Return to the Dark Side: Mad Men Season 5 Episode 9 (Dark Shadows)

Barnabas Collins? He doesn’t make an appearance, but “Dark Shadows” is an apt title for Episode 9 of Mad Men as our favorite characters do battle with their own demons – and lose.

I’ll give the Ray of Light Award to Megan, for her maturing mastery of managing between a rock and a hard place, as Don, Roger, Pete, and Betty give in to moodier, uglier, fear-inspired sides of themselves.

It’s a nifty episode, exposing their discomfort in dealing with the past and the passage of time, both of which are nipping at their heels in an increasingly dog eat dog world.

Sink your teeth into your partner’s neck to stay alive? You bet.

Use your soon-to-be ex-wife to land an account? No problem. Go behind your partners’ backs to one-up them? Naturally. Sleep with your commuting buddy’s wife? Yup. Plant an inappropriate story in your adolescent’s psyche to get even with a former spouse? Why not!

Pick Your Poison

I feel a sponsorship announcement coming on:

Brought to you by the New York casting of the hit low-budget series, Dark Shadows. We offer you diabolically dueling spouses, backstabbing exes, conniving co-workers, and generational gyrations! Hide your lovely necks at all cost, and carry that cross close – just in case…

Exactly who is at war and why?

So many skirmishes, so little time.

We’ve got Howard and Beth Dawes in the Bedroom Wars. We have Roger and Jane in the Apartment (and Bedroom) Wars. Don and Ginsberg face off in the I’m-the-best-Creative Wars or, possibly, the I’m-Not-Over-the-Hill-Yet campaign.

We have Don and Betty in the Post-Divorce Jealousy Wars. We have Pete playing pawn in Howard and Beth’s tit-for-tat, as well as his ongoing engagement in a hate-fest with Roger.

Dark shadows indeed! How appropriate that Don played dirty to get his campaign in front of the client, and his concept for the devil wins their confidence! Then again, it’s Madison Avenue. Isn’t that part of the feckless and ferocious fun?

Sally Draper Therapy Fund?

While we’re enumerating conflicts, shall we add the female fat wars to the mix? Shall we book Sally’s visits to the shrink now, starting about 1972? Sooner perhaps, given the number that Bad Bad Betty does on her daughter?

And just when we thought it was safe to go back in the kitchen!

Betty is attending Weight Watchers. Betty is pitifully eating tiny bites of prescribed food groups. Betty is counting her chews, shooting up with Reddi-Whip, trying her best not to feel her feelings.

Betty is miserable fat – and Betty is fat because she’s miserable.

But let’s not leave it there. Misery loves company, right? Why not inflict your unhappiness and jealousy on your daughter – and at the most impressionable age? Sally gets along well with Megan, so let’s trash that relationship if possible! And put a wedge between Sally and her dad while we’re at it!

So here’s the, uh… skinny…

Betty picks up the kids at Don’s apartment (for the first time). One can only imagine the difficult emotions she’s processing, but catching a glimpse of Megan changing her clothes means trouble. The comparisons are plentiful: Betty’s fat, Megan’s thin. Betty’s been told she’s middle-aged, Megan is young. (Don leaves Megan love notes… Betty, not so much.)

Bad Betty is anxious to ooze some venom, and that’s exactly what she does. Sally is gathering information for a Family Tree, and Betty drops the bomb to be sure to include her father’s first wife, Anna, the one who came before Betty.

Sally’s confused, surly, and doesn’t know who to trust. And who can blame her? Thank goodness for Megan the Mediator, Megan whose maturity reins, Megan who tells Sally just enough – and then encouraging Don to cool down, and offer her an appropriate truth.

Don’s Dark Side

Lest anyone think that Don isn’t capable of a few (dirty) tricks, happiness with his new wife hasn’t cleared his character of competitiveness.

With Megan less involved in the daily doings of the agency, Don is revving up the creative engines, but it’s clear he’s out of practice. We see him struggle with his concept for the upcoming drink campaign.

We also see him flip through Ginsberg’s notes on it – and stay late in the office to brainstorm. When he’s due to take his pitch and Ginsberg’s to the client, he intentionally leaves Ginsberg’s behind, offering his alone and securing the business.

In several elevator scenes (descending in and out of Hell?), we see the conspiring partners in various combinations, but I must say, Ginsberg next to the grimmer (and older) looking Don makes for an intriguing contrast.

Will it be harder for Don to dig into his wonder well than it once was? Will he have to fire up his Dick side in that Win At All Cost incarnation that helped him get this far?

Roger, You Selfish Bastard

There’s something irresistibly slippery about Roger. He’s old school glam and glib, but oh, he does it so well! We fall for it every time – and Jane certainly does. By pretending their marriage is intact, Roger can squire his (conveniently “Semitic”) wife to sit with the Rosenbergs at dinner, and sweet talk them into the Manischewitz account.

Jane negotiates herself a new apartment out of the deal, and Roger agrees to pay for it. She needs a new place so she can start over “without memories.” But following a successful dinner with the prospects (and Roger, jealous of the attentions paid to Jane), the sexy Sterling seduces his wife.

The morning after, Jane realizes their lovemaking ruined this apartment for her as well. Score one for Roger’s selfishness. Then again, maybe he was just practicing a little Make Love, Not War?

Pete, You’re No Don

Who wasn’t surprised when pretty little Beth Dawes walks into Pete’s office dressed only in a fur coat, black lace panties, and pearls?

“You can’t be here,” Pete says.

But she locks the door, slinks over to her target market, and… what red-blooded American boy, hand on naked breast, could possibly say no?

But unlike Don whose philandering is legendary, Pete lacks finesse and appropriate reserve when it comes to his conquests. He may have been smiling on his red couch in the afterglow, but at the end of what turns out to be a lousy week, he rips into Howard on the commuter train. The duller than dirt insurance salesman is bitching about Beth, and talking about his “girl.”

Pete’s nasty retort:

Why don’t you go spend Thanksgiving with your girl and I’ll go to your house and screw your wife.

Howard pauses, and then says:

Good luck with that. I guess the grass is always greener.

Uh-huh.

Kitchen Dramas, Poor Betty

Viewing Betty at Weight Watchers is both fascinating and sad. Seeing her struggle with her hunger – and give in to her anger – is a common theme among women. Who hasn’t tried to fill their emptiness with food at one point or another? How many of us sat in dark kitchens and watched our mothers in the 1960s and 1970s going through exactly this behavior – all their crushed dreams and passive aggressive acting out wrapped up in food?

Are we exploring the birth of the American Woman’s Fat Issues? I hope so.

But that isn’t all we see in the Francis kitchen. We’re treated to a moment of sweetness between Henry and Betty, as it nears midnight (when vampires are on the prowl?) and he cooks himself a steak, offers her a bite, and they talk about his disappointment over his political career. The tone of her voice is comforting and loving. I am reminded of early episodes with Don – a more innocent Betty at age 28 – there to support her husband, whatever he says or does.

Despite her cutting remarks and childish behaviors, I feel sympathy for Betty (or is it Sympathy for the Devil?) – she’s shut out, she’s divided; she shared the ending of her marriage, though to say that she caused it would be unfair. Yet she sees what could have been and wasn’t. She sees what she may have thrown away. The light, openness, energy, and color in Don’s new household are striking in comparison to the gloom in the Francis Manse.

Sweeping the Clouds Away

Betty has always been about keeping up with the Joneses to some degree, taking for granted her privilege (as well as her beauty). Now she’s been replaced by a woman who is younger, who is thin, who gets along with her children, and whom Don genuinely loves.

If you ask me, Megan has everything that Betty wants. Megan also seems to recognize changes in the weather – the clouds of smog outside their window, or Don’s moods and how to deal with them. But Betty’s world is a bleak and shadowy place. And dammit – she’s hungry!

As the episode closes (to Maurice Chevalier singing the 1930 hit “Up on top of a rainbow, sweeping the clouds away…”), we see Betty and children sitting at the dining table with Henry. They’re about to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, and Bobby insists they state what they’re thankful for.

With what appears to be one Brussels sprout, one small slice of turkey, and one dollop of potatoes on her plate, Betty says:

I’m thankful that I have everything I want… and no one has anything better.

Season 5 photos: Click images above to access originals at AMCTV.com.


For more musings and reviews on Mad Men, pop by here.

© D. A. Wolf

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Comments

  1. I just watched the episode. Oh, was it good!

    I thought Pete’s office romance was all a dream. A foolish dream based on being big news in the paper. But I may be wrong. No matter, he’s tragedy is seeing himself as always getting less then he feels he deserves. Idiot.

  2. I’ve just had a trip down memory lane with that Dark Shadows link, thank you! You did know that Jonathan Frid died a few days ago? I’m waiting for the third passing (Davy Jones being the first) of heroes (whatever) from my youth.

    I haven’t got into Mad Men yet. I don’t even know if it airs here in Britain or not. I’m not in the habit of watching TV, so I miss out on a lot of the popular culture but that doesn’t particularly bother me. My main screen relationship is with my computer. I think that growing up in the 60s and 70s in Oklahoma City, I lived with a lot of the male chauvinism, something I don’t find amusing and I don’t want to relive (come to think of it, the 80s and the 90s were only slightly better). Also, I’m not a huge fan of the clothes from the 60s or the 50s for that matter. Show me clothes anywhere from Downton Abbey to The Aviator and I’m hooked.

    With the numerous fans that Mad Men enjoys, I’m sure I’ll catch on about the time it goes into re-runs at 1 am. I never have been much of an early adopter…

  3. I too thought Pete’s encounter with Beth was a daydream, albeit vivid.
    I liked this episode. Even though I can’t stand the character of Betty, I related to her struggle in many ways. I assume many women did.
    I like your reviews, BTW. Not only are they a fun read, but informative.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Lydia – Thanks so much for stopping by to read and comment. And I’m glad you enjoy my reviews – they’re fun to write.

      Now I’m intrigued by the possibility of this hot dream of Pete’s… This season has certainly been playing with our sense of what’s real and imagined. (Don’s Fever Dream, Roger’s acid trip.)

      By any chance, did you catch the Mad Men cast on the Actor’s Studio last evening? It’s so interesting to hear their personal stories, not to mention how they are and aren’t like their characters.

  4. I, too assumed Pete was dreaming and I thought they actually even said something to make you believe it was in fact a dream. It seems January Jones is being attacked for her acting. I think she is good as Betty, angst and constant in her desire to just be loved. Also, love the fat theme. You can see how it actually changes someone who is consumed with losing weight and how hunger makes us crazier. :)

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      I love this fat theme… I hope they don’t shy away from it. And yes, hunger makes us crazier. :(

  5. Please allow me to clear up a possible misunderstanding. For my dislike of Betty, it’s not the actor portraying Betty (January Jones) I dislike, but the character she plays. Betty’s a miserable woman, incapable (I believe) of feeling joy, whose sole purpose in life seems to be to make everyone – including her children – as miserable as she is. At times, I find it painful to watch her.

    I totally agree with the weight issue. I hope they keep it as a story line because there’s a lot of truth in it and Betty’s struggle with it.

    And I meant to point it out before, but failed to do so: This line from your recap – “Betty is miserable fat – and Betty is fat because she’s miserable” I swear struck me to my very soul. Excellent, excellent way to explain.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      I understand, Lydia. I did take your meaning to be the character, not the actor. (January Jones is very effective at playing Betty, isn’t she?) It’s interesting to go back and look at episodes of Season 1. She seems so innocent – far from guileless or biased – but innocent, compared to now.

      Glad you’re reading and commenting.

  6. I think the Pete & Beth scene was definitely a dream because she says she forgot about Pete, but remembered him when she saw him in the paper. Later in the episode we find out that SCDP was skipped over in the article in question.

  7. Oh this was a wickedly fun review of a tv show that I’m dedicated to. I’ve heard many a complaint from friends that it has lost its subtlety, but I disagree.

    Also, just like you, I hope that they stay with the weight topic. And I think that you are right on the money about “the birth of the American Woman’s Fat Issues.” All this resentment and passive aggressive permissiveness is and was ludicrous. I know that some women feel the same in these modern times, yet it was less talked about then. How would I know? I’m only 32. But I grew up in a home where my father brought home the bacon and my mom cooked it every single night as “her job” and how I hate that phrase. Because I’m living that life now. So, even though it is fun to hate Betty, it is so sad at the same time. How many women can identify with at least some of her sadness?

    Oh, Wolf! I enjoyed this and I can’t wait to read your next review.

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