Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Mad Men Season 5, Episode 9 Recap: Dark Shadows

Poor Betty Draper Francis.  She's feeling not herself these days.  The lithe beauty has packed on some extra pounds and she finds the world harder to navigate when you're not beautiful and desired.  She has to count every calorie and every bite hoping to reclaim what she once had.  Hoping to look into a mirror and see the old Betty looking back at her.  The husband who once doted on her now snipes at her in frustration. This is hard enough to handle by itself, but when she has to come face to face with the newer, younger and decidedly more svelte Megan Draper, well, it's simply too much,

But Betty is not the only one feeling envy towards the younger version of themselves.  Don, who we've seen feeling his age this season, is looking at Michael Ginsberg not as a shining beacon of unbridled talent but an existential threat.  He looks at Ginsberg's portfolio for an upcoming pitch with, at first, amusement, and then, something else.  Ginsberg's ideas are hip and new and Don worries he can't keep up. His internal monologue is echoed in the conversation between Bert Cooper and Roger Sterling about pitching a new client without the help of wunderkind Pete Campbell.  It is no coincidence that the term "generation gap" was coined during this time, it's alive and well and dividing everyone this episode.

Ginsberg does not help Don's feelings of impeding obsolescence at the Sno Ball pitch meeting.  Peggy comes up with a Peggy idea - smart, visual but not earth-shattering.  Ginsberg then pitches his puerile enjoyment of a snow ball being thrown at the face of some authority figure (though in his litany of nemeses he omits one that Don saw in his drawings the night before - Adolph Hitler).  Then Don shares his idea of the Devil sipping on a Sno Ball.  Ginsberg likes the idea.  But it's how he conveys his appreciation that is the problem.  He is pleasantly surprised that Don, after not being able to write, has suddenly found his mojo.  It's the "old guy's still got it" reaction that undercuts the compliment.  And Don does not want to be reminded of his creative dry spell or the fact that it was assumed his best days were behind him.

Megan has her demons as well.  Being young and beautiful is not protection against feeling inadequate.  She wants to be taken seriously as an actress, but from her penthouse of comfort she feels like a fraud.  She's envious of her fellow actress whom she is helping practice for her audition.  And she's resentful that she is thought of as a dilettante who is dipping her pedicured toe in the acting pool while "real" actresses are pounding the pavement to get work just to keep a roof over their heads.  So Betty is envious of Megan with her perfectly flat tummy and stylish midtown apartment and the young actress is envious of Megan with her financial comfort and stylish midtown apartment.  Yet somehow Megan feels like the victim because no one sees how hard it is for her.

Over at Sterling Draper, Roger wrangles Ginsberg in on a secret plan to be his Cyrano de Bergerac in an upcoming pitch for the Manischewitz brand. This, not coincidentally, puts goyish Roger in the role of Christian de Neuvillette, the one who fears he's not clever enough to woo the coveted Roxane.  Ginsberg worries that Don (you know Don - tall guy, short temper) will find out that he's working behind his back, but Roger allays his fears.  Anyway, this plan is to stick it to Pete Campbell, not Don.  With Ginsberg's palm sufficiently greased, he agrees to help Roger secure the new client with a young, hip pitch. To further show just how important landing a client is to Roger, he calls his ex-wife and agrees to get her a new apartment if she agrees to be the Jewish arm candy he need to impress the Manischewitz people.  

In a late night kitchen scene, Betty shows her best self when she offers unconditional support to Henry as he deals with pangs of doubt and dismay about his professional future.  But the next morning, triggered by seeing a love note Don had written to Megan, she turns spiteful and petty.  While Sally is working on her family tree, Betty offers up that she should make sure to include Don's first wife, Anna.  Hell hath no fury like a woman who's jealous of her ex's leggy new wife.  Betty doesn't care if she confuses Sally or damages her relationship with her father.  Betty was hurt, so Betty struck back.

Back at the office, Don presents the two prospective Sno Ball pitches to the account managers Pete and Ken Cosgrove.  Both pitches go well, but Pete shows a distinct preference for the one Ginsberg came up with.  While the younger creative barely suppresses his pride and pleasure, you can see even Peggy knows that Don will take this as a blow.  His idea wasn't young enough, fun enough, funny enough. He doesn't hear the soothing words Joan gave him earlier that week:  "look at all the great work you've done as creative director.  Look at all these voices, all this talent."  Instead what he hears is Don, the king of creative, is dead.  Long live the new king.

Not reading the room is Michael Ginsberg's specialty.  After Don leaves, he decides to quote from Shelley's Ozymandias: "Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!" He crowns himself king of kings, and ignores that the king's own words are perched upon a pedestal surrounded by decay and desolation.

The bomb Betty planted at the kitchen table finally detonates when Sally is visiting her dad and Megan.  Once her father leaves with her brothers, Sally turns on Megan with self-righteous resentment and hostility.  How could she not tell her about Anna?  Weren't they supposed to be friends? What other secrets is she keeping?  And the coup de grace, are you going to make yourself cry?  Megan gives Sally a watered down, child sized version of the truth then tells Don once he gets home.  Now Don has not been having the best of days and this sets him over the edge.  He's on the verge of calling Betty and tearing into her, but Megan wisely stops him.  Disrupting their marriage is exactly what Betty wanted.  She's done her damage, don't let her enjoy it as well.  Instead he calmly explains the past to Sally and, afterwards, Sally sees Betty's "help" for what it was.  And Sally's trust in her mother is the collateral damage.

Don readies to go into the Sno Ball pitch, armed with the two pitches.  But at the last minute he ditches Ginsberg's, leaving it behind in the cab and going just with his idea.  Luckily for him, the client loves it and the sale is made.  But at what cost?  He didn't really win and he's basically conceded that Ginsberg's idea was better.  He's shown himself to be insecure, conniving, and petulant and he took the wind out of an enthusiastic creative talent.

Roger's client dinner with the Manischewitz people goes well.  They find him charming and affable and love the idea (courtesy of Ginsberg) he pitches.  Jane, with her Jewish bona fides, is a great companion to help the Rosenbergs feel comfortable going with a non-Jewish ad agency.  Everything goes swimmingly until the young, handsome son comes to join the dinner and takes an immediate shine to his age-mate Jane.  They look like a beautiful couple and Roger can't stand it.  He and Jane may be divorced, she may have no interest in being with him, but he can't face that reality.  Like Betty, like Don, he's not willing to be put out to pasture.  To be told he's too old, obsolete, not the newer popular model.  He has to be desired.

He asks himself up to Jane's place after the dinner and then makes his move.  She says no, briefly, then relents.  But the next morning, she is overcome with regret.  She wanted him out of her life and she wanted a place that was free of him.  This new apartment is now the same as the old one, just a reminder that she was bought and paid for by a man she doesn't love.  He sees it, finally, but too late.  He was pushing for something that wasn't there and pretending doesn't make it so.

Don comes in to work after the Sno Ball success ready to ride in on a wave of euphoria.  But not everyone is feeling giddy about the successful pitch.  Ginsberg lets Don know that despite the fact that he's the boss, what he did was cowardly and stupid.  He tanked the better pitch because he was afraid it would be picked and Don would no longer be the big cheese.  Ginsberg is remarkably frank, telling his boss that he feels sorry for him.  And in on of the series most memorable moments to date, Don shoots him down with an icy: "I don't think about you at all:"  But that's a lie.  We know it and Ginsberg knows it.  Don hears the footsteps, he feels the breath on the back of his neck. Ginsberg (youth) is coming up behind him and he will soon be overtaken.

The final two, brief, scenes contrast the Draper Thanksgiving with the Francis one.  Megan prepares dinner in their upscale downtown apartment where the windows have to be kept shut to keep out the toxic air and champagne is needed to celebrate her actress friend's success.  Betty and her family sit around the table, sharing that for which each are thankful.  And Betty doesn't lie.  She's thankful that she has everything and nobody has more.  That is Betty Draper Francis in a nutshell.  


The TV show for which Megan's actress friend was auditioning was Dark Shadows, a spooky, atmospheric soap opera that first aired in 1966.  It was sexy and foreboding, mixing the supernatural with the salacious.  Megan may have thought it a "piece of crap" but it aired for five years.

You can buy the original Weight Watchers cookbook from 1966 on Amazon by clicking here.  No, I didn't call you fat.  You look great and don't need the book at all.  I was just providing some background info.  The book was written by Jean Nidetch, co-founder of Weight Watchers.  According to Wikipedia: An overweight housewife with a self-confessed obsession for eating cookies, Nidetch had experimented with numerous fad diets before she followed a regimen prescribed by a diet clinic sponsored by the New York City Board of Health in 1961. After losing 20 pounds (9.07 kg), and finding her resolve weakening, she contacted several overweight friends and founded a support group which developed into weekly classes, and incorporated on May 15, 1963 into the Weight Watchers organization.  

Pete is visited by Beth, who seems to have misplaced her clothes.  Luckily she has a huge mink coat and it's decades before protesters would rip it off her or throw paint on it.  The smug, self-satisfied look on Pete's face tells us that his protestations that she shouldn't be there turned into a quick thanks for coming.  Later, when he shares a train ride with Beth's husband and hears him complaining about having to leave his mistress behind to be stuck in the country with his wife, Pete can't take it.  He resents Howard, but we're not sure it's for not appreciating his wife or for getting to have it all,

Henry questions his decision to leave Nelson Rockefeller to join with John Lindsay.  He's at a bit of a crossroads and with the country in flux (with turmoil right around the country) it's hard to choose which horse to back.  As it turns out, Rockefeller would have been the better choice.  He held the governorship for four straight terms and then was appointed vice president by Gerald Ford in 1974.  Lindsay was successful in his 1966 run for mayor and served two terms, but that marked the pinnacle of his political career.  Interestingly, neither would be a Republican today.  Rocky was too moderate and Lindsay actually switched parties in the early 70s.

Betty doesn't think that Rockefeller can run for governor now that he's divorced and in the past that would have been a problem.  But Henry was right, times were changing.  You can be divorced and even be president (see, Ronald Reagan).

Bert forgets that Roger is divorced from Jane!  Well, Roger conveniently seems to forget that too.

Would an episode be complete without Harry Crane complaining about not being made a partner?


Pete:  I spent an hour and a half on the phone last night with my new best friend Victor at the New York Times.
Roger: Gonna get a paper route?

Roger:  How Jewish are they? You know, Fiddler on the Roof, audience or cast?

Michael:  I like the connect the dots.  What's it end up being?

Roger: Michael, can you keep a secret?
Ginsberg: Nope.
Roger:  I need you to do some work for me on a prospective account.  It will involve a client dinner.
Ginsberg: And murder.

Roger:  Well, Michael, when a man hates another man very, very much, sometimes he wants to know that something is his, even if in the end he has to give it up.

Betty:  It's so easy to blame our problems on others, but really we're in charge of ourselves.  And I'm here to help you, as you're here to help me.  We'II figure out what's next.

Jane: Stop telling me things I said that night.  Like I know I didn't promise to remarry right away just to save you alimony.

Ginsberg: "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair."
Stan:  You should read the rest of that poem, you boob.

Don: Don't wake me up and throw your failures in my face.

Ginsberg:  I feel bad for you.
Don:  I don't think about you at all.

Spoiler-y Observations.  Don't read until you've watched the whole series!

Megan mocks the script for Dark Shadows then goes on to become a regular on an even cheesier soap opera.

Don will eventually tell Sally even more about his past, including taking her a trip to his childhood home.  Sally will go through many phases of a complicated relationship with her mother, but at the end she is by her side.

Ginsberg again show signs of some slightly questionable behavior - he confronts Don, he fails to keep quiet about his deal with Roger.  But nothing to hint at what's to become of him.

Henry ultimately decides to run for office himself which, with his even-tempered nature and political experience, seems like a good bet.

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