Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mad Men Episode 5-9: Dark Shadows

Recap: In this episode, Betty goes on a strict diet and attends Weight Watchers meetings. At the meetings, she attempt emotional honesty when relating to other women. Additionally, she picks up some reassuring lines by listening to the Weight Watchers meeting leader console the women who fail to lose weight during a given week. Later, when Henry expresses disappointment about his career, she repeats these reassuring lines to him to good effect.

When she picks up the children at Don and Megan’s place, she gets a look at their updated, stylish home and Megan’s buff figure. Unable to compete, she thinks of revenge. That night she runs to the fridge to get a hit of artificial whipped cream, spitting it out so the calories won’t count. At the table with Sally and Bobby, Betty is dismissive toward Sally’s assignment to draw and color a family tree but sorts through Bobby’s homework and offers words of encouragement. On the back of a picture Bobby drew, she sees a romantic note written by Don to Megan, and her immediate sense of her own lack of romance sparks her anger. She then flippantly reveals to Sally that Don had another wife before herself, and she encourages Sally to include Anna in her family tree picture. When Sally asks for further information, Betty tells her to ask Megan – thus putting Megan and Don in an awkward position.
Megan teaches Sally an acting technique, and Sally is appreciative. When Betty comes to pick up the children, Megan chats awkwardly with her and then focuses on the children and kisses each of them goodbye, in striking contrast to Betty’s lack of affection for them. Later Megan reads through a soap opera script with a friend, Julia, but Julia is resentful and expresses jealousy because of Megan’s wealth. Megan tells her she’d love to be auditioning for a part in the soap opera even though it’s badly written, but she’s not resentful and wishes Julia good luck. Later she learns that Julia got the part, and Megan appears happy for her but sad for herself.
Early in the episode, Pete brags to Don, Roger, and Bert in the elevator about being interviewed by Victor, a journalist from the New York Times, and suggests that the article will feature his perspective on SCDP. None of the listeners is impressed. Later, Pete takes a break at work to fantasize about Beth showing up in a mink coat and underwear, but no such thing occurs. Encountering Howard on the train ride home, he hears Howard’s callous plan to see Beth in order to buy future time in the city with his girlfriend, to which Pete challenges him to stay in the city so that he can make love to Howard’s wife. Howard, believing his wife to be frigid, doesn’t take it seriously. When the Times article by Victor finally appears in print, Pete phones Don at home on a Sunday morning to complain that it doesn’t include anything about himself or SCDP; Don advises him not to share his failures and shuts down the conversation.
At work, Don sneaks a peek at some of Mike’s ad ideas for the Sno Ball account and sees the high quality of his work. He snickers at a sketch of an ad where a snowball hits a man in the face. Feeling competitive, he decides to head to the office on Sunday afternoon to generate more and better ideas for the account. The next day at work, Don calls a meeting of the Creative department and listens to each person’s contributions. Peggy’s concept is a New Yorker cartoon, and Don doesn’t quite get it so dismisses it. Mike’s best contribution is “It hits you in the face” and Don compliments him for it, but attempts to trump it with his “snowball in Hell” sketch. Nobody likes Don’s idea but everyone pretends to, because they can see that Don is heavily invested in it. Don chooses to have both his idea and Mike’s worked up to show the client, but ultimately Don presents only his own ad concept. When Mike finds out Don left his ad material in the taxi and presented to the client only his own idea, he gets angry and tells Don he feels sorry for him – to which Don replies that he doesn’t even think about Mike.
Meanwhile, Roger calls Jane and asks her to accompany him to a dinner with a potential client and his wife. In return, Jane asks Roger to buy him a new apartment, and he agrees. At the dinner, the client’s son joins the dinner party and flirts with Jane. That night, Roger talks his way into Megan’s new apartment and seduces her. Jane goes along, but then tells Roger the new place has been spoiled for her. Roger admits she’s right, says he feels sorry about it, and wonders why he did it.
The episode ends with scenes from Thanksgiving at the Draper and Francis residences.

As the title suggests, a major theme in this episode is the dark side of human nature. This includes envy, jealousy, hatred, betrayal, revenge, unfairness, resentment, domination, deception, desperation, and so on.  Because dark shadows are best seen by contrast to the light, we also see an unusual display of positive traits among the characters. By featuring these extremes, the episode mimics a soap opera, as symbolized by the title “Dark Shadows” and by the soap-opera acting scene with Megan and her red-headed friend Julia.

·         Betty’s budding humility, growing friendship skills, encouragement toward Henry, positive attention to Bobby, and approval of Sally when she gets an A+, stand in stark contrast to her mean-spirited interactions with Sally, her envy of Megan and her attempt to sabotage Megan’s love relationship, her willingness to sneak around in the Draper residence uninvited, her self-centered feelings of being diminished  when someone else has something better than she has (like Don and Megan’s apartment), and her dishonest claim on Thanksgiving that she has everything she wants and nobody has anything better. The scene in a darkened kitchen where she desperately grabs a can of artificial whipped cream from the brightly lit refrigerator and sprays it directly into her mouth, then moves to spit it out so she won’t have to count the calories, shows a very immediate, direct contrast of darkness (the dark room; addressing her feelings with food) and light (the lighted refrigerator; sticking to her diet no matter what it takes).

·         Don’s re-engagement in his creative work, his mostly positive relationship with Megan, his fatherly role with Sally including his honest apology to her for forcing her to learn about a situation she couldn’t understand (Anna), and his initial acceptance of Mike’s ad idea are all very positive. By contrast, his apparent need to dominate the Creative department leads to over-competitiveness toward Mike and willingness to trash Mike’s creative work to make sure only his own idea is seen by the client. He also fails to encourage Peggy, whose good ad idea he dismisses because he doesn’t even get the joke. Overall, his dark side lacks humility and he comes across as an egotistical, out of touch, unfair boss.

·         Megan teaches Sally an acting technique, helps her friend Julia run through lines for a soap-opera audition, addresses Julia’s jealousy without taking it personally, admits her own jealousy of Julia’s audition opportunity without resentment, nurtures the children, handles Sally’s outburst in a reasonably understanding, fair, adult way, and keeps the toxic smog out of the apartment. On the dark side, while admitting her jealousy of Julia’s audition opportunity, Megan’s honesty leads her to insult the soap-opera script that Julia is about to audition for, calling it “a piece of cr—p,” thus putting Julia on the defensive. Also, by telling Sally about Anna when Sally asks, she betrays her agreement with Don not to do so, although her response to Sally is reasonable and measured. Additionally, Megan promises Sally not to tell Don about their conversation, but then she does – and Sally hears her doing it, making her feel even more betrayed.

·         Roger behaves in a charming, sociable way, works hard to generate new business for the company, buys ex-wife Jane a new apartment at her request in exchange for some work-related role playing at a client dinner, and gives full credit to his creative associates for his ad idea at the dinner. His dark side shows up when his apparent need to dominate drives him to seduce Jane in her new apartment, thus disregarding her need for a clean break from him, a major reason she wanted to move. It also shows up when he talks of wanting to acquire the Manischewitz account behind Pete’s back because he hates Pete, even if, in the end, Pete will benefit.

·         Jane’s positive side involves her willingness to cooperate with Roger in the interest of helping him get a new client, and her lovely femininity, even if it causes her to be seduced by Roger to her own disadvantage. She also presents Roger with her honest feelings and desires as they arise. On the dark side, she remains self-absorbed and unwilling to take full responsibility for her actions. She also fails to learn from her past, enabling Roger to once again use her for his own selfish purposes.

·         Peggy’s bright side is shown when she displays talent in her New Yorker ad idea, humility in accepting Don’s opinion of it, and tact in reacting to Don’s weird ad idea, wisely recognizing that Don wanted so badly to be the “brilliant” one of the group that he was not able to accept anything but approval for his idea. Peggy’s shadow side, however, shows up when she reacts hostilely while listening to Mike talk about his pre-paid side-job with Roger, instead of tactfully congratulating Mike and absorbing the information he provided to sort out privately later on. Of course, she tries to give Mike helpful advice during the conversation, but when her sense of her own value is diminished by Mike’s revelation that he has already received partial payment, she is clearly angry and jealous. Later she confronts Roger as they share an elevator ride and berates him for being disloyal to the company – in spite of the fact that in a previous episode, Roger paid her even more money for a side job than Mike got this time. Roger may not have acted according to protocol, but Peggy appears mostly offended because she wasn’t the one to be asked. 

·         Mike shows his light side in the brilliance of his creative work, his justifiable self-assertiveness to Don when Don is unfair to him, the candor and business savvy he shows when Roger asks him to do a side job, and his forthright honesty with Peggy. On the dark side, he goes beyond self-assertiveness and strikes out at Don for not bringing his ad to show the client, thus biting the hand that feeds him. Also, his generally curt, insensitive conversational style irritates just about everyone, thus preventing himself from getting the accolades from them that he otherwise deserves.

·         Pete’s enthusiasm for bringing SCDP a feature article in the New York Times (per his contact, Victor) has to be counted as a positive or bright spot in his character, even if it is mixed with boastfulness, delusional egotism, and ultimately foolishness. Later, when he has a sexual fantasy about Beth, it pivots around his name being featured in the newspaper, highlighting his positive desire for public recognition for his good work alongside his dark desire to attract secret love and sex outside his marriage. On the train, Pete’s bold proposition that Howard remain in the city with his girlfriend so that he can screw Howard’s wife is at once challenging in a positive way, asking Howard to consider what he could lose, and darkly threatening. That he phones Don to rant about the Times article, which doesn’t even mention him or SCDP, and about Victor, who he feels is a “rat bast_” that betrayed him, shows a contrast between his positive concern for the company and desire to relate to Don as a friend vs. the reality that his call irritates Don and that his efforts have failed to bring personal acclaim for him or publicity for SCDP.

·         Sally is beginning to lose the sweetness and light of childhood as she goes through troubling dark feelings and reactions, mostly caused by the adults in her life. On the bright side, she acts like an innocent, trusting child when taking an acting lesson from Megan early in the episode, and she generally obeys her father and her mother throughout the episode. On the dark side, she suddenly feels betrayed by Megan and begins to behave badly, her self-righteous, accusatory tone resembling both Betty and Don’s role modeling. Sally’s moods and sassy outspokenness are a naturally dark part of her development as a budding young woman. Beyond the burdens of puberty, though, the dark shadows cast by the adults surrounding her, symbolized by the toxic smog that Megan tries to keep out of the apartment at the end of the episode, are shaping her perceptions.

The final song, Sweeping the Clouds Away, applies well to Megan and contrasts strongly to the rest of the characters. Throughout the episode, Megan works hard to fix problems, keep toxic emotions and pollution out of her home and relationships, and stay positive.

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