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Episode 13 - The Phantom

15 June 2012

Credit AMC

I thought this was a fairly unsatisfying and unsubtle finale. I felt last season’s conclusion gave us a much firmer picture of where the characters and the company stood.

Don was best characterised as you would expect. His marriage to Meagan hasn’t made him as happy as he had hoped. He ends the season once more being tempted to stray now that she will be gone from home on acting gigs. I did like the shot of him watching her on film. For once in the episode nothing was spelt out. We were left to wonder what exactly he was feeling as he looked at her. It was a nice reminder of the scene in the season one finale where Don used pictures of his life with Betty at a sales pitch. I thought it also underlined that Jessica Paré really is well cast as a beautiful woman of the 60s. She looks the part and the question becomes whether Meagan can stay playing Mrs Draper for the remainder of the show.

That story was adequately handled but I wouldn’t say I am terribly invested in their relationship. Meagan has been prominently featured all season but has been written without the same depth that the main characters receive. Her decision to betray her friend and try to nab the commercial audition for herself had no weight. My impression of Meagan is that this should have been a moral quandary for her and yet we got little time to assess how she felt about taking this short cut. Don on the other hand seemed uncomfortable and unsure if her career success would be much benefit to his own happiness.

Don’s tooth ache was one of those classic TV plots where a character deals with a minor ailment but is really struggling with a larger issue that they aren’t voicing. Don of course has plenty on his mind with Lane’s death, his marriage and work. However instead of simply linking his dental problems to the pain elsewhere in his life Matt Weiner decided to use a sledgehammer. Many viewers noted last episode the connection between Don’s brother Adam hanging himself and Lane’s suicide. Here the ghost of Adam appeared to tell Don that “It’s not your tooth that’s rotten.” I thought that was cheap and unnecessary. Yes some viewers might not remember Adam but all of us were taken out of the moment with that line.

Similarly Pete decides to show far more self awareness than real people do and list all his problems to an electro-shocked Beth. Real people who are unhappy tend not to be so articulate in explaining their own sadness. If they had such clarity they might not keep digging. The Beth story was somewhat bizarre and capped off a listless season for Pete where his unhappiness has been the story with almost nothing causing it except his own self loathing. Beth always seemed an odd character, in one moment aloof and the next engaged by the abortive affair with Pete. Here we get the suggestion that she is potentially manically depressed or possibly just screwed up from 1960s patriarchal attempts to treat her. It was all too much characterisation for someone we don’t know and maybe an actress who was being asked to do too much. The key scene when Pete comes to see her but she no longer remembers him was poorly constructed. It wasn’t clear that she had had her procedure and she seemed far too comfortable with this stranger blabbing on about his ‘friend.’

Lane’s death didn’t have as much impact as it might have done. Joan’s guilt over rejecting his advances put her character in the awkward position of implying she ought to just sleep with everyone to make them happy. The scene with Don and Lane’s wife was strong though and I appreciated her anger at him. No doubt she would blame SCDP after Lane nearly left her and then the Jaguar prostitution news. Her comment that Don shouldn’t have given Lane false ambition (because he wasn’t up to it) was questionable though. Again that felt too self aware, too personal and possibly a stab at the British class system.

The brief meeting between Don and Peggy was nice and it seems clear that her story will continue next season. I didn’t like the sudden prosperity the office was enjoying. Earlier in the season it felt like the creative team was four stressed people and now the rooms were overflowing with faceless employees. I know Jaguar was a big get but the implication was that they hadn’t begun billing yet. If the company were doing this well why did Lane need to panic so much? Last season the picture felt clearer about where they stood. Now their success seemed to have rolled in quicker than was earned.

For me it’s been an uneven season. The good episodes were as strong as ever but the weaker ones reflected a weaker arc, patchier overall writing and many choices which felt sensational. I do think Mad Men needs a veneer of subtlety. I’m all for leading your audiences emotions but not telling them everything a character is feeling. I will be excited to see next season but slightly less than I was this one.

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  • I enjoyed the episode a lot. Of course, its a let down from the previous one, but that's Wiener's MO. And I disagree about Megan and her "friend". Its implied but never made clear that Megan didn't put a word for her friend. Nor was there any obligation on Megan's part not to go for the role herself. The two may have been 'friends' but they're also rival actresses vying for the parts. If her friend wanted Megan to use her influence, why shouldn't Megan have used that influence to help herself? I see no "moral quandary".

    I thought the episode was full of classic, quiet moments. Don walking away during the commercial shoot, the last scene in the bar, Peggy and Don meeting in the theater, Pete getting popped by the conductor, and Widow Lane's classic line "we don't wallow".

    And why after the fireworks of the last episode, would anyone expect ANOTHER highly charged episode? You need a quieter one.

    Anyway, I think Season 5 was quite good, well written and well acted. The original dynamic has been lost - but its still quite good.

    Viewer score: 80 / 100

    Posted by Rcocean, 15/06/2012 4:42pm (7 years ago)

  • I agree with pretty much everything you said about the finale, it was one of the weaker episodes of Mad Men that I have seen. I do want to discuss the Joan thing though. I thought it was in character for her to sleep with the Jaguar exec because Joan has never been a character with as much confidence in herself as Peggy and she has always been one to use her body to deal with the male dominate society. However, I am now supposed to believe that Joan thinks "The first time I whored myself out worked so well, I should know just do it for everything." Kevin needs new diapers, time to stand on the street corner. Lane is suicidal, better get naked. NO! This is not a direction I want to see Joan's story go and it seems to be clashing with the story they have told so far. I thought the act of two episodes was a step back for Joan in her journey not this full on reversal.

    Posted by Derek, 13/06/2012 10:47pm (7 years ago)

  • Thanks for commenting Dan. I don't think you are alone in being disappointed. It certainly wasn't over you head either. "Mad Men" is a show about dysfunctional people and there was little uplifting about this finale.

    Posted by The TV Critic, 13/06/2012 12:54am (7 years ago)

  • I’ve been watching the show and reading your reviews all season and I finally feel compelled to add something to the discussion. I have to say I thought this was the most disappointing finale of any season of this show. Honestly, maybe it’s a little over my head. Maybe this show is a little too deep because I didn’t take anything away from the episode.
    Let me start with some of the more minor stuff. The Pete story is just a big nothing. We get it, he’s unhappy and him spelling it all out was just redundant because didn’t we basically know everything he said already? He just came off as horribly pathetic and the shock therapy/amnesia story just didn’t add anything, it was awful. The actress playing his mistress is also a very bad actor in my opinion she was just stiff and unconvincing and I couldn’t wait for it to be over.
    The issue of taking up new space was fine but it should be a relatively minor plot point as it pertains to the larger Lane story which hardly got any attention at all. We find out the agency is doing well financially but what no update on Dow Chemical? How about some sort of acknowledgement that Don hasn’t done anything substantial for the agency this whole season?
    Speaking of Don, his visit to Lane’s wife was fine but seriously what are we supposed to take away from it? Yes, she’s bitter at Don and the agency but it doesn’t seem to affect him at all. Why would they keep the rest of the check when they’re doing well and Lane’s wife obviously needs it? Don still doesn’t have any real compassion for anyone or anything except himself. He kept seeing his brother throughout the episode but are we really supposed to believe he’s been affected whatsoever by Lane’s death or his brother’s? Even though he’s now contributed to two suicides he’s not really affected by it at all. His problem is that he’s the sole authority figure in every aspect of his life and hardly anyone actually has the desire or will to tell him what a bad person he really is. Now he’s drifting apart from Megan? Why exactly? He’s going to go meet some other young girl and try it all over again? He didn’t seem to care that much that she wanted to try to be an actress except for his childish defense of advertising as if it was some sacred and noble service he’s doing that she can’t quite appreciate. Is there any other person in any other line of work that spends as much time defending what he does and at the same time attacking other people for not appreciating it?
    I’ve been waiting for something more from him. Some sort of brilliance that we saw in the first episode of the whole show, something to remind us that oh yeah that’s why everyone thinks so highly of him. Instead he’s just been this cold pathetic selfish man that leaves a wake of destruction behind him. Maybe Glen was partially correct. Everything does turn to crap if it involves Don Draper.
    The whole episode was just atrocious.

    Viewer score: 35 / 100

    Posted by Dan, 12/06/2012 6:23pm (7 years ago)

  • A stellar ending to the season.

    Don walking away from Megan on the commercial set was him walking away from the set that was the fraudulent storybook life he built around her. His performance is over.

    Even the teaser poster for season 5 depicts looking at store window display of a home setting, where a male mannequin sits authoritatively in his robe while a female mannequin stands beside him in an obedient, "ready-to-serve" stance. Oh, and the female mannequin is nude.

    Anyway, so much good stuff, too much to address in a comment.

    My only real quibbles were a) not quite enough office aftershock from Lane's death; b) too much time devoted to Pete's girlfriend for a season finale. She was never really developed, especially since it seems like they just wrapped up that whole subplot with her electroshock amnesia, and I didn't learn anything new about Pete; and c) not enough Peggy.

    Viewer score: 72 / 100

    Posted by jeremy, 12/06/2012 3:34am (7 years ago)

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