The “Quality of Mercy” references Portia’s monologue to Shylock in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. The episode shows us Don Draper as Matthew Weiner’s Shylock. Don is neither “a Jew” nor emblematic of “the Jew,” but he is a character tormented by his past. He lashes out coldly toward others to make up for his own failings. Don is “a monster,” one who, like Shylock, can come off as charming and sympathetic through the force of his own personality. We get two “lump of flesh” moments where Don, and his persistent parallel Pete, can hold firm or show mercy.
Don can’t change. In addition to his actual daughter, Sally, running away from him, his work daughter Peggy has left him for Ted. The two are heading hard and fast toward an affair. Don spots this at the movie theater and pounces.
He calls back Harry Crane to undercut Ted with Sunkist. As in Merchant of Venice, there is a tremendous amount of irony. Don technically saves Ted. He gets him out of a jam on an over-budget ad. He extricates him from a probably disastrous affair. But he does so by exploiting Ted’s weakest points, Frank Gleason’s death and his marital guilt, and utterly destroys him. He’s both cruel and profoundly hypocritical. The take down is cold. The victory, as we see with him back in the fetal position after Peggy cuts him down, is hollow and Pyrrhic.
Pete does change. He’s embroiled in a similar battle with Bob Benson. He obtains the information needed to destroy him. He opts not do so. He shows mercy. He already has what he wanted with Chevy and security. Bob, one of the most dangerous people in the office, is loyal to him and a problem for others. He will even get his mother quietly stuffed back in her box. Pete walks out of his office, smiles and sniffs the sweet air of freedom.
We also get another chapter in the slow destruction of Sally Draper. She interviews at Miss Porter’s boarding school. She ends up staying with two of the girls, sneaking in boys, booze and pot to impress them. When faced with a difficult, uncomfortable situation, turtlenecked Rollo wanting to make out (and we presume more), she is able to say the right thing, manipulate other people deftly and extricate herself from it, without giving anything away to anyone. She kind of enjoyed it. She claims “my father has never given me anything,” but that, for better or worse, is anything but true.
Sally is all grown up, which in 1968 involves cigarettes, getting called frigid by an asshole in sandals and McDonald’s fries, apparently. The countdown to Woodstock continues…
* Time frame: late October 1968. Leaves were turning. Don is still seeing “Vote like your whole world depended on it” Nixon ads. It is after the wedding between Jackie Kennedy and Aristotle Onassis on Oct. 20.
* Glen is serious about stopping the war with his buttons and faux military jacket, but establishment underneath with the button down and khakis.
* Mad Men: where a relatively major character getting shot in the face is an ancillary plot device. Pretend it’s Ralph Nader.
* Pete’s manly shotgun, still resident in his office from a past season, being “only a .22” was just fantastic.
* For those on Megan/Sharon Tate Murder watch: second reference to Rosemary’s Baby, this time the Roman Polanski film itself. Not coincidentally about a satanic cult. Megan in the blonde wig again. Etc. Etc. Etc.