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"Mad Men" — "The Phantom": Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

By Sarah Carlson | TV Reviews | June 12, 2012 | Comments ()


MM_MY_513_0116_0611.jpg

A toothache is never just a toothache on "Mad Men." In many ways, the series reminds me of the NPR program "This American Life": Each week it has a theme and its writers present different kinds of stories based on that theme. It's one metaphor after another; every line, set piece and clothing accessory is deliberate. This isn't a bad thing -- having to peel back the layers to better understand the show's message is part of what makes it interesting -- but sometimes the redundancy of it all, or the feeling that you're being hit over the head, can be tiresome. See: Don's toothache. After two emotionally heavy, shocking and near brilliant episodes, the Season Five finale "The Phantom" still was solid even if it felt a bit like a review, a recap, of the year and its themes. We took a breather to stop and examine how far everyone has come only to learn that in many ways, the characters are right back where they started -- or worse. It was a quiet end to an impressive season.

Don tried to ignore the pain in his tooth, claiming and hoping it would go away after he'd doused it with enough ice and whiskey. But pretending the problem doesn't exist doesn't make it go away, and a trip to the dentist confirms he almost had an abscess. Under anesthesia, he sees the dentist as his deceased brother, Adam, the rope marks from when he hanged himself visible. He already had imagined seeing Adam around his office, haunting him alongside the memory of Lane. "You're in bad shape, Dick," Adam says. "I'm going to do you a favor and take it out, but it's not your tooth that's rotten." Lane's wife Rebecca tells Don much of the same when he stops by her apartment to give her the $50,000 Lane put into the company when they lost Lucky Strike. "You had no right to fill a man like that with ambition," she says, also questioning him about the picture of Dolores she found in Lane's wallet. "Don't leave here thinking that you've done anything for anyone but yourself."

Don's gesture to Rebecca was in good faith, as were his condolences. He didn't see Lane's suicide coming, just as he didn't see Adam's, and the guilt of wondering if he could have stopped both men from their actions is weighing as heavily as the thought of his behavior being the cause of such actions. No matter what, he can't shake the feeling that he really is rotten inside, that no matter what he does, he'll always be "bad." Joan is the one who vocalizes such fears as she wonders if she could have saved Lane by giving him what he wanted -- her. In many ways, she has stepped into his shoes at the firm, not only conducting business but relaying the finances to the partners and planning the expansion of the office to a new floor. She even steps in to voice caution at the news the agency has had its best quarter to date, a recommendation she thinks Lane would have made. Lane is everywhere and nowhere.

Peggy's departure, on the other hand, has gone well, at least for her. Over at CGC, Ted Chaough hands her the account for a "top secret ladies' cigarette" for Phillip Morris -- "Smoke it, name it, sell it." So much for taking a backseat. She seems pleased with her freedom, and Don tells her when they run into each other at the movies that he's equally pleased. He just never imagined that her success would be without him. Without Peggy, his creative team is in a bind. There's no one to balance out Ginsberg's craziness, Stan's negativity and Don's aloofness, not to mention provide a female opinion for products such as Topaz hosiery that desperately need one. The firm may be making money, but the tensions in creative are bound to ignite bigger issues as 1967 progresses. Peggy will be busy taking more business trips and accounts.

Beth's return into Pete's life mirrored Megan's continued downward spiral. Both beautiful young women are depressed but neither are in an environment where such a diagnosis is supported. (Betty knows a thing or two about that.) Megan wallows in her continued defeats as an actress, growing so desperate that when her friend suggests she ask Don to pull strings to get her into a commercial, she instead asks him to consider her. His advice to her is wise, even though it is delivered after he belittles her: "I thought you hated advertising?," he asks her. "... Well you certainly don't think it's art, and you're an artist, aren't you? ... You don't want it this way. You want to be somebody's discovery, not somebody's wife." Marie is more blunt: Megan is unhappy because she's chasing a phantom. "Not every little girl gets to do what they want," Marie tells her. "The world could not support that many ballerinas." And to Don: "This is what happens when you have an artistic temperament but you're not an artist." Her drunken behavior is childish and her declaration that all she is good for is sex is unfair, both to her and Don. Later, as he watches the screen test she gave him when she asked about the commercial, he smiles as she talks and poses. As he realizes her smile is forced, however, his smile fades.

Beth is resorting to electroshock therapy to rid herself of negative feelings, a process Pete learns she has gone through before. Her request of him is for a rendezvous because after the procedure, she may not remember her time with him. "It's so dark, Peter," she says as he begs her to reconsider. "I just get to this place and I suddenly feel this door open and I want to walk through it." "That's for weak people, people who can't solve a problem," he says. When he later visits her, she doesn't recognize him. He tells her a story of a friend, a man heartbroken over an affair. "He realized everything he already had was not right either, and that was why it had happened at all," he says. "And that his life with his family was some temporary bandage on a permanent wound." That night on the train, Howard isn't heartbroken over Beth's state, nor is he surprised when he guesses she and Pete slept together. Pete is the one kicked off the train, not for fighting Howard but for disrespecting the train's officer. His snobbery has no place anymore, and even as Trudy suggests he get an apartment in the city after all, there will be no one to share it with. He's alone with his memories of an affair doomed from the beginning and his dreams of a life he hasn't lived.

"Are you alone?," a woman asks Don at a bar as he nurses a drink and waits for Megan. He helped get her the commercial after all, and she giddily thanked him on set before he left, walking across a dark soundstage away from the bright lights of the scene. He did his best to help her avoid continued unhappiness, an action he didn't take with Adam or Lane, or even Betty or other past lovers. But there's no going back now that he's taken this step for Megan. It's the kind of responsibility Marie tells Roger she doesn't want when he asks her to take LSD with him. "Please don't ask me for anything," she tells him. "Please don't ask me to take care of you." That's not the kind of love she and Don know how to give. We don't know if Don says anything to the stranger the bar or not. He simply looks at her, expressionless. But we know the answer. He is alone, just as he always has been. That's something you don't forget.

Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in Texas.


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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • When Don and Peggy are talking in the theatre, he makes a comment about how, when you help someone, they succeed and then they move on. It's foreshadowing for Megan - I suspect that he knows that by helping her, he has to let her go - or, at the very least, he *thinks* she'll move on (whatever that means to him: literally move on and out of the marriage, move on from the role he wants her to play, etc). That epic and gorgeous shot of him walking away from the set, with her in the light and the background, him headed into the darkness...symbolic, methinks. I don't know if he's going Full Douchecanoe, but he's walking away from her in more ways than one.

  • logan

    God help but I could watch Pete get beaten up every week.

  • aroorda

    Don banged that chick and here's why. a) Megan is just as listless, whiny and generally worthless as Betty was during her marriage to Don. b) Roger divorced his young hottie that looks like a lot like Megan. Didn't he also divorce his first wife (and justify it to Don,) before Don divorced Betty? Also, Don took a run at Roger's younger hot wife and she shot him down, then he got engaged to Megan like an episode later, not a great mentality to head into a marriage with. c) Don is parenting Megan like he parented Betty. This season Betty said "tell me everything is going to be fine," like she was 5. Don is no longer her lover, she's just another person he has to take care of.

    I'm looking forward to next season. Sarah, these have been remarkable, but objective write ups. AVClub can't stop fellating Weiner long enough to offer any criticism of the show, so Bravo. I may have posted this comment already, but the new comment system confuses me. Also get off my lawn. Also I'm 25.

  • aroorda

    Don banged that chick.

    The elevator shaft wasn't a throwaway, more death is coming to SCDH(P).

    Megan is just as needy, listless and confused as Betty. She also looks a lot like Rogers new ex. He just figured out what Don was feeling before Don realized it. Roger divorced his first wife before Don axed Betty too, right? Then Don hit on Rogers young hottie right before proposing to Megan at the end of last season. Am I misremembering that?

    Great season, great write ups all season. Stuff like this is why I still choose you guys over avclub.

  • Don never hit on Jane - Jane did make weird advances on him while drunk at that party where Roger was in blackface.

  • Syd

    I found some potential foreshadowing with Megan and her friend. Megan is going by her maiden name again (albeit professionally) and her friend asked 'I'd ask you who I should sleep with but I don't think you'd be happy' (or whatever), then the girl at the bar looked hecka like her. I also think it was significant to show Don walking away from Megan, like he was just doing something to make her happy for the purpose of stopping all the whining, and now he will do something for himself; looks pretty similar to his old pattern with Betty. No coincidence I'm sure that Megan is playing a princess-like role, swanning around getting her makeup done with all the attention on her.
    Beth's ECT: Maybe she has bipolar disorder. Bipolar depression is a lot more horrifying than garden variety depression, and ETC is actually very effective at treating it (it is still used today, and not as a last resort treatment). Bipolar would also explain the promiscuity. But I agree that it's at least as likely that her husband is trying to control her behaviour by pushing this on her.
    Roger flashing NYC: awesome.

  • superasente

    Given the attitude and behavior of her husband, I strongly doubt this diagnosis applies. He's probably as horribly abusive at home as we imagine and drives her to these extreme measures in the name of medical progress.

  • David Sorenson

    I'm just glad that Beth and Pete are done with before she could get pregnant. They both have fiveheads which means their kid would have a tenhead which means the hairline would start somewhere around the back of the poor kid's knees.

  • Morgan_LaFai

    This has never been the lightest of shows but my gods was this season dark. And it didn't seem all that interested in historical events, which is what attracted me to the show in the first place. There was some stuff earlier in the season about the racial tensions but after hiring Dawn it all seemed forgotten. Personally, I watch the show to see great characters in historical moments, not to be beat over the head my depressed characters and there in ability to take agency in their own lives. I am depressed enough on my own, thank you very much.

    And what the hell happen with Chekhov's Elevator Shaft, or in this case didn't happen.

  • Danar The Barbarian

    Punching Pete Campbell is the new slapping King Joffrey. Now that both Mad Men and Game of Thrones are over for the year, I'll have to find a new target for my schadenfreud. Maybe ball-gagging Nancy Botwin?

  • John G.

    Can someone explain to me how last week the company was so broke that they couldn't give out bonuses, and now they're so rolling in it, they can buy an entirely new floor?

  • Jessica

    That was around Christmas, this episode was set in April. They landed a major new account and Mohawk is not on strike anymore, so they have Mohawk's business back as well.

    While they couldn't afford to give bonuses, they weren't struggling either - Lane was.

  • Sarah

    They actually were struggling--the only reason they were even considering bonuses was that Lane secretly had their credit line increased and claimed the borrowed money was surplus profit. Seems like that has not been discovered.

  • BWeaves

    1. I can’t believe
    there was ZERO fallout from Lane’s suicide in the office. Nothing was mentioned about his borrowing
    $50,000 (or more) to cover his embezzlement.
    I thought that this episode would be about the problems, both financial
    and emotional, from Lane’s death, but all we got was a bit about Lane’s wife
    finding that photo in Lane’s wallet and Don seeing his dead brother.

    2. After the dentist,
    how come Don’s face wasn’t swollen, and he wasn’t slurring every word and
    dribbling down his face? This is 1966
    dentistry we’re talking about.

    3. AND, everybody got
    what they wanted. (See below)

    4. SCDP got a huge
    settlement from Lane’s life insurance.
    Really? Life insurance normally
    doesn’t cover suicides. AND, SCDP got
    lots more business, so they are suddenly rolling in money. This happened very suddenly.

    5. We got butt-nekkid
    Roger! You can’t be demure. You’re already on the bed. (From last week’s promos, I thought it was
    going to be Glen was making obscene phone calls to Megan.)

    6. We got multiple
    people punching out Pete. Of course Pete
    got to screw Beth again, and got his Manhattan
    apartment. Beth not remembering Pete was
    like another punch.

    7. Joan got to be
    Lane, complete with nerdy glasses. And
    she gets a new office on the new floor.
    They might as well make her CEO.
    She’s running the damn company.
    Oh, wait, it’s 1967. Ain’t gonna
    happen.

    8. Harry gets a new
    office.

    9. Col. Sanders gets a new office.

    10. Megan gets an
    acting job. Of course, she screws her
    friend out of it.

    11. Peggy gets to
    boss boys around and go to the movies during work. She also gets to watch dogs screw. Did anyone recognize the movie music that Don
    and Peggy were watching? I didn’t.

    12. Don orders an old
    fashioned. Interesting. Then he gets hit on by two women, one who
    looks like Megan’s friend and one who looks like Megan. So, did Don take up with the women or not? Guesses?

  • alboy2

    4. I believe they expressly said the policy covered suicide.

    11. The theme is from "Casino Royale," the 1967 version, not the recent remake. Terrible mess of a movie, but I still enjoy watching it from time to time. Peter Sellers is brilliant, as usual.

  • BizzyBzz

    Shortly after Lane got the line of credit extended, Bert Cooper told him to get a line of credit so they could work on landing the Jaguar account. I would think they assumed that's what the $50K was for. Also, as others have said, Lane emblezzled the $7500, which Don covered.

  • AJ

    Lane got the agencies credit extended by $50,000 but he only embezzled $7,500 and Don is covering that. Also, when Beth's husband was trying to sell Pete insurance on the train, Pete said that he checked and suicide was covered for executives by their current insurance.

  • BWeaves

    But when Don asked Lane if this was the only time he'd embezzled, Lane wouldn't give an answer.

    Also, even though they setup the Suicide life insurance payment earlier with Pete checking on it, that still is a weird thing to do when I don't know of any life insurance in real life that covers suicide.

    Also, as someone else mentioned, I find it odd that Lane borrowed the 50K around Christmas because the company couldn't afford bonuses, and now they are rolling in it and can afford another floor of the building. Ad money must be very fickle. All or nothing.

  • Cherry

    There are life insurance policies that do cover suicide, but only if a certain amount of time has passed since the policy was taken out. Unfortunately, I speak from experience.

  • hypnosifl

    "But when Don asked Lane if this was the only time he'd embezzled, Lane wouldn't give an answer"

    That's not what I remember, I thought Lane made the point that this was the only time he had done it as a reason not to fire him (I don't think Don even asked).

  • ed newman

    I am guessing that with the Jaguar account and all the new business flowing in the 50 Gs was not a problem to cover. After all the banker was happy to give it based on Lane's assertions that billings were good, which they turned out to be only a few months later. I would guess that Joan has figured it out but decided to sweep it under the rug due to her fondness for Lane. Throw in the money from the insurance and they are indeed swimming in it. But that is the way this kind of business works. Fortunes can turn rapidly. BTW although I agree that most policies don't cover suicide, Pete expressly told Beth's husband (Howard?) that SCDP's did sometime around mid season.

    I believe I read somewhere that they were watching Casino Royale.

    Lastly, I don't think it matters whether he hooks up with those women. It's clear from that look that he will cheat sooner, not later.

  • kelsy

    I was under the impression this was several weeks later, which could explain the upswing in business.

  • misgivingface

    Each episide is about a month+ apart. Weiner talked about it in last months GQ interview with him and Vince Gilligan.
    At least I think it was that interview. I read way too much about MM & BB....

  • Wednesday

    Lane didn't embezzle 50 grand. It was either five or seven, not 50. Fifty was the amount they had to pony up to get past the Lucky Strike loss.

  • noodlestein's danger tits

    Wednesday, what BWeaves is talking about is the scene in which Lane borrows 50 thousand from the bank that enables him to go to the other partners with good news about some "extra money." It is this money that he hopes to parlay into bonuses so that he can get the 8 grand he needs to pay off his tax debt. When that was delayed, that's when he embezzled the money, thinking that he could pay it back when the partners finally got their bonuses.

  • Misgivingface

    "He simply looks at her, expressionless."
    I totally disagree. Watch that eye flicker. That look was some early season Don motherfucking Draper we got. We have had expressionless Don (RE: brothel) all season. That look was epic. I got a chill when the screen went dark. Watch again. Trust.
    Agreed with the rest, though.
    Did anyone else feel intense foreboding when all the partners framed themselves in the new floors windows? All I could think was the opening sequence and how this season was the ramp up to them all "jumping".... Who knows, Weiner gets me all scotch and deep thoughts.

  • Yeah, I agree. We got a glimpse of old Don is coming back, in all his philandering glory.

  • Melody Be

    Sarah, you write the best MM recaps.

  • John W

    That scene with Pete and Beth was heartbreaking.

    And thanks to whoever cast Alexis Bledel, God she's gorgeous.

  • She's pretty, but she's TERRIBLE in that part. TERRIBLE. Having watched the episode twice now, it's so evident how much stronger those scenes would have been if they had gone with someone who could act.

  • letsspoon

    She is AWFUL. I couldn't even give a shit about that plot line because her "acting" was so distracting.

  • junierizzle

    My first reaction after the.show was, that's it? I guess I was expecting something crazy to happen. Now that I have let it sink in, I have realized it is a perfect ending to a stellar season. Former the whole season was about people wanting more and wanting to be happy. Even if its only for a little while. Don didn't want to.get Megan that part but he figured someone should be happy about something. I'm pretty sure Megan will get depressed again when she can't. Find work, again, but at least she was happy for a minute.

  • John G.

    that's interesting, so are you saying that the last episode was meant to be a let down, so that we, the audience, also feel what it's like to not get what we want?

  • TheEmpress

    I really liked Megan at the beginning of this season. Now I'm convinced she's Betty 2.0.

    This show has never been light and fluffy but man, was this season dark. And I totally think Don did bang the chick in the bar at the end (was it Megan't friend? Because that's awesome, considering she dicked her over). That's how I prefer my Don. Work-obsessed and a total d-bag.

    Is Roger developing a drug problem?

  • John G.

    Taking LSD twice is not a drug problem. It should be a requirement.

  • Seeing Megan as the center of an advertising campaign reminded me when Betty tried to get back to modeling in season 1. It was just another example of how things never really change.

  • Great review Sarah, thanks.

    The episode was disquieting on several levels but nothing disturbs me as badly as the public's nonchalant reaction to a female character receiving electroshock treatments to erase memories of promiscuity, a behavior that is clearly a cry for help from a deeply disturbed woman. I've even read some fan reactions along the lines of 'hmmph. Didn't realize Beth was such a whore'. Jesus Henry Christ way to miss the point. The implications of controlling a woman's behavior was echoed when Marie suggested to Don that he 'nurse' ie manipulate Megan through her 'defeat' so he could 'have the life you want'. Thank God Don rejected her advice and took steps to ensure Megan's independence from him. Then he walked away...

  • ljridley

    The impression I got was the the electroshock was for the depression -- she implies that she gets suicidal -- and sleeping around was a symptom of the depression. Her jackass husband said to Pete something along the lines of 'she'll spread her legs for anyone when she's in that state' (and what was his excuse?) Electroshock was a blunt force treatment back then, and certainly used to control women's behavior, but I don't know if that is the case with Beth. She didn't seem at all reluctant and felt that it relieved some of her pain.

  • I'm sorry but wiping a person's mind is never the answer to depression. Or anything else for that matter.

  • lelelily

    I think your misinformed about electroshock therapy. The point of it is not to erase memories, but to alleviate symptoms of depression. The shock that's generated into the brain, is used to stimulate neurotransmitters (monoamine). However, memory loss is an unfortunate side-effect of electroshock therapy, but it may not always occur and memories may come back.

    In regards to Beth, her promiscuity and her depression are both symptoms characterised by bipolar disorder. So I agree with your distain for people who are calling her a whore.
    She can't help it people!

    Ok now I'm going to stop procrastinating and get back to studying for my psych exams! hahahaa

  • hypnosifl

    Wiping someone's memories is not the point of electroshock, it's just a side-effect. The point is to cause some change in the brain that dispels the depression, it does work in some cases and is still sometimes used today for depressed people that aren't helped by antidepressants or therapy.

  • BizzyBzz

    Yep. See, for example, Clare Danes' character receiving it in the season finale of Homeland.

  • I realize wiping someone's memories is not the point of electroshock but since memory loss IS a side effect it ought to be abandoned as a 'respectable' treatment for depression, bipolar disorder, or any other psychiatric disorder. Not to mention, it's positively medieval torture. You think it FEELS GOOD to have electrodes delivering electrical shocks to your brain? Please. I am extremely disturbed by the defense this torture 'technique' is receiving.

  • vic

    The firm may be making money, but the tensions in creative are bound to ignite bigger issues as 1968 progresses.

    1967, you mean? I think the show's gotten only to March or so of '67. While it's not the point as it's not strictly speaking a period drama, I can't wait to see how Weiner and co. handle the madness of '68...

    Don't really have much else to say. This was one hell of a bleak, tremendous season. The best thing about it, though? The Betty shortage. I hope Weiner keeps that up for future seasons. I wish I could realistically hope the same for Glen as well...

    Great write-up! Can't wait 'til next season.

  • Sarah Carlson

    You're right -- it is 1967. I got ahead of myself. Thanks!

  • kayla

    I really must be the only Betty fan. I love her. I just love watching her pretty ass try to rid herself of her misery by plotting against others only to fail at that too. I just think she's one of the more interesting characters. The lack of her is one reason why this is my least favorite season.

  • vic

    I meant January Jones instead of Betty, though I wasn't really feeling her storyline this season, which you I suppose I agree was underexplored. I feel too much of what they did had to do with Jones' weight gain because of her pregnancy more than anything. I feel like they could've done more with her but didn't get the chance or something.

  • January wore a fat suit this season as she was never that heavy after giving birth, which she did before filming began. Which means the Fat Betty story line was totally unnecessary and, I think, a bit arbitrary.

  • kayla

    Stranger at the bar? The girl at the bar is Megan's friend - the one who asked Megan to talk to Don about her audition for the commercial. Or do they just look a lot alike?

    If it is Megan's friend. I really hope he sleeps with her. That's terrible, but I really hate Megan.

    Where's Rachel Mencken when you need her?

  • Not the same actress according to IMDb.

  • vic

    I think they just look alike. Megan's friend had an accent and was a terrible actress. I was half-wondering if Weiner or whoever cast her in that scene about looking for acting work as a joke. So cringe-worthy.

  • Melody Be

    It's not the same actor.

  • starbrite

    Nice recap. Anyone else notice that the two girls at the bar looked similar to Betty and Megan?

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