(Spoiler warning: Don't read this if you don't want to know what happened on Sunday's "Mad Men" episode, "The Quality of Mercy.")
"Mad Men" enigma Bob Benson has tried to be all things to all people — and in the process has become all things to all viewers.
Benson, played by James Wolk, has spawned more online theories than anyone else on the show this season. But unlike most who try to satisy everyone, Benson has a least partially delivered. On Sunday's show, several of the theories about him turned out to be at least half right.
Also read: Is Bob Benson Gay? Probably Not
He may not be a spy, as many of us suspected. But he does appear to be a con man, clearly operating under a carefully constructed identity. As Herman "Duck" Phillips put it, his resumé may as well have been "written in steam."
Last week, a speech to Pete Campbell and a knee-to-knee touch suggested he was gay and longing for Pete. Your humble correspondent didn't buy that — and on Sunday, it became apparent that he is not in love with Pete. He confided to his friend Manolo, in Spanish, that he considers Pete a "son of a bitch" and "snotty bastard" who is "screwing with my future."
But while he may not be in love with Pete, he may be in love with Manolo. Or at least willing to have sex with men if it will help him advance.
As Duck reported to Pete, Bob was a former "manservant" to a Brown Brothers Harriman vice president who "took him to Europe on the Queen Elizabeth." (Sex-advice columnist Dan Savage might surmise that Benson "lifted his luggage.")
Duck discovered a life of humble origins and false credentials for Benson: He didn't go to Beloit or Wharton. "He's from West Virginia," Duck said. "Parents are brother and sister or something."
Duck also suggested he left his old job in a hurry — leaving us to suspect that his lies may have been suddenly discovered: "He just disappeared one day with an electric pencil sharpener and the Christmas card list." Which would be good for networking.
When Pete confronted him, saying he finally understood how he had become so "expertly servile" and calling him an obvious fraud, Benson didn't act like an innocent man.
"Can I have a day's head start?" he asked.
But he didn't need to run, because Pete did one of the smartest things he's ever done. Remembering his failed attempt to expose Don Draper as a fraud, Pete made a deal: He wouldn't tell on Bob, as long as Bob didn't get too close.
He also asked him to get Manolo to leave his mother alone.
"Manolo doesn't like women," Benson said.
"Make sure," said Pete.
Perhaps Benson already had.
So there he was, only a little more solidified than before. Maybe gay, maybe not. Definitely a liar, but we already knew that.
Was really even a con man? It's hard to say. Yes, he gained people's confidence. But so far, he has used their trust to work hard and deliver — just like Don.
The brilliance of Pete's deal was recognizing that. Don owns Pete, given Pete's past failure to usurp him.
And for now, Pete owns Bob.