Ok so the idea of who in the world Bob Benson is has been lurking in the background of this season. There have been a ton of theories. I wrote one last week and we’ve even discussed several on our podcast recap series of Mad Men. But after Sunday’s episode “The Man With A Plan”, I think it’s very clear what Matthew Weiner is doing with Bob: he’s showing us the early years of Don Draper.
By no means am I pioneering this theory. It’s probably accurate the every theory from Bob being the antichrist to Bob being just a super-caffeinated dude has already been trial-ballooned, so I’m not claiming to break new ground or anything, I just want to look at all the reasoning that exists to prove this idea.
1. The Name
Bob Benson – Don Draper. Beyond the alliteration, we also see the exact same amount of letters in both names. Coincidence? I don’t know. Maybe. But Matthew Weiner doesn’t seem to believe in coincidence. Purposefully and subtle commentary found in the details is more his game, right? He’s shown us as much through the series’ run with just an insane amount of thoughtfulness and intention put into even the smallest details.
So, understanding that, isn’t it safe to assume that a logical connection we are to make is that these two characters are connected in some sense?
In case you think I’m reaching, there’s precedent for hidden name meanings on the show.
Betty’s second husband is named Henry Francis, making her Betty Francis. How is this relevant? Because Don’s middle name is also Francis. Again, for someone like Weiner, names are entirely too important to not be immensely significant so we should view the name relationship between Bob and Don as something significant.
2. The Look
Just use your eyeballs. These guys favor each other. Great tans, great heads of hair and probably not to hard on the lady eyes. On a basic level, James Wolk and Jon Hamm just favor each other so obviously this translates to the show.
3. Relationship to Joan
Two things here:
1) The scene from this week’s episode was eerily representative of a similar scene in a hospital with Joan. In this episode, it was Bob sitting with Joan because of a medical condition. What other character has sat with Joan outside of a hospital? Don.
It was during the episode “Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency” and it was because of the unfortunate lawn mower incident that marred the Putnam, Powell and Lowe contingency’s plan to install the hotshot, young executive Guy MacKendrick at the head of Sterling Cooper. Joan acted quickly to save Guy’s life and we got a great scene with Joan and Don at the hospital in the aftermath of everything
But let’s look a little deeper than just that coincidence.
A widely-accepted interpretation of the episode “Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency” is that it was foreshadowing of JFK’s assassination. Guy was the young up and comer who would be the future of the agency / business just as JFK was the future of America and both were cut down tragically in broad daylight. Even the way Joan lept to Guy’s aid was similar to how Jackie O lunged to aid her husband and secure the part of his scalp that had been dislodged. Grisly stuff, I know, but you get the point. Later that season in “The Grown Ups” we would actually see the portrayal of the JFK assassination and it’s aftermath in terms of the effect on the characters.
So how does that connect?
What did this week’s episode end with? Bobby’s assassination. Too much of a stretch? Maybe, but I’d say the similarities are difficult to ignore at this point.
2) Sticking with Joan, but Don and now Bob’s careers are inextricably linked to Joan. Why?
For Bob, his good deed in helping Joan get to a hospital, looking after her etc, netted him survival within the merger. Had he not bonded with Joan, she wouldn’t have fought for him and preserved his job.
For Don, his initial meeting with Roger Sterling was because Roger was looking to by a fur, right? The implication is that Don nurtured a relationship with Roger, probably got him drunk and then duped Roger into thinking that he’d offered Don a job. Don used that opportunity to launch his career and the rest is history.
But who was Roger buying a fur for? Why his mistress Joan, of course.
4. Enthusiastic Corporate Climbers
What’s been the defining quality about Bob? His enthusiasm. His good-natured exuberance and the guy is super-quick with the coffee. Why? Because he’s playing the game.
I don’t think anyone is under grand illusion that it’s in Bob’s DNA to want to get Pete some TP or to bro-down with him at a brothel. But Bob is committed to playing the game so that he can begin his climb up the SCDP (or whatever it’s called now) ladder. He’s biding his time so that when he has an opportunity, he can seize it. Who does that remind you of?
As I discuss in the Joan point, Don pounced on Roger the minute he had the opportunity in from of him. For Don, it didn’t matter how he got his shot. All that mattered was that he had the shot and there’s a similar feeling from Bob too.
He doesn’t mind being the coffee gimp, the note-taking gimp, the toilet paper gimp or the guy who wingmans at a brothel gimp and this is because it’s a means to an end.
5. Ability to Lie
When Don and Betty were plotting the steps of their separation and eventual divorce, Don wantonly suggested a lie that was as eloquent as it was perfectly crafted. This stunned Betty and she replied with something like, “Did you just think of that?” but not in a complimentary way. It was more in a way of slowly realized horror that she’d never realized this skill in her soon-to-be ex-husband and how he’d probably used it against her all the time (spoiler alert: he had).
Don’s ability to think quickly surely serviced his propensity to start over, leave town, reinvent himself etc. In Bob, we were given a similar shot last night of him quickly thinking on his feet and misleading someone for his (and Joan’s) gain. Was it a bad lie? Certainly not. It was a heroic lie because it helped out a beloved character in a time of need. But, how slippery is that slope? At one point during the series, Don was also a heroic liar. We didn’t love the things he did, but we kind of liked the way he went about them and he always managed to sprinkle in a dash of redeemable moments to keep us happy.
Was Bob’s lie to the surly nurse a coincidence or a homage to Don’s ability to effectively mislead others to his advantage? Who knows, but I don’t think it was an accident that the character that seems to be most like Don is engaging in yet another version of some pretty Don-like behavior.
What do you think? Yes? No?