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Mad Men Review: "Dark Shadows" (Episode 5.09)

May 14, 2012  |  12:35am
<i>Mad Men</i> Review: "Dark Shadows" (Episode 5.09)

Mad Men’s sort of thrown subtlety out the window for much of this season, and it’s been easy to overlook when the content we’re being beaten over the head with is so clever and entertaining. But, much like the smog emergency that took over New York toward the end of “Dark Shadows,” jealousy rolled in and clouded nearly every character’s vision this week—and left us feeling a little, well, muddled about the whole thing.

If you somehow were unable to pick up on the green-eyed monster as this week’s theme, Betty (who’s finally got some screen time again) brought it home with the episode’s kicker at Thanksgiving dinner. “I’m thankful that I have everything I want,” she says with a pained smile plastered across her face, before pausing and adding, “And that no one else has anything better.” Roll credits. We’re done here.

Of course, we know that’s not really the case—at least not in Betty’s eyes. She’s jealous of Megan and Don after walking into their swanky apartment and catching a glimpse of thin Megan getting dressed (in the middle of the night?) while picking up the kids. Her first reaction is to spray a bunch of whipped cream directly into her mouth as soon as she gets home (and just a week after Megan and Don were happily reading Cool Whip copy aloud to each other!), but Weight Watchers sessions have taught her that’s probably not wise, so she spits it out and instead settles on telling Sally about Don’s first wife Anna out of spite.

For a second, it looks like ol’ Bets is going to get her moment in the sun, but her plan backfires on her when Sally overhears Don and Megan arguing about how to handle the situation and realizes she’s being used as a pawn in her mother’s sick game. Later, when Betty asks her if she asked Megan about Anna, an eerily calm Sally replies that she did and that they showed her photos and had a delightful chat about it. Bust out that whipped cream, Betty, because you were foiled again.

Meanwhile, Don and Peggy are jealous of Ginsberg. His copy’s young and fresh, but most of all, it’s good. Don stumbles across his Snoball ideas after noticing how many campaigns Ginsberg’s worked on lately, and he’s inspired to start writing again. He comes up with a solid idea that, of course, is really about him: A devil, enjoying a freezing cold Snoball with the line (which he later changes) “Yes, even me.” I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we all thought Don and Megan’s marriage had a snowball’s chance in hell at the beginning of this season, but we’re nine episodes in, and Don’s shown that maybe even leopards really can change their spots. Even the Devil himself can enjoy a nice Snoball—as long as he finds the right one.

Anyway, Don’s idea is good, but everyone at the agency seems to agree that Ginsberg’s (a funny campaign aimed at kids) is better. Don, however, leaves it in the cab and only pitches his own work. They win the campaign, so there’s no real harm done, but Ginsberg’s offended. “I feel sorry for you,” he tells Don in the elevator, before Don delivers the best comeback of the night (even if it is a total lie): “I don’t think about you at all.”

Peggy’s jealous of Ginsberg this week too, after she discovers he too has been bribed to do extra work for Roger. Roger, as it turns out, is trying to land a Manischewitz account for Bert. He and Bert are jealous of Pete’s rising star at the agency (are you beginning to sense a theme here?), so they go behind his back to meet with the client. Bert, unaware of the Sterlings’ LSD-induced divorce, suggests Roger bring his “Semitic wife” Jane along to dinner to woo the Jewish company. She agrees to come along, but only if Roger will buy her a new apartment because their old one has too many memories. At dinner, the client’s son gets flirty with Jane, and Roger—envious of what is clearly no longer his—convinces Jane to take him back to the new apartment, where they have sex. In the morning, Jane tells him he’s ruined the new place. Sigh. Just when we thought these two might actually be able to have a clean break.

It’s not that “Dark Shadows” wasn’t a good episode—it was. But this week’s theme felt a little heavy-handed; nearly every character’s storyline was dominated by it in an obvious manner. Pete’s jealous of his friend Howard because he’s infatuated with his wife, Beth, and after Pete snaps that Howard should spend Thanksgiving with his girlfriend and “I’ll go home and screw your wife,” Howard responds, “I guess the grass is always greener.” Megan’s jealous of her actress friend who’s landed an audition for a part on a soap opera, making sarcastic comments about the quality of the script. Meanwhile, her friend is jealous that Megan’s got a rich husband and doesn’t need to support herself. At times it feels like…a lot. A mediocre Mad Men is still far better than most other shows’ best, so in a way, as viewers, we’re a lot like Betty. We’ve got it pretty good, but we’ve had better, and we won’t settle for less. It’s after midnight, right? Pass the steak.

Stray observations:
-Sally’s eye roll and delivery of “This is irritating” while being picked up by her mother tells me she’s going to make an excellent teenager.
-Don’s rejected devil ideas for Snoball were wonderfully deep and terrible at the same time, and his reaction fit perfectly: “Refreshing for the damned…Jesus, not that.”
-Betty and Henry supporting each other over steak at the dinner table was actually sort of heartwarming. How does he manage to put up with her?
-I like that even in his fantasy, Pete doesn’t have any game. When he imagines a half-naked Beth strolling into his office in a fur coat, Dream Pete just drops his pen in shock and sputters, “You can’t be here!”

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