Mad Men, 5.09 “Dark Shadows”
This episode is surrounded by a couple of meaningful coincidences. First of all, a film adaptation of Dark Shadows was released just this weekend, recalling the same soap opera from 1966. Is there some kind of family demon commentary there? The second is Mother’s Day. Less subtle, but sharper.
“Dark Shadows” was structurally much less elegant than the preceding shows. Instead of the insightful character studies, we were treated to an update on a bunch of lives. We had a healthy helping of Betty and Sally while Peggy and Joan remained mostly on the sidelines. While the architecture might have been weak, they did manage to furnish the apartment with some rich material.
Most importantly, Betty has some kind of ill reaction to a Draper home visit. She sees the then Megan slipping into her blouse and she reads a short advertisement for his own love on the back of a drawing. This spawns jealousy, which seemed to be the most evident theme of the episode. After an unsuccessful attempt to spoil Don and Megan’s marriage by sticking Anna and Sally inside of it, she proclaims that she is “thankful that [she has] everything [she] wants and no one has anything better.” just before stuffing her entire portion of dressing into her mouth. The irony here is beautifully murderous. Betty is living in a silver-medal existence and can’t manage to escape even when she has the ammunition. The curious and excellent thing about Mad Men is that these characters get what they want. They are spoiled and pampered and well paid. Especially in a character like Pete, who has had episodes devoted to this idea, is incapable of understanding happiness in the midst of success. He was raised in the false belief that Don was the master of his own world. As Pete attempts to replicate this energy in his own life, it is met with embarrassment, disappointment, and an impending comeuppance. This same theme is echoed when Roger deflowers Jane’s new apartment. We could see the disgust on her face when they were finished and she knew it was a mistake from the start. But the masterhood of these men dominates the women because, ultimately, the men are the ones who paid for all of it. Mad Men has set up an interesting counterpoint between material wealth, emotional wealth, and the source of each.
The jealousy spread into the office, of course. Ginsberg has been displaying a collection of promising work all season long while still being a wobbly character. During “Dark Shadows” he and Don create equally convincing pitches for a SnoCone (or something) company. When going into the final pitch, Ginsberg isn’t there and Don intentionally leaves Ginsberg’s pitch in the car, sticking to his philosophy of never taking in two ideas. This reveals a more complicated psychology that holds remarkable universality — the notion that, in any situation, if you have two equal sets, one of which is your own, you’re going to take your own. Roger literally says “every man for himself” this episode, a line we have been waiting to hear all season long. It’s becoming more and more true.
The most powerful will always win in this universe. On this Mother’s Day, those most powerful tend to be men.