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Mad Men 05x09:
The devil's due

May 14, 2012 - Ray Eckenrode

Episode title: "Dark Shadows"

Significance: The term literally applies as Megan helps her friend rehearse for an audition for the vampire-centered ABC soap of the same name and gets a not too subtle reminder that you can't play the starving artist when you're living on Park Avenue. But the figurative foreshadowing of dark shadows has been a season-long process, so much so that we even titled one of these passages in last week's blog -- you guessed it -- "dark shadows" (we did, go ahead back and check last week's entry, total coincidence, or was it?). It also appears to be a coincidence that the episode titled "Dark Shadows" would air the same week the movie titled "Dark Shadows" premiered. This season of "Mad Men" was planned and written for a fall 2011 run, but delayed by contract negotiations, and we highly doubt that Matthew Weiner would change something as important as an episode title based on coincidental timing. (But we could be wrong about that, we've been wrong about such things before, like our long-time contention that the creators of "Lost" weren't just making it up as they went.) In any event, the foreshadowing of doom and gloom on the show has gotten to the point where it's being referenced directly in episode titles.

Time passages: About a month has passed since "Lady Lazarus" and it's Thanksgiving week of 1966 during "Dark Shadows." There's a toxic smog alert in Manhattan for the Macy's parade and a toxic parent alert for poor Sally Draper, who's used as a pawn by her self-absorbed mother in a long-range game of sabotage. But the jaded, world-wise pre-teen quickly turns the game around on her flummoxed mother, who seemed to be showing some promising self-awareness early in the episode (reflecting on the nature of her unhappiness during a Weight Watchers session) but who winds up petulantly knocking groceries to the floor as she prepares the holiday meal and then literally chewing on her disgust at dinner.

Musical notes: The closing credits roll over "Sweepin' the Clouds Away" by Maurice Chevalier, a song expressing the same "be responsible for your own happiness" sentiment Betty espoused early in the episode just before spending a genuinely tender moment with Henry. But by the episode's close, the song's lyrics ring hollow. As with everything on "Mad Men" these days, it's one step forward, 10 steps back.

Waxing poetic: In trying to express just how great he thinks his Sno-Ball pitch is, Ginsburg quotes "Ozymandias," by Percy Bysshe Shelley ("Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!"). But Rizzo quickly points out that Ginsburg's taking it out of context. The poem is not about triumph, but tragedy. (As an aside, we wonder how many of the modern-day ad agency wonks shown in AMC's "The Pitch" could casually drop a Shelley reference into their work day.)

Wonder boy: Despite the poetic license he takes with "Ozymandias," it's becoming more apparent each week that Ginsburg is a major asset to the future of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce and a major threat to the psyches of Don and Peggy. Don, of course, makes a deal with devil, ditching Ginsburg's great Sno-Ball pitch for his own very good one, featuring the prince of darkness. The idea sells (and Don gets off one of the all-time great last lines of an argument in "I don't think about you at all") but it's clear he's threatened by the new idea guy, despite Joan's spot-on reminder that it's his job to assemble creative talent not be the creative talent. And poor Peggy is just jealous that Ginsburg is now pocketing Roger's petty cash for some off-the-clock brainstorming on the Manischewitz account.

Roger, over and out: Speaking of petty and Roger, the heartbreaking storyline of Jane's new apartment and her now-ruined new start on life showed us the aftereffects of their LSD trip are still being felt. Roger does seem to have a genuine, new perspective on life. Unfortunately, that new perspective is just allowing him to see more clearly that he's a major league schmuck, rather than actually change his boorish behavior. We'll see if that changes.

Line of the night: "How Jewish? "Fiddler on the Roof": Audience or cast?" -- Roger

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