Mad Men, Season 5
Now that Megan is Beauty, will Don be the Beast?
I’m with you, Patrick. What a snoozefest! The season finale was Mad Men at its worst: fussing around with themes and portents; scrimping on jokes and plot. The episode was called “The Phantom” (as in the phantoms Megan’s unsupportive mother accuses her of chasing), and it meandered around one of the season’s recurring ideas, the notion that pursuing your ambitions—an acting career, a roll in the sack with Rory Gilmore—won’t necessarily make you happy.
Why did Megan get the part? I think Don was genuinely charmed by her awkward reel. His smile as he watched her wasn’t patronizing; he seemed to regard her as plausible, if not a shoo-in, to play the “European-type” beauty. But I suspect Don was most moved by his conversation with Peggy (whom he conveniently bumped into at the movie theater—one of several slightly-too-coincidental run-ins in the episode). When he hears she’s doing well, and says ruefully that he always imagined her success would be by his side, she says, “But that’s what happens when you help someone, they succeed and move on.” Helping Megan get the part is a way of taking her ambitions seriously, and making room for her success in their marriage.
Of course, now that Megan is the Beauty, that leaves Don to play the Beast, and I’m not talking about the cartoon kind that’s best friends with a candlestick. You’re right, Patrick, that Don’s swagger into the bar seemed to augur a return of his philandering ways. But I can’t say what drove him to it—perhaps that Megan was wearing a robe when he came home from work? Matthew Weiner seems to really dislike it when wives wear robes.
Or perhaps it’s that Don simply isn’t comfortable having a wife with a career. He can give Megan what she wants, but that doesn’t mean he will still want her. A Megan who is the center of her own tableau, surrounded by helpers and handmaidens, is not quite the same thing as a wife (or mistress) who puts him and his needs first. But I confess I’ll be bummed if Don circa Season 6 is just a reboot of Don in Season 1. The writers did a remarkable job of making Megan a believable and fascinating character this season. She is impetuous and uncertain about her own direction in life, and hot-headed in her fights with Don. But she also has smarts and a marvelous sensible streak. Seeing Don bend himself to an equal partnership with a woman who’s his match has been fascinating and novel. Watching him troll for young lasses over Old-Fashioneds would feel, to me, like a retread. The episode went out on the theme from the Bond film You Only Live Twice:
You only live twice or so it seems
One life for yourself and one for your dreams.
You drift through the years and life seems tame,
‘Til one dream appears and love is its name.
And love is a stranger who'll beckon you on,
Don't think of the danger or the stranger is gone.
But the show’s done plenty with the idea that the allure of the illicit beats domesticity—and robes!—hands down. Let’s hope wherever next season takes Don, it’s someplace new.
As for Peggy, she has come a long way, eh? She looked confident reading the riot act to those CGC scrubs—“it’s 125 words, and 15 of them have to be Ajax!”—and tickled to be sent to Virginia to tour the operations for a new, slim lady’s cigarette. The closing shot of her in the dowdy hotel where she is presumably about to invent the Virginia Slims tagline seems like a perfect metaphor for her position as a career girl in 1967. Virginia—on a plane, alone, for business—represents wild success. But wild success still entails a polyester bedspread and amorous canines in the parking lot. It’s not Paris.
As for Rebecca’s take on Lane, that he was the wrong sort of man to be filled with ambition, it’s a nice line, in keeping with the episode’s theme of thwarted dreams. But was it actually Lane’s ambitions that brought him down? I thought it was his pride.
John, did you like the episode any better than we did?
Put that on your face, not in a drink.