Maybe it was the return of Betty. Maybe it was too much of a good thing. Whatever it was, the streak of brilliant after brilliant episode had to be broken eventually, and “Dark Shadows” has the misfortune of giving Season Five its first hiccup. Last night’s episode of Mad Men was all over the place, and aside from giving Kiernan Shipka the opportunity to get her tween bitch on, it offered little more than tiresome, clichéd plot devices.
Betty, still overweight and jealous of Don‘s happy second marriage, has regressed into entirely childish behavior and is now using Sally as a pawn to cause a rift between her father and Megan. Over at SCDP, perhaps feeling less confident now that Megan has left the firm, Don pitches his own idea over Michael Ginsberg‘s to client Sno Ball, even though Pete, Harry and Ken all agreed Michael’s was the better pick. But what could have been a riveting story line merely felt like a condensed regurgitation of Peggy’s plight from the first three seasons.
All in the Family
About four months have passed since we last saw Betty, and Thanksgiving is on the horizon. She’s joined Weight Watchers, but we don’t exactly get the sense that January Jones will be relieved of her facial prosthetics or, erm, “body-augmentation” suit anytime soon. Upon arriving at the Draper apartment to collect Sally, Bobby and Gene, Betty is still visibly intimidated by the young, beautiful Megan (whom she catches putting a blouse on over her slim torso, making Betty look and feel all the more frumpy). Once back home, Betty doesn’t hesitate to seek solace in a can of Reddi Wip.
If there was any shred of sympathy that erupted from that scene, it immediately dissipates a couple of days later when she sees a sweet note Don wrote to Megan on a piece of paper that Bobby used for a drawing. Turning to Sally, who is making a family tree for school, Betty tells her to add an extra branch for Don’s first wife – Anna. Not cool, Betty.
The next weekend the Draper kids are in Manhattan, Sally’s demeanor has done a complete 180. Instead of taking crying-on-cue lessons from Megan, she’s accusing her stepmother of being a “phony” and displaying an attitude that isn’t altogether surprising after the dose of Seconal and her “dirty” night on the town a couple of episodes back. A Sally-Glen phone call was sorely missed this time around, but Megan, already on to Betty’s tricks, handles the situation pretty deftly, ambiguously explaining that Don and Anna got married to “help each other out.”
This latest lovefest with her stepdaughter goes to show that life hasn’t exactly been a picnic for Megan since she left SCDP. In a cute tongue-in-cheek reference to both the episode’s title and Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s latest cinematic enterprise, which opened this weekend, Megan helps her friend, Julia, prep for an audition for the 1966-1971 gothic soap opera that inspired the Burton film. But Julia is resentful that Megan is living on “73rd and Park” and not waiting tables like the rest of the aspiring actors out there.
In the evening, Megan informs her husband that Sally knows about Anna Draper, and is quick to parry Betty’s strategy. She deters Don from calling his ex-wife in anger, because that would be exactly what Betty wants: “the thrill of having poisoned us from 50 miles away.” Don hangs up the phone and apologizes. Checkmate, Megan.
The next morning, Don starts the process of bringing Sally into the Dick Whitman fold. She’s told very little – that he and Anna were friends who married only for legal reasons – but Sally, who reminds her father that she’s “not a little girl” but an observant young woman, asks if it was Anna’s house they visited in California: “The one who called you ‘Dick’?” Don confirms his daughter’s theory and expresses his remorse that she never had the opportunity to meet his dear friend. She may never learn the entire story of her father’s past (it’s still unclear how much Megan actually knows), but for the first time in her life, Sally is treated like an adult by Don. Her tone soon softens, and she is prepared to make amends to Megan for her behavior. Beautifully acted scenes like this one between Jon Hamm and Kiernan Shipka are too few and far between.
Don’s straight talk doesn’t extinguish Sally’s ever-encroaching surly side, though – it merely redirects it toward a more appropriate target. Back home in Rye, after receiving an A+ on her family tree, Sally informs her mother that Don and Megan showed her pictures of Anna and that they “spoke very fondly of her.” Her nefarious plan thwarted, Betty petulantly knocks a box off the kitchen table. It’s a shame she’s not more proud of her daughter, though. Sally’s adroitness at mind games just goes to show that she learned from the best.
Don’s trepidation over Megan leaving SCDP in last week’s episode was anything but subtle. Her resignation may not have been mentioned, but it was quite clear that Don’s usual swagger has been replaced with uncharacteristic insecurity. And the person who winds up bearing the brunt of Don’s anxiety isn’t his usual go-to gal Peggy, but an unsuspecting Michael.
The firm is pitching Sno Ball, a Pepsi-flavored ICEE-type beverage. Don has his team work up two campaigns, one that came from Michael, the other from Don. Right before the client meeting, Peggy, Michael, Stan, Don, Pete, Harry and Ken consider the campaigns side by side. It’s obvious that while Don’s devilish take on the “snowball in hell” idiom is clever, the team is much more taken with Michael’s funnier “Hit me in the face with a Sno Ball” idea, which sees actual snowballs thrown at authority figures like cops and schoolteachers. He won’t admit to it, but Don chuckled aloud when he stumbled over an early draft of Michael’s idea (Hitler!) while in the office over the weekend. It’s decided that Don will lead off with the “Hit me in the face” pitch, but just before he exits the taxi, Don purposely leaves Michael’s campaign in the back seat.
The meeting goes off without a hitch, and Harry returns to the office to deliver the good news that there will be Sno Balls in hell. But once Michael gets wind of the fact that his idea never even made it to the table, he lets his arrogance get the better of him. He confronts Don in the elevator, but Don blows him off, explaining that pitching two ideas is “weak,” and what’s important is that the client bought it. It was a mediocre redux of last season’s “Glo-Coat” argument between Don and Peggy in “The Suitcase,” but the difference is, this time we know that Don deliberately submitted his idea just so he could feel powerful again. Michael warns Don that he’s got “a million” more ideas where his Sno Ball pitch came from, but Don isn’t fazed, because he’s still the boss: “I guess I’m lucky you work for me.” Michael tries one last swipe (“I feel bad for you”), but as Peggy, Don and everyone else at SCDP can attest, no matter how talented you are, you still start at the bottom of the totem pole. “I don’t think about you at all,” Don snaps coldly as the doors close on Michael.
Wrap-Up: Roger had ex sex with Jane – after enlisting her “Semitic” qualities to charm Manischewitz into hiring SCDP, at the price of a brand-new apartment – and succeeded in breaking her heart all over again. And Beth Dawes made a brief return, wearing little more than a fur coat and pearls as the subject of Pete’s hot afternoon daydream. Although the way Howard Dawes keeps bragging about his girl on the side, he might not mind Pete’s fantasies becoming a more regular reality.
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