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Mad Men – The Phantom

Following 12 episodes of what has arguably been one of the more interesting seasons of television in human history, Mad Men came to a close on Sunday with “The Phantom.” Whilst as strong an episode as any other that the show puts out, unlike its four predecessors, the season five finale felt somewhat awkward. The previous two episodes were intense to say the least, with “The Other Woman” having very likely put nearly the entire cast up for Emmy awards. Following that up then with what we got in “The Phantom” made for a slightly underwhelming end. 

The episode had a few key storylines that ran throughout, including the conclusion to the conflicted love affair of Pete Campbell. Pete has always been an interesting character. A character who is flawed beyond belief, but has never really seemed quite as two-minded as he has been since meeting Beth (Alexis Bledel). In the workplace, Pete has gone from strength to strength this season, putting Roger in his place and positioning himself to be more than worthy of a named partnership. Outside however, things are not so great. Whether being shown up as a man by Don or just generally frustrated with life, Pete has spiraled down into a depression of sorts, one which is exacerbated by Beth. When the unattainable love reemerges into his life then, things were bound to get interesting. 

Whilst they came together in an unconventional way, it turns out that Beth and Pete are as close to perfect for each other as strangers can get. Both are damaged and unhappy with the lives they are living, but sadly for the two of them, one was just a little too much so. After the two meet up, Beth reveals that she has a fairly major case of depression and that electroshock therapy is the way forward. In an attempt to try and hold onto what they have together, she convinces Pete to spend one more night with her to no avail. After her treatment, Pete visits Beth one last time and is forced to pretend that he doesn’t really know her when she fails to recognize him. Whilst crippling for Pete, it allowed for a scene in which we got to see the real, damaged version of him, without the veneer of smugness that we usually get.

What any of this means for Pete, however, I’m not entirely sure. He is clearly dissatisfied with his personal life to the extent that he actively seeks out meaningless comfort, but the loss of his “relationship” with Beth might just end up turning things around, not making them worse. Whilst his life with Trudy is probably not going to turn out well in the long-run, he seems to have finally seen the error of his ways and has realized that you can’t really fix deep emotional problems with prostitutes and scotch. Given that we usually see a marked time jump between seasons, I won’t be surprised if we return to either a highly confident or highly confused Mr. Campbell. 

Elsewhere, Don had a prominent role in the finale as he once again dealt with psychological issues manifested in seeing things. This time, toothache replaced a fever and his brother Adam replaced violently murdering an ex, after Lane’s suicide mirrored his brother’s just a little too perfectly. Don’s actions were somewhat responsible for both events and he knows it. Whilst the visions themselves didn’t really go anywhere, they combined together with Don dealing with his wife’s ambition to push him to a new place by the episode’s end. 

After struggling to find work, Megan hears, through a friend who wants the role, about an opportunity to star in a commercial being handled by SCDP. When she brings up the notion to Don, he is at first reluctant and we get yet another rendition of the “you can’t always get what you want” fight. Whether it was because of Adam, Megan’s mother or even Lane’s wife remains to be seen, but Don ultimately changed his mind in favor of a happy family. It would seem that Lane’s death had shone a spotlight on the danger of putting the agency first, and whilst things seemed to be on the up because of that, the final scene of the episode threw us all a curveball as Don was presented with a choice. 

The episode closed out with Don getting hit on in a bar. Whilst we didn’t get to see where things are going to end up, there are really only two possible outcomes and neither one is currently the clear solution. It’s because of that mystery that the finale kept itself away from mediocre territory. Don has gone through the season having a mixed relationship with Megan, covering more middle ground than highs and lows at any given time, but it still seems to be fairing far better than his relationship with Betty ever did. I said earlier in the season that it was about time for someone to settle down and stay faithful for more than an episode and I remain hopeful that that’s the direction that Don is headed in. Again, as with Pete, given a little time jump, we may be in for a completely different Don Draper by the time season six rolls around. 

Several other smaller plot threads were woven throughout the episode, as we saw Roger continuing to search for excitement in his life, Peggy dealing with her new job and her relationship to Don, everyone dealing with the death of Lane Pryce and, most importantly for the future, the firm dealing with expansion. With Joan now in charge of the money, SCDP (which I would imagine may be in for a name change) is firmly on the rise and expanding into new offices, leaving great possibility for for next season. With a bigger firm, we’ll likely see a host of new characters and Don attacking higher-scale accounts which often brings out some of the better workplace scenes. Furthermore, we may be in for several pitch clashes between Don and Peggy to the betterment of us all. 

When it comes down to it, not too much actually happened in “The Phantom.” It was certainly more of a character-based episode than story-driven, but it left us with perhaps one too many questions instead of answers. Knowing that more is coming, it is impossible to actually look down on the show in any way; past performance would dictate that season six will be just as good, if not better than its predecessors. Ultimately, I was more than satisfied with what we got out of the episode (despite it being not exactly up to par with recent outings) and thrilled with the season as a whole, but I do have to reiterate something that I’ve been saying all season long: where the Hell is Betty and why should we even care?


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