Mad Men, Season 5

Don Peers Into the Abyss
Talking television.
May 7 2012 12:45 AM

Mad Men, Season 5

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SCDP loses an employee.

Mad Men (Season 5)
Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman), Stan Rizzo (Jay R. Ferguson) and Megan Draper (Jessica Pare)

Courtesy AMC.

Um, shouldn’t Don have called maintenance after nearly walking into that empty elevator shaft? Or was that not a real malfunction—just a harmless metaphor? Either way, I couldn’t help but think of the real tragedy that occurred at Y&R’s Madison Avenue headquarters late last year, when one of the company’s executives was killed in an elevator accident. I’ve been checking before embarking ever since.

John Swansburg John Swansburg

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.

So what to make of that yawning chasm Don peered into? Like Megan, I was surprised how well Don took the news that she wanted to leave the firm. But it was telling that his first reaction was to offer to get Megan a job at another firm. He thinks the problem is the shadow he casts at SCDP, not the work of copywriting itself—Megan has to explain that it’s not him, it’s advertising. Believe it or not, copywriting isn’t her dream. I was impressed by how sweetly Don treated Megan during that conversation and throughout this episode. But clearly he’s not entirely at peace with this turn of events. Throughout this season, we’ve noted how disengaged Don has been at the office, and my guess is that it’s hard for him to see Megan inspired by her dream of acting when he no longer seems to take pleasure in his own work. Megan steps onto the elevator on her way to an exciting new adventure. Don’s elevator leads … nowhere. As Stan notes, advertising is about putting in hard work for long hours, and for what? Beans.

What’s more, the few times we’ve seen Don thrilling to the work of advertising this season, it’s been when he was working in partnership with Megan—making the pitch to Heinz over dinner, or performing their happy spin on the stupid-husband/pushy-wife routine to Cool Whip. Megan is a good actor, and she and Don together have constituted a formidable duo—so formidable that new clients are now requesting a little soft-shoe from the Fabulous Drapers before signing on the dotted line. Don’s not keen on going back to being a solo act—and as the scene in the test kitchen showed all too clearly, he’s got no chemistry with Peggy.

Megan’s departure is hard on Peggy, too: Like Don, she has a hard time processing why anyone would want to give up this job, a job that Peggy had to claw her way into. And whereas Don sees his wife as a natural, Peggy sees her as a talented young prospect in need of instruction. Don’s lost a partner, Peggy a protégé—someone she put work into improving. In one way, it could be a blessing—she was getting dragged into the Draper marriage in unhealthy ways. (Pizza Haus!) And perhaps this will force Don and Peggy to work together again in more meaningful ways. I’ve missed their collaborations. Maybe they can go back to that Greek diner and puzzle through Revolver together.

I’m curious to hear what you guys made of this episode. After the conference room punch-out, the HoJo noir, and the French-Canadian canoodling of the last few weeks, I confess I found this episode a little slack. Megan’s departure from SCDP was set up for us last week, and I was surprised that the ramifications of her leaving took up the better part of a whole episode—she’s quickly become one of the series’ central characters, but it’s not like Pete or Don decided to up and leave, a turn that would have had serious implications for the firm. (Two weeks ago Roger and Jane were deciding to get a divorce while on acid—this week precious airtime was given over to a debate between Joan and Don about whether Megan should have a goodbye cake or a lunch.) And speaking of Pete, I was befuddled by his fling with Rory Gilmore. Julia, can you explain it to me? Was this just a reminder of how creepy young Mr. Campbell can be? Or will Rory’s talk of hobos and the inconsequence of mankind as seen from space have some effect on Pete’s work on the new alpine skiing account? And whose idea was that heart drawn in the fogged-up car window?

Is it a topping?

John

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