Wednesday, 16 May 2012

MAD MEN, 5.9 – "Dark Shadows"

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Betty (January Jones), Don (Jon Hamm) and Roger (John Slattery) are now "shadows" of their former selves, although the replacement of the word "pale" for "dark" in the title's twist on the popular phrase is insightful. Each of them acted nastily in this episode, after all. Firstly, Betty tried to sabotage her ex's seemingly idyllic marriage with Megan (Jennifer Pare) using their own daughter; arming Sally (Kiernan Shipka) with the potentially explosive knowledge her father was secretly married before they got together, making Sally think "friend" and stepmom Megan's been making her dad keeps secrets. It was a spiteful act from Betty, borne out of jealously for the wonderful home-life she glimpsed at Don's luxury apartment; where she witnessed how brilliant and natural Megan is with her children. She's the mother Betty's flinty personality doesn't allow for. Seeing that, coupled with the fact Megan's a younger, thinner version of the glamour-puss she used to be before her weight gain, and it's understandable Betty would feel depressed and vindictive. But still, her decision to use Sally and sit back, hoping to see fireworks, won't win her any fans. Does she have fans?

Secondly, Don had to deal with the damning realisation his new copywriter Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) is better than he is; or at least could be very soon, if he gains consistency with his great ideas. Don's always been the alpha male at work, leaving everyone else trailing in his wake, but promotion has meant he's been taking his eyes off the ball and has been too busy basking in former glories.

Ginsberg, on the other hand, is excelling because he's naturally funny and appeals to younger clients. In this episode, a pitch for a "Sno Ball" drink comes down to two ideas: Ginsberg's comical approach involving a snowball literally hitting someone in the face, and Don's idea of a play on the saying "a snowball's chance in Hell" starring a debonair Devil. Both are good pitches, but it's worth remembering that even Don's idea was inspired by a sketch Ginsberg had doodled in his notepad. Don's pride couldn't let him fail when both ideas proved equally popular amongst the staff, so he opted to go ahead with his Devil campaign and thus riled Ginsberg for this overtly unfair treatment. For now, of course, Don's the boss and can get away with whatever he likes, swatting this young upstart away with that withering "I don't think about you at all" retort in the elevator. But how long will it be until Ginsberg's ideas are too consistently better than Don's to ignore, or start to swing the office vote instead of split it? What happens if Don's "Golden Boy" status has to someday be revoked? A common thread this season has been the idea of Don getting old and beginning to feel obsolete, and Ginsberg's perhaps close to drawing first blood in career terms.

And finally, there's Roger. A few episodes that LSD trip somehow cleared his head and spurred him into starting a divorce from young wife Jane (Peyton List), but now it seems he's not really to let her go so easily. Jealously raised its ugly head, when Roger saw a client flirting with her, so he very quickly reasserted his claim by seducing her in the home he'd just bought her. It wasn't a good move from Roger, because their amicable split was going well and was undoubtedly a wise move (no matter how unlikely it came about), and now he's complicated matters. At least he seemed repentant about what had happened, which is something of an improvement for the womanising Roger we know and love, but I wonder if it'll mean a return to the status quo. But was it simple jealousy that made him act this way, or does he have more genuine feelings for Jane than we've long suspected?

Overall, "Dark Shadows" was a good episode, but coming on the heels of a handful of classics, it suffers by comparison. But that's not to say this was without its merits; as I particularly enjoyed seeing some long-awaited "Betty vs Megan" drama, and I've been enjoying the many ways this season keeps suggesting Don's only half-aware he's on a slippery slope – physically and professionally.

written by Erin Levy / directed by Scott Hornbacher / 15 May 2012 / Sky Atlantic