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Mad Men's Bob Benson: Gay Activist, Government Spy or Red Herring?



The sixth season of AMC’s Mad Men has been steeped in even more mystery than usual. In addition to whatever Don Draper is hiding (we mean his true identity, not what’s in his pants), audiences are also debating the likelihood his current wife may share the same fate as murdered actress Sharon Tate.

But the real focus isn’t on the Drapers (or even Peggy, Roger or Joan). With the acclaimed series just three episodes from ending its penultimate season, folks are surprisingly obsessed with a character we met only this season. 

The name on everyone’s lips is Bob Benson.

The eager accounts man, portrayed by James Wolk (Political Animals, Happy Endings), has captivated Mad Men fanatics. If the notoriously meticulous show’s Facebook posts are any indication, they’re on the right track. How those suspicions play out, however, is still a topic for debate.

One prevailing theory suggests Benson is secretly a gay man. 

Here’s why:

  • Bloggers Tom and Lorenzo popularized the idea that the lack of heat between Benson and Joan must be attributed to his disinterest in the opposite sex. (Similarly, Benson was equally unmoved when visiting a brothel with Pete Campbell earlier this season.)

  • Writing for the Star-Ledger, Tom Wright-Piersanti notes how Benson dodges the question “Are you a homo?” in Sunday’s episode.

  • The show is drawing closer to 1969, the year of the Stonewall. Jaime Woo on Huffington Post suggests the show could be positioning Benson as the audience’s ambassador into a period of sweeping change, much in the same way they’ve used Don’s secretary Dawn to discuss race.

Other viewers are not convinced.

  • Some Reddit users believe Benson is working for a government agency. Maybe he’s snooping for dirt on Don Draper’s past, or maybe he’s after intel on one of their clients.

  • He might be a stand-in for a young Don. Knox McCoy at TV Asylum certainly thinks so. We’ve had glimpses at Don’t early experience, but these parallels allow viewers to see the makings of an ad man.

  • Then again, this could all be misdirection. Paul Ford for Slate posits the fact that viewers are so disturbed to see a positive, enthusiastic person in this world that they immediately assume some sort of nefarious intent speaks more about us as a viewer than Benson as a character.

What do you think will happen with Bob Benson?

Bobby Hankinson is a Brooklyn-based writer and digital strategist. His days are spent thinking about digital engagement for non-profits, while his nights are spent shimmying to Spotify, reading comic books and watching the best (and, let's be honest, worst) TV has to offer.

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  1. I don't know if the character is gay, and I hope so. But when I first saw him briefly in that first episode, I thought WOOF -- that guy is hot! I searched the internet immediately and came up with scant information. He's an actor from Michigan, and seems to be an all around nice guy. And he's very tall.

    There are a few pics of his shirtless, and he has a gorgeous hairy chest. Thanks for that photo, because I love a good pair of sexy legs, and he certainly has them. The guy is hot from top to bottom, so I can only imagine what underneath!

    Posted by: Randy | Jun 5, 2013 11:25:17 AM

  2. I just want to see more of him in shorts.

    Posted by: Mona | Jun 5, 2013 11:26:47 AM

  3. With legs like that, it would be a crime if he weren't.

    Posted by: Queer Supremacist | Jun 5, 2013 11:34:31 AM

  4. Hopefully more shirtless will be coming our way...

    Posted by: Alan Brickman | Jun 5, 2013 11:40:21 AM

  5. My first instinct about him is when the show does end and it will see where they are in the future it will be Bob at the top. I like the parallel to a young Don.

    Posted by: PGM | Jun 5, 2013 11:44:51 AM

  6. My first instinct about him is when the show does end and it will see where they are in the future it will be Bob at the top. I like the parallel to a young Don.

    Posted by: PGM | Jun 5, 2013 11:44:52 AM

  7. He's gay. What Matthew Weiner will do with this remains to be seen.

    Bob's "The Best Little Boy in the World" using his killer smile and helpful nature to get ahead. He's not a haunted closet case like Sal (the great Bryan Batt) who lost his job when he refused to sleep with a cosmetics client. That cosmetics company is still with Sterling Cooper Draper etc.

    This will be great fun.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Jun 5, 2013 12:03:43 PM

  8. If anyone ever needed a gay best friend, it's Joan. I'm not convinced he's gay either, although that would be interesting. Someone should point out that he's already signed up for a new sitcom this fall. He could do both probably since Mad Men is only 13 weeks and his part is not that big. He could pop in once a week and film his scenes if they want him to continue with the series, but I think that him being on another show means that he'll be written off at the end of the season.

    Posted by: Houndentenor | Jun 5, 2013 12:05:48 PM

  9. Was 'homo' actually a typical epithet/identification in the 1960s? Seems like 'pansy' or 'queer' would have been more realistic.

    Posted by: EchtKultig | Jun 5, 2013 12:20:21 PM

  10. Whoever he is, he's hot.

    Posted by: EchtKultig | Jun 5, 2013 12:23:27 PM

  11. Terrible show.

    Posted by: John | Jun 5, 2013 12:31:34 PM

  12. He is Sal's new boyfriend and Sal is advising him behind the scene. lol

    Posted by: Gus | Jun 5, 2013 12:32:04 PM

  13. He is Sal's new boyfriend and Sal is advising him behind the scene. lol

    Posted by: Gus | Jun 5, 2013 12:32:05 PM

  14. "Homo" WAS a typical epithet flung in the 1960s.

    The fact that Bob Benson doesn't flinch when Ginsberg says this is a "tell."

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Jun 5, 2013 12:32:08 PM

  15. Sigh. Reminds me of how I used to look in short shorts at that age.

    Posted by: Mark Alexander | Jun 5, 2013 12:38:01 PM

  16. @Houndentenor Allison Brie is on Mad Men and a series regular on Community, so I don't think it'll make too much of a difference to him appearing on Mad Men.

    Posted by: RyanC | Jun 5, 2013 12:42:51 PM

  17. I didn't understand why such a vapid thread got written until the author was identified as a reader of comic books. Next.

    Posted by: Michael Bedwell | Jun 5, 2013 1:00:35 PM

  18. He was great on Happy Endings, and he has been tremendous on Mad Men. I like the idea that a happy, well-adjusted character would make Mad Men viewers suspicious.

    Posted by: Mikey | Jun 5, 2013 1:01:19 PM

  19. H's 6 foot 4 inches, to be exact. Those are really long beautiful hairy legs!

    Posted by: Randy | Jun 5, 2013 1:24:39 PM

  20. The fact that he didn't flinch when being called a "homo" suggests to me that he most definitely IS NOT. He said something along the lines of "You still have your sense of humor," batting away the suggestion as if it were utterly preposterous. It was such an immediate, uncalculated reaction that had no indication of subtext.

    And I certainly don't see any resemblance to Don. Don was a striver, but never obsequious.

    Bob Benson is still a mystery to me, and maybe the joke is that there's no there there.

    Posted by: James | Jun 5, 2013 2:34:43 PM

  21. I'm a big fan of the show and am hoping Benson's gay as well. In addition to the evidence cited by TLo, I think Wolk is playing the character just a bit fey, which leads me to believe he's supposed to be gay, but that could be wishful thinking on my part.

    Posted by: CPT_Doom | Jun 5, 2013 2:36:28 PM

  22. I've been thinking he is gay. I'm also thinking that Joan will be getting herself into trouble with the way she has handled the potential Avon account. The two stories lines could fit together. If it is found out that Bob is gay, Joan might not be in a position to defend his working at the firm as she did before.

    Posted by: MichaelJ | Jun 5, 2013 2:39:17 PM

  23. Joan won't be punished for her Avon actions. Far from it: She's on the way to becoming a Helen Gurley Brown-type pioneer.

    Posted by: James | Jun 5, 2013 3:01:52 PM

  24. Am I the only one who's been thinking that Michael Ginsberg (played by adorable Ben Feldman) might be a gay character? He lives with his dad, has admitted that he's a virgin and that date he got set-up on didn't go very well. But I also love James Wolk, he's got an easy charm.

    Posted by: Kevin | Jun 5, 2013 3:09:48 PM

  25. Go-Go Mattachine

    Posted by: RMc | Jun 5, 2013 3:54:48 PM

  26. 1 2 »

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