Wednesday, 13 June 2012

MAD MEN, 5.13 – "The Phantom"

Wednesday, 13 June 2012
The season concludes on an unsubtle and meandering note, nevertheless blessed with some haunting character moments.

This wasn't the most thrilling or revelatory finale Mad Men's ever produced (in fact, it was probably the weakest ending we've had), but it was still a quietly intoxicating hour that drew some of the year's themes and subplots together nicely. It's just a shame this wasn't the emotional punch I was hoping for (which came early with Lane's suicide last week), meaning "The Phantom" was occasionally as insubstantial as its evocative title. But as always with Mad Men, even if the cumulative impression of an episode wasn't totally satisfying, there were enough excellent moments and characters beats to keep you happy.

Don (Jon Hamm) spent most of the episode nursing a bad tooth, declining everyone's advice to see a dentist. The pain was likely symbolic of his nagging relationship with Megan (Jessica Paré), particularly because Don was transformed soon after getting it extracted. It was fascinating to see how he dealt with Megan this week, too. At first, his wife's plea to get her a commercial using his contacts in the advertising world, to kick-start her non-existent acting career, were nobly shunted aside ("you want to be somebody's discovery, not somebody's wife"), but later Don acquiesced and got Megan a job. It felt like he'd taken his own advice to Peggy from earlier ("... when you help someone... they succeed and move on".) So by helping Megan's dreams come true, is Don secretly hoping she'll thus outgrow him and leave?

The fantastic sequence where Don strode away from Megan, who was dressed as a fairy tale princess, through the soundstage as his wife and her dream became an illuminated dot in vast emptiness, suggests Don's made his first move away from her. The final shot of the finale then seemed to confirm it, as an attractive girl at a bar asked if Don was single and the credits rolled before we heard his response. That itself speaks volumes: as I'm willing to bet Don replied no, and is consequently back to the womanising ways that ruined his first marriage to Betty. It remains to be seen if getting the "old Don" back, who's been faithful for a few seasons now, will mean the resurgence of SCDP in season 6 after a very problematic year here.

I didn't expect to see Pete's (Vincent Karthesier) storyline with Beth (Alexis Bledel) to continue from mid-season, so it was a real surprise when she returned and rekindled their affair with some hanky-panky in a hotel room. Even odder was the reveal that Beth's husband insists she get electro-shock treatment every once in a while, which she knows plays havoc with recent memories, so sleeping with Pete was a last grasp for happiness that she won't recall in the near-future. There was something of an Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless vibe to this tragic love story, really, especially when Pete later went to see Beth in hospital and, realising she's now forgotten him, took the chance to unburdened himself during a bedside chat about his state-of-mind during their affair. To be honest, while it was all very interesting, it was also an instance where Mad Men was at its most unsubtle. Even the dialogue felt too corny. Still, it was interesting to note the upshot of this storyline: as Pete got into a fight with Beth's husband on the train, told wife Trudy (Alison Brie) he'd had a car accident, and has now been given permission to find an apartment in New York. Effectively, he's becoming a version of Howard and his own wife an example of Beth. I can well imagine Pete getting up to all sorts of mischief now he's been let off the leash in the Big Apple.

It was also fantastic to see Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) again, particularly as I'd heard crazy rumours she'd been written out of the show without anyone quite believing it had happened! Her scene with Don, whom she coincidentally met at a screening of Casino Royale (the first of a few nods to James Bond), was one of the biggest highlights to me. I just love both seeing those characters, especially when they're hanging out together. They have such a great chemistry, and it was fun to see that Don both regrets the loss of Peggy, but also admires and respects the fact she's moved on and is enjoying success elsewhere. He was almost like the proud father of his favourite grown-up daughter.

Elsewhere, there were some fun moments for the other characters, like Roger (John Slattery) reconnecting with Megan's mother Marie (Julia Ormond) and encouraging her to do LSD (which she refused, although he went ahead anyway). Will Roger develop a drug addiction soon? I thought his memorable acid trip was a one-off deal, but by returning to it again it's got me thinking otherwise. Don having visions of his half-brother Adam (Kay Paulson), who hanged himself way back in season 1 after Don rejected him, was also an excellent touch—linking Lane's recent suicide directly to something in Don's past that still haunts him. I never realised it until this episode, but Lane's the second person Don pushed away who almost immediately committed suicide as a result, and that's got to play on a man's mind. "It's not your tooth that's rotten" said a vision of Adam as Don was being gassed at the dentist. I think we know what Don thinks might be.

Overall, "The Phantom" was a slightly disappointment because it didn't have a strong storyline as a beating heart, but it was still enjoyable and injected with haunting images and unsettling ideas about existence, memory, change, and trauma. It was also great to see SCDP increasing its floor space (Harry may finally get an office with a view!) now Joan's (Christina Hendricks) asserting her influence/power as a named partner, and the climactic montage to "You Only Live Twice" (the episode's other Bond reference) was another beautifully constructed piece of editing. The song title also suggesting that Don—who spent most of this season worrying about his mortality, in one way or another—may have decided to stop being so damn miserable about things he can't hope to change. Beyond the passage of time and ageing, there are still events and people he can control in his life—not least Megan—so it's time to start living it.

A brilliant season of a marvellous show, as usual. The wait for season 6 will be a long one, indeed.


  • I loved the nod to the early season's storyline with Lane trying to make contact with a woman whose photo he found in a lost wallet. Since his death, that photo's been mistaken by his wife as a probable floozy he was seeing behind her back. It's actually quite worrying to imagine how your life could be misinterpreted after your death, using the evidence you leave behind.
  • Did you notice that Don smiling pensively at the screen test of Megan, echoing a similar moment from "The Wheel" when Betty was the object of his dreaminess?
  • How awkward was the scene where Don tried to give Lane's widow $50,000 of the company's life insurance cheque? I especially liked her line "you had no right to fill a man like that with ambition!", which really made me think about the kind of man Lane was back in dreary post-war London.
  • I don't know what it is, but Julia Ormond and Embeth Davidtz are both familiar actresses that look completely different to me on this show. Maybe they've both just aged more than I imagine, or the '60s fashions hide them somehow.
  • Those Topaz clients weren't very happy with Ginsberg's pitch, making reference to the fact SCDP has lost one famous component of its business: the female perspective. Is this setting up the return of Peggy, whose loss will be more keenly felt next season?
  • Another unsubtle parallel was Megan playing "Beauty" in the Beauty & The Beast themed advert. I guess Don's the beast in her life.
written by Jonathan Igla & Matthew Weiner / directed by Matthew Weiner / 12 June 2012 / Sky Atlantic