'Mad Men' Recap: The Toothache - Rolling Stone
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‘Mad Men’ Recap: The Toothache

In season finale, Don gets Megan an acting gig and Pete revisits a relationship

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Jon Hamm as Don Draper and Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson on 'Mad Men.'

Courtesy of AMC

All season long, Don has been teetering dangerously close to resuming his old habits, only to stop short of giving in to his impulses. A graphic fever dream aside, he has remained faithful to Megan, leading us to believe that Don Draper, the man who defined the term “womanizer,” for the first time ever would close out Season Five with only a single sexual partner to his name. But any fan of Mad Men would tell you that Matthew Weiner never lets his audiences off that easy, which is why we now have to wait until Season Six to find out if Don accepted the advances of the two ladies attempting to pick him up at a bar.

While Weiner, who directed and co-wrote “The Phantom,” left plenty of story lines poised for further exploration next season, he also provided enough resolution that leaves us satiated until Mad Men’s return next year. Peggy made three brief appearances, reassuring viewers that her character had not gone the way of Lane Pryce. And Pete’s hopeless infatuation with Beth Dawes reached a denouement.

You Only Live Twice

Throughout the episode, Don has a nagging toothache, yet he ignores all advice to visit a dentist, insisting that it will go away. He’s also plagued by visions of his half-brother, Adam Whitman, who, like Lane, hanged himself back in Season One. Something is lingering within Don, and while the manifestation of Adam with the large rope-burn on his neck does suggest unresolved guilt over Lane’s death, it’s obvious the basis for Don’s torment is something larger.

Lane’s suicide is addressed a few times during the episode, but primarily through the one thing that ultimately did him in – money. Joan informs Don that the company has received $175,000 in a death benefit. Don has her cut a check for $50,000 (the original amount each partner put up as collateral to keep SCDP in business back in 1965) to give to Lane’s wife, Rebecca. Not surprisingly, the grieving Mrs. Pryce isn’t too keen to receive Don or his money when he stops by her apartment. As if Don wasn’t dealing with enough, Rebecca lays into him for “filling [Lane] with ambition” – and for bringing Lane into a world where infidelity was routine. Yep, she found Dolores’ picture in her husband’s wallet.

To quote the Adam Whitman apparition, “It’s not [Don’s] tooth that’s rotten,” even though a dentist eventually removes it. The real problem here is Don’s ongoing inner turmoil over his past, as well as his wife’s independence, which hits another speed bump this episode. Megan’s acting career isn’t going as well as she had hoped: she had paid for a screen test, which was then sent out to agents. But the reel was returned to her with a note saying it received no responses.

Adding insult to injury, Marie is in town, and unlike her Marxist husband, Mme. Calvet is of the opinion that her talentless, “ungrateful little bitch” of a daughter should stop “chasing a phantom” and give her wealthy husband children. When she’s not lowering Megan’s self-esteem, Marie augments her New York visit with a hotel-room romp with Roger (who evidently enjoyed her oral skills enough during the American Cancer Society gala that he shamelessly calls the Draper residence pretending to be Emile just to get Marie on the phone).

Her auditions dwindling, Megan is tipped off to a “Beauty and the Beast” commercial for one of Don’s clients, Butler Shoes, by her friend Emily. Emily was hoping Megan would get her an audition by asking her husband, but Megan asks for herself instead. Don, worried about the conflict of interest, dissuades his wife from this idea. The next night, Don comes home to find Megan dressed in a negligee, drunk off her ass and accusing Don of not wanting her to succeed as an actress. Don blames Marie for putting her daughter in this state, but at least Marie is willing to face the truth that’s haunted Megan for years: “This is what happens when you have the artistic temperament but you are not an artist.” Marie advises her son-in-law to “nurse [Megan] through this defeat,” and then he will have the stay-at-home wife he supposedly wants.

Following his belated dentist appointment, Don goes to the movies, where he bumps into Peggy. Things are going well for the CGC copy chief. She has creative control over her work, she’s sporting some new, bright-red threads – and she’s about to head off on her first plane trip. (Judging from the episode’s final montage though, it’s possible her career has derailed her sex life. We haven’t seen Abe since he and Peggy moved in together, and the image of two dogs humping outside of her Virginia hotel room seemed to imply that everyone is getting laid – except Peggy.) Don expresses his happiness for her, but not before displaying a touch of bitterness: “That’s what happens when you help someone – they succeed and move on.” At the same time, Don realizes that he hasn’t lost Peggy. They’re still friends. So perhaps giving his wife a leg up wouldn’t be so bad. Soon afterward, Don is watching Megan’s screen test and a couple of scenes later, she’s being escorted onto the Butler Shoes commercial set dressed as “Beauty” in a dirndl and a floral wreath.

When the shoot begins, Don exits the area – effectively walking away from Megan, as the set grows smaller behind him. He enters a bar, as “You Only Live Twice” begins to play. (It’s the second James Bond music reference this episode, as the movie Peggy and Don saw was Casino Royale, the Peter Sellers Bond spoof.) The lyrics suggest that perhaps Don is sacrificing his desire for a traditional wife in order to make Megan happy (“make one dream come true, you only live twice”). But as we saw from the Adam Whitman phantom, Don’s demons are still in full force, and when he’s approached by a sultry blonde who asks if he’s there alone, he hesitates before the screen fades to black, leaving us to wonder until next season if he’s finally reached his breaking point.

State of Shock

He wasn’t the one who committed suicide, but Pete’s overall unhappiness in his personal life came to a head this episode. And even though it revolved around his continued unfaithfulness to Trudy, it was nonetheless poignant. He runs into Howard and Beth Dawes on the commuter train to Manhattan, who tell him Beth is off to stay with her sister. But later that day, Pete receives a call from Beth, who wants to make up for their failed rendezvous at the Hotel Pennsylvania. Pete is initially hesitant, but he agrees to meet her. Once ensconced in their room, Beth reveals the true reason for why she’s in town: She’s about to undergo electro-shock therapy for her depression – not for the first time – and she wants to have one last tryst with Pete before she loses her memory of him. They make love, but Pete is horrified.

A day or two later, Pete poses as Beth’s brother in order to visit her at the hospital. As Beth predicted, she has no recollection of him, but asks him to keep her company anyway. In yet another one of Vincent Kartheiser’s superb scenes this season, Pete talks to Beth about a “friend” of his who got involved with another man’s wife because he needed adventure and to feel handsome again. He wound up falling in love, and it only made him realize that life with his own wife and daughter was “a temporary bandage on a permanent wound.” Pete Campbell will never cease to fascinate me as a complex character, because while he has no qualms about prostituting a colleague, he is still a deeply downcast individual whose pathetic life is capable of inducing sympathy.

When Pete sees a wasted, jovial Howard on the train that evening, he berates him for partying while his wife lies in a hospital bed and expresses his disgust over Howard’s haste in “erasing [Beth’s] brain,” effectively admitting to his affair. Their argument quickly deteriorates into a brawl – although far less entertaining than the Campbell/Pryce bout of 1966 – and Pete, after unwisely assaulting a conductor, gets himself thrown off. Ironically, this entire ugly incident convinces Trudy to give her blessing for an apartment in Manhattan. But that’s because she’s under the impression Pete’s black eye is the result of his poor driving skills. Will we see Pete and Trudy Campbell divorce next year? Hard to say. But as Howard Dawes predicted at the start of the season, if Pete has a crash pad in the city, it’s unlikely he’ll be rushing home to Cos Cob.

Wrap-Up: Unlike Season Four’s finale, the professional future of Mad Men’s principals as of March 1967 is bright. Joan has found a larger work space for SCDP, and the shot of her with Pete, Roger, Don and Bert all standing in a row, looking out at their new view, was not only an incredible visual, but it reaffirmed that despite all of their personal messes and the tragic loss of a partner, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce – Sterling Cooper Draper Harris? – is here to stay.

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