… And so it goes. Season five is in the books. After two straight weeks of Earth-shattering, mind-blowing developments, we had … Don landing Megan a gig doing a commercial. Shocking, wasn’t it? The reality, though, was that after the previous weeks’ offerings, it was nearly impossible to come forward with a particularly jarring season finale. Peggy left. Lane died. What else could have possibly happened? Omar from “The Wire” shows up to steal Roger’s LSD? Sal returns and introduces himself as Megan’s brother? David Brent from the original “Office” interviews for a job at SCDPH?
So, with that said, the finale was fine enough. Week 11, episode 12 was the one that truly felt like a season finale, anyways, so anything we saw this week was a mere tease for what may come next season (more on that next week, when we put a bow on this project for good). As an episode, this week’s didn’t quite work as well for me as last week’s, which was an episode that didn’t quite work as well for me as the previous week’s. Megan and Don again suggest they have one of the most explosive marriages on television today. Don’s tooth ache proved too obvious a metaphor for his personal demons that we all know he shouldn’t simply think will “go away.” Peggy seems to be settling in at her new job. And Pete. Oh, Pete …
While he had the most memorable (read: likeable) lines of the week, the way his muse was sent packing was one of the most pathetic and cheap ways they have ever written a character off the show. Really? She’s nuts? And she has her head wiped clean every few months? There really wasn’t any other way you could think of to get her to go away? Lazy. And how many times do we have to see Pete get punched before we say, “OK. We get it. Pete can’t fight.” In any case, the shot of the five major players standing in their new working space was both striking and poignant, as it’s clear those should be the five most important people involved with next season. Ahhh, but we shall not speak of next season until next week.
As for now, let’s see what our board of experts had to say …
Adam Campbell (Blog) – Roger Sterling
“Mad Men” boasts one of the most attractive casts on television, thanks especially to its female contingent. When a “brief nudity” disclaimer flashed at the top of the high stakes season ending episode, this writer assumed that a revealing glimpse of Joan Harris, Megan Draper or perhaps Beth Dawes was in the offing. How jarring it was to go almost the entire episode (and several scantily clad scenes) only to be greeted with the sight of Roger Sterling’s bare backside as he appeared to do jumping jacks in front of a hotel window.
But there was a point to this gratuitousness. Although Roger admitted last week that his LSD enlightenment had worn off, this did not mean his infatuation with the drug was over. With the sight of Lane’s dangling rigor mortis corpse still fresh in his mind, Roger is now in desperate need of some escapism. Unfortunately, he doesn’t want to take a second trip by himself, but with a partner. Why not combine his familiar penchant for aimless casual sex with his new desire to turn on and drop out?
When he learns that recent one night stand (or kneel) Mrs. Marie Calvet is back in town for Easter at the Drapers’, he manages to phone her (almost getting caught by Don in the process) with a proposition to “broach impropriety ever so slightly” with a dinner date at his hotel room. Roger might not know the provincial capital of Saskatchewan, but he has a similar sounding word on his mind, and even if he assures a reluctant Marie that he wants nothing more than conversation, they both know what’s in store when she arrives at the Stanhope.
After some frenzied kissing, Roger reveals to a skeptical Marie that his motives for inviting her over weren’t purely sexual. Lane’s death has inspired him to seek a better place without resorting to suicide that only LSD can make possible. He asks Marie to take it with him because her finds in her a kindred spirit who would comfort him during the hallucinations. Marie might be calm and adventurous, but after coldly refusing to assuage her own daughter’s hurt feelings, she certainly has no interest in holding Roger’s hand through an acid trip. Thankfully for Roger, she does not turn away the sex portion of the evening.
And now back to that scene of brief nudity. Ultimately, Roger takes his sophomore acid trip without any female companionship, staring out his hotel room window mesmerized at the bright lights of the city. This sight of a naked Roger making a total fool of himself without any foreseeable consequences calls to mind Lane’s simple declaration to Pete in season four that “Roger Sterling is a child.” Roger is as naked as the day he was born, and like an infant, he’s remained insulated from the perils of the wider world (such as divorces and suicides). The maternal comfort and bedtime stories of yore have simply been replaced by casual sex and now psychedelic escapism.
After another setback in her acting career, Megan is feeling down. Since leaving SCDP, she has faced a series of failures, and understandably, she’s not taking it well. As she’s going through the classified ads, her friend asks for help with getting a commercial for Butler Shoes, a client of SCDP. They want a “European girl,” and Megan promises to ask Don about it for her friend. But in a moment of cunning genius, Megan asks Don to hire her for the commercial instead.
When Don is surprised by Megan’s request, she says her friends would kill for it. It means getting into a union and getting exposure. Don’s curt reply shows that he thinks her acting career is merely a diversion: “You get money. That’s why they want it. You don’t need that.” The hurt shows on Megan’s face as the meaning of her husband’s words sinks in. It’s not about money for her; it never has been. She tells him to forget she even brought it up. Don replies, “You want to be somebody’s discovery, not somebody’s wife.” However, her chances of getting discovered get slimmer and slimmer every week.
As Megan sinks into a depression, her mother says, “Stop feeling sorry for yourself. You have a beautiful home and a handsome husband who provides you with everything even though you won’t give him a family.” In Marie’s comment, there are echoes of Joan’s words from earlier in the season: Megan is the girl who has everything. She’s still not happy, though. She doesn’t want to be the woman who sits at home waiting for her husband. She wants to have her own life, her own successes, dreams and failures. It’s not about having a beautiful home and a handsome husband to give you everything. There’s more to life than that, and Megan wants more out of her life. Somehow she’s the only person who seems to understand that.
At the end of the episode, we see her in costume for the shoe commercial, finally having a sought-after acting job. It’s both brilliant and sad that she’s leveraged Don’s position at SCDP for her first big acting gig. It’s brilliant because she lied to her friend and got the part for herself, but sad because this is the only way she’s been able to get hired. It’s also interesting because earlier in the season, at SCDP, Megan wanted to be known for her work, not as Don’s wife — she didn’t want to use her personal life for professional gains. For the commercial, she’s working under her maiden name, Calvet, and keeping it a secret that she’s married to Don, who strolls off the set and into a bar at the end of the episode, a question hanging in the air: “Are you alone?” His answer could have an impact on what happens between Megan and Don next season. It could be setting him up to go back to his trademark infidelities, and if he does, Megan won’t deal with it the same way Betty did. Things could get ugly, but we won’t know Don’s answer — or what happens with Don and Megan — for another year.
“Are you alone?”
No matter how much we try, there are basic parts of our personality that are set, that simply won’t change. We can plaster over our flaws and paint over our mistakes but eventually the cracks start to show. In extreme cases we may create two personas: one for the public and one for private consumption. Don Draper is an extreme example of this compartmentalized duality. He has literally taken on another person’s identity. And during his marriage to Megan he has played the part of the dutiful husband for public consumption. But much to the consternation of priests, psychiatrists and my ex-wife, people don’t really change. Eventually the artifice of the charade will create an unbearable ennui and like Draper’s throbbing tooth, will have to be extracted.
Megan suffers no such battles with duality. She is simple and innocent in her desire to be an actress. Her stammered request to Don to intervene for her so that she might appear in a shoe commercial is both sweet and embarrassingly childish. He knows enough about advertising to know that a commercial isn’t art, and it certainly isn’t acting. “You want to be somebody’s discovery. Not somebody’s wife,” he tells her in his polite rebuff. He is correct in his observation but doesn’t seem to realize what this says about the future of his marriage.
Later he arrives back at the apartment to find Megan drunk and wallowing in self-pity. He drags her into bed but rejects her advances because of his increasing tooth pain. Despite all of his attempts to at least appear supportive, she calls him out on his ambivalence to her career choice. All she is good for really is sex, she claims. He doesn’t disagree.
Eventually the pain becomes too much and Draper make a long overdue appearance at the dentist. While under the influence of the laughing gas he sees his half-brother for the third time in recent days. “I’m going to do you a favor and take it out. But it’s not your tooth that is rotten,” says Adam. When Draper awakes, his half-brother is gone and the tooth, and the pain, has been ripped out of his body.
The dentist tells him to take it easy, so Don decides to catch a matinee and much to his surprise (and in a completely unbelievable coincidence) he finds Peggy there waiting for the movie to start. Their mutual affection for each other is still apparent and they chat about Peggy’s success at her new job. “That’s what happens when you help someone. They succeed and move on,” he says. “Don’t you want them to?” she asks as the theater darkens and the movie starts. (In the first Bond reference of the episode it appears they are at a screening of “Casino Royale”, the horrendous 007 parody starring Peter Sellers and Woody Allen. That seems like an appropriate choice to numb one’s brain and kill an afternoon.)
After clearing out the cobwebs he takes some time to watch Megan’s silent screen test. His face modulates between affection, amusement and eventually sadness. In the end she is merely a pretty vapid girl with a dream of being an actress, somebody else that he has helped, somebody else that is destined to move on. The scene cuts to a studio set where Miss Calvert is cast as the “beauty” in a “Beauty And The Beast” themed commercial. Don dutifully plays the role of the beast as he kisses her and walks away while Megan steps into her dream life of being an “actress.” The swirling strings of the theme to “You Only Live Twice” — the other Bond film of 1967 — plays in the background as Don leaves her world. “One life for yourself and one for your dreams,” sings Nancy Sinatra as Draper retreats to his preferred existence, back into the smoky caves of the local bar with all the possibilities that are offered there. Is he alone? With one simple look he answers that question. Yes.
Poor Joan. It’s a sure bet she didn’t think at the beginning of this season that she’d have to juggle a partnership, her old job and being Lane’s painfully absent voice of reason.
Gone is the woman who was planning a fancy Easter vacation — do you think there’s a difference between Bermuda and Hawaii, by the way? In her place is one who calmly reads the list of all the firm’s recent successes, but is still weighed down by the guilt and gloom that came along with Lane’s death. Like Don, she partially blames herself for his demise. She didn’t “give him what he wanted,” after all. As viewers know, there were many other factors at play.
Still, despite the turn of events in “Commissions and Fees,” life goes on for the rest of the five partners. They are quite literally moving up in the world, and have made plans to put offices in the vacant floor above SCDP’s current space.
The final line of the episode — some girl in a bar asking Don, “Are you alone?” — really speaks to the season as a whole. She could have asked, “Are you single,” or “Are you here by yourself?” But the line was “Are you alone?”
Every character is alone when it comes right down to it. And each one got there by chasing “The Phantom,” which was also the title of this episode. SCDP workers and their loved ones have been in search of happiness this season, which they thought they would find through success and love. Don thought he would find it with Megan, and he is alone in a bar in the final montage. Peggy thought she would find it with a new job, and we see her by her lonesome in a Virginia motel, with only those frisky parking lot dogs to keep her company. Pete thought he would find it with Rory Gilmore, and because of her shock therapy, she doesn’t even remember who he is by the end of the episode. And Joan thought she would find it with a partnership.
As Don pointed out in the previous episode, happiness is just a moment before you need more happiness. It’s as if as soon as you catch up to it, it’s left already and you have to find it again. But no one is getting any younger and it seems as if everyone, including Joan, is having a hard time keeping up.
Tyler Hannah – Pete Campbell
If one thing in this universe is a certainty, it is that Peter Campbell is a terrible fighter. Either he was never a good fighter, or he lost the ability to scrap as he got older — more likely the former. Nevertheless, Peter’s phantom he chased this episode was youth and freedom. Each character in “The Phantom” pursued an elusive desire and goal. The two main conquests that represent Pete’s escape from his apparent depression were Beth Dawes and his Manhattan apartment.
Admittedly, Peter Campbell is abhorrent, but his unending sadness and misanthropy is somehow sympathetic. His character represents those people in this world who have everything but are still unhappy. No matter his achievements, accolades, or his receipt of loving devotion, Peter will always be the listless sad sack. In the great scene where Beth’s mind is electroshocked into oblivion, Pete treats the visit to her as a pseudo confessional.
Pete yearns to feel handsome again, to experience youth again, and to be desired. As he aptly notes, who hasn’t tried to capture these themes at the bottom of a few “tall drinks?” Ultimately, Campbell’s dabbling into infidelity as a way to experience youth and freedom resulted in his realization that he cannot blindly go back to his normal, daily routine. Beth believes that Peter is just as depressed as she is, but the difference between the two is that Peter is not bereft and wayward. He drives hard to his ultimate ends.
Campbell’s second ticket to his dreams will likely result in romping parties and affairs in season six — his Manhattan apartment. This apartment, though, is a temporary bandage on a permanent wound, much like Don’s whiskey soaked cotton swab to ease the tooth ache. Pete’s “hot tooth” appears to be his life; the apartment is the whiskey soaked cotton swab. Then again, perhaps his bachelor pad in the city, and, by the way, his new office view from the second floor of SCDP, will be the shot of vigor that he needs. Until then, Pete, the “tall drinks” are raised in your honor.
When we last saw Peggy she was walking away from her life as she knew it. She left her position at SCDP — along with all the baggage that came with it — for a new job as copy chief for Cutler Gleason and Chaough. Even after her tough goodbye with Don, she seemed relieved to be moving on and excited about the changes heading her way.
While it may be too early to tell if the move has paid off completely, it certainly looks like it’s heading in that direction. She still has to deal with the occasional semi-competent coworker, but she has a level of status and confidence that took her a long time to achieve (if she ever really did) at her previous job. Ted respects her and believes that she can pull in big clients. When he introduces the product she’s meant to sell (“Ladies’ cigarettes” that will presumably be later known as Virginia Slims), he gives her the basics and leaves her to come up with something brilliant. “You’re a woman and you smoke. What do you want?” His words serve as a starting point and guide, but they also speak to Peggy and other women in this era who were asserting control over their ideas and desires. Peggy is making it in the world and she’s doing it beautifully.
In her chance meeting with Don at a movie theater, it’s clear that he sees this, too. There was a nice playfulness to the beginning of their exchange, but as their conversation continued, the tone became a bit more somber. Don looked at her like a proud father — happy to see her succeeding, but sad that things were changing and he was unable to be there for her in the same way.
Peggy’s final scene of the season was of her business trip to Virginia, looking out of a hotel room where the only view was of two dogs getting it on in the parking lot. Despite the fact that she’s probably in a cheap suite, she’s happy. Her tiny smile is all we need to know that she feels good about her decision to move to CGC and after all of her struggles this season, it’s lovely to know that she’s finally OK. Whether she will come up with the iconic branding for Virginia Slims campaign is yet to be seen, but either way, she’ll come out of it brilliantly. Peggy Olson, you’ve come a long way …