Mad Men Review: "The Phantom" (Episode 5.13)
Here’s the thing about Mad Men: nothing’s ever forgotten. As viewers, we’re expected by Matthew Weiner and company to remember everything, because chances are it’ll crop up again several episodes—or seasons—later. Sure, every now and then there’ll be moments (like, say, a prostitution scandal or a suicide) that will absolutely stop us in our tracks and rock the characters’ worlds, but there are plenty of times when Mad Men is a slow burn…kind of like a hot tooth.
That’s right, the last episode of the season kicked off not with employees weeping over Lane Pryce’s body but with Don wincing over a toothache. Dramatic? Not exactly. Perfect? You bet. That tooth got entirely too much screentime to just be your run-of-the-mill molar. Nope, instead it’s a lovely metaphor for the entire season. When Don finally drags himself to the dentist (after being told to go by everyone around him for quite some time), he’s told that he should have come in much earlier and he’s lucky he didn’t lose his jaw. Once he’s under the gas, he hallucinates a conversation with his dead brother Adam (who he’s been seeing around the office since Lane—like Adam—hanged himself after something Don said). Season five has been heavy on dream sequences (see: Roger’s LSD trip and Don’s fever dream), so it’s fitting that the finale would feature some visions of Adam’s ghost. He walks the halls of Sterling Cooper Draper (do we leave out the “Pryce” now that Lane’s offed himself?) haunting Don, a constant reminder of the inherent sadness that lies within not just our main character but many of his coworkers as well. “It’s not your tooth that’s rotten,” Adam tells him before cracking a few grim suicide jokes and disappearing as Don comes out of his haze. As the gas wears off, Don focuses on his bloody tooth sitting on the dentist’s tray. He’s quite literally falling apart.
That tooth was neglected, and that’s why it had to go. You let something fester for too long, and eventually you’ll have to deal with the consequences. That’s why Peggy up and left after being taken for granted by Don for so long, and her presence at the office is obviously missed. Rumors flew last week that we’d seen the last of her after Jared Harris (who played Lane Pryce) implied in an interview that Elisabeth Moss had departed from the series, but she popped up again this week thankfully, and it appears she’ll be staying. After a scene with a dissatisfied Topaz pantyhose client that both made it clear her feminine perspective is missed and subtly called back to the prostitution episode by reminding us that “cheap is not the fantasy,” Peggy resurfaces. She’s in pursuit of a new “women’s cigarette” from Philip Morris. After losing Lucky Strike, her old agency would’ve killed for a cigarette account. She skips out and heads to the movies for inspiration, where she runs into Don. Before she sees him, she’s (perhaps subconsciously) doing her best Draper impression: reclining with one arm over the chair next to her, in the pose so typical of her former boss it appears in the title credits. It makes sense. She’s Ted Chaough’s Draper now.
She and Don obviously haven’t seen each other for a while (she quit around Valentine’s Day and Megan’s mother is in town this episode for Easter), but the awkwardness is minimal. There’s a moment where Don appears to still be bitter and Peggy questions whether he can be happy for her, but they soon fall into talking business like old chums, and he’s overtly encouraging to her for the first time in what feels like forever. And, although the terse “yes” he delivers in response to Peggy’s “we should all get together some time” sends up a few red flags, we’ve got every reason to believe we haven’t seen the last of Peggy Olson.
But Don’s not the only one who let an infection go untreated for too long, and Peggy’s not the only one slowly becoming more Draper-esque, either. Pete kind of stole the show this week as his affair with Beth finally came to a head. He agrees to meet her in a hotel, and she reveals that she’s about to receive electroshock therapy to treat her depression. She wants one more night with Pete because it’s likely she won’t remember him after the doctors fry her brain. Pete suggests they go to Los Angeles (where Don used to go to escape in seasons past) because “it’s filled with sunshine.” “It’s so dark, Peter,” she responds. She’s talking about her own battle with depression, but she could be alluding to any number of characters this season.
When he visits her in the hospital, he discovers she was right; she doesn’t recognize him. He tells her he has the wrong room, that he’s here to visit a friend who was carrying on with a married woman. When she asks for the "friend"’s motivations, he spills his guts: “He needed to feel like he knew something,” he says. “He probably thought it would be like having a few tall drinks.” Later, he rather stunningly reveals that he’s realized his home life is a “temporary bandage on a permanent wound.” Oof. Can someone get Vincent Kartheiser an Emmy already, please?
After Howard realizes on the train that Pete’s the one who’s been sleeping with Beth, he and Pete come to blows. The train conductor who breaks up the fight asks Pete to apologize. Such a thing is obviously beneath him, and he makes a bratty, entitled comment about paying to ride the train, so the conductor winds up punching him too. When you count his bout with Lane earlier this year, that’s three physical fights Pete’s started this season (which, when you add the backdrop of the Richard Speck murders, race riots and Lane’s suicide, was easily Mad Men‘s most violent one)—and three he’s lost. He’s so banged up that he has to lie and tell Trudy he was in a car accident, and she insists that he get that apartment in the city for his own safety. So Pete gets what he thought he wanted after all, only we all know this isn’t how he wanted it and now that he has it, it’s not likely to make him happy. It’s just another temporary bandage, after all.
One of the lines that jumped out this week came from Beth when she described her electroshock therapy. “It’s like a gray cloud,” she said. The truth is, however, she’s not the only one trapped in that gray cloud. That haze—remember that toxic smog that rolled in during “Dark Shadows”?—takes hold of Megan sometimes too. This week, she’s upset because her dream of being a successful actress hasn’t exactly panned out. She finds out (through a friend asking for a favor) that Don’s casting a commercial, and rather than ask him to cast her friend, she asks on behalf of herself. Don’s resistant at first, telling her “You want to be someone’s discovery. You don’t want to be someone’s wife.” Eventually, he watches her screen test and gives in. He gives her a kiss on the set of the commercial, and as Nancy Sinatra sings “one life for you and one for your dreams” on “You Only Live Twice,” he walks off the set, out of the dreamlike, TV world and over to the bar. He orders an Old Fashioned (wuh-oh! A sign that old Don Draper’s back?), and a woman approaches him. “Are you alone?” she asks him, and Don (who’s remained faithful to his wife for the entire season) hesitates, coyly cocking an eyebrow before we cut to the credits and close the books on season five of this phenomenal series. Did Don say yes? Did he turn her down? We won’t know until next year, but one thing’s for certain: that tooth was rotten. It had to come out eventually.
-Roger’s interactions with Megan’s mom are his own way of coping with the gray cloud that’s swooped in over Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. After telling her about Lane, he muses that “You’d have to be so sure you were going someplace better, wouldn’t you?” and asks her to take LSD with him. The last we see of him this season, he’s naked in front of a window, presumably tripping balls.
-Like Pete, Lane eventually got what he wanted (though certainly not in the way he imagined it). After trying and failing to swindle the office out of some funds by extending their credit by $50,000, he finally got that exact amount. All he had to do was die, it turns out.
-Lane’s widow Rebecca blamed Don (and the agency as a whole) for destroying Lane: “I hope you feel better. You had no right to fill a man like that with ambition.”
-Even a small detail like the picture of the woman from the wallet he found in the season premiere gets revisited as Rebecca reveals she found it in Lane’s wallet after he died.
-Another tiny detail that recalled episodes past: the plans for their new pool that Trudy shows Pete feature a drawing of Pete in shorts reclining poolside—just like he did in Los Angeles with Don in season two. You know, Los Angeles, where he told Beth they should run away to because it’s full of sunshine. We see what you did there, Weiner.
-“You are chasing a phantom.” Megan’s not the only one though. Phantom Adam Whitman made several appearances this week, and Lane’s ghost obviously haunted the office as well as the partners were all unable to enjoy the company’s newfound prosperity and Joan wondered if she should have just “given him what he wanted.”
-Don Draper in a cardigan? Yes, please. More of this.
-Pete gets so upset at Howard for cheating on Beth, and yet he can’t realize he’s doing the same exact thing to Trudy.
-“We just happen to have the same problem.” “I know. But we’re only sad because we’re apart.” “Oh, then I was wrong.”
-Phantom Adam had a couple great lines tonight, including “I lost my job when I died” and “I’ll hang around. Get it?”
-Where’s Abe? This season’s final montage showed Peggy alone in bed (after spying some dogs getting it on in the street). What happened to moving in with Abe? [Edit: Turns out Peggy was in the hotel room in Virginia for her cigarette meeting. Will the women’s cigarette she winds up naming be Virginia Slims? The fact that she’s in a hotel explains why Abe’s not there, but he still sort of fell off the face of the earth after he and Peggy decided to move in together.]
-“I’m going to have the same view as you, Don.” We get it, Pete. You’re Don Draper 2.0.
-Perhaps the most striking image of the episode was that of all the partners gazing out of the windows of the new, empty office space at the overcast sky. It paralleled last week’s image of Lane peering out his office window before killing himself, and it highlighted that damned gray cloud that has covered not only his life but nearly everyone at the agency’s. They’ve just had their best quarter ever, and they’re expanding, but they can’t get a little sunshine.