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

Posted By Julia Rhodes On June 12, 2012 @ 12:07 pm In Movies & TV,Television | 10 Comments

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.

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.

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.

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.

“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 [1],” 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.

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?


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[1] Lady Lazarus: http://calitreview.com/26385