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

BY BOBBY HANKINSON

Benson

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.

Comments

  1. Randy says

    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!

  2. PGM says

    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.

  3. PGM says

    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.

  4. says

    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.

  5. Houndentenor says

    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.

  6. EchtKultig says

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

  7. RyanC says

    @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.

  8. Michael Bedwell says

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

  9. Mikey says

    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.

  10. Randy says

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

  11. James says

    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.

  12. CPT_Doom says

    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.

  13. MichaelJ says

    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.

  14. James says

    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.

  15. Kevin says

    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.

  16. MrRoboto says

    I do hope the character continues. He’s intriguing and James Wolk is playing him to perfection. But James has also been cast on the new fall series starring Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t moonlight in this smaller role in a short-run AMC series.

    As for James, or Jimmy as I knew him, he’s a terrific guy. Straight (sorry, everyone), but not narrow. I used to see him on a daily basis in his early days here in Los Angeles, when he worked with a buddy writing spec scripts to help them get roles. Kind to a fault, and I didn’t feel ashamed at all swooning over him. One of the first things I ever said to him was he had beautiful eyes, and then I raved over his role in the TV movie Front of the Class, which had only just recently aired. He was impressed that I identified him from just that role, but it was a very good role.

  17. Linda says

    @ Kevin- I have been thinking Ginsberg was gay for a while- but would they really name a gay man Ginsberg? Regardless, it said a lot more to me about Ginsberg. His “Are you a homo?” question was blurted out seemingly apropos of nothing and in the midst of a bit of a panic attack. Why did that strike him just then? Interesting…

  18. says

    I thought it was an interesting moment too. Ginsberg is in pain and Bob is being nice to him. Other men have never treated him kindly and he’s not used to it, so he says “homo” as that’s all he knows.

    I don’t think Ginsberg is gay. He just has a lot of trouble expressing himself emotionally.

  19. loveboat says

    oh my goodness Mr Ehrenstein—you’re a journalist I am told. FYI Sal Romano was fired for rejecting the advances of Lee Garner, Jr., who did not represent a cosmetic company, but Lucky Strike cigarettes.

  20. loveboat says

    oh my goodness Mr Ehrenstein—you’re a journalist I am told. FYI Sal Romano was fired for rejecting the advances of Lee Garner, Jr., who did not represent a cosmetic company, but Lucky Strike cigarettes.

  21. Mort says

    I hope he’s gay. And Jewish (like the actor himself). And wildly successful. That would certainly give the Old Guard a kick in the martini glass.

  22. Phil says

    @David Ehrenstein Sal didn’t sleep with the cosmetics guy, yes, but that didn’t get him fired. What got him fired is that he didn’t sleep with the Lucky Strike son, and Lucky Strike is no longer with Sterling Cooper.

  23. Neil says

    @Randy THAT’s a hairy chest? I was really hoping for more. I would say he has a little hair on his chest. When I hear hairy chest, I think of Alec Baldwin or Tom Selleck. Still, he has a killer smile, is a beautiful man, and I am delighted every time his character makes an appearance. I don’t think his character is gay. I think he has mid-westerner openness and friendliness that I recognize from having grown up there. I guess we’ll find out!

  24. Randy says

    Yeah, it’s so rare to see hairy chests on men that I’m willing to take a few wisps.