California Literary Review

Mad Men Recap: “The Phantom” (Season 5, Episode 13)

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June 12th, 2012 at 12:07 pm

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Don Draper has a rotten tooth that’s causing him immense pain. He refuses to have it extracted. Sounds like a great metaphor for our dapper protagonist, no? Such is the groundwork beneath the season finale.

Don wanders through the episode with haunted eyes, asking for ice to cool the evident agony of his aching tooth. Marie Calvet is back in town for a visit, bringing her own kind of poison, the sort that spews forth occasionally onto her daughter. Megan’s struggling with her desire for monetary/palpable success and her “artist’s temperament.” Pete Campbell must find a way to get rid of his own rottenness before it consumes him. Everyone is still reeling from the shock of Lane’s untimely death.

Mad Men Season 5 Don Draper

Back to normal? Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC

After Megan paid (who knows how much) for a screen test, she discovers she was scammed. The company, which was supposed to send the film to agents, wants more money for acting classes. Marie, whose misery practically radiates from her very pores, notes in the company’s favor that it’s a “great thing to take advantage of hopeless people.” Oops! Silly language barrier. Of course she meant “a great thing to take advantage of people’s hopes.” This conversation is saturated with meaning – advertising, the thing that made Megan feel dirty and ugly, takes advantage of both hopeless people and people’s hopes.

Peggy seems pretty comfortable bossing around minions at the new agency, but she’s not getting the star treatment. When Ted Chaough tosses her a box of Phillip Morris’s top-secret lady cigarette, she says she doesn’t smoke. He tells her why, yes, actually she does smoke, and she needs to come up with a tagline for the cancer sticks. “You’re a woman and you smoke. What do you want?” Though she stifles it in her desire to be on the same professional level as her male counterparts, Peggy’s femininity gives her the upper hand on testing products – it’s how she got started at Sterling Cooper. Chaough acquired Phillip Morris after Sterling Cooper lost them (poor Sal refused to sleep with the owner’s son), which prompted Don’s anti-Big Tobacco missive in the New York Times. Peggy is, once again, linked to Phillip Morris. She and Don run into each other at the theater, where Don told her he goes when he can’t handle the office anymore. The two of them are on the same plane now, and able to truly interact like colleagues.

Mad Men Season 5 Don and Peggy

Finally equals. Photo courtesy AMC

In her last scene, Peggy wanders around a hotel room in scenic Richmond, Virginia, where Phillip Morris is based. She looks out the window, expecting a stellar view, and sees two dogs humping instead. It doesn’t phase her, though; she sits carefully on the bed in her robe and smiles to herself. Peggy’s in a good place. (She may be the only one.)

Meanwhile, the guys from Topaz can’t stand Ginsberg’s new ad campaign: “Inexpensive. Never cheap.” They order him, Don, and Stan to “Get a girl’s opinion, and I don’t mean Black Coffee out there,” with a dismissive gesture toward Dawn. All three SCDP men cringe at that, but Ginsberg’s face is especially priceless. Weiner appears to be placing him in Peggy’s newly vacated space; he’s got to fight discrimination, Don, and his uber-religious upbringing while emphasizing his formidable talent and ambition.

Harry Crane, ickier every episode, has the gall to ask Joan, “So, is it true?” My, how some of the men at SCDP underestimate this woman. She and the rest of the partners meet to discuss SCDP’s upcoming expansion into the floor above. This comes as a result of the $175,000 dollar company insurance policy payable after Lane’s death. Joan is naturally conflicted; “Why couldn’t I have just given him what he wanted?” she muses to Don. It’s what everyone wonders after someone commits suicide: how could I have changed it? Is there anything I could’ve done? Considering that Lane’s untimely demise is furthering the company that mistreated him so, everyone should be feeling conflicted. (Un)fortunately, the gents of SCDP aren’t all blessed with moral integrity.

Mad Men Season 5 cast

Beautifully storyboarded shots punctuated this whole episode. Photo courtesy AMC.

Don goes to Lane’s former abode to visit Rebecca, who’d understandably distanced herself from the company she believes is the sole cause of her husband’s suicide. “You had no right to fill a man like that with ambition,” she intones. She didn’t seem to mind the spoils, but that’s beside the point – she is grieving. When Don hands her a $50,000 check, she takes it but immediately forces him out the door. “Don’t leave here thinking that you’ve done anything for anyone but yourself.” And that’s exactly what this was – Don needed to feel better about himself. So much for that.

The titular “phantom” of this episode is Adam Whitman, Don’s half-brother, who keeps showing up in Don’s peripheral vision. After Don tried to pay Adam off to stay out of Don’s shiny new life, Adam hanged himself; Lane’s death in the same fashion (after Don fired him) stirred up some nasty debris in Don’s psyche. When he finally ends up in the dentist’s chair on laughing gas, Adam appears (of course he does – what kind of horrors do you think Don would see if he ever tried hallucinogens? I shudder to think). With the purple rictus glaring beneath his chin, Adam’s walking corpse bears a striking resemblance to Lane’s bloated, bruised final state. “It’s not your tooth that’s rotten,” Adam says softly. Don begs him not to leave, but of course he has to go. After Don murdered the ghost of his ex-girlfriend earlier this season, I was surprised to see another specter – but linking Lane’s death to Adam’s was inevitable.

Mad Men Season 5 Pete and Beth

“They’re really good here! They’ll fix your friend right up.” Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC

Pete Campbell, who’s been alluding to suicide all season, decides he has to extract some of the rottenness out of his life, even as pretty Beth Dawes does the same. After Howard checks her in to a hospital, she calls Pete (telling his receptionist she is his sister) to ask if he’ll meet her in a hotel. She wants to remember him, she says, after the shock treatments. “I’ve been really blue lately,” she murmurs, which is an understatement, but the treatments really work! Unfortunately she loses months of memories in the aftermath (who ever thought these were a good idea?). She and Pete share an afternoon of bliss, but he can’t fix her, nor she him. “Don’t tell me you’re not happy right now. Don’t tell me you don’t feel better,” he says. No. She’s a sick woman, and Pete assumes he can make her feel all better – sorry, buddy, that’s not how it works.

After her treatments, Pete goes to visit her, telling the nurse he’s her brother. “You’re right!” the nurse says pleasantly, “You do have the same eyes!” In “Lady Lazarus,” Beth told Pete his irises remind her of the tragic photos of the earth from space. The two of them are mired in sadness, drowning in misery together; their eyes give them away. The two of them are connected, not through romance or sex, but related in their desire to place temporary bandages on permanent wounds. Pete tells a newly happy, forgetful Beth all about their affair, pretending his friend is also in the hospital after a suicide attempt. Then Pete boards the train with her cheating husband. For the second time this season, Pete Campbell gets the crap kicked out of him, first by Howard, then by the conductor, who kicks him off the train. Trudy, always the good wife, tells him she can’t stand to think of him all alone out there, and that they’ll be finding him an apartment in the city. Sigh.

Mad Men Season 5 Megan Draper

Advertising isn’t art, and even Don knows it. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC

It was only a matter of time before Megan’s fellow actors realized they can use her as an in to the advertising world. Butler Shoes is filming a commercial styled after Beauty and the Beast, and they want a European girl. Megan’s pretty blond friend asks if Megan can put in a good word for her with Don. Megan, of course, tells her she doesn’t think it’ll work…and then the conniving little weasel turns around and asks her husband to get her the gig. Don, who recognizes a serious conflict of interest when he sees one, tells her he can’t do that. He notes that Megan quit the ad biz because she wants to be an artist! Notably, he expresses that he knows her better than she thinks when he murmurs that she wants to be someone’s discovery, not someone’s wife.

Marie tells Megan with a satisfied smirk that she’s “chasing a phantom,” and that she ought to be grateful for all she has despite the fact she won’t give Don a family. With apparent pleasure Marie says, “the world can’t support that many ballerinas,” and Megan ought to settle for what she can get. “Is that what you tell yourself?” Megan asks; her youth aside, Megan is frighteningly emotionally adept. After calling her an ungrateful little bitch, Marie storms away…and into bed with Roger. She refuses to take care of him – she’s done enough of that. But her body is his to have and hold.

Megan drinks herself into a stupor, which finally indicates to Don just how miserable she is. After he berates Marie for “abandoning her daughter,” Marie basically tells him that Megan’s his problem now (truthfully). He retreats to the office to watch his wife’s screen test, and glimpses something unfathomably sad in her eyes. His solution, instead of trying to be supportive, instead of encouraging her to keep trying for her art, is to use his status to get her the commercial job. She looks completely ridiculous in her “Beauty” costume, but she seems genuinely thrilled.

Don, on the other hand, is anything but. After eyeing the new office space (Pete Campbell declares excitedly that he’ll have the same view as Don!), he goes to a bar by himself – of course he does. When a beautiful young woman approaches him to ask, “Are you alone?” he glances up, his eyes glazed with the trademark Don Draper hardness. And…scene. Is he alone? indeed.

How did you feel about the way the characters were wrapped up? How did you feel about the season as a whole? Was the writing a little too on-point, or just right? What do you think’s in store for SCDP next season?

  • Bill

    I’ll be very disappointed if Matt Weiner has Don going back to his old philandering ways next season. Just about everyone on this show is self-destructive. Having the lead character evolve into something better (gasp!) is a good contrast to all the gloom and doom. And why would Don do that, especially now? Because he’s alone? He is far from that. he has a beautiful and intelligent wife who adores him. He has kids who need him. His firm is doing great business. The spititual visits from his brother served as a reminder of what pain amd misery the old Don caused. He also probably wished he had tried to be more understanding with Lane. So why in the world would he go back to being despicable Don? Because he can’t stand to be happy? If MW just serves up a recycle of past season, I’ll pass. Watching Don self-destruct for the upteenth time does not sound all that interesting to me.

  • Coco

    How I would have wanted something a little different to end this wonderful but dark season. I definitely needed a break after last week, but wouldn’t it have been nice (just like the song!) to have Don watch Megan’s reel and go home and tell her he believes in her, that no matter what she has to do to get to act in something worthwhile, he’ll be there for her. Am I dreaming? Am I asking for a different show?

    Sigh.

  • Al

    Megan was never a real choice for Don. She’s not his intellectual or emotional equal. The therapist last season had him pegged – Megan is what was expected of someone in his position.

    The reason he’s so great at advertising is because he is deeply attuned to image. He liked Megan because of the image she conveyed to him at the end of last season – the young, vivacious, beautiful wife who would raise his children and support him. And she’s spent the entire season dispelling that myth in various ways.

    I think the ending could signal some real emotional growth, and the fact that he was approached by a woman was not nearly as important as the question she asked him. Don accepting that he is alone could be the beginning of some real emotional growth – the place he was headed towards last season before he melted down and married Megan on a whim.

    Of course, I could be wrong, but I’m hopeful. After all, the bad tooth is out, and he left Megan in fantasy land. Those seemed like pretty good developments to me.

    My one complaint – not nearly enough people are praising Vincent Kartheiser. Sure, it’s fun to see Pete get punched, but that speech he gives in the hospital was the best thing in an episode filled with amazing lines and amazing line deliveries.

  • Bill

    In my opinion, no, you’re not. I for one am sick and tired of characters on TV drama series never evolving in a positive way, kindness being rewarded by ridicule and reinforcement of the old saying “no good deed goes unpunished,” and the divorce rate hovering around 90%. That doesn’t mean I expect every show to be all hearts and flowers. S*** happens in real life, and I expect it to in a fictionals setting as well. But watching Don Draper self-destruct year after year and do everything he possibly can to screw up his personal life and the lives of just about everyone around him had started to ger old. So this year, MW decided to breathe new life into his main character. Now there is hope that Don will actually figure out how a real man acts before he turns 60. That doesn’t mean he has to be perfect, but at least have him learn something from all the dozens of mistakes he’s made. He’s actually trying somewhat to be a good husband to Megan. I want to see him continue in that direction. Between Pete, Roger and Joan having found a new profession as a prostitute, I’m sure there will still be plenty of slime to spread around with only a miminal contribution from Don. With the final scene of the season finale, MW hinted that Don may be returning to his man whore ways. If that’s the direction the show goes, I have no interest in continuing to watch it. It would be like reading the same edition of a newspaper for the 5th time.

  • Bill

    I couldn’t diagree with you more about Don and Megan. Megan is not just eye candy and Don knows it. Her advertising ideas challenged him on a professional level. The fact that she is passionate about wanting to succeed as a actress I think is something that he admires, although he is having some difficulty adjusting to being with a woman whose life doesn’t totally revolve around him. I think Megan’s spirit and intellect is why Don was attracted to her. If it were only her looks, he could have made one of a dozen other beautiful women his wife. Actually, I really don’t understand why Don would feel alone. The scene where Megan is thanking him profusely and expressing her love for him before shooting the commercial didn’t give me the imopression he was all alone. Megan is totally devoted to Don and madly in love with him. The fact that she wants to succeed at something besides just as Don’s wife doesn’t change that. As for being a mother to his children, I think Megan has done all that should be expected of her as a step-mother. She’s certainly done enough to make Betty jealous (thus her line in the previous episode about a girl just needed her mother sometimes). Intellectual growth? I will assume inghat doesn’t have anything to do with him possibly succumbs to the girls flirting with him at the bar. I think you would agree that would not be an example of intellectual growth and in fact, just the opposite. You seem to be referring to his recognition that he was alone. I should be so lucky to be as alone as Don is. He has lost Peggy, but I think he’s just feeling a little “empty nest” syndrome as far as she is concerned, I would love to see Don work even harder on being a good husband and father. Seeing him realize what it takes to be that kind of a man and striving to achieve such goals would be a true example of enlightenment.

  • Eugene

    There is a sense of deja vu about the ending. To the song’ You only live twice’ it looks like history is repeating itself- Megan is becoming Betty. Unhappy, drinking during the day. Don met Betty at a screen test. He has come full circle and it looks like old habits (drinking, cheating) will resurface.

  • Bill

    I think to say that Megan is just another Betty after she gets drunk once because she hasn’t been able land an acting job and because (more importantly) she has a holy b**** for a mother is a little harsh. Other than feeling a little sorry for herself, Megan is NOTHING like the Ice Queen. I think she has a drive to follow her passion and is also driven by wanting to prove “Mommy Dearest” wrong about thinking she’s her time following her dreams. If Don truly thinks that his marriage to Megan is becoming Don and Betty Version 2.0, that is really disappointing. And if it leads to him becoming the ess of a human being he was before, I’ll probably stop wwatching MM. Why should I tune in to see Don screw up his life again. I wathed him do that for 4 years. That’s no longer of interest to me.

  • Al

    That Megan is smart and could succeed in advertising doesn’t mean that she’s any less a symbol to Don of a certain kind of life. She’s got good qualities, she’s not an idiot, but they’re not compatible either. They barely knew each other when they married, they don’t value the same things. This season has spent far more time highlighting their differences and disturbing moments than the happy ones.

    I would guess that Weiner believes that people don’t evolve, not fundamentally. They can change small things about themselves and change their standing, but their core self remains, and if they’re not happy at the core, they create images of what they need to be happy. That’s the whole point of Don – Don Draper is just a creation of Dick Whitman. That’s the whole point of Pete’s arc this season – to achieve all the material trappings he wanted, to be equal in professional stature to Don, only to find himself more miserable than he’s ever been. That’s the whole point of Lane. For all of them, happiness was just the moment before they needed more happiness.

    I suppose Weiner could still spin the ending as Don trying to do something nice for Megan as opposed to severing emotional ties – it’s really set up so that Weiner could still go either way with it. But I’m guessing Don’s going to realize that he’s traded in illusion #1, The Good Life with Betty, for illusion #2, The Good Life with Megan. And actually, that may be the best chance he has to evolve as a person.

  • Bill

    So what are you saying, that Don can never really be happy, or just not with Megan? Are you saying that part of his core values is to treat people who care about him like crap and cheat on his spouse? If yes, then he’s doomed to a life of misery.

    Yes, Don and Megan have had some monumental fights because (1) they are honest with each other and (2) Megan doesn’t put up with s***. Being honest with each othe was something that Betty and Don rarely did. Megan is not the Ice Queen and rarely expresses her displesure in a passive agressive manner. Don’s not used to that and it’s going to take him some time to learn how to deal with it. However, I am concerned about about the damage done to her by her Mother. She may take the worst Mom crown away from Betty.

    When Don came clean about who he really was, it burst Betty’s fairy tale view of her husband. With Magan, Don told her about his secret life right up front, much to Betty’s surprise and disappointment. Why did Don refeal his secret to Megan? Because he wanted things to be different with her. Yes, there are some basic differences between Mr. and Mrs. Draper – thank God! Life would be very bland and boring if my wife were exactly the same as me. Now true, some differences can eventually drive a wedge into a relationship. But I don’t see that happening here, as long as they continue to communicate and be honest with each other (unless of course MW chooses to script it otherwise). If Don starts cheating on Megan, that is probably the beginning of the end for them. And Season 6 will seem like a rerun of seasons 1 through 4. Perhaps Weiner does believe a person can’t change, at least not fundamentally. I guess the question is who is Don Draper, fundamentally? I do acknowledge that some people are just no damn good. And maybe Don is one of them. I guess we will find out next season.

  • coco

    I agree about the hospital scene with Pete. That is the best of Pete — he’s really a sensitive intellectual whose life is always denying that part of him, i.e., the ruthless account man, the “greasy pimp”, the child man who is married to Trudy, his mothering wife. He can be really soulful; unfortunately, it took a very screwed up depressive to bring that out in him.

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