Mad Men Season 5 Episode 13 Recap – ‘The Phantom’ – Season Finale
Mad Men‘s fifth season came to an end last night. And after a dark season, that dealt with depression, passions, prostitution and loss – we got a quiet episode that gave a closure for every important plot this season. The title for the episode that ends such a season couldn’t be more right – The Phantom. My review of the finale episode follows…
What just happened (episode summary): Don is trying to deal with Megan’s acting passion/depression, , a severe toothache, and the ghosts of the dead; Pete meets Beth a couple more times and fight her husband; Roger and Megan’s mother meet again; Peggy starts to smoke.
How did it happen (the chatty TV critic): Megan Draper became a major character in season five – so much that it kind of pushed Peggy and Joan to the sides (and Jessica Paré who plays Megan just said in a recent interview how it wasn’t planned to happen, back in season 4: “As a fan of the show I’m sure you know that there are a lot of secretary characters that don’t really ever come to the forefront or have a storyline of their own necessarily.” – congrats on that Emmy nomination, by the way). But in many ways Megan’s character became so crucial to the season not just because she’s Don’s wife now – but because she refuses to be what the title usually implies. And Don had to deal with that.
Like in another recap I wrote this morning – the review of Girls episode from last nigh – Magen became sort of a mirror for Don. What she thinks of advertisement, who does she want to be, what is for her success and what is for her family – those are all subjects Don himself deals with, and kept on dealing with in season 5.
The Phantom brought a closure on most of the season’s plots (and those who weren’t included here got their closure already in the penultimate episode last week, like Betty and Sally). we even got to see Roger and Megan’s mom in bed again, and Roger on a second LSD trip (but there was no time to go it through with him like in the other episode). So the two main stories in the finale were Don and Megan, and Pete and Beth, with Megan’s mom and Roger in the back seat.
Megan’s mom was staying with the Drapers for eastern – because her husband is atheist. This always puts Megan in a special mood, and it doesn’t help that she feels exploited after paying a company to shoot a reel of her and send it to companies, only to find out they are offering her acting classes for more money. Megan’s mother have exactly that point of view from which Megan is trying to run away – she plays a wife for her husband, and even when she’s not exactly there for him all the time (assuming guys like Roger are not rare), she’s playing the role to success.
But Magen doesn’t want such success. She just want to act, and a national commercial is considered a dream when you’re in acting class. This is why when her friend from class asks Magen to put her on the audition list for the shoes commercial Don’s company is doing – Magen doesn’t hesitate and decide to ask Don to put her reel there. Well she does hesitate at first – but not for a moment about that other girl – but because of Don, who at first tells her that it’s better to be discovered, not someone’s wife. Megan doesn’t use her married name on the audition, although they all know she’s Don’s wife.
It wasn’t easy for Megan to ask, and it wasn’t easy for Don to agree. He had to have a couple of conversations with certain ladies: Megan’s mom, who tried to explain him his job in the marriage (“nurse her through this defeat and you should have the life you desire”), and Peggy, who reminded him how it is to build someone – it was I think the only time in the last episode, if not two, that Don smiled for real.
Dealing with an aching tooth was an interesting symbol for the pain Don went through this entire season. Some things you have to deal with, or they keep hunting you. Like Adam Whitman’s ghost, which is Don’s way of processing Lane’s death from last week’s episode. But is giving Magen that audition – and the role in the shoe commercial – considered ‘dealing with it’? Judging that based on the final scene – with Don alone in the bar, approached by two young pretty girls – the answer is ‘no’.
The other main story was the one of Pete and Beth. After he sees her on the train with her husband, he finds out she is going to be hospitalized for depression, and treated with electric shocks – this is why she wants to meet him for one more time, before she forgets everything. “It works”, she tells him. He agrees to meet her, still mad about the last time when she rejected him. But when they are togetherit’s good and comforting. And again his family seems the wrong thing to return to, for Pete. Beth however is not at all interested in running away to LA, like he offers (does he really mean that? Now that he may get a bigger office?).
The next days he visits her in the hospital. She doesn’t recognize him, which makes it easier for him to explain how he feels about his situation. Then, on the train to work, he meets the husband. They have a fight (and this is probably the third time Pete is getting into a fight during season 5).
Now, as much as this was an interesting story, especially the times this affair didn’t happen – when he was rejected, or when he was on the train with the husband, or back at home with his wife, it felt a bit weird giving it such a focus on the season’s finale. Maybe it suits Matt Weiner’s plans about the season’s theme (“every man for himself”), or maybe Weiner thought it gave an interesting perspective to the Don/Megan relationship. It did. Remember Pete was trying to play it Don for most of season 5 – and then blaming Don for the results. But if that was the case then all the scenes with Beth were way too long – what we care about is the results, and there wasn’t much new now – even when Pete gives his little speech.
Roger’s story with Magen’s mom was only there for a couple of unimportant reasons – first it was easier to remind us what does Magen’s mom think of marriage life. Second, it gave us another chance to see how Roger wants someone to take care of him (and how he loves LSD).
What are we left with: What is that Don wants? Can he be happy as a family man? Is he satisfied in his job? What gives him pleasure? In season 5 we saw a very depressed Don, but he also learned to deal with what bothers him: He was the one to take dead Lane off the rope last episode, and to decide to give Magen what she wanted in this finale. We didn’t get to hear hisanswer to the girls at the end of the episode, but we know it. Is he happy with this answer? With two more seasons to the show, he still has time to decide.