This fifth season of Mad Men has been largely about choices and the consequences of those choices, and that was never more evident than in the final episode, The Phantom, which ended with Don facing a potential turning point in his marriage.
The Draper marriage has obviously been a major factor in this season, with his proposal to secretary Megan a huge development at the end of the last one. It was hard to tell how it would play out, which has made it so interesting to watch, from her Zou Bisou dance to leaving SCDP to the rows and reconciliations to the power plays with Betty.
The major fissures in their relationship have been down to the gap in their ages and the increasing significance of that in the late 1960s. Betty gave up her modelling career to be a mother to Don’s children; Megan gave up working with Don so she could pursue the career she wanted, as an actress. His resentment over this came to a head this week when she asked him to pull rank and get her a job in an advert for a SCDP client.
That was a sign of her ambition and ruthlessness, having been asked by a friend to see if Don could get her the role, Megan instead went for it herself, ignoring her father’s distaste for the advertising world by using it as a stepping stone to greater things. At first Don says no, but after seeing her drink herself into a stupor and getting a warning from her mother, he relents at the end and we see him not only watching her reel but also on set with her.
We also see him meeting up with Peggy, and the two plot-lines mirror each other when he admits that he’s proud of her achievements (more than he was saying to her when she was still an employee), but never thought that she would do it without him. Will that be the case for Megan too? The episode closes with Don sitting in a bar on his own and being asked by a blonde woman (looks a bit like Betty?) on behalf of a brunette (Megan?) if he’s single. We don’t see him respond.
It’s a strange episode for Don, haunted by both a decaying tooth and the ghost of his dead brother. He also pays a visit to Lane’s widow, who receives a cheque off him with as much enthusiasm as if it was a ticking bomb, and sends him on his way with brutal coldness after finding the photo of that random woman Lane found in a random guy’s wallet. She assumes that he had an affair with her and blames Don for it.
Speaking of affairs and choices, Pete Campbell is still haunted by the memory of his fling with Beth, so when she appears on the train opposite him, it leads to a hotel room reunion. But, only because her husband is sending her for electroshock therapy treatment to cure her depression, and when Pete visits her at the hospital, she’s no idea who he is. His own depression at home leads to getting what he’s wanted all season – an apartment in the city.
He also gets better news at work, with the firm expanding onto the floor above them, leading Pete to celebrate having the same view as Don, still the man he’s trying to emulate at all times. We also see a significant visual of the partners silhouetted against the skyline, facing the future, with Joan right in the middle. Her partnership status may have come at a sordid price, but she’s certainly make the most of the choice that she made to take SCDP – literally – to the next level. And that’s where Roger wants to be too.
Earlier in the episode, we see Megan getting silent phonecalls, which I took to maybe be Creepy Glen from the last episode, but turns out to be Roger trying to hook up with her mother again. They meet at his hotel room for nookie, but what he really wants is to take LSD again. As Nancy Sinatra’s You Only Live Twice plays out the final montage, we see him standing naked in his room, arms aloft and staring out at the city.
The choice of music for an ‘end of season’ montage is always significant, and You Only Live Twice is not only appropriate for 1967, when the episode takes place – but also the theme of the episode and the season. ‘Make one dream come true’ is what so many of the characters have been trying to do, and its left them in various states as we leave them for now. Quite where they will be when we resume in season six is anyone’s guess, but I already can’t wait to find out.