TV in Review: Mad Men, “The Phantom”
June 11, 2012 2 Comments
I sometimes try to explain my admiration for the nuance in Mad Men by talking about how they can create character by focusing on the simple fashion in which one picks up a coffee cup. To give an even better example, the season five finale “The Phantom” begins…with Don Draper putting a cotton ball in his mouth.
Okay, so let the drama (and the spoilers) unfold…
For Don, “The Phantom” starts off with a toothache. For Pete Campbell, it starts off with heartache. He’s after Beth Dawes again — or is she after him? — and he wants to run away to the movies, or at least to where they make them.
PETE: Let’s go to Los Angeles. I’ve been there. It’s filled with sunshine.
My favorite comic moment of the night may have been Pete abandoning a partners’ meeting.
PETE: Don, I give you my proxy. I have things to do.
DON: We can do that?
Pete is back to his combination of sweet and horrible, making us feel sorry for him because of his sad longing, and then turning us off as he treats others with disdain, from his wife to the ticket-taker on the train. It’s a reminder that Mad Men does have soap opera elements that Beth convinces Pete to sleep with her because she’s due for another round of electro-shock therapy — but it’s handled with a lack of melodrama and some of those simple touches I like so much. Beth is the one scheduled for electro-shock, but she’s also the one with her feet on the ground, at least compared to Pete.
BETH: You want to solve a problem? Zip me up.
How far we have traveled in five seasons! Pete just can’t keep going with the suburban dream, as he confesses to Beth in the hospital, talking about himself in the third person.
PETE: His life with his family was some sort of temporary bandage on a permanent wound.
Holy existential abscess, Peter!
Speaking of which, Don almost has an actual abscess. The metaphor is a bit obvious, particularly when he sees his dead brother Adam, in a dream sparked by laughing gas. Dream Adam tells Don that it’s not his tooth that’s rotten.
I found it fitting that Lane’s suicide in the previous episode affects characters individually, rather than resulting in large conflagrations. Although there is Rebecca Pryce chastising Don.
REBECCA PRYCE: You had no right to fill a man like that with ambition.
I dislike Rebecca because of how she treated Lane, but boy is that a terrific line. I also loved the following:
MARIE CALVET: I have postcards to write.
And yes, Megan’s mom Marie is back in town, raining on Megan’s parade. Mad Men continues to warn about the dangers of ambition.
MARIE: Not every little girl gets to do what they want. The world could not support that many ballerinas.
Another of those great underplayed moments comes with Megan crying into the back of her hand, after having previously gone to draw a bath in order to cover up tears.
Marie is cruel to her daughter even though she herself continues to do what it is that she wants. And what Marie wants to do is Roger Sterling.
MARIE: Not one thing you said was true. No dinner, no chaperone, no conversation.
ROGER: Stop being demure. You’re already on the bed.
Sure, Marie has a double standard, but this show and this episode is full of people doing what they wouldn’t want others doing. It’s the end of the season, and exactly how far have we traveled? In Episode 1, we saw some moving Civil Rights protests. Now, in Episode 13, there’s a black secretary firmly ensconced at the firm.
Yeah, there’s kinda far to go. And that’s much of what this episode is designed to do, to remind us that these characters have so far to go in the long-running narrative that is Mad Men. “The Phantom” deals with Peggy in a way that leaves it open whether or not she’ll appear much in the future, but there’s enough of Pete to suggest that he’ll be back full force next time around. At the center of our concerns is, of course, Don Draper. Just how great was that shot of him leaving his princess, Megan, behind on the set?
It emphasized how much the show constructs and deconstructs identity as performed. Of course, many of the most evocative images of Mad Men come from their purposeful focus on image-creation, like Megan’s screen test.
And after the major dramatic events of the past two episodes, it felt entirely appropriate to end with a more quiet shot, with that Don Draper look telling us everything and nothing altogether.
BAR BLONDE: I’m sorry, but my friend down there — she was wondering. Are you alone?
And the answer is — yes! Yes, we’re going to be all alone until season six finally airs! Damn you, Matthew Weiner, leaving us watching and waiting!
AMC first broadcast Season 5, Episode 13 of Mad Men on June 10, 2012.
Polentical: TV in Review, “Commissions and Fees” (Season 5, Episode 12)
justAtad: Mad Men: It All Begins Again
Deer in the Xenon-Arc Lights: Mad Men – The Phantom