The finale of Mad Men season five began with Don Draper soaking cotton balls in booze and putting them on his "hot tooth." Yep, in the last episode of a season in which we saw Lane's suicide, Peggy leaving the agency, Joan sleeping with someone to ensure the Jaguar win (and a partnership for herself), Sally hitting puberty (literally), and Betty in Weight Watchers, our main man has something as mundane as a toothache. But what does it mean? Because it's always supposed to mean more on this show, right?
The episode was titled "The Phantom" and it was...pretty literal, actually. Who are the phantoms? Lane Pryce, of course. Peggy, who's left the agency but who Don runs into in a movie theater. Don's brother Adam, the one who hanged himself (like Lane), who appears in Don's imagination/addled state as an employee at the agency and as the dentist who pulls Don's tooth. Pete's lover, Beth, with whom he has another rendezvous before she's off to get "fixed" in the old electro-shock asylum. When he comes to visit her she's forgotten who he is; he's become a phantom in his own mind, as has she. Megan's big dreams of acting, of which her mother Marie tells her, "you're chasing a phantom." Maybe, Don's relationship with Megan and Megan's relationship with Don, as they believed it to be. Certainly, Don's past life in general, or past lives, which are always haunting him but come closer to reaching through and grabbing him back in this episode than previously in the season.
It's hard to say how much time has passed between Lane's death in the last episode and this one. We do know that insurance money has been coming in, that there's so much money, according to Joan, that she asks Don whether she should even worry about being careful. In a meeting with the partners Lane's seat is notably empty; Joan takes the role of the fiscally responsible one as they talk about whether to expand into new space given that "revenues are up 34% from last year, making this our best quarter," says Joan; "ever," adds Bert. Joan is the only one, though, who seems still bothered by Lane's death—until Don goes to visit Price's wife to pay back the $50,000 collateral Lane had put toward their firm. She does not accept Don's apology, though she takes the money.
As for plots in this episode: We have Megan, who's still struggling to be an actress and who seems willing to stoop lower to get what she wants—or to get something that's lower than what she wanted in the first place. At the beginning of the episode we see her getting a rejection letter; she's spent money on a reel but it's only been a week and now the company she paid to film her and send it out just wants to sell her on classes. She's getting desperate. Her mother Marie is visiting and just makes things worse, telling her she's "hopeless" and blaming it on a bad translation—"people with hopes," she says she means.
Given all that, Megan gets a bit sneaky. She and a friend are looking for auditions in the paper, and her friend asks for a favor: Butler Shoes, Don's client, is looking for a "European type" girl, and can Megan do anything to help her? Megan says she'll try, but ultimately asks Don for herself and not her friend: “I want to work, it’s in town, so I’d be home for dinner,” she says. Don, confused and annoyed, says "I thought you hated advertising. It’s not art," and, more pertinently, perhaps, “You don’t want it this way. You want to be somebody’s discovery, not someone’s wife.” (Shades of Betty!)
Interspersed in that, we have the relationship between Pete Campbell and Beth Dawes. Beth is the wife of Pete's train buddy, the woman he had the brief affair with, the one he's become obsessed with in Pete-fashion. In the beginning of the episode, Pete, Beth, and Howard meet on the train. Beth excuses herself for a smoke and Howard goes along with her; as they walk away, Pete grabs the trailing scarf from her bag and fondles it. Later, Beth calls Pete to come and meet her at the hotel where she'd left him waiting before, then confesses she's being sent for electro-shock treatments, and that she'll "be different after." "It creates this sort of gray cloud," she says, but "it works." Pete doesn't seem to believe it, though he does believe, equally fantastically, that if the two of them were together all would be fine. A quick hark back to Lane, Beth hints at suicidal tendencies, to which Pete responds, "That's for weak people, people who don't want to solve a problem."
Peggy (who's still on the show!) is at her new agency, where she's got to learn to smoke "the lady's cigarette," as she's on what appears to be the Virginia Slims account. "You're a woman and you smoke: What do you want?" her boss asks.
Back at the Draper household, the person who's been calling and hanging up all day turns out to be Roger looking for Marie. He asks her to come over; she agrees, if he'll "lower his expectations." (When she gets there, he wants her to take LSD, though she refuses, telling him to please not ask her to take care of him.)
Megan, following her unsatisfactory conversation with Don, goes to take a bath and cries in front of the mirror. (Remember her "fake crying" practice earlier in the season?) When her mother comes in in the morning, Megan tells her "I’m sad." Marie's response: "Stop feeling sorry for yourself. You have a husband who provides for you even though you won’t give him a family...Not every girl gets to do what they want. The world can’t suport that many ballerinas."
In the agency, Don wanders around with his toothache, asking for Dawn for ice, talking to Joan, and then going to visit Lane's wife, where he offers his condolences and she tells him, stiffly, "We're not ones to wallow." But she has not forgiven, saying, “You had no right to fill a man like that with ambition," and then confronts Don with the photo of the girl that Lane had stolen from the wallet he found in the cab earlier in the season, a girl he never even met. "Don’t leave here thinking that you’ve done anything for anyone but yourself,” she tells Don.
Elsewhere in the world of not-domestic bliss, Pete gets home and Trudy is feeding the baby; she points to a design for a pool in their back yard, his tiny illustrated figure in the drawing—"That's you." Pete says, "Tammy could drown!" and Trudy explodes, "This gloom and doom, I'm tired of it!" In the city, Megan and Don's situation is spiraling as well. He comes home and she's drunk, her mother gone, and confronts him with what might be both of their deepest fears: "This is what you want, for me to be waiting for you? That’s why you won’t give me a chance. It’s either that or I’m terrible.” (Later, we see Don watching her screen test: Does he thinks he's terrible? He smiles, then he seems to frown.) When Don leaves Megan to sleep, Marie has returned, who tells him of her daughter, "This is what happens when you have the artistic temperament and you are not an artist. Nurse her through this defeat"—and he'll have the life he wants. But what life does Don actually want?
And then, a string of phantoms: Don's tooth is pulled, and in the pulling, suddenly he sees Adam as his dentist: "I wanted to do you a favor and take it out, but it’s not your tooth that’s rotten," says his brother. Pete goes to see Beth in the hospital, claiming to be her brother; she says she doesn't have a brother. When he realizes she doesn't remember him at all, he pretends to be there to see a friend who's been involved with another man's wife, which put in him the hospital. "He needed to feel that all this aging was worth something, that he knew something....When it went away he was heartbroken and he realized everything he had was not right either, and that was why it had happened at all...his life with his family was some temporary bandage on a permanent wound," he explains, of this "friend." Beth, in her gray cloud, says "Don’t worry, they’ll fix him up here."
Don runs into Peggy at the movies, and it's a sweet reunion. "You look good," he tells her. Peggy tells him she's going to Virginia to tour the cigarette factory. "I’m proud of you, I just didn’t know it would be without me," says Don, a reverse of his apparent troubles with Megan. And then, more phantoms: Pete's on the train, Howard arrives and tells him they should go get into trouble somewhere. Pete confronts Howard about what he's done to Beth, and suddenly Howard knows: "She always spreads her legs for the first chump she can find," he says. In the second fistfight of the episode, Pete and Howard fight but are separated by the conductor, who ends up punching Pete in the face and kicking him off the train. Bedraggled, bruised Pete returns home with an excuse for Trudy that he drove into a ditch. Trudy hugs him and says they'll find him an apartment in the city the next day.
Also acquiescing to his spouse's desires is Don. Ultimately, he's helped Megan get a part in the shoe ad, and she's decked out in a ridiculous costume with a flower halo as "Beauty." "You know I love you," she tells Don. There's a long Welles-ian type cut, and we see him walking out of the studio, the theme to the Bond movie You Only Live Twice playing. He settles at a bar, smoking (despite having been told at the dentist not to smoke, he's smoking, obviously), and orders an old-fashioned.
Then there's a foil to that window scene, pictured above, of all of the partners starting out of the window of their new office. We get a cut to Peggy, standing in her window at a Virginia hotel, combing her hair, just out of the shower. She sees a pair of dogs humping and then gets in bed with a glass of wine and smiles. (She's made it?). Pete is listening to headphones, in his own cloud. Roger is nude in front of his window, stretching, "king of the world"-ing, having done, presumably, LSD on his own. And then back to Don, where, at the bar, a young woman asks him for a light. "I'm sorry, but my friend down there, she was wondering, are you alone?" the girl asks.
"Old-fashioned Don" turns, and in the act of turning, I think, there's another phantom brought to life. Megan has become a Betty...and the relationship between the Drapers in the next season may be very different. In You Only Live Twice, Bond fakes his own death and lives anew. Don keeps trying—whether that means a return to his old ways or not, we'll have to wait to find out.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.