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TV Recap: Mad Men “Dark Shadows”

On the next episode of AMC’s Mad Men – Lane Pryce is a Soviet spy! Who had that one in the pool? Your bitcoin is in the mail. And when Megan’s actress friend accuses her of living at 73rd and Park, it reminds us that we are the kind of ultra-classy people who read the New York Times online until we exceed our free page views for the month, and thus we already know that the Drapers’ apartment building is in the white brick style that was popular after WWII (but was falling out of fashion by 1966). So let’s see…no, not that one…no, not…none of the buildings near that intersection fit the bill, and there’s nothing mid-block on 73rd. Oh! Here’s a possible up Park at 74th:

And the killer smog attack on Thanksgiving looked like this:

I guess I’ll have to discuss this episode now. I will probably agree with most commentators, when I can bring myself to read them, that it was a step down from a strong mid-season surge, although by now I am unapologetically indulgent towards Mad Men and its plangently flawed characters and can forgive their trespasses. There were certainly a lot of those on display this week, but the dark shadows were more like the muddy shallows that even the virtuous can bog down in. Apparently unrelated scenes are loosely tied up with a bit of end credits song and a hand-wave toward the episode title, like a film school assignment to write a placeholder spec script for Mad Men. The writing credit, however, belongs to Emmy winner Erin Levy (“Sit Down and Shut Up,” “Kamikaze Roger,” “Fat Betty,” and other beloved chapters).

Betty Draper Francis is first and last: Gluttony, Envy, Wrath. We find her weighing, measuring, and patiently chewing her diet dinner in a kitchen so dimly lit it must be symbolic – she wouldn’t be able to read the numbers on her portion scale! Betty’s now in a Weight Watchers group, where she’s encouraged toward rudimentary insights into her actions; not a major breakthrough, but it’s better than nothing, which is what she seems to have gained from her previous therapy attempts (dead hand, Season One; Sally masturbates, Season Three). Her weight gain (which is merely moderate, for the sake of these few remaining shreds of realism here in my hands) can no longer be blamed on a thyroid lesion, and her recovery is susceptible to the shock of seeing younger, thinner Megan in her underthings.

Although Betty meekly confesses to “a very trying experience” in the group meeting, and serenely counsels Henry that “it’s so easy to blame our problems on others, but really we’re in charge of ourselves,” it takes just one more provocation – the accidental discovery of a love note from Don to Megan – for her to revert to childish cruelty. Betty seizes a chance to put Megan in an awkward position with Sally, whose growing attachment to Megan is galling to Betty. This manipulation works on both Sally and Don, at least for a while, even though they’re the two characters who ought to know best what Betty’s capable of. Things get smoothed over on Park Avenue, Don explains to Sally a little bit about Anna Draper, and Sally’s smart enough to make sure her mother gets no joy from her sneak attack. We close on Betty swooning like a silent film star over a mouthful of Thanksgiving while Maurice Chevalier sings “if you want happiness, just help yourself to some.”

Don Draper’s t-shirt says “Envy + Pride.” The prospect of a New York Times Magazine feature on Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce provides an excuse for him to fan out recent examples of successful SCDP campaigns, to notice how nearly all of them were written by Michael Ginsberg, and to bask in Joan’s astutely timed praise of his creative supervision of “all this talent.” This carries a whiff of getting kicked upstairs, and after last week’s unwelcome brush with cultural irrelevance, Don is probably feeling about as hep as Bert Cooper. While working alone at the office on a weekend he snoops in Ginsberg’s work folder and finds ideas for their latest project, a Pepsi product called Sno Ball – compare the drawing in Ginsberg’s folder, left, with a vintage tin sign on eBay:

Ginsberg’s sketches are crude, punchy, and fun, arousing in Don a rare chuckle and a creative erection that climaxes in a dictaphone riff about a snowball’s chance in hell, which he carries into the meeting with Ginsberg, Peggy, and Stan. Peggy’s contribution is dead on arrival, and she seems to know it even as she’s presenting it. Does this mean Peggy doesn’t care about it, or that the writer didn’t care about Peggy because it’s not her episode? Oh my God – they Cosgroved Peggy!Ginsberg has a pretty good kid-oriented concept, but when Don says “that’s a way to go” we know that he’s itching to show off his Satan imitation. Ginsberg’s praise for Don’s idea is sincere, if carefully qualified, and it titillates Don’s vanity, a beast we’d rather not see on the loose. When the artwork is done for both ideas, the devil in Stan’s drawing has Don’s face. No, really, I guess I don’t mind that so much.

I still felt a twinge in my balls when Don left the boards for Ginsberg’s concept in the cab as they arrived at Pepsi. So even though we’re not shown the client pitch, when Don and Harry and Accounts return to SCDP to celebrate victory Ginsberg thinks it was his idea they bought, but we know better than he does, which isn’t quite fair. Angry Ginsberg corners Don in the elevator but gets no satisfaction:

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

Roger’s banner is “Envy, Pride, & Lust.” He wishes he could return to a time when Pete Campbell was an irritating underling he could publicly ridicule, but now that everybody has to acknowledge Pete’s role in SCDP’s success, Roger’s up for Bert’s much sneakier revenge: going behind everybody’s back to pitch to the Manischewitz wine people. Bert wants to deploy Roger’s soon-to-be-ex, Jane Siegel, at yet another of those double-date client dinners. Roger must wonder if Jane is Jewish enough to pull it off: “Fiddler on the Roof – audience or cast?” He needs ideas he can present as his own at dinner, so he bribes Ginsberg to come up with some. It seems Roger is now making an effort to remember the junior employees’ names, even if it’s just part of his campaign to regain his status. Just like when he opened his wallet to get Peggy to work through the weekend a few episodes back, he tells Ginsberg to keep it quiet.

After spinning the Wheel of Fortune, or for some other equally plausible reason, Ginsberg tells Peggy about Roger’s plan. She fumes – a “P” for Pride, both of you! – and goes after Roger in the goddamn elevator (if I worked there, I’d be afraid to go near the thing at this point) for his disloyalty in choosing Ginsberg instead of her. This confrontation, like some others this episode, seems rather contrived, but Roger’s always good for a zinger this season: “were we married?” At dinner with Julius and Ethel, Roger uncorks one of Ginsberg’s ideas, which is well received, but on top of what he’s already shelled out for this performance (he had to buy Janea whole apartment to get her to the table) he has to watch as the Rosenbergs’ son Bernie flirts with Jane. I have no idea how Bernie knows she’s available; if he heard it through some advertising grapevine, how come his parents aren’t also clued in? Or aren’t they?

It looks like their charade has been a success, so Jane and Roger christen her new apartment. She seems ready enough for it, I suppose out of gratitude, but in the morning she’s frowny because now the new place is tainted in some boring way, just like her old apartment that Roger paid for and really I can’t be bothered. I wouldn’t have minded this whole storyline if it was placed alongside more purposeful arcs, but at this point it’s just one more “I’m mad” – “No, I’m mad” and let’s get this wrapped up.

This week Pete’s passive role as the object of Roger’s envy is more interesting than when he’s the subject, as in the pointless, self-canceling New York Times subplot and his furry daydream of Beth Dawes. But we do get:

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

Megan’s acting skills are given what might look like a sinister spin this time, if you’re of a mind to squint at it that way, but compared to what the others are getting up to this time, the threat level is kind of pink. I like how Sally is such an apt pupil, not that we haven’t already seen plenty of evidence of a natural talent in that direction. Now she has both Betty and Megan as role models, I’m a little concerned about what she’s got in store for that nice Bishop boy. Oh, and yeah: What If Megan knows that Betty is watching her get dressed?

In a dark alley behind a whorehouse in Harlem, Lane strangles a kitten. (Footage Not Found)

Mad Men, Episode 5:9 “Dark Shadows”: B-

Allan Ferguson was born recently near Disneyland and has lived up and down the great state of California for all the years since. He is currently in La Mesa near San Diego where he practices graphic design and recreational atheism. He can be reached evenings and weekends at and apparently on the YouTube, somehow or other.