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MAD MEN RECAP 12: THE PHANTOM

Television
by Deborah Lipp
June 11, 2012 1:38 AM
31 Comments
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Most nights I watch Mad Men on my living room couch with a computer in my lap. Tonight I watched at a terrific New York City bar, at the Basket of Kisses Season Finale Party, sitting next to Rich Sommer. It was a fantastic experience: Cheers, applause, shock—there's truly nothing like sharing the show with a large, respectful, enthusiastic audience. Respectful, because they're quiet enough that no dialogue is missed, but enthusiastic enough to burst into cheers when Pete gets punched out, and then punched out again—at which point I said, "Joan was right—everybody does want to take a pop at Pete Campbell." Watch the clip:

When Don was watching Megan's screen test, I whispered to Rich, "Do you need to leave the room crying?" Obviously, that scene was meant to remind us of Don's famous "Carousel" speech in the Season 1 finale, The Wheel, in which Don looks with love and longing at a slideshow of his family, including his then-wife Betty. Now he looks at his second wife, and his longing and love are again visible.

This episode was filled with doubles and references, doublings back and reboots. Just as the screen test revisits the slideshow from the Season 1 finale, the meeting with Topaz Pantyhose revisits the finale of Season 4, Tomorrowland. In that episode, Peggy won the Topaz account, saving the then-desperate SCDP. Now, SCDP is in great shape, but they might lose Topaz because Peggy is no longer there. "We've never had problems with this client before," Ginsberg says, but they have to start from scratch. Ginsberg is also a double—for Peggy. He is Don's new whipping boy/protégé and junior genius.

Adam Whitman is a revisit, a "phantom" from the title, and Lane's suicide by hanging is the second such suicide of the series. Adam did it first, in Season 1, and Don is haunted by the memory. Phantoms are not just the ghosts of the dead, of course. As Megan's mother, Marie, so cruelly notes, they are the ghosts of our dreams as well. We believe there is a thing that will make us happy, but it is a phantom. When we grasp for it, it eludes us, as Beth eludes Pete. Pete's monologue to Beth is itself haunting, and too beautiful to leave unwatched:

There are three interwoven motifs in The Phantom, that of depression, that of restarting, and that of doubling. Obviously they connect to each other; Beth's cure for depression is a restart, a literal wiping out of her memories so she can start fresh without knowing what caused her pain last time, while Roger's cure for it (or for the fear it will come) is a doubling: He wants to do LSD a second time. Megan drinks wine at home during the day like Betty did, and Rebecca's remarkable, angry slap-down of Don and his check reminded me (and my sister) of Anna Draper's sister in Season 4, who called Don "just a man in a room with a check." Neither woman felt like Don's money gave him any right to access a family's private grief.

I pretty much told everyone that Matt Weiner inserted the James Bond references as a personal gift to me. That may not be accurate (it's fun to say, though), but we share our love of 007. There were two James Bond references in The Phantom--the movie Don and Peggy are seeing is Casino Royale (the comedy starring David Niven). 1967 was a year with two Bond movies, which kind of doubles down on the double identity theme. The second reference is the closing song: You Only Live Twice (considered by many to be the greatest Bond melody), which references doubling not only in the name but in the theme, which addresses rebirth after a faked death (Dick Whitman, anyone?).

So, everything reverts, returns, and wipes out. Everyone is in shock therapy. Partly, there's a lot of real human grief here. Roger wants to see Marie so he can find life again after death came so close. Don wants to give something to Rebecca that will make him feel some closure. Pete sees death everywhere he looks, and even though he verbally rejects suicide, the swimming pool he wanted suddenly looks like a drowning pool. Joan wants to know why, and, after prostituting herself to become a partner, she finds a way to believe she should have done so for Lane. Joan struggles in two ways to find value after what happened to Lane and to her: First, by proving herself as a partner, from her mannish suit to her assiduous assessment of numbers, and second, by believing, nonetheless, that her only value is sexual. The only way to have saved Lane, she thinks, would have been to sleep with him. Poor Joanie!

An awesome crew of two was at our Finale Party, filming people naming their favorite quotes and characters, as part of the DVD extras for Season 5. I had to say, much to my own surprise, that Joan Harris is my favorite. Her extraordinary vulnerability and need to please sits in such strange and beautiful contrast to her competence and brains. I never thought, in Season 1, that I would come to love her so.

So, tonight was a beautiful experience for me. An excellent episode, an exciting party among a hundred or more excited fans, and a whirlwind of emotions to chronicle. It was not, I have to say, exactly conducive to writing a careful episode review, since I took no notes and started writing a good forty minutes later than usual. I hope you'll forgive a slightly choppy review in exchange for sharing some of that experience with you. Tonight is also the wrap-up of my first season of writing for Press Play. It's been exhausting and gratifying, and I hope I'll be able to continue my contributions about Mad Men and possibly other media.

Some additional thoughts:

  • I had a dentist in the spire of the Chrysler Building, this is the truth, my hand to God.
  • Please don't ask me about two dogs fucking. I have no idea.
  • John Slattery has a much nicer ass than I would have anticipated. Also, I never imagined I'd have the chance to write that sentence.
  • Quote of the week is tough without my usual meticulous note-taking, so I'll go with "What is Regina?" because it's funny and a little smutty and I remember it (thanks again, Roger Sterling, who wins this and every season with the most quotes of the week).

Deborah Lipp is the co-owner of Basket of Kisses, whose motto is "smart discussion about smart television." She is the author of six books, including "The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book."

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31 Comments

  • DH | June 13, 2012 5:24 AMReply

    Technically the memory loss with shock treatment is a side-effect. It works by triggering convulsions: the exact mechanism by which this relieves depression is unknown. In the book You Only Live Twice the title refers to a Haiku Bond writes to the effect that one only really lives twice: when one is born and when one cheats death.

  • Deborah Lipp | June 13, 2012 10:12 AM

    The book & movie of You Only Live Twice have almost nothing in common besides the title, the Japanese setting, and a few character names. Since this episode was set in 1967 and uses music from the film, I used the film and not the book as my reference point.

  • Ben Feldman in new movie | June 12, 2012 12:08 PMReply

    Ben Feldman stars in a new film, the first filmed in the air by
    Virgin Airlines. You can see the trailer on Virgin.com

  • DH | June 13, 2012 10:12 PM

    "...I used the book and not the film as my reference point...."
    I assumed as much and should have made that clear.

  • Adam | June 12, 2012 5:18 AMReply

    The ending reminded me of the ending of 'Shame'.

    Also, I'm surprised no one has mentioned Pete's line directed at the train conductor - I don't remember it exactly, but it was something like, "...and I'm the captain of the howdy-doody circus!" This was easily my favourite quote of the episode, and possibly of the season.

  • Tilden Katz | June 11, 2012 10:01 PMReply

    Great review - I had not considered "doubling" as a leitmotif, but enough others have noted it that I am willing to concede the point. I don't buy the Megan screen test as a 'double' of the Carousel pitch though. My recap is here:

    http://scarylawyerguy.blogspot.com/2012/06/mad-men-season-five-finale-are-you.html

  • howard | June 11, 2012 8:05 PMReply

    Did I miss something, but the math from the life insurance payment didn't add: 150K benefit, 50K to pay off the loan and 50K to Lane's wife. Where's the other 50K?

  • John | June 11, 2012 7:11 PMReply

    Here is my theory on the two dogs fucking:

    Mad Men has always shown the advertising world (and home worlds, for that matter) to be an extremely sexual place (understatement of the century, I know), in essence the people are "fucking like dogs." Peggy is an obviously outlier in the character bank. At the end of this season, we see her moving in fantastic directions new agency, making more money than she thought possible, in an office of her own, &c. All of her advances were made without climbing the other males in the office. (Yes, I remember Pete but I would argue it did nothing to her advancement.) So, the window scene is physically showing that Peggy is separate from the norm. The window, thus, represents an "invisible" wall that separates her from the rest of the pack. You go Peggy!

  • John | October 12, 2012 1:28 AM

    Abby,
    Why could our theories not work together? The scene could be two fold and both theories dovetail nicely.

  • Abby | June 14, 2012 3:28 PM

    My theory on the dogs was much simpler: Matt Wiener was trying to think of what scene outside a motel window could be the diametric opposite of seeing the Eiffel Tower and the Paris skyline outside a hotel window. Ergo - two dogs fucking in a seedy parking lot. Just a visual joke.

  • Sean | June 13, 2012 10:46 PM

    What an excellent post. What about the surroundings though? Peggy is in a cheap motel room, a far cry from the luxury suites we see the other characters staying in for their business travel. Also, she's alone. Does this suggest she has taken the road less traveled but that choice has come with consequences? I'm not sure John on this one. Thoughts?

  • Another Guest | June 11, 2012 4:16 PMReply

    "John Slattery has a much nicer ass than I would have anticipated. Also, I never imagined I'd have the chance to write that sentence."

    When he played the politician on "Sex & the City"? and Carrie's friend Stanford said he could deliver the gay vote, Slattery's character said he already had the gay vote because "Have you seen my ass?" :-)

  • Another Guest | June 11, 2012 4:17 PM

    Whoops, I meant to edit out the question mark after "Sex & the City."

  • GiveMeDownton | June 11, 2012 1:00 PMReply

    Hate to say it, but somebody has to: if I were a MM newbie, if this were my first season, I'd be wondering, "What's the big deal here?" Not sure I'd even bother with "07 - '10" catching up. Seriously, folks, Weiner took a wrong turn with this out-of-phase season. My response to Finale Sunday was consistent with just about all of the 2012 offerings: I just don't get it.

  • Love ya, Joan! | June 11, 2012 11:26 AMReply

    A downer and let-down for me. I never felt in the groove with this episode and that it ended the season, well.

    I think some of it is that I don't like Megan or the actress who plays her. And now Don has a second pouty wife. I had hopes - give her actual talent at SCDP - that she might end up being the pretty but smart cookie. And that she takes her friend's info on the commercial and uses it for herself? Nice friend.

    Pete. I never like Pete but this episode I actually felt for the guy. He's so unhappy he doesn't want to stay in a partners meeting and talk about money and the company getting bigger? He's really depressed. And he finds someone he connects with on a soulmate level and she gets erased (give her a few years, Pete, she'll get depressed again).

    I was not happy about Joan feeling like she should of slept with Lane. Please. She knew he had a crush on her but I don't think she would have felt she owed it to him.

    Not sure I get the widow's pissy anger. What was her line? Something like "How dare you give this man ambition?" I think Don handled it well.

    Peggy sure meets a lot of guys in the movie theater.

    And Don. Never happy no matter how he tries and we end the season with his opportunity for not one but two women. You only live once, Don.

  • smorris291 | June 12, 2012 10:55 AM

    Pete didn't leave the partners' meeting because he was unhappy...he was jetting out of there for his tryst...

  • Kate | June 11, 2012 8:54 AMReply

    I was struggling with the very very last scene with 007 at the bar and the acting friend Megan bypassed for her screen-test...was that Megan at the end of the bar or another woman. And did's M's friend recognize Don...my attention was divided momentarily and I feel like I missed something big.

    Joan is my MVP of this season for sure.

  • Mad Chick | June 11, 2012 1:47 PM

    That wasn't Megan's friend at the bar, either....just another blonde who looked very much like her.

  • Floretta | June 11, 2012 9:14 AM

    No, it was not Megan at the end of the bar. I had to watch the second time to be sure. Sort of like Jet Set, though, when Don kept seeing Betty in California.

  • Talie | June 11, 2012 8:42 AMReply

    It's weird, I thought Don watching Megan's screentest confirmed for him what Marie had said. That she wasn't getting anywhere. He *had* to help her. By the way, that Marie is one cool customer, isn't she? Nothing ruffles her feathers, even Don backed down fast when he realized she only spits truth.

  • John | June 11, 2012 8:25 AMReply

    My thought on the dogs ties into the account Peggy is on. We all knew it from the first scene, but thankfully the script wasn't so crass as to actually *say* it.

    So I will: you've come a long way, Peggy; all the way to a cheap Virginia motel with stray dogs screwing in the parking lot outside your window. Is this the new start you expected?

  • kitters | June 15, 2012 3:34 AM

    One of the other motifs of this finale might be summed up thusly: dreams can come true, but not necessarily in the way you envisioned. Three examples will suffice. Pete gets his fantasy NYC apartment (and pseudo bachelor pad), but with0ut his fantasy mistress to share it with. Joan gets a stake in the company she misses terribly when she's not there, but always has to wonder (and seems to be internalizing) the idea that her success is due only to her sexuality (as if that is all she really has to offer!). And Peggy finally gets to fly on a plane to a business meeting where she is in charge, only to wind up in a seedy motel with two dog humping outside the window.

    Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it, and in ways you never expected!

  • Jan | June 11, 2012 7:25 AMReply

    I can second (double) your claim to have had a dentist in the spire (I believe Joan actually called it the "steeple") of the Chrysler Building. The view through the triangular windows was amazing, indeed. I was frustrated with the ending shot of Don in the bar, the making of a cliffhanger out of "will he or won't he" revert (double back) to his old two-timing ways. "Cheap" was the word that came to mind.

  • ritz | June 11, 2012 12:35 PM

    the dentist has been there since the 1960's and still there as of this 2005 article.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/26/garden/26mayor.html?_r=2&sq=drafting%20dreaming%20and%20drilling&st=cse&scp=1&pagewanted=all

  • Janet296 | June 11, 2012 6:25 AMReply

    I think her seeing the two dogs screwing was showing that these trips aren't as glamorous as Peggy imagined. Here she is in the hotel they provided and her scenery is screwing dogs.

  • Kathy | June 11, 2012 11:59 AM

    As well she should be proud, I think. Today, that view could have been the interstate, right?

    Apologies to Kevin Costner, but Peggy is Dances with Douches. She'll always come out on top. Errrr, mating dogs...!

    ;-)

  • Deborah Lipp | June 11, 2012 8:12 AM

    And yet she seemed delighted. Still so proud to be on a plane trip.

  • Morgan | June 11, 2012 2:39 AMReply

    My favorite moment, and surprise (among lots of surprises in this episode) is when
    Don walks into the dark movie theatre and there's Peggy (!) - I loved this, laughed
    out loud, totally unexpected, and gave us a few minutes with Don and Peggy together
    again. There was talk about Peggy possibly not being in tonight's finale, so this was
    very gratifying - and I loved seeing them together again

  • BerkeleyMom | June 11, 2012 2:37 AMReply

    My quote of the week is also Roger: Don't be demure, you're already on the bed.

  • Morgan | June 11, 2012 2:36 AMReply

    re John Slattery's ass: I think that was a double; for the money he's getting
    and his importance in the show, Slattery doesn't have to show his ass

  • BerkeleyMom | June 11, 2012 2:40 AM

    I hear he rides his bike all over Manhattan. He'd probably love to show off his buff ass.

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