Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mad Men Episode 5-13: The Phantom

Recap: Don nurses a toothache and spends much of the episode denying that he needs help. After spotting a worker at the office who looks remarkably like his brother, Adam, and after his toothache gets worse, Don eventually sees a dentist. When the dentist administers the anesthesia, Don hallucinates that Adam is performing the tooth extraction and warns Don that the rottenness that needs extracting is not his tooth. Afterwards, the actual dentist tells Don that he could have lost his entire jaw because he waited so long to have it taken care of.

Joan confides to Don that SCDP finances are in good shape, partly because Lane was insured for $175,000 with the company as the beneficiary. In an effort to do the right thing, Don orders Joan to write a check to Rebecca Pryce in the amount of $50,000, which was the amount of funds Lane was to have been reimbursed by SCDP within six years. Delivering the check to Rebecca personally, Don makes appropriate comments, such as, “I’m truly sorry for your loss,” but Rebecca is bitter and rejects his well-wishes. Instead, she accuses him of trying to make himself feel better and adds, “You had no right to fill a man like that with ambition.” 
Joan is in charge of potentially renting the floor above SCDP for the company to expand their offices. Rumors abound, and Harry confronts Joan about the rumors and requests a better office. Although Joan refuses to confirm the rumor to Harry, she brings the issue up at an executive board meeting, where everyone present is eager to expand their space. Realizing that Lane would have voiced objections to the expansion, Joan brings up a few objections in his place. Later, still thinking about Lane, she expresses regret to Don that she didn’t go ahead and give Lane “what he wanted” – a sexual relationship. Finally, she takes the SCDP execs upstairs to view the new space, and they all stand gazing outward, as if enchanted by the dream of expansion, or the dream of what wonderful things this new space could provide for them.
Seeking a temporary escape, Don goes to a movie and runs into Peggy, who is there alone “knocking off the cobwebs; someone told me it works.” Earlier, Peggy is told by her boss, Ted, to start smoking and then let him know, as a woman who smokes, what she wants – which may be why she needs to clear her head. Peggy and Don sit together to watch the movie after Don voices his mixed feelings toward her with, “I’m proud of you. I just didn’t know you’d do it without me.”
Back at SCDP, Mike and Stan give a presentation to the Topaz pantyhose executive. However, they use the terminology not cheap, which the client rejects. “We’re supposed to be part of a fantasy,” says the client. “A girl doesn’t think of cheap as a fantasy.” Don argues with the client that “not cheap” negates the concept of “cheap,” but the client disagrees.
Discouraged in her pursuit of acting roles, Megan lets Marie read a rejection letter she has received from a company that they decide is in the business of selling acting classes. Instead of encouraging Megan to try again, Marie suggests that Megan doesn’t have enough talent for an acting career, thus throwing her into serious self-doubt. Later, Megan learns from Emily, a friend from her acting class, that SCDP will be seeking an actress for a Beauty and the Beast ad campaign. Emily asks Megan to get her name and audition tape into consideration. Megan warns Emily that she can’t really help but she will try.  Emily kisses Megan and promises to be her “eternal slave” in return for the favor. Later, we see Megan asking Don for a chance of her own at the Beauty and the Beast part, with Don warning that she should try to succeed on her own, not because he helps her. Megan has a drunken melt-down at home, and when Don walks in to find her drunk, depressed, accusatory, and insulting, he advises her to sleep it off. Just then, Marie walks in and Don accuses Marie of not taking care of Megan. Marie retorts that taking care of Megan is his job, not hers.
In addition to trying to “help” Megan realize she’s not cut out to be an actress, and to “advise” Don that it is his role to care for his wife, Marie later “takes care” of Megan by telling her to “stop feeling sorry for yourself” and ends with, “You are an ungrateful little bitch.” Roger, however, finds Marie interesting and calls the Draper residence repeatedly, trying to reach her directly. Whenever Megan answers his calls, he hangs up on her. Finally, Don answers the phone and Roger, pretending to be Emil, is able to ask for Marie. Roger asks Marie to meet him at a hotel for dinner, but when Marie arrives, Roger immediately moves in for sex. However, he also lets her know that he wants to have a closer relationship and to take LSD with her. Marie just wants to have sex, and ultimately Roger decides to take LSD by himself after she leaves.
Pete’s experience in this episode is particularly dramatic. He first meets up with Howard and Beth on the commuter train, and when Pete asks where Beth is going, Beth urges Howard to move to the smoking car with her. At the office, Pete gets a phone call from Beth, who asks him to meet her for sex. Bitter and resentful because she refused his proposition in the past, Pete refuses until she offers him another puzzle piece to her life story: she is being hospitalized for electroshock therapy because of a suicide attempt, and this is not the first time; therefore, in the near future she might not remember who he is. Pete decides to meet her and they share an intimate afternoon, both seeming happy together, with Pete pulling her back to his embrace multiple times as she tries to leave. Beth realizes that they don’t really know each other, whereas Pete thinks they have something special together. 
At home, Pete observes and listens to Trudy’s plans to have a pool built in their back yard. Pete worries that Tammy might drown, and Trudy reacts by scolding him for his “doom and gloom” demeanor.
After Beth’s shock therapy, Pete goes to the hospital to visit her, claiming to be her brother so that he can be allowed in her room. Beth talks with him politely, but doesn’t appear to know who he is, so Pete pretends that he came to the wrong room. Still, Beth urges him to continue the conversation and listens to Pete talk about himself as if he were his “friend,” the one he supposedly came to visit. Later, Pete encounters Howard on the train and Howard invites Pete to get into trouble together, advising him to pretend to Trudy that he fell asleep on the train. Incensed, Pete says, “You just couldn’t wait to get her in the hospital to erase her brain!”
“So it’s you!” Howard yells. A fist fight ensues, and when the conductor and other bystanders pull the two apart, the conductor says he’s not surprised that Howard left his stuff at the bar. Next, he advises Pete to wait a moment and then go over and apologize to Howard, since they both ride the same train regularly. When Pete refuses and insults the conductor, the conductor punches Pete and forces him to get his things and get off the train at the next stop.
Pete sports a black eye and injuries to his face as he comes home to Trudy, who is feeding baby Tammy. Pete explains away his injuries by claiming he drove the car into a ditch, and Trudy, fully trusting him, reverses her earlier decision and assures Pete that they will go looking for an apartment for him in Manhattan so that he will no longer have to suffer from the long ride home at night. Ironically, Pete’s reason for wanting the Manhattan apartment was to have a relationship with Beth, and she no longer recognizes him.
Finally, Don takes the time to review Megan’s audition tape and she ends up getting the Beauty and the Beast role. After he sees her in costume on the little stage, he walks off the set in a detached mood and wanders away to a bar he frequented in the old days. There he sits, staring off with a drink in hand and looking a bit depressed. An attractive young woman asks him for a light and then mentions that her girlfriend at the end of the bar wonders whether he’s alone.
Lonesome? Obviously. But alone? We’ll have to wait until next season to witness whether, and in what ways, Don decides to reposition himself as “alone” to these or other women. New sexual adventures may happen again, but given that Season 5 has been full of surprising twists and turns, and given the amount of expanded awareness and growth through personal challenge that Don has experienced this season, I wouldn’t take it for granted that he simply reverts to the “old Don.” Moreover, I expect Don to continue to feel the reverberations of his hallucination of Adam and his feelings about both Adam and Lane’s suicides as he once again reinvents himself in Season 6.

As suggested by the title, a major theme of this episode is phantoms, as in ghosts or apparitions, unlikely fantasies, and misguided dreams.

·         Don spots a temporary employee at work who looks remarkably like his late brother, Adam; he calls out “Adam?” but the employee doesn’t respond. This man serves as a phantom in Don’s imagination.

·         While under anesthesia at the dentist’s office, Don dreams or hallucinates that his dentist is his brother, Adam, complete with the rope burn from his hanging; in Don’s hallucination, Adam warns Don that it isn’t really his tooth that’s rotten – challenging Don to sort out his past missteps and change his ways.

·         Don takes a good look at Megan in her audition tape and in her Beauty and the Beast costume onstage and realizes that, to him, she has been a fantasy or phantom image, and that the real Megan is not as easy to love.

·         Pete holds a romanticized fantasy image of Beth that inspires his passion; however, as Beth realizes before her shock treatment when Pete pays her a visit at the hospital, they really don’t know each other. Pete’s phantom image of their love falls apart after she suddenly doesn’t recognize him.

·         Beth tells Pete of her fantasy of the dark cloud that hangs over her following treatment, and of the appearance in her imagination of a door that she wants to pass through, presumably to die.

·         Pete makes up a phantom friend in an effort to excuse himself from Beth’s hospital room. When she asks him to stay and talk to her, he tells her about himself as if he were that phantom friend.

·         Pete tells Beth that his “friend” got sick from the complications of a love relationship and experienced a broken heart when the relationship went away; moreover, his “friend” then recognized a broader problem: that his family life was like some “temporary bandage on a permanent wound” – in other words, his family suddenly looks to Pete like an illusory, phantom solution to a deeper pain.

·         Beth advises Pete about his “friend,” “Don’t worry. They’ll fix him up here. They’re very good.” This shows that she believes in the fantasy that electroshock therapy makes everything fine again, even though she’s been treated repeatedly and her “blues” eventually return.

·         Trudy sees in Pete her fantasy of a loving husband that she feels close to, and she loves him for the man she fantasizes him to be.

·         On the train, Pete announces that he’s “the president of the Howdy Doody Circus Army,” as if the conductor’s title and credentials were equally ridiculous; with a smugly superior attitude, Pete reveals his far-fetched fantasy that, as a tax payer, he, not the conductor, should be in charge of who rides the train.

·         During the SCDP board meeting, Joan feels the presence of the ghost of Lane in his empty chair and gives voice to the objections she thinks he would mention regarding the office space expansion.

·         Megan chases the dream of being a working actress, which Marie warns is just a phantom dream.

·         Roger acts as a phantom caller when calling the Draper residence and hanging up all day long, until he finally hears Don’s voice and manages to get through to Marie.

·         By refusing to see a dentist, Don treats his “hot tooth” as a phantom toothache until he can no longer hang on to the fantasy that all problems eventually go away on their own.

·         Megan and her acting friends, Emily and Julia, share fantasy friendships; in reality, they are all out to compete for acting parts and will lie to each other about how good they are and how they will try to help each other.

·         Rebecca Pryce tells Don he only wants to help himself by his words of condolence and his $50,000 check to her, as if his gesture came out of a phantom belief that he cares about her at all. She also accuses Don of unfairly putting phantom ambition into Lane’s head.

·         Rebecca shows Don the photograph of a young woman that she found in Lane’s billfold and asks Don who it is. Ironically, this is the picture of a young woman who Lane dreamed of meeting but never did meet – a love phantom.

A related set of themes is the driving force of dreams and how different people behave when chasing dreams as well as when they have to give up their dreams. The lyrics to the final song, You Only Live Twice, begin: “You only live twice or so it seems/One life for yourself and one for your dreams.” Each character’s dream life drives his or her behavior to a large extent.

·         Megan promises to help her friend Emily get an acting role, and then forgets about her and tries for the role herself because of the pull of her own dreams. Her desire to be an actress drives her to use Don to get where she wants to go, even though this makes Don very uncomfortable.

·         SCDP execs chase the dream of expanding their offices, sparked by the dream of being more important big shots in their company and/or their industry.

·         The Topaz Pantyhose client understands that good advertising is based on creating desirable fantasies when he explains to the SCDP Creative group, “We’re supposed to be part of a fantasy; a girl doesn’t think of cheap as a fantasy.”

·         Roger chases the dream of understanding reality, or perhaps finding meaning in life, by doing LSD; so far, this hasn’t hurt anyone else and has helped him break up his fa├žade of a marriage to Jane; in this episode, he is willing to take LSD alone and literally stand naked before the world, showing how far he will go to pursue this new dream of his.

·         Pete chases the dream of being handsome, loved, and admired by turning to Beth, a woman who barely knows him, thus betraying his wife and threatening the stability of his family.

·         Marie, whose dream of marital happiness with Emil went up in smoke long ago, does her best to destroy Megan’s acting dreams, perhaps as a result of jealousy. Marie’s scaled-down dreams now involve having sexual flings and maintaining her family relationships, without having to take care of anyone on either front.

·         Trudy, who has been pursuing her dreams of love, family, and life in the suburbs, has learned how to push Pete around to get what she wants; in the process, she has marginalized Pete’s dream of raising the family in Manhattan, and probably any other dream of his that conflicts with hers. Her self-focused pushes, combined with Pete’s acquiescent approach, will probably cause their marital dream to crumble sooner or later, although for now Trudy seems to believe she is living her dreams.

·         Rebecca’s dreams of love and a happy family, however out of touch with reality, were suddenly brought crashing down when Lane committed suicide; gone is her marriage to a man she thought she knew, and gone is his income, to which she has become accustomed. With the death of Lane, her dreams died. Consequently, she is now bitter and resentful even to those who attempt to offer her help, and like Marie, she seems to gain a sense of power in trying to make others feel as bad as she does.

·         Peggy’s main dream has been to build a solid career for herself and to find a love relationship with a man who respects her; in addition, she always dreamed of being mentored by Don (whether this was a figment of her imagination or an occasional reality); Don stokes the mentoring dream at the movie theater by telling her he’s proud of her success. Peggy, for the most part, is living her dreams in a way that doesn’t seem to hurt others.

·         Harry’s dream in this episode is to get a better office, one with a window and without a column in it. He pursues this dream by approaching Joan based on office rumors that SCDP plans to expand. As a result, he annoys Joan but may still get what he wants. Like Peggy, Harry is working toward living his dreams by setting achievable goals.

·         Beth’s scaled-back dream, after whatever big dreams died long ago, seems to be to feel better at any given moment; she pursues this by using Pete (and possibly others) for a false sense of intimacy at times, and also by getting electroshock therapy, which helps her feel good for a few months at a time.

·         Roger alludes to Lane’s suicide and speculates that, to commit suicide, you’d have to be sure you’re going to someplace better. Roger cannot trust what he considers phantom notions about the afterlife, but his dream is to access something real, perhaps some insight into life after death, through another LSD trip. He is hungry to get past the fantasies and illusions of love and be truly real – at least in small doses. Although Marie declines the invitation to take a trip with him, Roger decides to do LSD by himself.

·         Don’s dream of being a faithful husband and having a strong marriage with Megan begins to crumble as he gives up his fantasy of her and steps away from the “drama” in which she lives; as the season ends, he goes to a bar to try to nurse his disappointment with a drink and probably to reconnect with some of his old dreams, which in the future might put his marital dream in jeopardy.

A final set of themes is people having “the blues” and people denying their inner pain.

·         Don remains in denial of his toothache for quite a while because he believes that if you ignore something bad, it will go away; during his tooth extraction, he realizes that the toothache represents a much deeper problem, giving him “the blues.”

·         Joan still feels very “blue” about the loss of Lane.

·         Pete sees that his family life is like “a temporary bandage on a permanent wound” but has remained in denial of this fact for years, always trying to be a good husband and play by the rules (sometimes the girls’ rules, sometimes the boys’ rules); Pete ends this season deep into “the blues.”

·         Beth talks of having “the blues” so badly that she thinks of ending her life; she goes into denial through electroshock therapy, which she tells herself will “fix” her.

·         Marie seems mildly depressed due to her many years of a bad marriage, and she seems to live in denial of her unhappiness by acting cold and critical of others, having sexual flings without personal commitment, and handing out advice to others ask if she is far beyond them.

·         Rebecca is stunningly “blue,” but instead of expressing her pain honestly when Don expresses his condolences, she tries to make him feel responsible. Although she can’t deny her painful “blues,” she seems to deny the full force of her pain by trying to dump some of it onto Don.

·         Megan experiences “the blues” when she doubts her talent as an actress, gets drunk to drown out the pain to some extent, and lashes out at Don in an effort to dump some of her bad feelings onto him.

·         At the end of the episode, Don covers up his “blues” that come from his disappointment about Megan through drinking alcohol. The question remains: Will he also revert to his old habit of chasing women as another “temporary bandage” on his “permanent wound”?

Bye-bye, Mad Men. See you next year!

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