By Cynthia Littleton
Appropriately enough for a season finale the overriding theme of “Mad Men” seemed to moving on — which is often something easier said than done.
I was expecting more fireworks overall, based on the show’s track record during its last two season closers. But I was not disappointed in “The Phantom,” written by Jonathan Igla and Matthew Weiner and directed by Weiner.
For the second season in a row, the “Mad Men” world goes out on a will-he-or-won’t-he cliffhanger. In 2010 the question was whether Don Draper would go through with his impetuous plan to marry Megan. This time around, we are left to wonder whether he’ll return to his old philandering ways.
After thinking about it for all of 15 minutes, I believe the answer is no. I think Don Draper has done a lot of maturing through his marriage to Megan and through the course of this season. The provocative question “Are you alone” doesn’t mean what it once did to Don. I think that was the point of the storyline of Don having the horrible toothache. After living with the pain, he finally broke down and went to the dentist to have it pulled, in the nick of time. (Out goes the tooth, out go the hallucinations about his dead brother Adam.)
The scene I most enjoyed was the meeting of Peggy and Don in the theater. It was another classic use of a candid conversation with Peggy to allow Don to process something – this time how to move forward on the issue of Megan’s career. (And we saw just how much Megan wants to jumpstart her thespian career by her willingness to screw over her actress friend by muscling in on her effort to land the role in the shoe commercial.)
And it allowed for a bit of closure between Peggy and Don at the same time planting the seeds that maybe she could be back in the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (wonder if they’ll change the name?) picture one day. Certainly, the agency misses her and her feminine touch.
The experience of having Peggy leave him, in a professional rather than romantic way, was eye-opening for Don. (The theater scene also drove me crazy trying to figure out what movie they were seeing based on the theme snippet. I narrowed it to a Burt Bacharach tune and then called in my husband who got it on the second note: “Casino Royale,” the 1967 James Bond spoof.)
He watched Megan’s screen test reel and saw that the camera loves her. And I think the stifling presence of Mama Calvet also played a part. Thankfully, Don doesn’t seem to be heeding her directive to “nurse (Megan) through this defeat and you shall have the life you desire.” (I think that was the point of Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice,” another Bond pic reference, running over the end credits. “You only live twice or so it seems/One life for yourself and one for your dreams.”)
Marie Calvet seems to resent her daughter for not being happy even when though she has all the things — money, social status, etc. — that eluded the wife of an ideological college professor.
Meanwhile, I was intrigued by the way they played Peggy. She’s obviously not yet comfortable in her new role as a manager, even though she had a lot of unstated responsibility at Sterling Cooper. I loved the touch of putting a thermos bottle visible behind her desk in the scene where her new boss whatshisname tells her to get cracking (puffing) on the lady cigarette account. She’s stil thinking like a worker bee, toting a thermos. And it was kinda old-school Peggy Olson charm as she excitedly talked about “going on a plane” on a business trip to Richmond, Va.
The most intriguing setup for what may come next season is the revelation that Pete voices at the end of the episode after his disturbing encounter with Beth, post-shock therapy.
Beth is frighteningly submissive in her willingness to endure anything to escape her depression. Her situation appears to be a big wakeup call for Pete. No he’s not really madly in love with the troubled Beth (rhymes with “Plath”?). He realizes his fantasy is just that. Getting involved with another man’s wife was a bad move, but it forced him to realize, as he articulated in the third-person to Beth as her brain was still sizzling, that “everything he had was not right either. It was a temporary bandage on a permanent wound.” The temporary feeling explains his reticence about putting down roots — let alone a swimming pool — in the suburbs with Trudy.
To me, it’s clear that the “permanent wound” he’s talking about the child he and Peggy had. I knew that story would come back around again. It looks like it might be next season, driven by Pete’s remorse rather than Peggy’s.
It’s no surprise that Don and Joan would be the two people in the office most wracked by guilt regarding Lane’s suicide. Joan is remarkably candid with Don (“Why didn’t I give him what he wanted?”), underscoring the non-sexual nature of their friendship.
But Joan too is moving on, proceeding with plans for expanding the office space. A big organizational project that she’ll be very good at. It’s obvious she’s also inherited Lane’s duties as CFO.
Don’s visit to Mrs. Pryce was just plain painful, as she was in no mood to try to make anyone feel better. You can’t blame her, and Don doesn’t, even as she barks at him. “You had no right to fill a man like that full of ambition.” Great line, as was her parting shot: “Don’t leave here thinking that you’ve done anything for anyone but yourself.” Ouch.
Roger going back for another round of LSD: Priceless. The long shot of his naked backside in the closing sequence: Delicious.
I hope to refine some thoughts on after a second viewing.