To celebrate the end of Mad Men Season 5 we thought we might do things a little differently, so we’ve invited blogger, journalist, writer, and fellow Mad Men fan Sean T Collins to join us. We’ve linked to Sean’s thoughts about this season in just about every post. I suggest you check them out if you haven’t already.

And while you’re at it, pay a visit to Sean’s A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones tumblr, All Leather Must Be Boiled, and his Game of Thrones column for Rolling Stone, for perhaps the most even-handed discussion of the books and TV show on the web.

Sean: Thanks for having me, Mindless Ones. Do I get a nickname? Can I be Destructor? (I’ve given this some thought.)

Ad: Yes you may (and yes you have). In all seriousness, lovely to have you with us, Sean.

Take it away, Amy

Amy: What lies beyond our rotting, aging, imperfect bodies?

‘You only live twice, or so it seems.
Once for yourself and once for your dreams.’

The Phantom of the episode’s title was, in the end, the ghost of lives that could, could not and might possibly come to pass. Sometimes the way to the spirit world was clear, sometimes occluded, some characters would dally there only to be forced to return home. In other cases, for good or ill, residency was more permanent.

There were haunted, painful absences, like a tooth-cavity: Lane, Adam, Beth in all her many different iterations pre ECT. But these absences were filled by other things, other fantasies, anything to stave off the grey cloud.

Peter dreamt of being a carefree bachelor in the city, Peggy Don, Megan a movie star, SCDP an agency with a second floor, Trudy a happy homemaker sipping ice tea with her equally happy and sun drenched husband around their swimming pool, and Don…..

All of them got one significant step closer to achieving their dreams this time around. Whether or not all of them should is another thing entirely. There is a violent push and pull between the physical and dream lives. Occasionally they collide and the results are devastating. The problem is that these are all individual dreams and sometimes they clash with the dreams of those around us.

Illogical Volume: Right at the start of the episode, we saw Maman Calvet trying to convince Megan that she’d meant to say “exploiting people’s hopes” when she’d actually said “exploiting the hopeless”.  Which is both petty and perfect since, as you’ve just noted, almost everyone in The Phantom seemed to be struggling to turn hopelessness into its opposite – they were all trying to misunderstand Mrs Calvet, if you will, to escape the power of her words. Of course, only Megan actually heard those words, but that doesn’t mean that their echoes weren’t felt across the world of SCDP and beyond.  Like the disgruntled clients at the start of the episode, everyone thought they were going to be part of a fantasy, but contra Marie Calvet, it’s not only little girls who don’t always get to be what they want.

I also like the way you’ve zeroed in on the strange mix of physical and mental decay that ran through this episode amy. There’s something very unsettled about the way The Phantom’s various overarching metaphors blurred the boundaries between physical ailments and deeper social and psychological problems. Don’s rotten tooth and Beth’s depression were both manifestations of an ever-shifting psychic malady, and this episode turned the dentist’s office and the hospital into sites in which uncanny energies spilled out into the world. There were ghosts in this episode, shadow traces of people who’ve departed either physically (Adam) or mentally (Beth), reminders that the past doesn’t clean up after itself.

Ad: Don in the dentist’s chair, the black gas funnel strapped to his nose like some S&M asphyxiation machine, resonated horribly with Adam’s mode of death. Let’s not forget that Don enjoys masochistic sex, and that it’s him who’s spent half the episode refusing the cessation of pain. He doesn’t want Adam to go.

We’ve long argued that a certain spectral energy is a big part of Mad Men, especially this season, but The Phantom takes it to another level. It’s riddled with ghostly imagery, eerie fades, haunting shots and spooky callbacks to earlier episodes, old themes and character traits. Just look at how the episode ends.

Illogical Volume: No, indeed so much of this season has had this delirious tone, this sense that the room is just about to slide out of view, or rather, that our ability to fully understand the room is about to slide out of view.

There have been bodies under the bed and gaping abysses at the end of the corridor. Sean has already noted on his blog that it felt “like various characters were waking up from the events of the season” in The Phantom, and I felt like the viewer was right there with them, trying to shake the mask off, trying to wake up before they ended up in the black lodge.

Sean: It should be noted that the tooth-falling-out motif is dream imagery at its most direct, as well as a bridge to a key image in “The Test Dream,” the landmark dream-sequence-driven Sopranos episode that Matthew Weiner co-wrote with David Chase, the Don to his Peggy. And that episode in turn was Chase and The Sopranos at their most David Lynch/Twin Peaks, an acknowledged touchstone for the series and, until that episode, home of TV’s most famous horse-in-the-living-room image. The path back to Lynch is pretty direct, in other words.

Ad: Yeah, tooth loss is your classic anxiety dream in a nutshell, right up there with the one where you realise you’re stark naked. Don isn’t a happy bunny.

Illogical Volume: Beth’s plot was carried on by a more brutal version of Don’s “you will be surprised how much this didn’t happen” speech – and of course, we should probably bear in mind the role Pete Campbell played in precipitating that speech too – but despite Beth’s melancholy claim that her treatment “works”,  it’s still “just a temporary bandage on a permanent wound”, to steal Pete’s painfully coined phrase.

No matter what social, physical or psychological remedies you seek, there’s always the chance that life will find its way back in again.

Ad: As Natasha Vargas-Cooper points out the ECT practiced at the time might not have been so much a temporary bandage as a permanent wound, in that the procedure resulted in some people losing memories for good.

I’ve just realised that both Don and Beth have a medical procedure in place of an exorcism. How’s that for understated Magical Realism?

Sean: I’d like to note that having been through this at least two more times than I’d prefer, the tone of forced levity adopted by both Pete and Beth during the initial stage of his visit to a woman he loves in a mental institution was alarmingly familiar. A friend of mine rejected this plot point as too soapy, and it certainly was that, but for me at least it was simultaneously social fucking realism.

 

Ad: I think we just have to live with the fact that Mad Men is a little soapy, in the same way that we had to live with the trad masculine leaning excess of the Sopranos. Despite what anyone tells you, tits, guns and violence – male power – were absolutely part of the appeal of that show.

Illogical Volume:  They absolutely were, and – at the risk of invoking unwanted connotations from the previous episode – there’s absolutely no shame in wanting a little bit of sugar in your coffee.

Ad: For sure.

Going back to Pete and Beth, I love the enormous collars on her dress. Like ridiculous wings, a constant reminder that she was going to fly away.

 

Amy: Beth’s husband, Howard, has been living his phantom life for the duration of this season, and I found it interesting that this episode cast his behaviour in a slightly more sympathetic light. I still think the guy’s a total arsehole, but not uncomplicatedly so. Afterall, his home life isn’t great – his wife’s a depressive (we’ll shelve the question of whether or not he’s responsible for now…) who, reading between the lines, may well medicate with extra-marital sex – so it’s no surprise he’s looking for an out. The guy’s going about it the wrong way, though. I actually wanted Pete to win that fight.

Illogical Volume:  Strangely enough, I did too.

Given that he’s been so ambitiously horrible throughout this last run of episodes, it should probably have taken more than one startling display of self-awareness to make me feel for Pete again, but I did feel for him, right up until he was a cock to the conductor on the train. Then again, Mad Men has always been a show about spectacularly complicated arseholes, so when you see Pete slouching back into his house and trying to sell Trudy yet another poorly founded fantasy as she agrees to give up her own, everything gets difficult in a different way.  I mean sure, it was Trudy that you feel more sorry for in that moment – how could you not, given how simple and cliched and literally right fucking there in her hands that picture of her fantasy life was – but looking at Pete’s bloody face in that scene it was also obvious quite how completely his own image of himself had crumbled over the course of the season too.

Speaking of blood-splattered faces: after watching Don’s vicious pitch to Dow Chemical/The Brotherhood of Evil in the previous episode, Roger told Don that he would buy him a drink if he wiped the blood off his mouth. In The Phantom we saw Don with real, non-metaphorical blood on his mouth, his blood, and while he’d managed to clean himself up in time for his swishy finale, surely no one would be able to fool themselves into thinking that that this is the last time he’s going to bleed.

“…just a temporary bandage on a permanent wound”

Well yeah, to invert Amy’s earlier formulation, what lies on the other side of our ungraspable dreams except our rotting, aging, imperfect bodies?

Amy: Oh yeah. Too true, too true. That image of drowsy Don with the blood gently erupting across his lips was horrible. I’d join the dots even further, because metaphorically speaking it could also be Adam’s blood. I like the liminality though. I think it should be viewed as both.

Illogical Volume: Hmmm, aye, you’re right – it’s his blood, but that’s not all it has to be, not in that room, not in this state of mind.

Sean: In general I favor throwing in really in-your-face symbolism and weirdness in a television show, because you have compensatory things to support that, like the strong performances or generally handsome filmmaking. Don ordering an old fashioned would be fucking terrible if it were boldfaced in a word balloon in a Scott Snyder Vertigo comic, but that’s not what this is. Hell, it might be terrible in two-hour Mad Men movie, even, but that’s not what this is, either. The amount of time you can spend with characters in a television show lets them get away with murder, thematically speaking.

Ad: Absolutely. You’ve got a mere 45 minutes to get your themes to the site, put to work, and paid off, so they better be front and centre. It’s also hard for symbolism to get old under those time constraints. Two scenes of Don looking like a cyborg man-elephant might be too much – one scene is just arresting.

But mainly my view is that a given episode has very little time to be entertaining, so it needs every second to count that much more, which isn’t to say that you can’t go wrong, but on the whole I don’t think Mad Men does.

Sean: I’ve seen several complaints about Megan’s behavior in this episode. Hysterically, drunkenly begging Don to pull strings so she can get as tawdry a gig as a shoe commercial? Où sont la self-possessed ballbreaker d’antan, n’est-ce pas? But to me it’s crystal clear why she’s so much less secure in this episode than she has been historically: She’s facing what she believes is her total failure in her vocation. She left a field in which she’d been proven to be very good to take a flyer on a field in which she believed herself to be good, but based on the only metric that appears to matter to her, getting paying work, she was wrong. That’s a crushing blow even when your entire persona doesn’t revolve around being very good at everything you try, as Peggy characterizes her right after she leaves the agency. When it does, hoo boy, look out.

Like, I played the Leading Player in Pippin my junior year in high school and had a really hard time with the Fosse-lite choreography we were doing (we had a pro choreographer). She told me it’s because I was used to being instantly really good at everything I tried, but I wasn’t a natural dancer. I think that’s the right of it. For me it led to a few backstage tantrums and that was it. I hadn’t staked my future on being a good dancer.

Amy: I don’t think you have to justify Megan’s behaviour to anyone. I get the feeling a certain section of fandom are actively looking for reasons to dislike the character, whether that’s because she’s not Dr. Faye or because they prefer Don on his own, and picking at tiny things like her getting drunk, emotional and a little manipulative, because after months and months out of work she really wants a break, does very little to disabuse me of that notion. If Megan’s behaving like a child, well… it took both of them to get her there. Don’s been happy enough with it for last five episodes. Get over it Don Draper fans – he doesn’t belong to you!

Ad: The thing is, as I’ll go on to discuss below, we have ample evidence that Megan is a natural actress. Being good at something doesn’t guarantee success.

Let’s bear in mind here that Don’s entire existence is overbearing. Not only is he successful, wealthy, charismatic, powerful and a sex bomb, he’s a man, and like it or not, in mid 60s America, that puts him squarely at the heart of just about every institution he cares to join, including marriage. Just look at how Megan has attempted to please him this season, for Godsake. Just look at how she tried to please him this very episode when she initially backed down on the shoe advert, because poor Don was in pain and he didn’t want her to do it. I could go on listing examples but why bother? The long shadow of Don and how it affects their marriage has been returned to time and time again in Season Five.

More to the point, was Megan making a drunken attempt to recapture the erotic charge of the scene in A Little Kiss when Don returns home to find her in the same gown and in similarly skimpy underwear? I have to wonder whether her play-acted defiance there – and no doubt in a good number of off camera sex games since – wasn’t a way of making herself feel good about being dominated by Don, while also being a rehearsal of the real rejection of control that would come later in the season. Perhaps by giving it a sexual charge she somehow retained some control, or at the very least achieved a semi-compensatory degree of sexual gratification.

Assuming there’s anything in this interpretation, was Megan trying to go back to that place in an effort to sublimate her desires through sex? If so, it’s fair to say that she didn’t manage it this time around.

Amy: For many of us, this season’s central oneiric stand-off was been between Don and Megan. In previous posts I’ve probably come across as more pessimistic than I really am about their relationship. To be clear, I’ve never thought of them as a bad couple or one likely to break up (it would be a dramatic dead end), but they’ve had serious problems, problems which in the season finale (and fittingly for an episode where people escaped into other lives in order to get perspective on their own) Don summed up in one sentence during a conversation with ur-SCDP spook, Peggy

‘That’s what happens when you help someone – they succeed and move on.’

This has always been Don’s fear, the terrible phantom over his shoulder that he refuses to look at.

Check it.

don draper and the phantom

Don’s spent most of this season attempting to ignore Megan’s nascent acting career, because, for him, her success equates to abandonment. It isn’t until the disturbances in his house get all too real that….

 don draper and the phantom 2

…he has to sit up and pay attention.

But the phantom only materialises for just one moment, there’s only a cursory engagement with the spooky new reality she represents. As soon as Megan fails to get past the next audition he turns off again and we’re back to bumps in the night and rattling chains and a woman half seen, barely in focus wailing in the corner of their bedroom. Even Megan’s outfit here sells this idea, all shadow black except for a bright head scarf pleading to be seen. And this is the way it’s been since midway through the season. At best Megan’s been infantalised, a condition of both her own and Don’s making, anything to make her feel less threatening, and at worst she’s been utterly ignored.

Until this.

don and peggy having a hug

 Helping someone… helping someone….

Whether or not in the final analysis his reasons are selfish, Don always sees himself as being cruel to be kind. He wasn’t degrading Peggy by throwing money in her face, he was toughening her up. He wasn’t firing Lane, he was allowing him move on. He wasn’t abandoning Adam….

And they all left him. Every time he helped someone.

It wasn’t as simple as reconciling himself to the idea that people have to progress after a quick hug and a few jokes. The look on Don’s face when Peggy suggests they ‘all get together’ tells us he feels this is unlikely to happen, but at least he’s reminded she’s still there, that these things are possible, however unlikely, and, well, that it’s the right thing to do. Peggy’s the vaccination; if he can lose her to CGC, he can at least help his wife have her shot.

And so at last he confronts the spectre in a scene that really rewards analysis.

The haunted house imagery is so strong. Just take a look at that room.

the haunted room

The phantom manifests at the edge of vision, translucent, silvery. Spectral.

don confronts the ghost

He allows himself to take it all in, the woman. The actress. The future. He gazes deep.

don draper confronts the ghost 2

 Don is the first man to see her like this, on film. The woman who can walk through walls, into living rooms and hearts.

don draper looks on

There’s some vestigial resistance left, but he keeps watching.

megan draper radiant on screen

 She comes more sharply into focus, becoming Megan. Her occasionally awkward gait. The way she flicks her hair when she’s nervous.

Now this, not just the sex kitten who sung Zou Zou Bisou, but THIS….

megan draper radiant on screen 2

 ….all of this, the whole person…

don draper coming to terms with the truth

…is for everyone.

The music’s sad because Don’s saying goodbye.

don draper coming to terms with the truth 2

 Something he knows he has to do if he’s going to keep her.

megan draper radiant 3

 (I love the way there’s a sadness to Megan’s face too!)

And with that….

poof and the phantom is gone

POOF!

If only it was all so simple…..

Ad: That’s a beautiful reading but I understood the scene slightly differently.

The point here is that Megan really is as good as she hopes she is. Looking at that screen Don is forced to confront the reality that she really has it, and not for the first time either. Her performance in the first episode was clearly intended to wow us as much as it wowed the party guests, and her double act with Don in the restaurant was as convincing for the viewer as it was for the clients. But for me the central fact of the scene is that while the screen goddess points towards the real Megan, she also doubles, through her radiance and, crucially, silence, as Don’s Fantasy of Megan. Perfect, unsullied by her own wants, a wonderful play of light and shadow where a voice should be.

In my view Don is saying goodbye to this fantasy, surrendering to the truth of Megan’s humanity and her talent, an act which could have far reaching consequences for their relationship. Another person with wants and desires which aren’t there to satisfy his own, unlike the forever yielding, impossibly open image up there on the screen. Just as Trudy was forced to compromise on her vision of Pete lounging by the pool, Don realised that he would, literally, have to put his dream of Megan “in the pile”, allow other people access to the spectacle if he wanted to the do the right thing, and give Megan – the living, breathing woman – centre stage.

For Don the loss feels double-edged, because in giving up his fantasy and opening the door for the real Megan he worries that he’ll lose her too. No wonder he wanted a drink. Let’s hope that’s all he wants.

Amy: I think you can probably read that scene either way. I find your take just as persuasive. Still, I never said he was saying goodbye to Megan the person, just to a certain kind of intimacy.

Sean: My take was still different, and rather less tender, which I guess is surprising given how hard I shipped Degan all season long: Watching her reel — her commercial for herself — on the screen in the conference room, Don saw her as a product. He’d always been so guarded about sharing their relationship with others, and he was so upset by her leaving the agency, and the grimace on his face by the end of this scene answered both riddles, for me at least: He wanted her to be the seller and not the sold.

Illogical Volume: I reckon you can definitely add Sean’s reading to either of those other readings without spoiling the broth. Whether the woman Don’s watching on that screen is his wife or a dream of his wife, and whether he’s letting go of a fantasy or “a certain kind of intimacy” as Amy had it, he’s also admitting that she’s not his Megan anymore. Or at least, that she’s not just that – she’s for everyone now. Something beautiful, but not something Don can ever truly own – not just Megan Draper, but Megan Calvet as well.

Actually, I take back what I said about Sean’s reading not spoiling the broth – it adds a certain bitter aftertaste to both readings that I’m struggling to get off my tongue now.

Amy: You Only Live Twice came out much later that year so it couldn’t be the film Don and Peggy watched, and that’s a shame because it really worked with my reading of the final scene.

Sean: It’s Casino Royale. Bond And Not Bond.

Amy:I thought of that reading, actually, so I went and checked the release date. It was late April. I think Easter Day was in March of 67, so it’s not a perfect fit. Yeah, it captures the tensions we’re about to discuss down below perfectly!

don draper walks off one set and onto another

 This time around Megan wasn’t the only character collapsed into her mediated image, but her husband also.

007 effortlessly trumps Megan’s tiny ad campaign – see it now, dwindling in the distance as the leading man takes centre stage and the strings fire up.

Ad: Before we go there, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the beautiful way the scene ends, the red light from the scribbles on the film leader flickering across Don’s face, fading into the red of Joan’s dress as she leads the charge of the partners across the empty 39th floor. And then the red spray paint: x marks the spot. Here be treasure, or should that be blood on the carpet?

Everything’s “full of money”.

Remember Peggy’s Heinz pitch in the first episode of the season? The dancing beans that close up looked like bloody kidneys? Their absurd journey into the can, rejected as too gory by the client, not modern enough? A Little Kiss was one long exegesis on disunity and fear of infection: everything was dirty, nothing, particularly SCDP, worked properly.

At the other end of the season, things look rather different. The beans danced their way into the can, alright, but the client wasn’t wrong, it was an unpleasant business, as the blood red imagery kept reminding us. Looking at the wonderful symmetry of the partners lined up, triumphant but atomised against the Manhattan skyline in the scene’s lingering final shot, one almost got the sense that they were about to take a bow after an exhausting performance. A feeling that’s reinforced later when Don moves from the Beauty and the Beast set onto the set of a Bond movie.

Illogical Volume: Given their relative production values, there’s something slightly cruel in the shift from Megan’s ad shoot to Don’s power walk into the black. After her ghostly test reel appearance, the realisation of Megan’s dream looked garish and small in comparison – the “whole woman” of the earlier audition tape replaced by an overly familiar game of make believe, the infinitely projectable white badge fantasy obscured by the reality of the situation.

Of course, that’s not to say that Megan looks unhappy. Thankfully for her, she doesn’t get to see her husband as he walks away from her and into the ever-expanding, seemingly limitless expanse of cinematic darkness… a darkness that quickly resolves into another ambiguous mirage, but only for us, only for the audience.

Ad: Let’s not omit the fact that Don is walking away from a set designed to service a fairytale. If the show wanted to suggest that Don’s home life this season lacked any real substance – or at least that he feels it did – then the imagery did a bloody good job.

Beauty and the Beast is a fantasy about a beast struggling, through his love for a beautiful young maid, to break the spell and become the prince he’s always been deep down inside. Which pretty neatly captures one of Don’s projects this season, even if one suspects that his prince is a rather more compromised version of the one in the story.

The presence of a bed on the set makes everything more complicated still. After all Don leaves Maid Megan alone with all those men, the ones on the set, and the ones who will later peer in at her through their television screens. Is that how it seems to him? Is that what he thinks he’s set in motion?

Anyway, cue the music.

Amy: Don Draper’s a masculine fantasy nudged a couple of nanometers away from James Bond towards the Real, and what’s wonderful and kind of scary about the song at the end is the way it realigns the character with this archetype. It forces us to wallow in Don Draper the hero, the perfect Don who may never have existed but exists somewhere in the back of all our minds. This is the unreconstructed ur-man who owns any bar he glides into, who transforms a rusty old stool into a throne and the bar-man into a man-servant perched eternally over the tap waiting to take his order however many customers crowd out the joint. And of course he won’t be sat there for long before a normally demure, but infinitely desirable woman approaches him. This isn’t something Don has to try to be with sports cars and fake dates, but something he simply has to yield to. All the charms of those cascading strings and Nancy Sinatra’s voice are his charms. No wonder no one, the audience or those girls, can resist.

Matt Weiner understands perfectly the tension in all our hearts. We know it’s bad. We know he shouldn’t. But for a moment there we want it to happen. We want him to reclaim that power. And it wouldn’t be as sweet or as meaningful if the scene resolved itself. Because this way we get it all, the good Don who politely explains he has a wife, and the other guy, the man god – two lives, the reality and fantasy, dancing in and out of and around each other.

James Bond themes…. the way so many of them vibrate at that perfect pitch between Sex and Death, the soundtrack for that beautiful, faraway man who “[lives] like there’s no tomorrow. Because there isn’t one”

You know, one thing I can’t bear about Wes Anderson’s films is the way they always end on a slo-mo roll call of the characters choreographed to the director’s tune of the day. It’s just a cheap shortcut to depth. But at the end of episode thirteen we get that buzz, the theme condensed and restated, and a real character moment. It was seamless – absolutely exhilarating and very, very clever.

Sean: So…what did he say? Was he alone?

Amy:  Don’s letting himself have this moment, rewarding himself for letting Megan go. Let’s hope he doesn’t reward himself too much, eh? Let’s hope he’s not taking what he feels he’s owed, playing tit for tat, because movie stars only pretend to love and fuck other people. He doesn’t deserve these young women, although he may well think he does. Commissions and Fees, etc….

Sean: All I know is that the look on his face when the women propositioned him was the Old Don reborn — leering and cocksure — and man, was it repulsive. I was surprised to discover how attached I’d grown to a Don who legitimately had improved himself, morally speaking — the Don shown to care so deeply about Megan, Joan, Peggy, and Lane this season. (Whatever else might have been going on for him in his interactions with them, I don’t think a solipsistic “what do their lives mean for mine” can explain it all.) But given how grim everything else going on this season was, the old, caddish Don would have been all but unbearable. We needed a bit more of a hero this season just to get through.

 

 Amy: It’s weird, because I read one reviewer way back when who described season four as ‘dark’. I mean, it was never actually true, season four is the lightest of the lot, but when four’s contrasted with season five that description is rendered totally absurd. I don’t think you should get too attached to the idea of a moral Don Draper (there are other far less charitable interpretations of his behaviour this season that I find entirely convincing (especially vis a vis Joan, but I think we’ll have to agree to disagree about that one, Sean))  if only because Mad Men is about human complexity and complex humans fuck up. That said, I agree that at the end of season five Don is a better man than he was at the show’s outset. And, yeah, it did leaven the grimness somewhat.

Sean: You probably have a point in being less charitable. I’ve read a whole lot of cast-member interviews in the past few weeks, and to a man and woman — Vincent Kartheiser, John Slattery, Christina Hendricks herself – they all express surprise that people were surprised that Joan slept with the Jaguar creep for a partnership. I actually agree with them — hells bells, Trudy, Joan Holloway-Harris would use never use her sexuality to advance in the workplace! — but the point is that clearly the people who actually make Mad Men take a dim view of the morality of the characters as read.

Ad: I go along with the you on rejecting outright solipsistic readings, Sean. They always strike me as too easy, and frankly don’t reflect my own experience of life.

I’m not sure that Mad Men has ever tried to argue altruism and other unselfish motivations out of the equation, it’s just that it always complicates the picture with the murkier stuff.

Illogical Volume: It occurs to me that when we see Peggy in this episode, she’s living out her version of the very first episode of Mad Men, ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’, trying to get to grips with being a bawse, Don Draper style, slinking off to seek inspiration outside of the office, becoming the lead character in her own show.

She looked pretty lost in that first scene – “Is it that, or is it like that?” - and even at the end there were weird, discordant notes in the mix, like those fucking dogs!  For all that though, Peggy still looked fairly content with the story she’s written her way into.

Amy: Oh yeah, absolutely. She’s even working on a pitch for a tobacco account, which of course was the central work-based dilemma Don wrestled with in Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.

Ad: It’s not the first time she’s been to the cinema this season, either. She spent most of Going Other Places attempting to walk in Don’s shoes

To go back to Don entering the club, I said in an earlier post that Sartre’s Nausea made itself felt this Season, but after The Phantom I’m starting to think that You Only Live twice might cut deeper into Matthew Weiner’s vision. The original Fleming novel centred around Don’s… I mean Bond’s… rebirth post the death of his wife, and on into a more confident future, which, I think you’ll agree, could be said to describe some of the contours of Season 5.  The John Barry and Nancy Sinatra penned song on the other hand is rather more precise, almost tailor-made to describe the cast’s Season 5 battles. “One life for yourself and one for your dreams”, their interaction, has been the central concern of the entire season – we’ve gone on about it endlessly.

(Sean: Not to mention “This dream is for you / So pay the price.” Pryce paid.)

(Ad: Good call)

(Illogical Volume: Indeed. We’ve talked a lot about the liminal phantoms that haunted this episode without taking much time to address the other ghost at the party: Lane Pryce. From Pete’s ice cold claim that suicide is for people to can’t solve problems to Don’s clumsy attempt to help Lane’s family the American way, with money, Lane was the most potent phantom in the mix, his ability to taint the psyches of the other characters stronger because of the relative freshness of his meat.

Was it just me or was Don’s response to Joan cutting herself for not giving Lane “what he wanted” probably his sweetest and most naive moment yet? And that little look she gave him as if to say, “Come on Don, keep up!” – maybe he just doesn’t think of you English types that way?)

Ad: Note how Don reacts when he walks out of the darkness and enters the bar, the way he quickly glances around, as if confused, before quickly finding his feet.

He’s on a new set (one complete with the sort of oriental decor that would have been at home in You Only Live Twice) but he’s being asked to play a very familiar role. He knows this script off by heart: a man strides into a bar and orders a Martini, shaken… I mean an Old Fashioned. There’s irony at work here, because, as the Old Fashioned implies, unlike Bond Don isn’t simply a timeless icon of a mythical Sixties, he’s also a complex, ageing character. Bond invented his drink, Don’s is the oldest cocktail on the menu. As everyone’s pointed out in bringing back Don the sex symbol and icon, a guy absent all season, we’re maybe not looking at new life but the crashing return of the old one, a point hammered remorselessly home by the cliched ritual of lighting the cigarette and the approach on behalf of a friend. There’s a way of looking at this that views the Bond analogue Don as the character at his most “helpless”, someone wallowing in older, much easier ways.  Although we won’t know for sure until next season, Don’s commitment to his dream life may have been his saving grace.

Hopefully Don will choose to walk off this particular set too, and back into the darkness, but as Sean says, the return of that look, the spectre that’s lurked in the shadows the entire season, suggests that he won’t.

Peggy on the other hand, her commitment remains undiminished. She and Abe are finally on the same level, down in the muck happily living in sin, their bliss only occasionally disturbed by visions of stray dogs fucking in the carpark outside. Squint hard enough and you can just see the Catholic guilt seething at the edges.

[UPDATE: Ah, of course that's not a shot of Peggy and Abe's love nest. Peggy's on her business trip, so it must be a hotel room. Still, the anxieties bound up in those dogs are the same]

But as ever Pete’s a good deal more troubled. His huge headphones, all wires, have a sinister aspect that calls back to Don’s gas mask and maybe suggests a machine that’s designed to make you forget. Isn’t that what loud music does, doesn’t it drown everything out? Like Beth, is Pete trying to turn himself into a ghost, if only for a few moments?

Illogical Volume: Somehow I feel like Ken Cosgrove is asking those exact same questions in a short story right now…

Ad: Roger’s montage moment had me wondering if the showrunner’s were deliberately responding to the longstanding fan-theory that the character will ultimately commit suicide. Earlier in the episode he tells Marie that “you’d have to be so sure you were going someplace better, but I think maybe that place is here… …I need to take it [LSD] again to really appreciate here”, which is point blank a rejection of the idea of death as an option. During the montage we find him, high as kite, looking out over the city, while standing on a chair. I can’t help but read that as a small detournement: Lane’s chair helped to take him away from it all. Roger’s helped him get in touch with “here”, or at least something approaching here. Those dancing lights are phantoms too, Roger.

 

Forget all that will he won’t he stuff with Don, the real question is will Roger grow his hair between season five and season six?

We’ll see you then.

Click here for our thoughts on the rest of the Season

14 Responses to “Mindless Mad Men – The Phantom”

  1. STC & the Mindless Ones vs. Mad Men « Attentiondeficitdisorderly by Sean T. Collins Says:

    [...] vs. Mad Men var addthis_product = 'wpp-255'; var addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":true};I’ve joined The Mindless Ones for their review of Mad Men‘s Season Five finale. I was super-flattered by the invitation — these guys have done some really remarkable writing [...]

  2. Lanmao, the Blue Cat Says:

    Great points about Don eroding Megan’s self-sufficiency, & his possible motives for it. It makes me wonder whether Betty might have once been more than she is. There’s reason to think that she could have been a much more independent woman (she was a model and whatnot), and it could be that Don partly made her what she is today.

  3. Lanmao, the Blue Cat Says:

    Oh, and I really enjoyed reading the Mindless take on this season. Your discussions really served to open up the show for me in interesting ways. Great work, Mindless!

  4. Ales Kot Says:

    “A spectre is haunting Don Draper.”

    Mad Men and Hauntology – anyone writing this already?

    (Let’s not forget the spectre of Don Draper that is haunting everyone – in Sterling’s case literally.)

    If Don sleeps with other women come next season, it will be because he’s afraid of losing Megan, creating new possibilities of relationships to go to if she leaves, or seems to be on her way to leave.

    There goes the fear again.

    “Everyone leaves, so I’ll leave first, find someone new to eventually leave when the fear comes back.”

    I do hope he breaks the spell, I do. After all, he put it on himself.

    What was it she said, some episodes ago? “I’d do it and I’d hate you for it.” ? I think Sean’s on the money – Don doesn’t respect her as much as he used to now, because she decided that she really wanted to become a product. She did it, and Don probably hates her for it, at least a little bit – because it brings him right back to the childhood trauma he’s still at odds with.

    “Let me tell you about my mother.”

    Casino Royale (1967) is about multiple Bonds. And the last scene reminds me of Lynch’s Inland Empire, which is about…oh, that’s right! About Laura Dern as an actress who is becoming consumed by her role.

    Thank you for these. You’re all making me work harder. And be a better human being as well, I think. It all feels like a really nice temporary bandage on a permanent wound, you know what I’m saying?

    Actually, this post is already disjointed enough, but fuck it, here’s Charlie Kaufman because Pete Campbell’s utterance reminded me of his BAFTA speech, these two bits specifically:

    “Our culture is marketing. What is marketing? Trying to get people to do what you want them to. It’s what drives our consumer culture. It’s what drives our politics; it’s what drives our art. Music, movies, books, fine arts, it’s part of every research grant proposal. I don’t want to participate. I don’t want to tell you how to sell a screenplay or tell you how to write a hit, or tell you how to fit into the existing system. I want to tell you that I have a hope that there’s another way to be in this world, and that I believe with courage, vulnerability and honesty that the stuff we put into the world can serve a better purpose.”

    and…

    “So you are here, and I am here, spending our time as we must, it must be spent. I am trying not to spend this time, as I spend most of my time, trying to get you to like me; trying to control your thoughts, to use my voodoo at the speed of light, the speed of sound, the speed of thought, trying to convince you that your two hours with me are not going to be resented afterwards.

    It is an ancient pattern of time usage for me, and I’m trying to move deeper, hoping to be helpful. This pattern of time usage paints over an ancient wound, and paints it with bright colours. It’s a sleight of hand, a distraction, so to attempt to change the pattern let me expose the wound. I now step into this area blindly, I do not know what the wound is, I do know that it is old. I do know that it is a hole in my being. I do know it is tender. I do believe that it is unknowable, or at least unable to be articulable.

    I do believe you have a wound too. I do believe it is both specific to you and common to everyone. I do believe it is the thing about you that must be hidden and protected, it is the thing that must be tap danced over five shows a day, it is the thing that won’t be interesting to other people if revealed. It is the thing that makes you weak and pathetic. It is the thing that truly, truly, truly makes loving you impossible. It is your secret, even from yourself. But it is the thing that wants to live.”

    A spectre of Mad Men is clearly haunting me. Good thing I got that bandage.

  5. Ad Mindless Says:

    Not sure Mad Men is interested explanations that are quite so trite, and I’m darn certain that’s not how real people work. Sorry to be dismissive, but that really doesn’t speak to me at all.

    Lanmao, that’s a great point about Betty’s independence

  6. amypoodle Says:

    Sorry? What are you disagreeing with in Ales’s comment? I dinnert unnerstan’….

    I’ve been thinking a bit more about Casino Royale, and it’s not just the multiple Bonds thing that interests me, but that it’s a parody, that it pokes fun at Bond. That it unravels Bond. It’s almost as though, with this little embedded joke, Weiner’s reminding us not to take Bond Draper too seriously, to take him with a pinch of salt – to accept he’s a ridiculous fantasy, a dream. That’s where we are now isn’t it, in the post-Don era, where what’s gone before is being deconstructed? The old Don starting to look not just past his sell by date, but silly. The happy drunk in his hat.

  7. Ad Mindless Says:

    The idea that everyone has “a wound”.

  8. amypoodle Says:

    Yeah, it’s a bit too, uh, romantic for my tastes. One thing I like about Mad Men is that it rarely gets too grandiose.

  9. Ales Says:

    Ad Mindless & Amy: I’m not saying that applies to everyone – I do think that it absolutely applies to Pete Campbell, though, and that he might think it applies to everyone.

    (That’s why I said his words reminded me of it – sorry if it’s unclear)

  10. AnneB Says:

    Fascinating review as always. I’ve been looking forward to your thoughts since the finale.

    I love the insights about the machinery and the haunted house film.

  11. Adam Says:

    Thanks, Anne. Would you happen to be Anne B of Basket of Kisses? If so, I’d just like to say that I absolutely love your posts.

  12. amypoodle Says:

    Oh absolutely. I’m a long time BoK lurker and it’s nice to get some props from the fansite that inspired me to get these Mad Men posts up and running in the first place.

  13. RetroWarbird Says:

    I was thrilled with the blatancy of “You Only Live Twice” at the end but having just re-read the entirety of Fleming’s Bond series, there was the spectre of how the movie star Bond was a pretty shallow avatar of a far less glamorous character in the books. And Bond ends that particular novel falling from a great height, and amnesiac with a wife (and child on the way!) for a year before falling into “Enemy Hands”. And sure, I know the lyrics, because man is that film amazing.

    “You only live twice. Once when you’re born, and once when you look death in the face.”

    Talking about Beauty and the Beast … the Beast … and I mean “The” Beast, the Devil himself … is the ur-salesman. More characters than just Don have had to exorcise their connections with other humans this season to get themselves back into the business of soul-selling. Don needs to be the handsome two-bit gangster to do the best business.

    What’s more, he needs his attention span back. You can’t see the big picture if you’re fixated on an individual.

  14. Mad Men thoughts index « Attentiondeficitdisorderly by Sean T. Collins Says:

    [...] “Commissions and Fees” * Season Five, episode 13: “The Phantom” * Bonus: Season Five, episode 13: “The Phantom” with The Mindless Ones * Season Six, episode 1: “The [...]

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