After such a shocking pentimulate episode, it’s a toss-up as to whether the final episode of Mad Men’s fifth season, “The Phantom,” was slow and anti-climactic or subtle and mysterious. I choose to go with the latter. There might not have been as much drama as the week before, but there was a wonderful sense that for these characters, the future looks as bleak as it does bright.
Absent last week, Peggy showed up, much to my relief. Although her appearances were small, they were very telling. At her new company, she has underlings, the full faith of her boss, and the opportunity to travel to exotic places like Virginia. When she accidentally ran into Don at the movie theatre, she was able to say a few of the things she was too emotional to say when she resigned. But it was her last line that stuck with me. Asking about Megan, she told Don that they should all get together soon. It was exactly the sort of thing you always say, but never do.
Pete spent most of the season chasing his lost youth in all the wrong places. His affair with another man’s wife failed epically, yet when Rory Gilmore (sorry, that’s who she will always be to me) crooked her finger, he went running, only to find that she was about to check herself into a mental hospital for shock treatment to cure her depression, and afterwards, she wouldn’t remember him. I am endlessly fascinated by Pete. He is, without a doubt, a massive slimeball, yet on a dime, he can deliver a monologue that turns him into a truly sympathetic character. Pete is just as depressed as his married lover; it doesn’t matter that he has a great job, a nice house, a beautiful wife and a baby girl. None of those things will ever be enough to make him happy. The question I want to see explored next season is…what will?
In the wake of Don’s Dow Chemicals coup, business was pouring into SCDP, enough so that they were able to buy the floor above them. And in the midst of mourning Lane, Joan was preparing for the expansion and feeling guilty for not sleeping with him. I love that Joan truly thinks a night with her could have saved a man’s life. In this world, though, it might just have. I also like that Joan and Roger haven’t run back to each other this season. Roger’s LSD enlightenment might not have happened, and that’s been so much fun to watch, especially since it culminated in a naked Roger offering himself to the New York skyline.
And then we come to Don. Debilitated by a bad tooth he was set on ignoring, Don was also struggling with guilt over the suicide, prompting him to use some of the company’s new money to give Lane’s widow the $50,000 that Lane put up for them. But he was looking for absolution in the wrong place; the British woman had no interest in making him feel better. As if that wasn’t enough, Megan was starting to feel discouraged about her acting career, and nothing turns Don’s stomach faster than self-pity. I truly think he did see something special in Megan’s demo reel, a silent image of the gorgeous woman he married last season. But by arranging for her to be in a commercial, was he giving his wife her dream or freeing himself to return to his old ways?
The pain of his tooth brought on hallucinations of his brother who hung himself in season one after Don rejected him; not a subtle parallel to Lane’s end, but an effective one. Adam tells him that it’s not the tooth that’s rotten, it’s Don himself. How much was that on Don’s mind when a pretty blonde approached him at a bar and asked if he was “alone”? Although we heard no answer before the credits rolled, the look on his face was classic Don Draper. He’s been so good this year…stayed true to his wife, only fantasized about another woman in the midst of a high fever, tried to be a better husband and father. How long could we expect that to last?
Despite fan complaining about Megan’s increased presence on the show, this was another great seson of Mad Men. New layers were added to characters we thought we knew inside and out, and massive changes kept us all on our toes. What will the show look like next season? We never really know, do we? And that’s a lot of why we keep coming back. By now, we should expect the unexpected, yet somehow we’re always freshly surprised.
What did you think of the episode? The season? Let me know below!