When all else fails when trying to understand the “Mad Men” world, rely on Roger Sterling to give you a brief summary. Season Five, Episode Nine’s theme: Kill or be killed. Roger trots out the line for Peggy after she calls him disloyal for turning to Ginsberg for under-wraps creative help instead of her, but Roger’s actions are far from the worst in “Dark Shadows.” Everyone is in self-preservation mode, looking out for their own interests and steamrolling those who get in the way. But everyone can’t come out on top. Some realize too late they’ve bet on the wrong horse — their trust, or hope, was misplaced. Summer is gone now as the season builds toward its finale, and the characters are surrounded by cold and gloom. The air is toxic, and the worst of it is blowing in from the Francis residence.
Peggy shouldn’t be surprised Roger approached Ginsberg to work up ideas for a potential Manischewitz account; Roger’s thought patterns when it comes to opportunity are generally straight-forward. The product is Jewish wine — who do I know who is Jewish, and how can I manipulate them into helping me? Ginsberg is easier bought than Peggy was for extra Mohawk work, but Jane won’t pretend to be his loving wife in front of the clients for a song. She wants her own apartment, one that isn’t filled with memories and doesn’t have his mother as the landlord. Jane should have thought about with whom she was bargaining. She catches the eye of Bernie Rosenberg (Mark Famigletti), son of the Manischewitz executive, but Roger is the one who manages to seduce her one last time — in her new apartment. “I told you why I wanted this apartment and you ignored me,” Jane tells Roger the next morning. “Now this is no different than the last place. … You ruined this. You get everything you want and you still had to do this.” For all his talk of their amiable separation, Roger isn’t above hurting Jane one last time.
Ginsberg should be careful, too, but of Don. The boss isn’t producing like he once did, and when compiling a portfolio of the firm’s top work, Ginsberg’s name graces a majority of ideas. He’s full of them for the new Sno Ball account, and seeing his brainstorming encourages Don to get back in the game and come up with his own take on the product. Don’s “Sno Ball’s chance in Hell” pitch is a struggle — Peggy, Ginsberg and Stan can barely maintain straight faces when they hear it — and it’s not as catchy as Ginsberg’s “Hit me in the face with a Sno Ball” pitch. But both are sent forward to be mocked up and presented to the client. Ginsberg is proud of his idea, as he is of all his ideas, but he forgets Don has pride, too. At the last minute, Don grabs his Devil as the pitch, leaving Ginsberg’s behind and forgotten. “I feel bad for you,” Ginsberg tells Don after he complains that his idea never got a chance. “I don’t think about you at all,” Don replies. He isn’t any easier on Pete, who calls Don to tell them SCDP wasn’t mentioned in a New York Times Magazine piece on hip agencies. Recognition is all Pete is craving at this point, especially as he dreams about Beth and what it would take to get her to walk scantily clad back into his life. He puts his faith in getting noticed so heavily that Don’s words to him — “Don’t wake me up and throw your failures in my face!” — can only ring true. In Pete’s mind, he is a failure.
Betty isn’t thrilled with her circumstances, either. Still struggling with her weight, she attends Weight Watchers classes and manages her portions at meals, but until she takes her own advice — “It’s so easy to blame our problems on others, but really we’re in charge of ourselves,” she tells Henry — Betty will never be free. Megan, with her younger body and carefree attitude, isn’t the problem, nor is Don’s love for his new wife. But Betty’s instinct is to fight, and to fight ugly, and here she stooped to a remarkable level of cruelty and brought Sally down with her. Standing in Megan and Don’s swanky apartment, Betty both looked and felt out of place, hiding in her frumpy and out-of-style clothes. Accidentally glimpsing Megan while she was changing, as well as seeing her interact with the children, is enough to send Betty to the refrigerator when back at home for a shot of canned whipped cream, which she promptly spits out. Finding a loving note from Don to Megan on the back of one of Bobby’s drawings sends her over the edge — Don’t forget to include Don’s first wife, Anna Draper, deceased, in your family tree project for school, she tells Sally, encouraging her to ask Megan for details. Of all the things to use against Don, his past as Dick Whitman and his marriage to Anna certainly is the most hurtful. Anna meant the world to him, and their relationship isn’t a piece of gossip to be carelessly spread. Betty’s lashing out prompts Sally to do the same, nastily confronting Megan and calling her a “phony”: “You acted like you were friends with me, but you do whatever he says,” Sally says. Megan keeps a level head, however, and talks an angry Don out of calling Betty, a conversation Sally overhears. “If you call her, you’re giving her exactly what she wanted: the thrill of having poisoned us from 50 miles away.” Don continues that message the next morning, as Sally protests that she isn’t a child and deserves to know the truth. “Then you should realize that your mother doesn’t care about hurting you,” he said. “She just wants to hurt us.”
The damage goes deeper than a spilled secret. Sally, now knowing the reasoning behind Betty’s bombshell, shifts course with her mother, who casually asks her daughter how her discussion about Anna with Don and Megan went. “Yes, they showed me pictures and spoke very fondly of her,” Sally lies. Betty isn’t the only one who can deliberately hurt others in a matter of words. She has taught her daughter well. Her envy of Megan in general is understandable — even Megan’s friends are insecure about their lives in comparison to hers, “from her throne on 73rd & Park,” as her actress friend says. But does it also stem from Betty second-guessing her decision to leave Don? Not because she still loves him but because her life with Henry hasn’t gone as planned. She’s no longer the fashionable one, the desirable one. She’s attending Weight Watchers meetings, not helping friends read lines for the soap opera “Dark Shadows.” Her predicament seems mirrored in Henry’s complaints about work, that his job for Governor Lindsay is a dead-end. “I bet on the wrong horse, Betty,” he says. “I jumped ship for nothing.” She’s encouraging and supportive, and Lord knows the ever-patient Henry deserves such devotion. But she needs to believe what she claims to: “I’m thankful that I have everything I want and that no one else has it any better.”
It’s easy to write off Betty as a monster and ignore the roots of her unhappiness, but we can’t dismiss her depression simply because we can’t always understand it. Her actions seem to stem from someplace else, however, and they can’t be blamed on her struggles. No, Betty is as noxious as the polluted air Megan doesn’t want coming into the apartment. She will lose no matter what she does. The sooner Sally can escape her, the better.
Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic at Pajiba. She lives in Texas. You can find her on Twitter.