The episode might have been called Dark Shadows, but the plot reminded me of an old joke:
Two bulls, an older bull and a younger bull, are grazing at the top of a hill, when they spot a cluster of cows down in the meadow. The younger bull says "Let's run down there and fuck us a cow." The older bull chuckles, and says, "Let's walk down and fuck 'em all."
The storyline was less "dark shadows" and more spite and envy, of people unable to let go of their virility, their vanity, or their pride, of one generation telling the next, "not so fast," and of people who feel their grasp on control slipping away and clinging to it at all costs. The episode laid bare a lot of emotional ugliness, most prominently with Betty, whose struggle with weight and jealousy toward Don and Megan's new life led her to reveal to Sally that she (Betty) was Don's second wife, and that another woman, Anna, had been his first spouse. When Sally lashes out at Megan for failing to mention Anna, Betty seems to have scored a petty point, but Megan is more sophisticated than Betty, and quickly turns the tables on her, resulting in Sally sending several veiled barbs at her mother in return.
As Henry, Betty and the kids sit down for a traditional Thanksgiving, Betty repeats her mantra that she "has everything." It's a line I first remember hearing during last season's episode The Summer Man, when Betty's old neighbor Francine was helping her prepare for baby Gene's first birthday party. In a Pleasantville world that is now brimming with psychedelic color, Betty is zealously black and white. Superficially, she is bland and anodyne, but her impotence in a world that no longer solely values the "stay at home" mother causes her to act out - either through binge eating, demeaning her children, or stirring shit with her ex-husband and his new wife. She defined herself in earlier seasons by her looks and figure, her ability to attract men and to be seen (to the outside world at least) as a dutiful wife and mother, but those ships have sailed, and, absent anything to define herself through (or with), she is left with an aerosol can of Reddi-wip and chewing her food 21 times before swallowing.
Even the new, mellower Don Draper is not immune to having his manhood threatened. As he reviews recent work to update his "book," he realizes he has contributed little, relying instead on new kid on the block Ginsberg to do most of the heavy lifting. Perhaps it is Don seeing a younger version of himself in the eager Mr. Ginsberg, but he struggles to come up with an alternative pitch for Sno-Ball, eventually settling on one that his creative team tepidly endorses and Ken suggests they offer to the client along with one of Ginsberg's ideas. When it comes time to pitch, however, Don leaves Ginzo's idea in the cab and wins the client over with his idea. When Ginsberg confronts Don about the snub, Don quickly puts Ginsberg in his place, first reminding Michael that he works for Don and then, when Ginsberg says he pities Don, Don retorts that he doesn't even think about Ginsberg. An invigorated Don then strides purposefully to his office.
Of course, the ultimate adult as adolescent is Roger, who, along with Bert, hatches a plan to nab wine maker Manischewitz without notifying Don or Pete of the scheme. Roger's problems though are two-fold: first, he cannot write copy, and thus, engages Ginsberg in "side work" (think Peggy and Mohawk Airlines) and second, he needs the assistance of his soon-to-be ex-wife Jane, who is Jewish, to help seal the deal. Ginsberg costs Roger $200, but Jane extracts a new apartment to attend the dinner. While the meal goes well, and Ginsberg's pitch (largely uncredited) is accepted, Roger is put off by the overt flirting the owner's son does with Jane. When Roger invites himself up to Jane's new apartment after the dinner, he has sex with her, thereby tainting, in her mind, her new home. If he were a dog, Roger could have lifted his leg and peed on the doorstep. He wants what he wants, and he rarely assesses the consequences. Perhaps he needs to take another tab of LSD.
A rung lower on the totem pole, Peggy expresses anger toward Roger for cutting her out of the Manischewitz side project and Harry Crane complains about promises that have been unkept. All Pete can do is have a saucy dream about Beth and lash out at her philandering husband when he crows about spending time with his mistress before settling in with his family for Thanksgiving. Each is at a pivot point in their lives, where they will either ascend the professional ladder or become ever moving lateral employees, never quite getting the corner office. In their personal lives too, families beckon, and decisions about life insurance, home mortgages and children now dominate their thinking. They are each, in their way, necessary for the proper functioning of the agency, but exist in the background and must squelch their feelings of envy and desire.
This push and pull is a constant theme in Mad Men, of yearning unrequited, of dreams dashed or roads not taken. A season ago, Peggy lashed out at Don for not properly giving her credit for Glo-Coat, his response was that her salary was her reward and he interpreted her ambitiousness as impolitic, questioning whether she had paid her dues. But in a world that is rapidly changing, of, as Roger says, "every man for himself," the idea of a hierarchy is fading. Pete brazenly challenges Roger's position with the firm and Ginsberg flouts custom by openly questioning his boss's decision making. In seasons past, this type of intemperance would not happen and if it did, direction to gather one's things would be the end result. But workplace insolence is nothing compared to the rebellion that what will grow into the "Baby Boomer" generation is starting to express at home. Sally's attitude toward her parents (and Megan) is confrontational, sarcastic, and without deference to authority. What Dark Shadows most clearly expressed is the cleaving of a society that, in 1966, is beginning to split apart along gender and generational lines, with everyone struggling to adapt to the shifting landscape.