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:
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."