Every week, Aaron Cohen (@UnlikelyWords) writes a recap of Mad Men for his blog Unlikely Words, and I illustrate something from the episode to go with it. Here’s Aaron’s recap for season 5 episode 13 (AKA THE SEASON FINALE):
Thinking about the finale earlier this week, I figured one possibility for tonight’s episode would be some sort of resetting. Last week was the Season 5 finale, and tonight was to get us ready for next year. I’d call it denouement, which is appropriate because of all the French in the episode, but this was less final resolution and more new beginnings. 10 years from now, after the end of the series, I wonder if we’ll look at this season as the end of the first epoch of the Mad Men series.
-Let’s start with the ending. Maybe I was looking for it, but I got a strong sense that the last few shots were hints at which direction the characters are headed. Don’s headed for trouble, walking away from Megan as the opening strains of ‘You Only Live Twice‘ a James Bond theme by Nancy Sinatra begins to play. He goes into a bar and orders an Old Fashioned, recalling the first scene in the series, and remember the kind of man Don was in the first season. The firm, bursting at the seams, is headed up, literally to a higher a floor in their building. They must have gotten rid of the extraneous second floor from last season. Roger is experiencing additional spiritual awakening. Pete’s getting his wish to move back to the city, partially, and Peggy is watching dogs hump in Richmond. The song choice at the end, is as important as ever, with the show and all the characters ending the second stage of their lives.
-The title of tonight’s episode was ‘The Phantom.’ A whole mess of things fit: the prank calls (Roger, you dog), Don’s tooth pain, Don seeing his brother, Pete’s suburban sexpot Beth, Trudy’s dream of the suburban life, Lane’s influence over SCDP even though he’s gone, Megan’s ambition. I think the true phantom, though, is Don this season. He’s not the person we’ve watched all season, and next year we’ll be seeing either old Don or a new Don, but it won’t be this Don. I wonder how Megan will take that. I don’t know if fidelity in marriage is Don’s most important personality trait, but it is the easiest to use to illustrate this point. A couple times this week, I thought about something I wrote about last week’s episode.
Don making Lane come clean was a wake up call to Don. His life could change at any time, just like Lane’s. He could get caught in his lie. This brought him into Roger’s office on fire. “I’m tired of this piddly shit.” He’s tired of settling. He’s tired of not going for it all. The scene at Dow Chemical’s office was another example of Don selling. He’s the best because he’s the best at convincing the client to take the idea, not necessarily because it’s the best creative. He had some great lines in that meeting (“But, what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.”), classic Mad Men. To a certain extent, he could have been talking to himself with the whole not settling spiel. He had a lot, a beautiful wife, kids, etc, but before Don didn’t settle for having a lot, he wanted it all. I wonder if he’ll now cheat on Megan. I think this was my favorite scene of the season. “What happened to your enlightenment?” “I don’t know, wore off.”
The last scene of the show strongly implies Don isn’t going to settle for what he’s got anymore.
-Incidentally, one aspect of seasons 1-4 Don that didn’t play a big role this season was Dick Whitman. Megan knows something about Dick, probably not all the details, but enough, that it keeps some of the pressure off of Don. I’m curious if Phantom Don, calm Don, faithful Don, keeps Dick issues (I said that) at bay. If my theory proves right and there’s a different Don next year, will his past be more of an issue for him? And if so, how will Megan deal with Don’s secret. This question becomes especially more dicey after seeing Megan steal the role her friend asked her to help her get. A foreshadowing quote: “All I want is an audition. I’d ask you who to sleep with, but I don’t think you’d like it.”) Don keeps seeing Dick’s brother Adam everywhere (in the elevator, in SCDP, in the dentist’s office), which is another hint at Don’s sense that the past may be catching up on him. Again, the Dick Whitman pressure is not something he seemed to feel for most of the season. I could probably write 500 more words about all of this right now.
-Don’s got a ‘hot tooth,’ which is basically an infection. If you have one, don’t go as long as he did before getting it checked out. The dentist said something about an abscess, a hole, which is fairly symbolic. Don almost had a literal hole filled with bacteria in his body. “It’s not your tooth that’s rotten.” His soul? “Don’t go, don’t leave me.” Is Don feeling alone?
-Megan’s having a tough time, with not getting any roles. She paid for a screen-test from one of those scams in the back of a newspaper, and it turned out exactly how you would expect. Megan seemed fairly realistic about the prospects of it working, but she’s desperate. I don’t think we know if she’s awful or not, but she’s starting to think she might be, and her mother certainly thinks she is. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” “Because you are chasing a phantom.” (!!!) “Not every girl gets to do what they want, the world could not support that many ballerinas.” “Thank God my children aren’t my whole life.” “This is what happens when you have the artistic temperament but you are not an artist.” I was trying to figure out if there was a pattern to when Marie spoke French and when she spoke English, but I didn’t get one. Don is embarrassed that Megan is so unhappy, so he blames Marie. She’s not even taking that. “She left my house a happy girl.”
-The entire ‘advertising as art’ debate gets a serious rehash in the discussion about whether Don could get Megan the role, or at least an audition. I think Don wouldn’t admit it, but he does see what he does as art, but Megan definitely doesn’t. She left SCDP because she wanted to pursue her dreams of acting, and Don sees commercial work as a cop out. It’s almost as if he doesn’t believe what she believes, he just wants her to have more conviction. “You’re an artist, aren’t you?” Or maybe he just didn’t want to be put in that position. Chris’s drawing from Season 4 Episode 4 is especially relevant to this conversation. I really liked the line from early in the episode, “It’s a great sin to take advantage of hopeless people.” It’s a fairly succinct and cynical view of what advertising is. I was jittery during Megan and Don’s last scene together, Don walking away from Megan’s commercial, her in the light, him in the dark. She’s taking part in advertising instead of art. Maybe she’s less interesting to him now that she’s not going after something. She’s come around to his point of view that advertising has value, and now she’s no better than Betty was when they first met. Maybe her commercial shoot was the final nail in the coffin of this season’s Don.
-That scene of the partners looking out the window on their new floor was one of those Mad Menesque shots that happen every couple episodes.
-You should know, Pete, that the conductor punching you in the nose, was for all of us viewers. You’d somehow earned some bit of sympathy in the middle of the season, and then you pooped all over it. The conductor punching you was our revenge. Pete is a deeply unhappy man, grasping at anything, the scarf on a piece of luggage, for instance. He thinks Beth is his path to happiness, and she could care less about him. I got the feeling her amnesia in the hospital was fake, but it doesn’t matter. She doesn’t want him in her life. He’s a fling to her, but he thinks she’s the one (“fresh Lifesavers”).
-Did you catch Pete using the word permanent twice: “His life with his family was a temporary bandage on a permanent wound.” “I don’t know Trudy, it’s awfully permanent.” He doesn’t want to be tied down, so he uses his daughter (“Tammy could drown”) as a cudgel. In the end, after his second ‘car accident,’ Trudy relents and lets him get his apartment in the city. Trudy is giving up a little. The swimming pool was a last chance to make Pete happy at home, the apartment might make him happy away.
-Pete and Don have always sort of played off one another. Earlier in the season, I mentioned a couple times how Pete and Don seemed to have switched places. I didn’t pick up on it too much the rest of the season, but tonight it was back, flashing bright. Pete mentioned wanting to run away to LA with Beth, something Don did in an earlier season (more than once?). “I’m going to have the same view as you, Don.” Replace ‘view’ in that sentence with ‘outlook’. And then Pete literally putting Don in charge of his vote, if only for a moment, “Don, I give you my proxy.” (“We can do that?”)
-Lane’s empty chair cast a shadow (way to be heavy handed) over the latest partners meeting to such an extent, Joan felt like she had to give voice to his conservative position. Despite this, he was only lightly mentioned in this episode, and I think we’re moving on. Don has lingering guilt over his part in Lane’s suicide and makes sure a check quickly gets cut for $50K (about $345K in today’s dollars). It’s pretty clear he’s trying to assuage his guilt, and Rebecca sees right through him. If Don is being consistent, he’ll feel he’s done his part, done all he can do, and he’ll wash his hands of it. He doesn’t like to be shouted at or made to feel badly, and that’s all he’ll get from trying to do anything else. Another great line from tonight, “You had no right to fill a man like that with ambition.”
-There were some inflation calculations done a couple weeks ago to determine Peggy’s $19K salary was worth $131K. Using that math, Lane’s $175K insurance policy is worth around $1.2 million.
-Someone should make a Supercut of all the Mad Men elevator scenes. Why hasn’t this happened yet?
-Last week in an interview, the actor who played Lane, said something about Peggy leaving the show which was interpreted as implying Peggy was leaving permanently. Her appearance tonight doesn’t necessarily refute that completely, but her interactions with Ted Chaough and seeing the inside of the agency lead me to believe she’ll still have a recurring role. And she was already missed at SCDP in the meeting with Topaz stockings, the client she brought in. Don, happy to run into her at the movie, can’t help but continue to say shitty things. “That’s what happens when you help someone. They succeed and move on.” Peggy brought up Megan a couple times, but I’m not really sure why. Was she fooled or by phantom Don? Or not fooled? The questions could go either way. Peggy’s interest in Megan is something I’ve had a blindspot for all season. Peggy seeing two dogs having sex outside her hotel in Richmond… Probably just a completely random shot to get Mad Men recappers like me to write sentences like this one.
-At first, Roger was the phantom, prank calling the Draper residence over and over, until he could get Marie on the phone. Not sure how he could have expected that to work, but it did. And, boy, did it work. I guess Marie would be a perfect person for him to end up with, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. Last week he said his enlightenment wore off, so he needed some more LSD to get it going again, resulting in a NYPD Blue-level full butt nude scene. He said something about Lane’s suicide and how you’d have to be pretty sure where you going was better than here, and his opinion that maybe here is the best place. It’s a pretty atheistic outlook, which is interesting because her husband being an atheist is purportedly why Marie was in New York.
-Don watched Megan’s screen-test, and to me, it felt… Nostalgic. He was watching her and remembering what he liked about her (her looks), but since the film was silent, he didn’t have to worry about listening to her. Was he saying goodbye to that Megan? Was he remembering what he liked about her?
-I didn’t really pick up on it during the episode, but in writing this recap, I seem to remember it being around Easter time, in which case, all of the resurrection and rebirth stuff should be included in everything.
-It’s too late, now, to write up thoughts on the whole season, and I don’t really know what I would say. Because of how I think about things, and this weekly exercise, I experienced the season on a very episode by episode basis. The theme of violent change that was so apparent in the first half of the season tapered off. It was hit so hard episode after episode at the beginning of the season, it’s probably got to be counted as a theme. This was the most different of all the seasons, the most adventurous stylistically. Will future seasons gravitate back to the style of seasons 1-4, or will we be bashed over the head Sunday night after Sunday night for the next few years?
This was the longest of all the recaps this season. Thanks very much for reading!
What did I miss?