Don seizes the opportunity to humiliate Ted and reassert his control over Peggy in a particularly hurtful and sadistic manner. Pete, on the other hand, puts aside his disdain for Bob Benson in order to seize an opportunity on Chevy and regain his relevance.
This Account Is Killing Me
As the lead account person on Chevy, Ken Cosgrove has a big responsibility and a difficult job. He spends most of his time away from home in Detroit dealing with demanding, boorish, gun loving clients. The Chevy account drives the financial health of the agency. It is a prestige account on which careers can be made or broken. The account has had its ups and downs at the agency. Ted Chaough stepped in to break the creative strategy logjam and then Don put the agency’s foot in its mouth trying to get a deferment for Mitchell Rosen.
The loss of Chevy, for any reason, would be devastating to SC&P. Pete Campbell has been lusting after the opportunity to work on the account and he finally gets the opening when Ken returns from another near brush with death at the hands of the client. A very flustered Ken lets Pete know that his wife is pregnant and asks off the account. Pete rightly cautions Ken that this could be a very bad career move and then offers to step in and fill the vacuum.
This is Pete’s opportunity to directly tie himself to substantial revenue and get relief from his miserable bachelor pad existence in New York City. Pete also tries to use this as an opportunity to move Bob Benson out of the picture but he encounters push back from the partners. Pete’s plea to build his own team sans Bob Benson is reasonable. As the lead account person Pete wants a team he can trust. Bert Cooper and Jim Cutler flatly reject Pete’s demand. “I like Bob. Chevy likes Bob. And if you don’t like Bob, we can find someone who does,” Jim Cutler tells Pete. They finally agree that Pete will take over the outside role in Detroit assisted by Bob and that Ken will stay on as the inside man at the agency. Jim’s argument that continuity of the account team is critical is spot on. Clients, especially automotive accounts, do not like disruptions in their account relationships and changes must be carefully managed. The new line-up enables SC&P to maintain continuity and even announce an increase in staffing using Ken’s impending fatherhood as cover. A good move provided Pete can handle the pressure in Detroit.
Pete’s Teachable Moment
After agreeing to Jim and Bert’s demands to keep Bob on Chevy, Pete secretly sets out to find a way to have Bob Benson exit the agency gracefully. In the process we finally get a look under the covers of Bob Benson’s façade and witness the more practical, savvy side of Pete. Troubled that Bob’s knee-rubbing romantic advances would ultimately be a problem on Chevy, Pete reaches out to his headhunter friend, Duck Phillips, to turn up some attractive leads that might entice Bob to leave SC&P. It turns out that Bob’s Wharton education, blue-blood connections and top shelf agency experience at K&E and Cunningham & Walsh (two large, well respected Madison Avenue agencies) are all shams. In fact, Bob is a wrong side of the tracks, West Virginia version of Don Draper…an invented persona. When Duck tells Pete, “I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Pete responds, “ I Have.”