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“Mad Men” 5x13:
A permanent wound

June 11, 2012 - Ray Eckenrode

Episode title: “The Phantom”

Significance: It’s the exact term Megan’s mother uses to describe her daughter’s ennui, her longing for something that she never can truly have (something she later describes much more succinctly and brutally in telling Don that Megan has an artist’s temperament but not an artist’s talent). But there are plenty of other phantoms here, both literal (in the form of Adam Whitman) and implied (Lane’s empty chair), and all involve people who are unable to find happiness in what they have while dwelling on what they have not.

Time passages: “The Phantom” takes place in March of 1967, Megan’s mother, Marie, has come to visit her daughter (and Roger!) for Easter, which fell on March 26 that year.

Ghosts in the machine: When you kill off one of your main characters in the penultimate episode (did you notice how no one said the word “Lane,” only used pronouns in talking about him?), you know your finale is going to be about emotional fallout and setting the narrative tone for the next season and that seems to be exactly what we got in “The Phantom.” Season 4 ended with the surprise wedding of Don and Megan and although Season 5 provided plenty of surprises about how their relationship evolved, it ended just about where we thought it would: With neither of them getting exactly what they need from the whirlwind union and both looking elsewhere for validation. Megan so desperately believes her acting “career” will fill up the empty spaces in her life that she backstabs her friend on the audition for the role of Beauty in the Butler commercial. And Don, despite a brief foray with domestic bliss and fidelity, has gradually devolved into his old self, a man with an ache so deep that neither whiskey nor anesthetic can take it away. He’s driven at work and more detached personally than ever, a man so good at understanding other people’s dreams and emotions, but almost totally lacking his own. Think about that: What does Don Draper want? If you know, we think you’re a step ahead of him. Also, we’re not sure what to make of the final scene in the bar. At first we thought of it almost like a cliffhanger. What will Don’s answer be to the pretty young woman’s proposition? (And the wording of the episode synopsis on the AMC web site seems to support that.) But doesn’t the fact that Don is where he is doing what he’s doing imply that he already knows what his answer will be?

Sad eyes: We speculated several times this season that Pete might be the character heading for the foreshadowed suicide, and although it turned out to be Lane, you got a real sense in “The Phantom” of the darkness and desperation enveloping Pete. Here we have another character excelling at work while his personal life disintegrates. The intricacies and implications of the Pete-Trudy-Howard-Beth quadrangle are many, but the nurse in the psych ward summed it up nicely when she told Pete that he and Beth “have the same eyes.” If it takes electric zaps to the brain to the shock the sadness out of Beth, how is Pete every going to get out of the hole he’s in? An apartment in the city isn’t going to do the trick.

The road to somewhere: Amidst all the turmoil in this episode, we got the return of Peggy Olson, who seems to be on the road to getting exactly what she wants (in this case, a honest-to-gosh business trip, even if it’s to a blasé Holiday Inn in Richmond, Va., where she may or may not be on the way to naming Virginia Slims and writing the iconic tagline: You’ve come a long way, baby. And, of course, she has, although as Don wistfully notes, he “never thought it would be without me.” Although we saw that Sterling Cooper Draper (Insert Name Here) is reaching new heights of prosperity, perhaps enough to take on more space and get Pete that view he’s coveted since Season 1, we also got the strong hint that Peggy’s talents and voice are sorely missed. In fact, one of the biggest “cliffhangers” coming out of this season will be the status of Elizabeth Moss (and Peggy) for Season 6. Will we have parallel narratives with her remaining at her new agency. Will we have a time jump and somehow see her triumphantly return? Or will she be gone, writing killer tag lines somewhere on the edge of our cultural consciousness?

Quick hits:
+ That rascally Roger seems to have met his match in Marie, who recognizes his charm but can see right through his bullsh*t. We’re interested to see how his solo tripping turns out (although not necessarily interested to see it nude).
+ Season 5 will probably be remembered as the year of “Zou Bisou Bisou” or Joan’s Jaguar trick but seeing Pete Campbell get decked three times in a 13-episode span was pretty satisfying.
+ We hopefully will get an indication fairly quickly as to what AMC’s and Matt Weiner’s plans are for the timing of Season 6 as far as sticking with a March-June run or shortening the hiatus with a January 2013 premiere and lengthening it and coming back in September 2013. With so many young actors in such important roles it’s a real dilemma, especially with the Sumer of Love looming just three months away in “Mad Men” time.

Historical notes:
+ In 1967 there were two James Bond films, “You Only Live Twice” with Sean Connery, which gave us the song that played over the closing montage, and Casino Royale, the spy spoof starring David Niven as the first of many Bonds, which is the movie Don and Peggy wound up at together while they were “knocking out the cob webs.”

Sweet tweet: From @15MinutesBlog: “The Pacquio-Bradley judges have Pete Campbell at 3-0 this year in #MadMen fights.” (Every once in awhile, we nail one….)

Line of the night: “Smoke it, name it, sell it.” –Teddy Chaough

Line of the night II: “Not every little girl gets to do what they want, the world could not support that many ballerinas.” –Marie Calvet

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A haunted Don Draper wound up in one of his old haunts to close out Season 5 of "Mad Men."


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