Mad Men: A Temporary Bandage on a Permanent Wound

MAD MEN: 5.13 “The Phantom”

Well, after last week’s horrific episode, we viewers (and reviewers) were nothing but questions about what this week’s finale would hold. We got it, but was it what you expected?

After the jaw-dropping episodes where Lane kills himself and Peggy quits, I think many of us were expecting an over-the-top, drama-filled episode for the season five finale. What we got was almost the opposite. But there’s also something else we may have gotten.

The return of Don Draper.

Yes, that last scene made us wonder whether our lady-loving playboy was back, after he pushed his wife to become her own woman in the acting world. Why the shift? Well, to me, the answer lies in Peggy. Peggy was the one woman that Don saw differently. She wasn’t a potential conquest or even a wife to deal with. Don saw potential and made her to be like him. To his surprise, she was so much like him that she knew when to take her own opportunity. And she left. He said himself that he wanted her to succeed, but he didn’t expect it to be without her. Peggy was somewhat eye-opening in the sense that her success really was without him.

So he let his wife succeed. What he saw when he watched her reel — Was it pride? Was he impressed? Or was it just that he saw freedom? I hope to think that it was one of the first two, which is why he helped her to succeed. But then he walked away, knowing that his place wasn’t there beside her. With her once removed, on her own without him, he did have the freedom to go to the bar and — well, I guess we’ll find out next season what happens from there.

Strangely enough, it was a switch in roles. Sure, Megan wasn’t trying to become the CEO of a company; an actress is not too surprising of a role for a woman to take in the ’60s. But actually letting her go and letting her do her own thing — that was pretty progressive of a husband.

Meanwhile, the elephant in the room was Lane. Despite his disappearance, his feeling was still there, in Roger’s own discussions with Megan’s mother; in Joan’s teary chat with Don; even in Pete’s saddened discussion with the clear-eyed Beth (in the end, I still found Alexis Bledel to be a horrible casting decision, but she was her best in that hospital room). Lane’s death hovered over these people, making them feel down and sad, even while their company was booming. Every week more money came in the mail, even if it was Lane’s own insurance policy. It made the entire episode feel just a little cold, which is saying a lot in an episode where a mother calls her daughter a bitch and a man asks what if his infant daughter drowns in their new pool.

In the end, things seem to be moving in a new but recognizable direction. The company’s growing, literally moving up to a new floor. Pete’s getting his apartment in the city, and feels more and more reminiscent of the Dons and Rogers of the working world. Peggy finally got to take a trip for clients, proving that even the raunchiness of dogs going at it in the parking lot of a DC hotel was glamorous with her new position. And Don, well, we covered that.

I must say, for an episode where little happened — especially compared to that which came before — it was a transitional episode with lots of pain to work through. A temporary bandage on a permanent wound? I’d say so. And while the end may have felt hum drum, you still don’t know what’s going to happen next.


One thought on “Mad Men: A Temporary Bandage on a Permanent Wound

  1. Good point. I was wondering what Don was seeing as he watched Megan’s film strip. The show certainly seemed to imply that it was a sense of “freedom.” It’s interesting how that scene, with Don in the darkness, smoking and watching this film, mirrored his Kodak pitch in season one. Back then, he was appealing to some kind of sense of nostalgia for a perfect family life. Maybe he saw the opposite when watching Megan?

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