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Mad Men Recap: “Dark Shadows” (Season 5, Episode 9)

Posted By Julia Rhodes On May 14, 2012 @ 3:34 pm In Movies & TV,Television | No Comments

This week marks the return of Betty Francis, the wounded whale. Betty, struggling to lose weight, bookended last night’s episode with her strategic consumption. Weiner continued to poke at the plight of the Jews in 1966, and Don’s secret, shameful past is bubbling to the surface without any disturbing effects. There are only four episodes left to go in season five. Pete Campbell’s dissatisfaction is snowballing while Don burns Ginsberg with the flames of hell. Manipulation is the name of the game.

Bits of happiness, divvied at strict intervals. Photo credit Jordin Althaus

Pete Campbell boards the elevator with the partners and smugly claims to have been the subject of an hour-long interview with his “new best friend Victor, of the New York Times.” Oh, don’t bother calling, they only seem interested in me, he says, with smarminess radiating from his pores. In retaliation, Cooper, always playing the peacemaker, sends Roger on a discreet mission: pitch Manischewitz to “normal people,” as opposed to the Jews. Naturally, Roger turns to the only two Jews he knows to arrange such a thing: he bribes Ginsberg and Jane.

During a portfolio update, Don notes shrewdly to Joan that most of the good work at SCDP recently has been Ginsberg’s. When Don Draper identifies a threat, you’re gonna want to back out of his way. Peggy and Stan know this, but Ginsberg hasn’t a clue – yet. Don snoops through Ginsberg’s folder (amusingly labeled “Shit I Gotta Do”), chuckling at the work he’s done thus far for Snowball soda. Then Don gets to work; these scenes are brilliant – Hamm consistently makes it look like the ideas are just floating up from the abyss. He pitches his idea – the devil, forked tail and horns, backed by the very flames of hell, sips a Snowball soda – to Creative. But the company wants to appeal to children, so a snowball striking an authority figure in the face is going to get the laughs, says Ginsberg. Peggy and Stan like Ginsberg’s take and Don tells them to go ahead with it. Ginsberg makes a few cocky comments: “It’s impressive you could not write for so long and then come back with that!” he says. “I’m glad I could impress you,” Don says, unamused. Peggy and Stan monitor the proceedings warily, waiting for Don to lay the smackdown.

Showdown. Photo credit Jordin Althaus

At the Draper abode, Megan is teaching Sally how to cry on command (because that seems like a great talent for a preteen to have) and helping her build a family tree for school. Meanwhile, Megan is also criticizing her friend Julia for auditioning for that “piece of crap” soap opera Dark Shadows (what a coincidence, with last Friday’s release of the remake [1]). In the Francis house, Betty is surrounded by gloom and doom, ugliness and miniature portions of happiness divvied at strict intervals. When Betty comes to pick up the Draper kids, it’s no coincidence her own reflection haunts her in the wall of the new Draper apartment. She takes in the hipness of the apartment, the lovely furniture, the elegant recessed living room, and you can feel her comparing it to the staid, stodgy, old money-built mansion in which she currently lives. Even worse, she catches a glimpse of Megan’s gorgeous, young, thin body as she’s dressing in the other room. When Megan bends to give each of the kids a kiss on the head, Betty gives her a side-eye so intense it stings. As she tells her Weight Watchers group, “I saw – felt – a lot of things I wish I hadn’t.”

If looks could kill…you know the rest. Photo credit Michael Yarish

Like Don, Betty has now homed in on a threat and now must decide on her plan of action. While sorting through some of Bobby’s schoolwork, she finds a picture of a smiling blue whale with three bleeding arrow wounds. On the back, there’s a sweet note from Don to Megan (“Lovely Megan…Love, Don”). This tips her right over the metaphorical edge. So what does Betty, the eternal child, do to make herself feel better? Well, first she squirts some Redi-Whip right into her mouth (“psychological” weight gain, indeed) before spitting it out. Then she winds Sally up like a toy and sends her to ask Megan about Anna. What an ugly, manipulative move, Betty. Sally, feeling deceived, takes out her anger on Megan – which is exactly what Betty wants. (The writers are doing a brilliant job turning Sally into a teenage girl – she’s alternately petulant, sweet, and too smart for her own good.)

Betty’s relationship to food has changed immensely since the beginning of the show, but her constant backdrop is still the kitchen. Photo credit Jordin Althaus

Megan, treading lightly on very, very fragile ground, explains to Sally that Don and Anna were married because “it was the only way to help each other out.” When Don hears what Betty did, he immediately wants to strike out at his unhappy ex-wife. Megan, proving once again that she’s the smarter of the two, the more emotionally adept and tuned in, convinces him that’s exactly what Betty wants: “the thrill of having poisoned us from fifty miles away.” Well done, you 27-year-old, you. When Betty checks up on Sally’s progress, asking a little too eagerly if she did her homework and asked Megan about Anna, Sally tells her that Megan and Don explained everything (and did it seem to you she took a little pleasure in disappointing her mother?). Betty has a tiny tantrum, knocking a box of food off the table, when she realizes her meddling didn’t affect a thing.

Poor Pete tries and fails again to get support and friendship from Don. Pete calls up Don first thing on Sunday morning to complain about the rat bastard NYT reporter, who didn’t even mention Campbell in the article. “Don’t call me in the morning to throw your failures in my face!” is all the support Don can muster. “It’s Sunday, for Chrissakes.” Further, Pete’s spending his free energy having detailed, perverse fantasies about Beth Dawes. When Howard complains on the train about having to spend time with Beth, Pete loses it a little: “Why don’t you go spend Thanksgiving with your girl, and I’ll go back to your house and screw your wife?” he says. It’s such an absurd thing to say that Howard assumes it’s a joke – luckily for Pete. He’s getting more and more unstable each episode.

When Harry reports to the team that they sold the Snowball account, everyone rejoices briefly…until Ginsberg hears that Don didn’t even approach them with Ginsberg’s brilliant, anti-authoritarian idea. Ginsberg storms off, and later Don shoots him down in the old, familiar way. “I guess I’m lucky you work for me,” he says when Ginsberg says he has a million other great ideas. “I feel sorry for you,” Ginsberg says angrily. “I don’t think about you at all,” replies Don. It’s brutal and thrilling all at once. Don’t mess with Don Draper.

Ginsberg also mentions to Peggy that Roger bribed him to do some work on Manischewitz, which puts Peggy on edge and continues to establish Ginsberg as the new danger. “You’re not loyal. You only think about yourself,” she tells Roger later. “It’s every man for himself!” Roger answers. Men, men, men. Peggy’s climbing the ladder, but oh so slowly.

Roger’s disloyalty, his selfishness, ruin everything for Jane, his soon-to-be ex-wife. She wants to start a new life sans painful memories of her failed marriage, and Roger rather pleasantly agrees to buy her a new apartment. But then after being threatened by the hot young son of the Manischewitz couple, Roger coerces her into sleeping with him in the new apartment before she’s even moved in. “I don’t know why I did that,” he says – Roger’s ugliness, his manipulation, is perhaps less calculated than his cohort’s, but that doesn’t make it any less sad.

Megan looks so maternal and warm. Photo credit Jordin Althaus/AMC

In the final scene, the Francis family sits down to Thanksgiving dinner. Betty doesn’t wait to dig in – but Bobby mentions that they’re supposed to say what they’re thankful for. Betty bizarrely and immaturely (surprise) proclaims, “I’m thankful that I have everything I want, and that no one else has anything better.” She then proceeds to attack her Thanksgiving dinner of a single brussels sprout, a tiny sliver of turkey, and a spoonful each of cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, and stuffing. The first bite sends her into a blissful reverie of taste as the final song begins: “If you want happiness, just help yourself to some.”

Manipulation is what advertising is all about. The very purpose is to convince the consumer to, well, consume. To put ideas in his or her head. To make the audience believe their lives will be complete once they purchase this product. Well, this episode is brimming with manipulation on a personal level. The whole cast is wielding tools, maneuvering those around them to get ahead, and cracking their heads as they tumble back down again. Ginsberg, Pete, Jane, and Betty suffer while Don and Megan once again come out looking rosy. C’est la vie.

What did you think of this week’s episode? Share in the comments!


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[1] remake: http://calitreview.com/26502