Sunday, December 2, 2012

"Are You Alone?" A Recap of Mad Men's Fifth Season

Midway through the fifth season of Mad Men, Peggy complains to Roger that she felt betrayed because he did not ask her to work on a “special project” producing pitch ideas for a dinner he was having with the makers of Manischewitz wine; to which he remarked “it’s every man for himself[1].” Over thirteen episodes that saw everything from acid trips to Hare Krishnas, a major character’s suicide and another’s departure from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, by the time we reached this season’s end point in April 1967, Roger’s admonition to Peggy had been proven correct, and to devastating effect.   

First and foremost, Mad Men is about the struggle of its protagonist, Don Draper, as he keeps “clawing” at his own life, unable to get in[2]; but the most dislocating aspect of Season 5 is that for the better part of it, Don’s inner conflict appears reconciled. There is no skirt chasing, demeaning of clients or shelter behind walls of his own construction. No, the now 40 year old Don Draper comes into work with his wife each morning and leaves with her at the end of the day. He is solicitous of client ideas and bends over backward to assuage any fear his new bride Megan has that he will stray. Don shows a diffidence toward work that is troubling, but being on “love vacation” (as Bert Cooper puts it) affords him a peace of mind that has been absent since we met him 6 (show) years ago.

Don’s mellow vibe is not shared by the other main characters. Indeed, Don’s happiness opens the door for Peggy, Pete, Roger, Betty, Joan and Lane’s respective turmoil to take full flight.  And such turmoil it is! Along with Don, whose detachment from the business and openness to others is short-lived, the broad frame around which Season 5 revolves has much to do with the disappointment these characters feel, as each realizes they have, in their own way, been sold a bill of goods.

Pete Campbell began life “to the manner born,” cruised through Dartmouth and began work in the white collar world of advertising account management, all the while expecting a nest egg of money would feather adulthood, allow for summers along sandy beaches and leisurely golf outings at WASPy country clubs. Pete’s professional ambition has always been finely honed, but after his father’s untimely death[3] and the disclosure that his trust fund had evaporated, Pete’s world view changed. Suddenly, he had to rely on the financial assistance of his father-in-law both to purchase an apartment and aid in building his book of business.  Pete went from being a sneaky little shit who tried to blackmail Don[4], to a nuanced corporate toady who knew well enough to warn Don of Duck’s impending attempt to cut Don off at the knees when PPL bought Sterling Cooper[5]. His evolution appeared to take on a more positive spin in recent years – he put his nose to the grindstone in his role as junior partner at the new firm, hustled new clients (and even leveraged his father-in-law to get more of his business), settled down with his wife Trudy and became a father to a little girl named Tammy.

But the Pete we encounter in Season Five has none of those salutary qualities. He is by turns moody, petulant, depressive, combative, amoral and empty. That a major character was going to do something untoward to him/herself was taken as a given after the theme of death and mayhem was so strongly alluded to in early Season Five episodes[6], but my money was on Pete, not Lane being the person who met an untimely demise[7]. The bleakness that has washed over Pete seems like too much for him to bear. His flirtation with a teenaged girl in his driver’s ed class is cruelly snuffed out when a jock she desires shows up[8], his nascent affair with Beth Dawes, the wife of his commuter pal Harold, ends in despair when we learn she has mental health issues and is admitted to a hospital for a round of electroshock therapy[9], and his home life, which seems outwardly perfect, is, by his own description a fallacy, a “temporary bandage on a permanent wound[10]” that leaves him complaining to Don that he has nothing[11]. At work, his main goal seems to be score keeping, whether it’s who leaves work when or lording his new accounts over Roger’s head, humiliating him at every turn. He is frustrated with the size and type of office he has and whines about the lack of respect he receives for all his hard work.

We are offered a hint at the source of Pete’s melancholy when he shakes off a prostitute’s proposed role play ideas like a pitcher in a baseball game until she hits on one he likes – one where he is the “king” and she is his concubine[12]. Pete thought the things he had learned, the work he had done, and the reprehensible trade-offs he made (not the least of which was his solicitation of Joan to prostitute herself to advance the cause of an important account) would lead to … something, some acknowledgment of his success, something other than a “cemetery” like existence in the noiseless sterility of the Connecticut suburb of Cos Cob, with nothing more than a late meal out of a cereal box, a drip in the sink that he cannot fix and a wife who didn’t leave the house for months after their baby was born, to show for it. 

If depression is anger turned inward, Pete’s projection of his inner rage suggests he is Sylvia Plath level morose. He spits venom at Don for not partaking in a night of whoring to woo a client and gets lectured by the wizened Mr. Draper for his failure to see the value in what he has. His insults toward Lane result in a fist fight Pete loses and to cap things off, he is beaten up not once but twice within the span of a few seconds in the show’s season finale. Asked by Emile Calvet what it is he does, Pete appears to change the subject, fawning over Mr. Calvet’s intellectualism and musing that the world would be a better place with smart people like Emile in it. Flattered, Mr. Calvet thanks Pete, to which he responds dryly, “that is what I do all day[13].”  In this way, by season’s end, Pete is reconciled to a future that includes an office with a view identical to Don’s, the ability to tune out the world by donning oversized head phones and a pied-à-terre in New York City where he can avoid his family.

But while Pete may need boxing lessons, he is also not one to take the “coward’s way out” (suicide) because life has not turned out the way he wanted it to. Not so for Lane Pryce, a master at making the trains run on time who longs for material possession and Draperian savoir faire.  Lane is undone by an embezzlement scheme he concocts to pay for taxes he owes to Her Majesty’s government, but even before his firing for that offense, his blunted attempts at wooing a fellow expatriate and Jaguar executive, ill-thought out romantic pass at Joan and odd flirtation with the paramour of a man whose wallet he retrieves from the back of a taxi cab foretell what his beleaguered wife notes to Don when he attempts to pay her back $50,000 Lane invested in the firm when it was teetering on the brink of collapse – Lane was not someone who should have been filled with ambition[14]. Indeed, Lane’s pent-up frustration burst out when Don fired him – he bemoaned the poor deal he cut with the other partners when they alit from Sterling Cooper and marveled at Don’s tin ear to the comparative importance each man placed on $8,000[15]. A man so scrupulous about the finances of his company nursed deep bitterness that in his own life, money was so tenuous. Having had that veil lifted and his shortcomings exposed, Lane suffers one last indignity on his way to the great beyond – the Jaguar his wife has purchased for him won’t start, so instead of suffocating himself with carbon monoxide, he is forced to swing from his employer’s ceiling[16].

Lane’s suicide affects Don deeply and much of the season finale suggests his remorse is tied to his half-brother Adam’s death, which occurred, as fans will recall, after Don rebuffed the young man when Adam tried to re-initiate contact with the former Dick Whitman back in Season 1[17]. Here, Don is left with the question of whether his termination of Lane drove the Englishman to suicide and the guilt he feels ties into deeper insecurity about his own amorality[18], but Don cannot win either way. When he attempts to pass along a small pearl of wisdom gleaned from his own life, telling Lane “I’ve started over a lot, this is the worst part[19],” he is rebuffed, but his decision to terminate Lane’s employment was entirely defensible. He did not do anything wrong[20] yet he feels responsible for Lane’s suicide.

As unexpected as Lane’s death was, Peggy’s decision to quit and join Cutler, Gleason and Chaough was a bolt from the blue. As an archetype of the modern professional woman, she has never shied away from defying convention – whether she was smoking pot with Kinsey and Smitty[21] or picking up a naïve college boy for a one-night stand, Margaret Olson has owned her modernity, but the more rarified air she inhabits the less oxygen there seems to be for her to breathe. As Don recedes into the background at work, she yearns to fill the gap, but discovers she cannot get away with browbeating clients as he does and her best efforts to encourage Megan’s nascent career are thrown back in her face when Megan decides to fold her tent and re-dedicate herself to acting[22].  Peggy is well aware that she is being handed more responsibility than ever by Don but his withholding of acknowledgment, an issue we first saw when he simply expected she would go with him to the new agency[23] and then again last season when she did not think he credited her enough with the Glo-Coat commercial[24], finally bubbled over in a tense exchange late in Season Five. While pinch hitting on a conference call with Chevalier Blanc where the client expected to wind down its business, Peggy extemporaneously pitches a new campaign idea, resulting in the account being saved. Her thanks? Don throws money in her face, humiliating her in front of her co-workers[25].

Don’s outburst is the final straw for her and, after some goading from Freddy Rumsen, she takes a meeting with Ted Chaough, the creative director at a competing advertising agency. Ted gives Peggy something Don rarely did – the respect she deserved, approval of her request for a promotion in title and an extra $1000, unsolicited[26].  Don’s initial dismissiveness of her resignation quickly shifts when he realizes she is serious, but it is too late. For a man who does not value relationships[27], the impact of losing his protégé is unclear, but the void Peggy leaves is hinted at soon thereafter, when an all-male creative team gets lambasted by Topaz Pantyhose for its tone deaf pitch. Meanwhile, life on the road for Peggy means a hotel room in Richmond with a window view of two dogs fucking and not Paris, but her contented smile as she curls into bed studying for the “women’s cigarette” pitch suggests she thinks she is coming into her own[28].

If only Peggy could find that same satisfaction at home. While seemingly content with Abe Drexler, a rabble-rousing underground reporter, she’s not above fits of pique that result in risky behavior, most notably a stony encounter in a movie theater jerking off a stranger who gets her high during a mid-day screening of The Naked Prey[29]. Even more disheartening is a missed signal she gets from Abe, who invites her to a dinner that Joan thinks will lead to a marriage proposal but is instead a “half loaf” of living together[30]. While Peggy keeps up a brave face, her disappointment is palpable. When the couple shares the news with Peggy’s mother Catherine, she is non-plussed, hissing at her daughter that she is selling herself short by agreeing to live with a man who has not proposed marriage[31].

And therein lies Peggy’s struggle, something she never seems quite able to reconcile. She knows and welcomes the changing times, but the tug of nostalgia is strong. Her drinking picks up noticeably this season and she muses aloud to Don’s new secretary Dawn about whether she [Peggy] should act more like a man, something she is wont to do. She also observes that the two of them need to stick together because as Dawn is the first African-American employee at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, so too Peggy was “the first” of her kind (copywriter) some years ago[32].  But Peggy is ultimately let down, by both Don and her mother. Don is incapable of recognizing her, or for that matter, strategically supervising her, and her mother’s disapproval runs all the way back to Peggy’s secret pregnancy. That Roger throws the “every man for himself” ethos in her face simply reinforces what Peggy is living with each and every day. 

Of course, Mrs. Olson’s staid view of marriage is becoming less relevant, but the fallout from its failure is no less acute. As Joan Harris balances the demands of being a mother to a newborn while husband Greg serves his tour in Vietnam, she gets the bitter with the better in the form of her mother, who provides needed babysitting for little Kevin, at a price – a hectoring tone blended with admonishments about a woman’s “role” and poo-pooing of Joan’s commitment to her career[33]. Greg’s return is both short lived and catastrophic, as he has made a unilateral decision to return to Vietnam for another year without consulting Joan, who promptly tells him to leave, but not before reminding him that she has not forgotten about his repulsive sexual assault on her before they were married[34].  Left with the stark reality of being a thirty-something divorcée and single mother, and incapable of stomaching her mother’s “I told you so” attitude, Joan leverages an “indecent proposal” proffered by one of the three men judging a competition among ad agencies for Jaguar into a 5% stake in Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce[35].

Joan’s denouement put to rest those things in her life she found irreconcilable – her almost pathological urge to have the “normal” life of husband, children and home making and the equally strong tug of professional achievement. Here, the bill of goods sold to Joan were long past expiration, she knew her husband was not a good man, yet married him anyway. She knew Roger was a boy in a man’s body, but had his baby anyway; but ultimately, the path she was on was unsustainable. Here again, Don attempted to interject a lesson from his own past. While she fumes over having divorce papers filed against her, Don tries to put the experience in a larger context, noting that “nobody realizes how bad it has to get – now you get to move on[36].” But moving on for Joan, a woman “raised to be admired[37]” has no charm. Not only does divorce still carry social stigma in the 1960s, but single motherhood complicates her life even more.  In that context, her decision to secure her financial independence by the means of selling her body is both rational and tragic. Her partnership stake provides freedom and Lane’s demise puts her squarely in charge as what we now term a Chief Financial Officer, but the manner in which she obtains this security comes at a high cost to her morality.   

At the other end of the marital spectrum is Betty Francis, safely ensconced in a home that her ex-husband refers to as a haunted house. For Betty, the ghouls are physical, a once svelte model’s body now gone doughy and soft. That Betty never cultivated a skill or career was not supposed to matter, after all, in her day, the role of mother was über alles, but rearing her children was a talent she never showed a particular acuity for and as Sally has grown into a willful pre-teen, Betty’s own immaturity continued to show[38]. Between the humiliation of weekly Weight Watchers meetings, a diet devoid of anything but fish, vegetables and a food scale as constant companion, Betty’s sense of self-worth has evaporated. Throw in an accidental tour of the Drapers’ new home on Park Avenue and a peep show of Megan’s half clothed body, and it’s all Betty can do to jam an aerosol can of Redi-Whip into her mouth and pull the trigger until she bursts[39].

Betty is drawn as the least actualized of the main characters and the one coping the worst as the environment around her changes and her value is diminished. Her hypersensitivity to weight gain is not mitigated when a biopsy of a growth on her thyroid turns out to be benign; her reaction is perverse. She seems disappointed that cancer could not explain why she had packed on the pounds[40].

But the target of Betty’s misplaced ire continues to be Sally and here we see the two moving ever closer to a confrontation that one can only assume will result in Sally thumbing a ride to Woodstock and landing in some hippie commune in Humboldt County. Here, Betty is at her ugliest; she plays petty head games and gropes for attention, as when she attempts to poison the well between Sally and Megan by telling her daughter about Don’s first wife Anna, while feigning surprise that Megan had not mentioned the original Mrs. Draper[41]. Unfortunately for Betty, both her daughter and Megan are more sophisticated than she – the latter talks Don out of calling Betty in a blind rage and the former coldly volleys back Betty’s follow-up questioning after she is told the whole story by Don. What Betty is left with is relevance as dwindled as the portions on her plate at Thanksgiving. Looking forlorn at her meager bounty, she proclaims unconvincingly “I am thankful because I have everything I want and no one else has anything better[42].”

As black and white as Betty remains, Sally is bursting in Technicolor. She is “13 going on 30” about everything from her wardrobe to her interest in boys, but ordering a cup of coffee while out with Megan and her hip friend Julia does not a grown woman make. Sally’s desire to step on the gas and accelerate into adulthood only speeds up her exposure to its ugliness. In short order, Sally learns the gory details of the Speck mass murder[43], is dosed with Seconal to help her sleep[44], goes from fawning fan girl to a newly invigorated Roger Sterling to freaked out adolescent when she sees Megan’s mother bobbing up and down in Uncle Roger’s lap[45] and stumbles through an afternoon with former neighbor Glen Bishop that ends unexpectedly when she “becomes a woman[46].”

Whereas Betty is in cement shoes stuck in the mid-1950s, Sally is pitch perfect to the times. From her Nancy Sinatra boots to her sass mouth, the parallel tracks of Sally’s development and the radical social changes that are lapping at the show’s doors are impeccable. And while Sally may be only a year or two away from joining the groupies Don and Harry meet backstage at the Rolling Stones concert[47], she is still young enough to be repulsed at the sight of Roger in flagrante delicto with Mother Calvet. When Glen asks her how New York City is, her one word response says it all – “dirty[48].”

Surely, Roger Sterling would disagree with young Sally’s assessment. After all, there are worse ways to end an evening than being on the receiving end of a blow job after hustling for new business leads all night, but of all the main characters, Roger’s storyline this season was the most unconventional. Denuded of power in the office with the loss of American Tobacco, Roger is left to flirt with Pete’s secretary in hopes of divining his newest leads[49] and put in his place when Pete announces the return of Mohawk Airlines, whose account management Roger handles, but Pete supervises[50].

But as Roger feels Pete’s hot breath on his neck, a most unusual experience opens his eyes to an entirely different view of the world. Goaded into ingesting LSD by his wife Jane, Roger experiences an epiphany and reshuffles the deck that is his life[51]. Gone is his defeatist attitude toward his “emeritus” status and in its place is an appreciation for his skill at flattery and the charm that greases social interaction. Instead of attempting to be Pete, he realizes the benefit of being a senior partner. He can have a boozy afternoon locking up Head Ski Company *and* bask in the amusement of Pete attempting to lug skis out of Roger’s office. While Roger is not above pettiness, he also realizes that his money can solve problems for him[52]. He can pay copywriters on the side to help him look good and can bribe underlings to switch offices so his perch is unaffected. Most importantly, because Roger wears his class status as comfortably as his tuxedo, he can move in high society circles, collecting business cards and contacts to find new clients.

But Roger’s newfound zeal would be pointless without Don Draper at his side, and for most of the season, the guy who spun a hypnotic tale of nostalgia and longing to the executives at Kodak[53], impressed the hell out of Conrad Hilton[54] and won a CLIO for Glo-Coat[55] is nowhere to be found. While Don’s ambivalence about work is tied to the “lavender haze” of matrimony and his wife’s indulgence of sexual role play, in an effort to be the better man he strived to be when he and Megan first got together[56], he course corrects too strongly and in the balance, loses sight of the work he loves. Don’s amazement at Megan’s ability to frame a pitch to Heinz arouses deep passion within him, but he is left confused when she walks away from her burgeoning career at that high point[57].

The aftermath of her resignation offers the pivot point to Don’s reemergence from his creative slumber. Once upon a time, Don had his finger on the pulse of popular culture, sneaking away for afternoons to watch avant garde movies and reading the latest bestsellers. Now, he does not know what is relevant. We flashback to a nice moment between him and Megan on their return from Disneyland[58], where he whistles “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to her, but in the present, when Megan tells Don to listen to Revolver, and specifically, the closing track, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” what is emitted from Don’s stereo is a sound that he is not only unfamiliar with, but has no use for[59]. When a teenaged girl comes on to him backstage at a Rolling Stones concert, his reaction is fatherly, not flirtatious – “we’re worried about you” he tells her[60].  At work, where he was once jetted off to the Rome Hilton[61], he must now be satisfied with a road trip to the Plattsburg Howard Johnson’s[62]. Instead of charms for his wife’s bracelet, he is reduced to salt water taffy and a plastic back scratcher. 

But Don is not so much at sea as indifferent about all of this until Megan quits.  As Don’s creative juices begin to flow again, it is no surprise that at first, his fastball is off. He coughs up weak pitches into a Dictaphone and realizes that the past year’s work has been done exclusively by his underlings[63].  Don is envious of new copywriter Michael Ginsberg and his notebook full of new and fresh ideas. Don’s envy gets the better of him when he submarines Ginsberg’s pitch for Sno-Cone in favor of his own[64]. But in doing so, Don realizes this pettiness is beneath him. When Ginzo tells Don he feels sorry for him, Don retorts that he “doesn’t think about him [Ginsberg] at all[65].”  Like Roger, Don is reminded that you don’t punch below your weight, and getting bogged down in pissing contests with Ginsberg only elevated him to Don’s level. Instead, Don focuses like a laser on Dow Chemical and with it, the allure of prestige and true financial freedom. His takedown of the executives is sharp, his defense of their manufacture of napalm shows he is on point, and his appeal to their avarice is compelling. It is as if Don finally remembered that he started the new firm to “build something” not to be entombed in old men’s mausoleums[66]. After the Dow pitch, Roger is pleased with the return of his old compadre, offering to buy him a drink if only Don will wipe the Dow executives’ blood off his mouth.

The return of “Donald Fucking Draper” to the boardroom is welcome, but in his personal life, the dormant “Dirty Don” may also be returning. In the aftermath of her resignation, Don is supportive of Megan’s decision, telling her “you’re everything I hoped you would be,” and encouraging her acting career while training his fire on Peggy for chasing Megan off[67].  But Don’s encouragement only lasts so long. He is taken aback when a potential part in a play would cause Megan to leave town for weeks on end and recoils at the overt anti-consumerist message of a play, America Hurrah[68] that members of her acting troupe star in. Don cannot square Megan’s purported desire to be an artist against her request that he add her resumé to a pile of candidates for a shoe commercial[69]. After all, he notes, commercials are just advertising in a different form and “no one’s made a stronger stand against advertising than you[70].”

Ultimately, it is Megan’s mother Marie who sets him straight. After another failed audition leaves Megan feeling useless and unworthy, Marie observes that her daughter has an “artistic temperament but is not an artist[71].” And while Marie counsels Don to “nurse” Megan through this latest setback and he will have “the life he desires,” we are left wondering just what life that is. Having bought into the idea that his wife wanted to pursue her dream of acting, Don could not think much of her request that he help her land a commercial while her stage career never got off the ground. Don tries to counsel her about the error in using his caché to get her foot in the door, but she is unmoved, so, in the season’s final scene, as he hands his bride off to do a “Beauty and the Beast” inspired commercial, Don’s repose is far more familiar to the viewer – a chilled Old Fashioned, an unfiltered Lucky and a comely blonde sidling up to ask him, “Are you alone?”

The truth is, that question could be asked of all the main characters over the course of this season, but the writers drove home the point most poignantly through a cameo appearance by former Sterling Cooper copywriter Paul Kinsey, who we learn has become a Hare Krishna and fallen in love with a former prostitute named Lakshmi[72]. But his paramour is just another charlatan who is using poor Paul, investing in him solely for his ability to recruit others to the cause. To ensure he stays, she seduces Harry Crane and then tells him to leave Paul alone. Instead, Harry does a noble thing[73].  Instead of being honest with Paul and telling him the “spec” script he wrote for Star Trek was awful, he gilds the lily, telling Paul he should take a chance on becoming a Hollywood writer, handing him a bus ticket and $500 to move to Los Angeles[74]. Paul’s response to this gift would neatly summarize something all the main characters in the series surely feel: “They all said they would do something for me, you are the first one who did.”

Although every season of Mad Men is, to a degree, about how each character wrestles with decisions, emotions and the world around them, what sets Season Five apart is its deep internality. In many ways, it represents the culmination of the many poor choices each has made along the way. Instead of having support to nurse their wounds, each character marinates in the slights they have received. Don thought he was marrying a budding copywriter who would also indulge his kinkiness and offer grounding and stability; instead, his prominence is leveraged by his cliché “struggling actress” wife to land a job doing something she claimed she disliked, namely, advertising. He stared into the abyss of an elevator shaft that had he not looked before he leapt, would have killed him, and came out realizing that chasing after nickel and dime accounts to keep the firm afloat but not successful, was not what he signed up for.

Joan earnestly bought into the belief that she could (and should) be a doting wife and mother to a successful doctor; instead, she births a bastard son, kicks out her rapist husband, and must lower herself to prostitution to gain financial independence. Peggy rose from the humble origins of a typist’s school to become an established copywriter, but her mother cannot stomach the idea of her unconventional living arrangement and her surrogate father at work treats her like shit, forcing her to quit. Pete never tires of reminding people how many hours he is putting in, how many clients he schmoozes and how hard he is working to secure the financial growth of the agency, but no one offers him the recognition he craves. In the meantime, his id has been unleashed in every direction, as he lashes out at anyone and everyone in a blizzard of invective that serves to mask his own feeling that he is, like those photos of Earth from outer space, “tiny, unprotected and surrounded by darkness[75].”

Lane is undone by his shame at owing money he cannot repay, but well before he loops his neck in the hangman’s noose, his impotence is well known. From being cut adrift by PPL to being on the business end of his father’s cane for his affair with a Playboy bunny, Lane cannot be the man he wants to be or live the life he wants to have. That he chose suicide over the indignity of returning to a place (and past) he loathed made complete sense.  Roger wallows in his uselessness until he is jolted back to life through the magic of LSD, but even that renewal is short-lived. While they wait to meet with the Dow executives, Don asks Roger what happened to his enlightenment, to which Roger replies glumly, “it wore off.” As Marie quickly scopes out Roger as a little boy, he is left to the diminishing return of chasing after that initial high. 

To this depressing milieu the writers insert one last cruelty. The only character offered a modicum of joy is the show’s most milquetoast member, Ken Cosgrove. Ken is the definition of unobjectionable[76] and while everyone else is busily moving themselves around the chessboard, Ken has quietly found his passion in creative writing, a fact he shares with Peggy when she accidentally runs into him as he is about to sit down to lunch with a representative from a publishing company. Word of Ken’s side project becomes more widely known when his wife Cynthia mentions his short stories during a dinner party and for that, Ken gets admonished by Roger for not devoting enough time to his day job. Ken tells Roger he will stop writing; however, he continues to do so, only under a new alias. You see, unlike the robot in Ken’s short story The Punishment of X-4, who collapses a bridge linking two planets by removing a single bolt and thereby killing everyone on it because he has no other way to rebel, Ken refuses to stop doing the thing he loves – writing; and in this quiet form of rebellion, he achieves something no other member of the Mad Men family does: happiness.  


[1]   Dark Shadows, Season 5, Episode 9.
[2]  The Mountain King, Season 2, Episode 12.
[3]   Flight 1, Season 2, Episode 2.
[4]   Nixon vs. Kennedy, Season 1, Episode 12.
[5]   Meditations In An Emergency, Season 2, Episode 13.
[6]   References to two mass murders committed within a few weeks of each other in 1966, one by Richard Speck in Chicago and the other by Charles Whitman in Austin, Texas, are made early in the season. Other allusions to death and destruction include Pete sitting through a car crash film in driver’s ed and Don doodling a noose during a meeting.
[7]   I even speculated that Pete would die in a car accident and wrote up a mock obituary:
[8]   Signal 30, Season 5, Episode 5.
[9]   The Phantom, Season 5, Episode 13.
[10]   Ibid.
[11]   Signal 30, Season 5, Episode 5.
[12]   Ibid.
[13]   At the Codfish Ball, Season 5, Episode 7.
[14]   The Shadow, Season 5, Episode 13.
[15]   Commissions and Fees, Season 5, Episode 12.
[16]   Ibid.
[17]   Indian Summer, Season 1, Episode 11.
[18]   Don suffers through a painful toothache through most of the season finale. When he finally has the tooth extracted, he has a hallucination in which Adam tells him it is not the tooth that is rotten.
[19]   Commissions and Fees, Season 5, Episode 12.
[20]   Indeed, even though he fires Lane, Don agrees to pay the firm back the money Lane stole.
[21]   My Old Kentucky Home, Season 3, Episode 3.
[22]   Don points the finger squarely at Peggy for Megan’s decision to quit, but unlike Don, Peggy took the time to get to know Megan as a junior copywriter and not only realized Megan didn’t like being one, but lambasted her for taking the spot of someone who might. See, e.g., Lady Lazarus, Season 5, Episode 8.
[23]   Shut the Door, Have A Seat, Season 3, Episode 13.
[24]   The Suitcase, Season 4, Episode 7.
[25]   The Other Woman, Season 5, Episode 11.
[26]   Ibid.
[27]   Shut the Door, Have A Seat, Season 3, Episode 13.
[28]   Or, as the real life tagline for Virginia Slims would put it, “you’ve come a long way, baby.”
[29]   Far Away Places, Season 5, Episode 6.
[30]   At the Codfish Ball, Season 5, Episode 7.
[31]   Catherine helpfully drops this bon mot on Peggy, suggesting that if Peggy is lonely, she should “get a cat. Thirteen years later, get another. Thirteen years after that, one more. Then you’re done.” At the Codfish Ball, Season 5, Episode 7.
[32]   Mystery Date, Season 5, Episode 4. Of course, this solidarity only extends so far. When Peggy realizes she has left her purse, with $400 in it, on the coffee table next to the couch Dawn is crashing on for the evening, she is leery. Dawn senses this and is gone before Peggy wakes up the next morning. 
[33]   A Little Kiss, Parts I & II, Season 5, Episodes 1 and 2.
[34]   Mystery Date, Season 5, Episode 4.  See also, The Mountain King, Season 2, Episode 12.
[35]   The Other Woman, Season 5, Episode 11.
[36]   Christmas Waltz, Season 5, Episode 10.
[37]   Ibid.
[38]   The writers appear uninterested in advancing any type of story line for middle child Bobby or baby Gene, each of whom appear in multiple episodes but say (and do) very little.
[39]   Dark Shadows, Season 5, Episode 9.
[40]   Tea Leaves, Season 5, Episode 3.
[41]   Dark Shadows, Season 5, Episode 9.
[42]   Ibid.
[43]   Mystery Date, Season 5, Episode 4.
[44]   Ibid.
[45]   At the Codfish Ball, Season 5, Episode 7.
[46]   This is the code word Betty uses to refer to Sally getting her period when she calls Megan to tell her Sally showed up at the Francis’s front doorstep. Commissions and Fees, Season 5, Episode 12. Arguably, Sally’s instinct to return to her mother’s home when she gets her period provides some comfort to Betty, but their awkward embrace and Betty’s speech about Sally one day “making babies” was straight out of the playbook of an earlier era. 
[47]   Tea Leaves, Season 5, Episode 3.
[48]   At the Codfish Ball, Season 5, Episode 7.
[49]   See, e.g., A Little Kiss, Parts I & II, Season 5, Episodes 1 and 2. In one of Pete’s pettier moves, he has Clara pencil in a fake breakfast meeting at 6 A.M. on Staten Island, which we see Roger dutifully getting dressed for.
[50]   Tea Leaves, Season 5, Episode 3.
[51]   Far Away Places, Season 5, Episode 6.
[52]   At various times during the season, Peggy, Ginsberg, Harry Crane, Roger’s first wife Mona, Kevin Harris (Joan’s little boy) and Roger’s soon-to-be ex-wife Jane are all on his “payroll.” While Roger understands he must give things away that he thinks should be his, he is not above getting a modicum of vengeance for those perceived injustices.
[53]   The Wheel, Season 1, Episode 13.
[54]   My Old Kentucky Home, Season 3, Episode 3.
[55]   Waldorf Stories, Season 4, Episode 6.
[56]   Tomorrowland, Season 4, Episode 13.
[57]   Although she laments copywriters as cynics, Megan’s parting shot at advertising was particularly cutting: “You work for months, for what? Heinz Baked Beans.” ZING.
[58]   Far Away Places, Season 5, Episode 6.
[59]   Lady Lazarus, Season 5, Episode 8.
[60]   Tea Leaves, Season 5, Episode 3.
[61]   Souvenir, Season 3, Episode 8.
[62]   Far Away Places, Season 5, Episode 6.
[63]   Dark Shadows, Season 5, Episode 9.
[64]   Ibid.
[65]   Ibid.
[66]   Shut the Door, Have A Seat, Season 3, Episode 13.
[67]   Lady Lazarus, Season 5, Episode 8.
[68]   Adding insult to injury, Don picks up the check for a meal he and Megan have with the actors.
[69]   Indeed, Megan shows herself to be devious with regard to this opportunity. She finds out about the commercial from one of her friends who thinks she (the friend) would be perfect for the ad. Instead of standing down, Megan begs Don to put her name in the pile. When he refuses, she has a drunken tantrum and he relents.
[70]   Christmas Waltz, Season 5, Episode 10.
[71]   The Phantom, Season 5, Episode 13.
[72]   Christmas Waltz, Season 5, Episode 10.
[73]  Harry’s act of kindness to Paul is a one off. Mr. Crane has remained a steady, if peripheral character throughout the series, but has become increasingly shallow over time. He shamelessly flirts with underage groupies, smokes marijuana, is never seen in the company of his wife and has sex with Lakshmi in his office. He bemoans married life at every turn and seems to care only about the size of his office and his next trip to the West Coast.
[74]   Christmas Waltz, Season 5, Episode 10.
[75]   Lady Lazarus, Season 5, Episode 8.
[76]   His philosophy of account management is perfectly illustrated when the team can’t decide between Ginsberg and Don’s ideas for Sno-Cone. Instead of picking the superior idea (Ginsberg) but angering his boss (Don), Ken says “let’s take ‘em both.” Dark Shadows, Season 5, Episode 9.
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  1. Great recap of the season! Do you know when season 6 begins?

  2. What year will we land in with season 6? Any guess?