TV Recap: Mad Men “The Phantom”

Once again, Peggy speaks for us all: “Is that what it is, or is it something like that?”

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

He’s got Toothache – with a capital “T” and that rhymes with “P” and that stands for Phantom! And what are some things we can do with phantoms? We might see them…

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

and even talk to them.

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

We could be one

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

but mostly, we just chase after them

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

so that other people can call us foolish. The voice of bitter, heavily accented experience tells us “It’s a great sin to take advantage of hopeless people.” The stoically grieving widow agrees: “You had no right to fill a man like that with ambition.” But if ambition and hope are deadly phantoms then so is getting out of bed in the morning and hoping to live long enough for the coffee to finish brewing. Life is an illusion filled with symbols of illusion: Is that what it is, or is it something like that?

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

And Don called his tooth Adam, and also Dick and Megan. But not by any other woman’s name, because he strangled them all in his sleep in episode 4 – unless they have been reincarnated as lustful beasts

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

to mock Peggy, so far from Paris. And maybe the tooth has a tiny “©AMC” carved in its crown – it’s been known to happen.

Peggy’s phantom is still her career ambition, but this has no moral dimension broader than gender equality, and it seems to be leading her to this grotesque proclamation of false consciousness:

Maybe she will wrestle with this next season.

Pete Campbell cheats on his wife with a broken woman who is on the verge of disintegration. When he sees her again, in her ghostly nightgown, he doesn’t exist for her. He erases himself for a few minutes to be with her one last time. So they are both phantoms, which might be why it was such a moving scene. Pete’s wrath seeks a righteous target, but he is brought low, and compounds his disgrace until his face is good and scrambled.

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

(Trudy Campbell also has a phantom: a backyard pool where Pete can drown the baby.)

Another scene I liked was Don and Peggy encountering each other in the phantom light of a movie theater, but it’s bittersweet; Peggy hopes that she and Don can now be social friends, but that’s not necessarily going to happen.

The movie phantom idea pops up again when Don views Megan’s silent reel, and it’s a bit like someone watching home movies of a dead lover. Don seems to put to rest a few illusions he’s held about Megan, and is apparently ready to resume extramarital adventures. It almost looks like it’s a burden he’s doomed to bear, in that last scene in the bar. “You Only Live Twice” emphasizes how that’s a return to an old pattern, as does Roger’s repeat acid trip (if in fact that’s what we’re seeing).

Unfortunately it also points up how many of these bits feel like recycled leftovers, or alternative plot variations tabled midseason (“Howard should be the one who punches Pete, not Lane!”). There are too many static scenes, either due to uninspired directing (by Matt Weiner himself) and dialogue, or to actor pairings that don’t bring out the best in the more delicate talents. Jessica Paré, for example, is best with Jon Hamm and other sharp instruments; she’s flat in her scenes with her actress friends.

I think it shows how dreadful it would be to live in a universe of intelligent design – the limits of intelligence would inevitably be reached. No matter how beautifully and elegantly everything flowed together most of the time, there are going to be days when The Designer is a bit off his game and then we would feel beleaguered, like Old Testament prophets, by an all-too-human creator. Megan could have a satisfying career and marriage if not for the baleful attention of a god with Mommy issues. Don could be delivered from his unwanted and overly literal visions of the dead, but he might have to give up body parts. These wretched beings are denied the blessings of randomness, but maybe a few burnt offerings will get them back on track. The fool hath said in his heart:

(Image © HBO)

(Image © HBO)

I thought the later scenes were a lot stronger than the beginning, so I can keep that C+ in the drawer for another occasion. I’m not prepared to assign a grade to the entire season until I view the whole thing again; if Dr. Guerruckerberg wants to do so, he is more than welcome.

 

Mad Men, Episode 5:13 “The Phantom”: 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 fergusonarf@yahoo.com and apparently on the YouTube, somehow or other.