"The Quality of Mercy," last night's episode (12, if you're counting) of Mad Men, is the penultimate episode of the season. That's right, the finale comes next week. So this episode should set us up for some pretty dramatic Mad Men to go on next week, and things are definitely percolating: Megan and Don have grown increasingly far apart, Pete has discovered Bob Benson's secret, and Sally has certainly not gotten over seeing her father have sex with Sylvia.
Megan wakes to her alarm and goes to find Don sleeping in the fetal position in Sally's room. "I don’t know what’s going on, but you have to pull back from the throttle a little, honey,” she tells him. She tries to boil him eggs but they overcook, which he doesn't notice for busily putting booze in his O.J. and chugging it. She asks him to stay home for the day, and he agrees. This family situation is less than ideal.
Also less than ideal is Ken Cosgrove's relationship with Chevy. They use and abuse him and then accidentally shoot him in the face on a hunting trip. He lives, but wants to quit, and Pete agrees to take his place. That's not merciful, exactly, but more a factor of Pete's increasing worry that he's going to be left behind or shut out. "I would gladly take your place," he tells Ken.
The phone rings at the Draper resident and it's Betty, telling Don that Sally doesn't want to visit him but does want to go to boarding school. Too quickly, too terrified of being found out for his affair with Sylvia, Don offers to pay. "Will you tell her that Megan .. that we both miss her?” he eventually asks.
If Don and Megan's relationship is on a downward spiral, Ted and Peggy's is the opposite (to them, at least). At the agency their flirtation has been noticed by nearly all. Also complicating matters at work is that the truce that Don and Ted worked out in the last episode — Don would give up Sunkist, Ted would get Ocean Spray, the hatchet would be buried — may not be all that functional. When it comes to business, as with life, Don's ultimate duty is to himself. Harry calls from L.A. to tell him that Sunkist has come in with a huge media buy, but Megan gets Don away from work, and out of the house, by taking him to Rosemary's Baby in the middle of the day. There they run into Peggy and Ted who are "researching" for a St. Joseph's baby aspirin spot. After that meeting, Megan suspects Ted and Peggy are having an affair, too, and Don's mind has been changed about Sunkist. He makes a call to Harry, giving the go-ahead. Sunkist's TV campaign is $8 million, three times the business of Ocean Spray. Ted is not happy to lose his juice, but recommends that Peggy be on the team.
Poor, poor Pete Campbell, at the agency discussing Ken's withdrawal from Chevy, is thrust out again. "Bob's going to be a big help with the transition," says Ken. "If you don't like Bob, we can find someone who does," says Cutler. Pete doesn't just not like Bob, he hates him after last week's little knee-nudge. So Pete pays Duck to dig into Bob's life and find out what's what. Elsewhere in the office Bob speaks rapid-fire Spanish on the phone, talking about how Pete is a "snotty bastard" and "screwing with his future." Later, Pete's mother arrives to express similar sentiments to Pete.
Don interrupts Ted and Peggy, who are having far too great a time looking at headshots for their elaborately produced St. Joseph's commercial. They act out the spot for Don, with Peggy as the radiant mother, Ted's arm on her waist. Don notices, and also notices that costs are climbing well over the client-approved $15,000. "I don't tell him what to do," says Joan, of Ted.
On the way to Sally's Miss Porter's interview, Betty tries to apply some maternal skills and find out what's up with her daughter. But Sally has learned manipulation and half-truths from the best. "I want to be a grownup, but I know how important my education is," she says, eating fries from a bag. That sentiment seems to placate Betty, though its earnestness remains to be seen. At Miss Porter's, Sally is thrust into the "grownup" world: Mandy and Millicent, two students she's staying with, haze her with their demands for booze and boys. Sally puts in a call to Glen Bishop, who arrives with alcohol and a friend. When Glen goes with Mandy to her room, Glen's friend, Rollo, puts the moves on Sally. "I've got good hands," he says. "I've been with lots of girls, I know what I'm doing." When she doesn't respond, he asks her if she's frigid. This is all too close to what she's seen real grownups doing. "He tried to force me," she says, and Glen beats up Rollo, eliciting a little smile from Sally. "You like trouble, don't you?" asks Mandy.
At the agency, Ted and Don argue over the cost of the St. Joseph's commercial. "She has her heart set on this," Ted says of Peggy, asking Don to back him up. But the weakness that Ted shows in his adoration of Peggy is too much for Don to bear — maybe it's too close to what Don felt with Sylvia, maybe? Or it's just simply too "weak"? In any case, Don can play grownup by saying he's defending the best interests of the agency, which happens to serve as a way for him to one-up Ted, too. The hatchet is not buried.
Pete finds out from Duck that Bob is a sham. This is the Bob Benson secret: He is just like Don Draper, a guy who's lied about his past nearly entirely. "His only job opportunity is anyone dumb enough not to ask questions, and it’s you guys," says Duck. Bob is Don. Don is Bob. And Don has invited himself to the agency meeting with St. Joseph's, where Ted is trying to make the case that the extra expense will be well worth it. "I want a reason,” says the client, unconvinced, and Don butts in, "it’s a little bit personal.” Ted’s face falls, Peggy stares, and all of a sudden it seems their love will be exposed, but what Don says instead is that the commercial was Frank Gleason's last idea, before the agency partner died of cancer. The client agrees to throw in an additional $10,000 for the commercial, but Ted and Peggy are not happy. "You’re not thinking with your head,” Don tells Ted, later. “I know your little girl has beautiful eyes, but that doesn’t mean you give her everything. Your judgment is impaired." Maybe that's true, but it's also a hard pill for Ted to swallow.
Pete confronts Bob, but it isn't what we, or Bob, expect. He simply wants Bob to know that he knows; having experienced a situation much like this one with Don, Pete is aware that he is outmatched. "You're certainly better at it than I am at whatever I do,” says Pete, "I would like to think that I have learned not to tangle with your kind of animal." Pete will keep Bob's secrets, as long as he's off limits, and — “can you find a way to get your friend out of my mother’s life?”
On the way back from Miss Porter's Betty tells Sally that the headmistress gave her a glowing review. "A girl like you will have plenty of choices and she hopes you choose them, now get me a cigarette and give me some details,” says Betty, offering Sally one too, saying she'd rather her daughter smoke in front of her than behind her back. "I'm sure your father's given you a beer," she says. "My father’s never given me anything,” says Sally, budding grownup.
Peggy barges into Don's office to confront him. "I know what you did. You hate that he is a good man," she says of Ted. "He’s just in love with you,” says Don. “You killed him. You killed the ad, and you killed everything. You’re a monster,” she says, while he protests that he's just doing it for the agency. All things considered, mercy is not having its best moment, and neither are the grownups. The episode ends much as it began, with Don in the fetal position, alone, this time on his office couch.