Thursday, May 17, 2012

Review: Mad Men "Dark Shadows"

Non Spoiler Review:
Dark Shadows was a heavy-handed episode, requiring little probing to uncover the themes. It was all jealousy and vindictiveness and revenge. The Drapers, the Francises and the players at SCDP all engage in backstabbing and, as Roger sums it up, every man for himself.

As Thanksgiving approaches, the focus is back on Betty, who is still grappling with her weight, and realizes it's not just the food that's the problem. Sally and the boys are enjoying their time at Don and Megan's, and Sally is in the midst of doing a family history project which provides Betty an opportunity to sow some discord. Roger is back trying to woo new clients, which requires Jane's (Semitic) help. Michael and Don begin to compete for pitches.

It remained a satisfying episode, despite that we've had quite a string of these dark chapters showing the underbelly of the characters and their life in Manhattan. While Dark Shadows didn't highlight any future direction for this season, it remained a good one, with more enjoyable stuff for Sally, while updating the status of where some characters are at. 

Spoilers Now!
Pete has an acquaintance at the New York Times who is going to focus an article on up-and-coming ad agencies, which provides SCDP a chance to get some publicity. Meanwhile, creative is working on a campaign for Sno Ball. When Don stays late he happens upon Michael's work folder and is amused by all the man's ideas. That prompts him to brainstorm himself, and comes up with a pitch based around snowball's chance in hell. When creative meets to banter around all the ideas, Don starts to feel that his ideas aren't getting the same attention as Michael's, but they finally decide to go on the two pitches—Don and Michael's, and when they present them to Pete, Ken and Harry, they find Michael's the funny one, but still think presenting two options is best. Michael comments that it's good to see Don can still come up with ad copy despite being away from it.

Bert presses Roger to get back into finding clients, so has set up a meeting with Jewish wine maker, Max Rosenburg, for him to have dinner with. That requires Roger's Jewish wife Jane to seal the deal, only Roger has to remind him that they're getting a divorce. Roger goes to Michael to secure some ideas for the dinner—similar to what he asked Peggy to do on Mohawk. Michael needs financial encouragement, as well, so Roger has to dole out some cash to bribe him to do the extra work (that Roger will take credit for). Michael realizes how much Roger hates Pete.

Roger calls Jane to try to get a favor out of her. She offers a deal that he buy her a new apartment, given the current one has all their memories (plus his mother is her landlord). He concedes.

Betty and Henry pick up the kids from Don and Megan. Sally is in the midst of a family tree project for school, and Megan is busy teaching her some of her acting skills from class. Betty runs up to get them and is let in by Sally, so takes the opportunity to look at the Draper's marvelous apartment. She spies Megan getting dressed through the balcony window, then she comes out and they have a tense hello. When they get home, Betty goes straight to the fridge and sprays whip cream in her mouth, then quickly spits it out. Betty's been attending Weight Watchers, and has only lost half a pound, but confesses to the group she had a bad week and realizes it's not just food that is the problem.

Megan's friend is trying out for a part in Dark Shadows. Her friend is annoyed that Megan makes light of the bad script, and comments that she's got an amazing life where she doesn't have to struggle to make ends meet while she indulges in her acting passion. Megan is offended, but admits she's very lucky.

Sally has questions about the family tree she's working on (where to put Megan and Henry). Betty finds a note in Bobby's homework—a love note from Don to Megan. So she tells Sally not to forget Don's first wife, the one she had before her—Anna Draper. Betty comments she's surprised Don never mentioned it to her and leaves Sally to consider that.

Michael can't keep a secret, so reveals to Peggy he's doing some work for Roger but isn't supposed to tell. He wants to look smart at the meeting. Peggy says she doesn't care what he does, but is angry that Roger went to Michael over her. She confronts Roger in the elevator telling him her work for Mohawk was great, and at least she kept it secret. She tells him he's not loyal. Roger explains it's every man for himself.

The kids are back at Don and Megan's, but Sally is cool to her father and seriously bitchy to Megan, calling her a liar. Megan questions why she's being so nasty. Sally asks who Anna is. Megan wants to know who told her about her, and explains it wasn't her place to say. She concedes Anna and Don got married to help one another and never had any babies, a long time ago. Sally orders her not to tell her father.

When Sally is asleep Megan tells everything to Don and that Betty obviously told her. Don is furious and moves to call Betty. He adds Megan shouldn't have said anything at all. She tells him if he calls her he'll be giving Betty the thrill of knowing she poisoned them from 50 miles away. Sally is listening at the door. Don realizes she's right and apologizes for his reaction. In the morning, Don is woken up by a phone call from Pete who says they're not even mentioned in the Times article. It quickly turns into a blame game, and Don snaps to Pete not to wake him and throw his own failures in his face, and hangs up. 

Sally comes out. Don apologizes to her and admits it's his fault. Betty doesn't care about hurting her, she just wants to hurt Don and Megan. Don goes on to explain Anna was a friend but she died. And they married one another so she could own a house. Sally agrees to apologize to Megan. 

In the cab to the Sno Ball meeting, Don leaves Michael's idea in the car. Sno Ball thinks Don's pitch is great, and Harry informs the team when he returns to the office. Michael is mortified to learn his creative didn't get shown to the client. Peggy is amused.

A proud Betty tells Sally she got an A plus on her family tree, then asks if Megan helped her and if she asked about Anna. Sally cheerfully informs her that they did, and Don showed her pictures and they spoke very fondly of her. Betty sends her to watch television.

At Roger' client meeting, Jane charms the wine maker. Max' handsome son Bernard shows up. Jane finds him very attractive. Roger sells them on a good pitch, though he admits he did engage his creatives in anticipation of the dinner. Afterwards on the drive home, he asks Jane if she'll call Bernard, and to remember everyone thinks they're still married. He wants to see the apartment she picked out and tells her he's missed her and kisses her. They end up having sex. In the morning, Jane is depressed that she wanted the new apartment because she didn't want the memories of the old one, and now he's ruined this one. He gets everything he wants and he still had to do this. He admits she's right and he feels terrible, leaving her.

Pete has a daydream where Beth shows up in his office naked under a fur coat. On the train home, Howard is excited about spending the weekend with his fling in the city, which infuriates Pete. He suggests he should go to Howard's house and screw his wife all weekend. Howard just laughs and thinks Pete is jealous.

Michael confronts Don in the elevator (where all the big conversations are had these days), congratulating him on his successful pitch, but commenting his wasn't even presented, so they have no idea what they might have chosen. Michael muses he has a million great ideas so Don counters that's fortunate he works for him. Michael says he feels sorry for him. Don tells him he doesn't think about him at all.

Megan prepares Thanksgiving dinner for Don and her friend. As Don goes to open the balcony, she warns him there's a smog emergency and they can't open the doors. He looks out at the grey haze over Manhattan.

At the Francis dinner, everyone comments on what they're thankful for. For Sally, it's that she's doing well in school. Betty says she has everything she wants. Then she looks down at the few morsels she's allowed herself for dinner and savors each bite. 

The Verdict:
Sally shines again, this time with the help of Megan's coaching, able to turn the tables on her mother and fire back a damaging shot with little effort. Too bad Don and Megan won't be privy to how she dealt with Betty's questions. Either Sally is going to go completely off the rails as a teenager, or she'll grow up extremely well-adjusted.

Betty's peek into Megan and Don's life was a bitter pill to swallow. It's everything she ever wanted. That's mostly Don's fault for robbing her of her dreams and turning her into the woman she's become, but it was a very effective moment. She still has a relatively loving relationship with Henry, but he's certainly not the dynamic man she wanted in her youth.

Beth's brief reappearance indicates that plot line isn't done with and will have some probable repercussions for Pete.

The atmosphere at SCDP continues to be as toxic as the obvious metaphor of the smog over the city. What a stark contrast to the first season's very rigid power structures. Now Michael and Peggy have Roger over a barrel and can have arguments in the open with their superiors. Perhaps this backstabbing, every man for himself attitude is what is ultimately going to drive the final direction of the season and backfire against the firm. 

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