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'Mad Men': Say, what about this Bob Benson...?

James Wolk as Bob Benson on "Mad Men."

James Wolk as Bob Benson on "Mad Men." (Credit: AMC)

I, like you, am still recovering from Sunday's towering inferno of "Mad Men" reveals -- Bob Benson, maybe gay!; Don Draper and Sylvia Rosen caught in flagrante delicto by Sally! -- but finally have had a little time to sort matters outs.

What does it all mean?

Anything? Nothing? Everything?


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The episode "Favors" was masterful -- a classic within a classic that captured the predicament of Don Draper's fragile doomed existence as neatly and efficiently as any episode in memory. Poor Don: caught by Sally and the only line he can come up with is "I was comforting Mrs. Rosen. She was very upset. It's complicated." Hardy har, Don. Comical.

 But enough about Don. What about Bob? I've come late to the party on Bob Benson theories, but what a fun rollicking party it is. Everyone has one - a Benson theory, that is. Who is he? Why is he here (at Sterling Cooper & partners). Is he a mole, spy, ghost, murderer - or just some vaunted theoretical construct within the vast (Matthew) Weinerian intellectual and aesthetic framework that is "Mad Men." (Hopefully not that.)

So, what about Bob? Bob seems very nice. Bob always stands ready to share a cup of coffee, or serve a drink. Bob is solicitous, helpful. Bob is commanding. Bob reads self-help books. Bob lilkes the  beach Bob always says the right thing.

But … Bob is also devious, mysterious, a skillful liar. Bob may be gay too - gay in a series where the last major gay character, Sal Romano, met a bad end.

Suddenly, Bob is an interesting character... But who exactly is this Bob Benson - James Wolk - the standout newbie on the 6th season of "Mad Men?"

Let's sort out a few theories, starting with...

- Bob is gay.

Reason for/against: That scene Sunday when his knee gently touched Pete Campbell, and Pete decided Bob was making a pass? Reason enough? But don't forget that in Sunday's "Favors," Pete's imagination relating to anything sexual was in hyperdrive - the bizarre notion, for example, that his mom and male nurse Manola were having sexual relations. Could Pete have simply misinterpreted Bob's move. (The whole scene did seem ambiguous...) That's possible too...

- Bob's a government agent, sent to spy on SC&P because it does work for government contractors (eg., General Motors.)

Reason for/against: Nice theory that's been getting web traction for a while now, especially on Reddit where one commentator noted (persuasively) that "He's not writing copy or submitting art. He's not bucking for a position. He's sucking up and gifting. I predict Benson will get close to Pete, ask about Don, and Pete will spill the Heinz beans about Don's past." Problem though is that Bob joined Sterling Cooper & Partners long before Chevy hired the agency - although it had done work for Dow Chemical. Also, this theory all seems a bit out of character for "Mad Men..."

- Bob's a journalist doing an undercover story on the agency.

Reason for/against: Theory also has traction, until you ask yourself - why go to all the trouble? And what would a journalist even find or hope to find? Or why not just call up Roger and Don and say, "I'd like to do a story on your agency..." Or..

- Bob is a symbol of Don - a young Don, or an alternate-universe Don, or a nice Don, or...

Reason for/against; That time Bob first rode up in the elevator with Don, eagerly offering his services and a cup of coffee? Didn't Don do essentially the same thing years earlier to Roger? And let's say he's the "good" Don - the Don without malice, or personal baggage, or self-destructive impulses. He's what Don would have been had life taken a slightly different turn - say, not born in a brothel to a mother who was a prostitute.

All this sounds compelling until you also realize you could argue the exact opposite point - that Don and Bob are mirror opposites.

- Bob is just Bob.

Reason for/against: It's the Occam's Razor theory of Bob. Strip away all the Internet speculation about Bob and you're left with just Bob. Nice guy Bob. Lover of coffee Bob. Ambitious Bob. Adroit office politician Bob. Straight Bob or ambiguously gay Bob - really doesn't matter which. Beach-loving Bob. He's just Bob! The guy who basically is someone who trying to make miserable people feel better about their miserable lives.

Bingo. The mystery of Bob solved. Maybe. Maybe not.

Tags: Bob Benson , James Wolk , Mad Men , AMC