'Mad Men' Episode 9 Review and Recap: Eating and Competing in the 'Dark Shadows'

Television
by Beth Hanna
May 14, 2012 5:44 AM
6 Comments
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"Mad Men" AMC
"It's every man for himself." Spoilers ahead!

What happened:

A slightly svelter Betty eats alone at night in the Francis manse, rationing herself to a half-grapefruit and a few cheese cubes. The next day, she stops by Megan and Don's apartment to pick up the kids. Upon entering the roomy apartment, Betty wanders around looking at the finery, and accidentally spots buxom Megan putting on a blouse. This doesn't do wonders for Betty's self-confidence: Back at home, she slings back a mouthful of aerosol whipped cream and, ashamed, spits it into the sink.

During a Weight Watchers class, Betty listens to the instructor talk about good and bad weeks. Betty admits to the class that she's proud of the half-pound she lost, but that it was a trying week. It only becomes more so when she discovers a sweet note to Megan from Don on the back of one of Bobby's drawings. (The drawing is of a harpooned whale. Therein lies Betty's two-sided torment: Megan is adored, and Betty feels like a whale.) She spitefully tells Sally to ask Megan about the late Anna Draper -- "Daddy's first wife."

Ginsberg has quickly become the star copywriter, and Don's taking notice. Leaving the office late one evening, Don peeks inside Ginzo's "Shit I Gotta Do" file, where he's brainstormed a pile of ideas for the Hostess treat Sno Balls. Half-inspired and half-threatened, Don sits down and begins dictating his own ideas for the Sno Ball account. He pitches the best one to the team the next day. They're appropriately impressed, though Don notices uneasily that his underlings are surprised that the boss is actually joining in the creative process. This has been an interesting aspect of Don since the formation of SCDP. Now that Don is a partner, he's relinquished his glamorous role as the iconoclastic young ad man. He sees his younger self in Ginsberg, and gets a pang of wistfulness.

Meanwhile, Megan is enjoying the cushy life of an aspiring actress and housewife. She isn't forced to wait tables, as her envious actress friend points out. Megan is confronted angrily by Sally about Anna Draper, and then she in turn confronts Don. Livid, Don snatches the phone to call Betty, but Megan dissuades him: A fight would only give Betty "the thrill of having poisoned us from 50 miles away."

Roger is finally showing some interest in securing potential new client Manischewitz, if only to get under Pete's skin. This involves bribing two people. First, he offers Ginsberg $200 to come up with a clever ad pitch that Roger can bandy about over dinner. Second, he agrees to buy Jane a new apartment if she comes to the business dinner with him, playing the part of his attractive -- and Jewish -- wife. This story arc exemplifies how sad Roger has become this season. He has to pay people to make him look good, and he's so narrow-minded that impressing Jewish clients without enlisting the Jews he knows (i.e. the non-"normal people") is unthinkable. He's also selfish: After seeing Jane flirt with the client's son over dinner, Roger has to assert his power by seducing her in her new apartment.

Ultimately Don puts Ginsberg in his place. He purposefully leaves Ginsberg's Sno Ball layout in the cab on the way to the pitch, thus putting his own idea front and solo. Ginsberg snaps at Don in the elevator: "I feel bad for you." To which Don evenly replies: "I don't think about you at all."

One is the loneliest number:

Self-reliance is a prominent theme in this week's episode. When Henry tells Betty about his career misgivings, Betty spouts a bit of Weight Watchers advice: "Really we're in charge of ourselves." Though her words are supportive when applied to Henry, I worry about Betty applying them too harshly to herself. Betty has veered toward and away from therapy for five seasons -- therapy for herself, therapy for Sally (which turned into therapy for Betty), and now Weight Watchers, which is essentially group therapy. But her ultimate response is always to take on the burden of depression and insecurity herself. With over-eating, she insists that she's solely responsible -- which is a lonely place to be.

Roger's version of self-reliance is also lonely. When Peggy points out that she could have brainstormed an equally good idea for Manischewitz, Roger spits back that SCDP is "every man for himself." Roger has certainly become isolated, digging himself ever deeper into a hole of non-productivity, and now divorcing Jane. Peggy is becoming isolated, too. As Don says early in the episode, she "got buried with Heinz." Also, with Megan gone, Peggy is indeed the odd one out in the copywriting team. (Notice how often we see Stan Rizzo and Ginsberg in a two-shot together. Three's a crowd.)

"Dark Shadows":

The title of this week's episode is literally referenced when Megan helps her friend practice for an audition for the same-titled supernatural soap opera. This scene brought out a few dark currents in Megan's new career path. Her voice is hostile when she snaps, "If you think I wouldn't kill for a role in this piece of crap, I would." Acting is a bleak profession.

I see Ginsberg as Don's dark shadow. Ginsberg's momentum in the office is steadily picking up steam, and Don is afraid of eventually being overtaken. It's no accident that Don's retaliation Sno Ball pitch involves Satan. Twice Don gleefully mimics the voice of Lucifer, which is hilarious, but also suggests that he has the capacity to be a ruthless overlord of his SCDP copywriters. Also, he concocts his pitch idea from within a darkened office.

Similarly, Betty eats in the shadowy kitchen numerous times throughout this episode. Her relationship with food is marked by shame. Not to mention that the Francis estate is a bit of a Collinwood Manor in its own right.

Other ideas or interpretations? Thoughts about the episode?

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6 Comments

  • Beth Hanna | May 15, 2012 12:57 AMReply

    @Kanesmummy -- I agree, Betty's jealousy is definitely a toxic element in this episode, as is the general atmosphere of intense competition. Also, the thick smog could be another form of "dark shadows" from the episode title.

  • Kanesmummy | May 14, 2012 8:25 PMReply

    What about Megan's insistence that Don keep the windows of he apartment closed because there was a smog alert. She says something like "That stuff is toxic, I don't want it in here."

    I'm wondering that it's symbolic of trying to keep Betty's shenonagams out of their marriage or if could be foreshadowing to something more sinister to come.

  • Mani | May 14, 2012 7:19 PMReply

    A few more corrections. I believe Bobby drew the smiling harpooned whale, not Sally. It's 'peeks', not 'peaks', one you see, the other is at the top of mountains. Also Don was the one who said Peggy was buried with Heinz, not Stan.

  • Beth Hanna | May 14, 2012 8:12 PM

    Corrections incorporated, thanks.

  • Beth Hanna | May 14, 2012 12:53 PMReply

    @Mel -- Good catch. I'm changing it now.

  • Mel | May 14, 2012 10:44 AMReply

    Every review that I've read misspells Ginsberg. It is clearly seen several times in this episode.

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