Episode 513: Three Hotel Rooms, Two Bloody Mouths, One Stiff Upper Lip

Mad Men 5-13Capping a season with story lines that recently featured prostitution and suicide  (and Peggy leaving!) all within the Sterling Cooper Draper nuclear family, “The Phantom,” the season 5 finale, had much in the way of mushrooms and clouds to live up to. For the first 50 minutes, however, it felt repetitive and desultory, like “Groundhog Day” with a touch of "Marathon Man" (OK, Don, find a dentist already!). But the last six minutes were colossally great, even awe-inspiring. There were no huge surprises, but it built up the kind of masterly payoff that comes only from the expert synthesis of incredible acting, writing, lighting, costumes, sets, direction, and staging.

It started with the electric connection of Don and Peggy, who met cute in the movie theater. They seemed much more comfortable together than the present Don and Megan. (As opposed to the maximum awkwardness P&D achieved in the Cool Whip test kitchen, while Peggy still worked for Don.)

Cut to the partners' walk (and Joan’s forward-moving, hydraulic hip swivel) onto the new frontier, an additional SDCP office floor. What a composition! The image of the five remaining partners standing in the empty space with their backs to us, Joan the middle anchor in the red dress, was so gloriously framed it practically stopped time, like a painting or a fine art photo.  Yet true to the idea of existential loneliness that MM loves to probe, each figure seemed very much alone in space, silhouetted like a solo dancer in front of a window, while Don is the only one straddling two panes (and pains!)

Mad Men 5-13Then we got that amazing, heartbreaking, moment of watching Don watch Megan’s audition film as it sputters on the projector and his cigarette smoke circles the beam of light; the whole thing evokes his Kodak “Carousel” presentation. (“In Greek, nostalgia literally means the pain from old wounds.”)  Black and white, and silent, the film is like a time capsule. Standing in an old-fashioned artist’s atelier (suggesting the place Midge lived in the pilot?) in her gorgeous dress, (is it Courrèges?) Meagan looks beautiful, like a younger, more delicate Anouk Aimée. But she seems a bit stiff and self-conscious; Don watches as if he’s never seen her before. The change in his face (and in the light) is heartbreaking as he goes from registering obvious love and pride, to sadness, as it dawns on him that his union with this would-be actress wife is as ephemeral as a frame of film. 

And then the obvious contrast, the cut to a hyper Technicolor set for a shoe commercial.  It’s busy and garish, a kitschy ad fantasyland that Megan wormed her way into, even though she left advertising to work in theater. (And had she done the Cool Whip commercial with Don, in which she was so natural and effortlessly magnetic, she could have easily become a star.)  Now, however, she double-crossed a friend, and used Don to get cast as Beauty, in a ridiculous clown/wench outfit. (We’re not in Disneyland anymore.)  There’s an ugliness to her excitement, telling Don “I love you!” just as she mouthed it to a stranger in her screen test. But now she’s whisked off by a crowd of handlers. As a pair, which one is Beauty and which one is Beast?

Mad Men 5-13Don leaves the set, where he is her courtier, with a resigned grin. It’s similar to the look he faked when first wife Betty modeled for a Coke commercial, on a similarly artificial, stagey set. And then we get that spectacular tracking shot, showing Don walking through the limits of space and time to the apt lyrics and tune of  “You Only Live Twice.” That was a song from the James Bond movie that debuted in 1967, and had the secret agent fighting the great evil force SPECTRE. (Phantoms, anyone?) In the James Bond movie he watched earlier with Peggy, we got another musical first: the sounds of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass! 

Don ends up in the bar he frequented (or as Lane’s wife would say, “fre-QUENTED”) in the pilot. Then we see, in quick succession, Pete shutting out the world in his headphones, Roger standing on a chair in front of a window, exposing himself to the world, naked as a tripping jaybird, and Peggy, happily ensconced in her hotel room (no satin bedspread in sight) on a business trip, putting up with the rooting dogs of Old Virginey in a parking lot outside her window.  She’s happy: she’s got her Scotch, she’s got her work, and it’s all made seamlessly thrilling. But in cycling back, I didn’t love that Don is back in his old haunt, ordering an old-fashioned, getting approached by a late-edition Marilyn who wants to introduce him to a Jackie. (Are you cheap or less expensive? Does your boyfriend light your cigarettes?) 

Mad Men 5-13So let’s get down to business: Don is so sexy that even his tooth is hot. (Rim shot.) But really, what was up with that ginormous molar? It had the roots of a Sequoia, and the magnitude and blackened enamel of something yanked out of a mastadon’s jaw -- or a shark’s.  (But why did Weiner have to have Adam spell out the “something’s rotten in Draper” symbolism so literally?) After the extraction, Don was left with blood on his mouth again, although last week the blood that Roger spoke of was the result of Don metaphorically goring some self-satisfied Dow executives. 

Speaking of blood, Pete got a spectacular beating once again. Does his face look a punching bag? Yeah, well, kind of. Either that or Stewie, the creepy British-accented baby on “Family Guy.” The liquor-induced frat boy brawling on the commuter train made me miss Lane, with his priceless Marquess of Queensberry boxing stance.

Now we know everything we need to about Campbell: he’s depressed and has seasonal affective disorder, or SAD! (Although I don’t think that’s a diagnosis that existed then.) Pete just needs a little sun!  When he finally got home and spit out in his patrician tones that the car was fine, but  that he looked so awful because he  “fell asleep and ran into a ditch,” I laughed out loud, because it sounded so ridiculous. I thought that the seriously blue-peignoired Trudy was going to sit him down and tell him she couldn’t take it anymore - -and ask for a divorce. But Trudy’s sure holding up her end of the dream, and wants a pool to boot. So she’s setting up hubby in an apartment in the city. I fear for what what will happen next season in that bachelor flat, drama-wise. 

The tedium was the message in Pete’s reunion with Beth; it was so overly long and predictable that I even felt like fast-forwarding through the sex scenes. I started thinking about the sun-dappled growth on John Malkovich’s eyelid in that creepy iPhone commercial. One interesting thing: as with Joan thinking she could have prevented a suicide had she given Lane some of her patented lady love, Pete apparently thinks he can cure mental illness with his penis.

Mad Men 5-13Certainly, Pete’s lie to the nurse that he was Beth’s brother (“same eyes”) reminded me of a Salingeresque scenario: an obsession with brothers and sisters. Further, there was some “Chinatown”-ish fooling around (“she’s my daughter/she’s my sister”) with family protocol when Don came home and found Megan drunk and in her robe. He yells, “Where’s your mother?” as if his wife is his daughter. Her mother has to ‘splain to Don that she delivered from her home a “happy girl.”

(By the way, Matthew Weiner seems to have little respect for female actors, and he often shows women having only two gears:  full throttle, or depressed drunkard in a bad robe.) 

The hospital scene allowed Pete to brood more. One of the most poetic things he said was that whatever he does is a “temporary bandage on a permanent wound.” The place was based on the famed Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic in Manhattan, I think, which was very tony and trendy among manic-depressive writers and celebs at the time. According to Wikipedia, “ Marilyn Monroe was hospitalized there in early 1961, and Mary McCarthy based her book, The Group, on her inpatient experience.”

And what can we say about the post-electro-shocked Beth? She of the perfect pink peignoir (the good witch!) with her hair in a bun and her clean, shining face! She reminded me of a heroine of a Douglas Sirk movie who was blinded in a terrible accident but is being very, very brave. And in the end, with her gumption and grit, it turns out that she can “see” life more clearly than the sighted!

Mad Men 5-13But let’s get to the main phantom: Lane. Although the empty chair at the partners’ meeting weighed heavily on Joan, Lane was hard to read in life, almost a phantom, even in the flesh. His wife certainly didn’t understand him. Consider that Mrs. Willy Loman had a husband who had majorly poignant flaws in his character, but she famously demanded respect for him at his funeral.  “Attention must be paid, ”she said. As almost the anti-Mrs. Willy, Mrs. Lane tells Don: “You had no right to fill that man with ambition.”

Don has done many dastardly things, but filling Lane with ambition was not one of them. Lane found his way to his chocolate bunny on his own, and pride, not ambition, killed him.  I loved Rebecca Pryce's perfect passive-aggressive announcement when Don arrived: “I’d offer you something, but I have nothing in the house,” she said. Acid with a twist, maybe? 

Don did rush over and try to do the right thing, to fill the house. But why did he once again do it without consulting the partners? In light of what happened, returning the $50,000 is nice. But why not give her the entire insurance payout of $175,000? Lane earned it, and it’s blood money to the firm. (Especially now that they’re sleeping on a bed of money.)

One thing Rebecca Pryce said to Don was particularly searing: “Don’t leave here feeling that you’ve done anything for anyone except yourself.”  That applies to everything, and everyone, on “Mad Men.” Don thinks he can solve everything with a pile of money. Certainly, that didn’t work with Adam. “I lost my job when I died,” the red-headed kid (half) brother kids, reappearing, a red ligatures on his neck and all, as Don gets his bowling-ball-sized molar out. 

Mad Men 5-13As the dentist says, Don almost had a nasty abscess, and lost half his jaw. His life with Megan is coming to a head, and perhaps he’ll lose half his wealth. But like a shark, Don has two sets of teeth, and two sets of everything, including identities, which allows him to shape-shift in life more easily than the average monomaniac.  “Mad Men” is filled with doubles.  (Mr. Dawes asks Pete how his “second honeymoon” was.) And what this season proved is that most people have two sides. Megan was built up to be a paragon of perfection, which seemed really annoying. (And those pulling for Betty are thrilled that the toothy one was revealed to be a spoiled manipulator, only playing a role.) 

Megan’s mother, (I love Julia Ormond, but she has a ridiculous French accent) tells her daughter she is “chasing a phantom.”  But that’s the point. So is everybody on the show. If next season kicks off in 1968, Peggy will perhaps be killing herself at work to usher in the tag line,  “You’ve come a long way, baby,” for the new Virginia Slims cigarette her agency is launching. This is the greatest irony -- that women had come so far that they now had their own cigarettes with which to destroy themselves (and were referred to as “baby.”) What dream does matter? Two for the price of one? 

“Are you alone?” the blonde (not Megan’s friend!) asks Don at the bar. It’s a highly rhetorical question, and I’m sure Don will carefully weigh both sides before responding. And the cycle continues. 

 It’s been my honor to write Mad Blog for another season! Thanks for reading -- and thank you, commenters, for your brilliant insights and analysis.  What did you guys think of the final episode? 

Tags: mad men, tv
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17 comments about "Episode 513: Three Hotel Rooms, Two Bloody Mouths, One Stiff Upper Lip".
  1. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , June 13, 2012 at 12:39 p.m.
    I'm so sorry that this season is over, and I'll miss this column. I agree that this episode was somewhat of a letdown, but Matthew Weiner himself said so in his NY Times interview. And you can't follow the two best episodes on the show ever (IMHO) with a third. It leaves me as it should, waiting to see what's next, but waiting another year for it. I find it interesting that you didn't mention the title of the "other" James Bond movie that Peggy and Don were watching. I don't know the meaning of using that movie (do Peggy and Don deal only in Parody?), but I loved how they used the music intro (that movie was billed as having many James Bonds in it, including nephew Jimmy).
  2. Bryan Cox from Cox Marketing , June 13, 2012 at 12:48 p.m.
    Barbara..thank you so much for an amazing job, WELL DONE!
  3. Rob Frydlewicz from RAF Consulting , June 13, 2012 at 12:58 p.m.
    I wasn't bowled over by this episode -perhaps because I didn't watch it until midnight because of the Tony Awards. My lasting memory is that of Joan's slow, effortless, cat-like walk on the new floor. I love Julia Ormond's character. She's such a cool customer, never gets flustered, especially when Don tries to dress her down. I'm thinking it was because of how dismissive she was of Megan's pursuit of acting that motivated Don to view her audition tape. Also, I thought for sure that 1) the mysterious phone calls were being placed by creepy Glenn and that 2) Roger was going to have his fatal heart attack (you know it's coming) while with Megan's mom. Lastly, the exchange between Megan & her mother in the bedroom brought to mind two movies. When Megan mentioned how mom was kinder to strangers it reminded me of a similar line in "Mommie Dearest" that Joan asked Christina (before the famous chokinig scene!); then when Megan remarked about Mom never getting over becoming a ballerina it brought back memories of "Black Swan". Barbara, thanks so much for a season of quips, sharp historical/pop culture references and for delighting me with plot points that went over my head.
  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , June 13, 2012 at 2:42 p.m.
    The money loss was killing Lane. He killed himself over it and the money was pouring in. His whole life was a farce from daddy dearest to stiffing everything and everyone stiff in his life. Pete is losing his hair aplenty. He may be winning clients, but is losing reality and doesn't care....is stupid excuse to Trudy knowing he didn't care, living in a house that looks terribly similar to Don and Peggy's, Trudy's own dollhouse fantasies. Megan has new fangled manipulation skills her mother taught her while her mother's manipulation skills are more like a countess with that daughter who hasn't learned well. Don = I'll get you before you get me. Lots of doors opening and closing too in this episode is more like staging for the next season and ending this one. Dorothy/Barbara, you are the bomb !!!!
  5. Wally Greene from Greenefields Talent Advisors LLC , June 14, 2012 at 11:07 a.m.
    Barbara, thanks for taking what was a mundane final episode (as compared to the prior two) and making it compelling & thought provoking. Looking forward to having you back next season!
  6. Susan Von Seggern from SvS PR , June 14, 2012 at 3:55 p.m.
    "naked as a tripping jaybird" YES! That was Rodger tripping by himself when he couldn't get Megan's mom on board with it! Great column Barbara, looking forward to your insights next season.
  7. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , June 14, 2012 at 9:14 p.m.
    Thanks for the comments, everyone! @Rob:Love the references to "Mommie Dearest" and ""Black Swan." I saw Megan's mom's behavior as classic narcissism. But I did like when she told Roger she had no desire to be his caretaker. Her use of the word "ballerina" was interesting. That's the pet name Freddie Rumsen has for Peggy! and when the "nudity" card showed up in the beginning, I thought perhaps that side boob was the issue (with Beth/Alexis.) But it was really Roger's beautiful behind.
  8. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , June 14, 2012 at 9:48 p.m.
    Ok let's put it out in the open, did anyone know the title of the movie that Don and Peggy went to see?
  9. Pat Hellberg from Kaicon llc , June 15, 2012 at 2:13 a.m.
    Unless I'm mistaken, the movie is Casino Royale, which was a James Bond movie without James Bond (if you consider Sean Connery as the only true James Bond, which most of us do). All-star but eclectic cast that included David Niven, Orson Wells and Woody Allen who played "Jimmy Bond". Not sure what the hidden meaning or symbolism is of Casino Royale & Tijuana Brass music in Mad Men. Would anyone venture a guess?
  10. Royelen lee Boykie from Mad Men Musings , June 15, 2012 at 8:52 a.m.
    Every year, I love the blog. As I was reading this post I was thinking, "Glad Barbara always does just one more to recap the year . . . " Did I just imagine that? Wishful thinking, it seems. Oh well, if this is the last, I can only be appreciative. Second only to watching the show, reading this recap with the comments is my favorite part of Mad Men.
  11. Nancy Haynes from Collins, Haynes & Lully, Inc. , June 15, 2012 at 9:17 a.m.
    I sent a link to my son, another Mad Men fan. His reply: This implies it took someone an entire season to come up with "spoiled manipulator," where I could have spared them the trouble last season and said "too young for Don." She's ALWAYS been too young for Don. "Spoiled manipulator" is just a part-time job. Also, I don't like Megan either ... but pulling for Betty? Ugh. I'm still pulling for Faye. Or, anyone like Faye they might introduce next season.
  12. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , June 16, 2012 at 1:30 p.m.
    @ Pat: thanks for the info! let's see. Don and Peggy were watching the parody and he leaves the set and walks to the bar to the tune of the real thing? @Nancy-- I agree with your son heartily. It was my fervent prayer in the first blog this season that he would not end up married to Megan because she was too young. But Matthew Weiner seemed in love with her, and this ep was the first to clearly telegraph that she is sneaky and playing a role. I noticed in that last few that Megan had gotten much more child like-- in the sway she was rehearsing on the bed. And in sitting on the floor in jeans with her friend. Under Don's patented husbanding, both wives regressed to childish behavior! @Royelen-- I am traveling this week to write about Cannes Lions festival for Mediapost, but will come up with a recap in a few weeks, after some stewing!
  13. Royelen lee Boykie from Mad Men Musings , June 17, 2012 at 10:04 a.m.
    Have a wonderful trip, Barbara! Look forward to your posts.
  14. Kate Lafrance from Hartford Woman Online Magazine , June 20, 2012 at 2:01 a.m.
    Thank you for a wonderful season of posts! As others have said - this blog is one of the highlights of my week.
  15. Vanessa Coates from Engelbrecht Advertising , June 20, 2012 at 5:01 p.m.
    Barbara-I look forward to this column every week after Mad Men, and have gotten at least 3 of my co-workers to read it now too. I love the insight you have into the Mad Men era and the characters and I love reading the other readers comments. I will definitely miss my favorite Wednesay email. Have a great trip and here is too a quick Mad Men hiatus.
  16. Anne Peterson from Idaho Public Televsion , June 28, 2012 at 6:33 p.m.
    I am addicted to this blog -- thank you so much for doing it.
  17. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , June 28, 2012 at 8:27 p.m.
    Thanks, everyone. I so appreciate your comments! The season kind of flew by, and clearly the best episodes were the pre-pen (pen-pen) and pen ultimate. The finale was a bit of a letdown. The whole Megan thing kind of burns my biscuits-- a whole detour that felt uncomfortable and at times forced. (Although I loved her parents!) But really, shouldn't she have been French French, and not French Canadian? And what will be the result of her time in shoe business? (hehe) Will the spot be a dud, killing both her career and the account for Don?