Entertainment Magazine

Review #3510: Mad Men 5.9: “Dark Shadows”

Posted on the 16 May 2012 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Henry T.

Written by Erin Levy
Directed by Scott Hornbacher

I’ve been accused in the past of judging Betty Francis too harshly on a couple of episodes on this show. I take that criticism to heart and as such, I’ve tried to look at Betty’s character objectively. She makes her return here after the events of “Tea Leaves” and I’m still unsure of her place in the whole narrative.

Review #3510: Mad Men 5.9: “Dark Shadows”

Despite her detachment and distance from the main narrative of the episode, she still has an effect on people. Specifically Don and Sally, and to a lesser extent, Megan. Beyond those three, and her husband, she doesn’t provide anything really essential to the show. The symbolism in this episode is obvious: Betty is like the “killer” smog that envelopes Manhattan at the end. She’s initially thought of as a deadly and mysterious force of nature. Don shouldn’t go outside for fear of getting hurt by her. Ultimately, she’s dismissed as non-threatening. What is seen on a shallow level hides what is really underneath. That can applied to much of what occurs in this episode.

The more I look at it, though, I think there is something that is missing from Betty’s core. She doesn’t look as fat as she did when we last saw her, and we see why here. She’s attending regular Weight Watchers meetings, though it seems her heart isn’t really into the strict regimen. She tries to control her food portions everywhere she can, though it seems like all she wants to do is tear loose like she did with the ice cream sundae in the end of the “Tea Leaves” episode. Outwardly, she projects the image of control and discipline. She sprays whipped cream into her mouth in a moment of impulse, then immediately spits it out. She waits until midnight strikes before taking a bite of Henry’s steak. She deprives herself of turkey at the Thanksgiving dinner.

She isn’t enjoying any of this, though. Her actions throughout the episode prove this. Betty is envious that Don took a beautiful, foreign, younger wife and lives in a trendy Upper West Side apartment. So she uses her daughter to effectively poison the idyllic image of Don and Megan’s marriage in revealing one of Don’s biggest secrets. It works for the briefest of times, as it leads to one of the few times that Don is mad at his daughter. In the end, Sally dismisses the fact that her father was married to someone before Betty, probably because she understands a little bit how much Anna meant to Don’s life.

What I also found very revealing about Betty’s psyche is her final statement in the episode: That she has everything she wants in her life, and that no one has any better. I think she forces herself to believe this as fact. In truth, she’s still a very sad person (despite a surprisingly civil conversation between her and Henry at night) and, like her thyroid scare in “Tea Leaves,” determined to drag everyone down to her mindset.

It feels almost like Betty hasn’t been taught properly on how to be an adult. She’s still a petulant, spoiled child at heart, and her emotional growth has stunted since she divorced from Don. Sometimes it fits with the episode’s larger themes (as it does here), and sometimes, it misses the boat completely. Betty has been in such a small part of this season that she functions almost as a forgotten entity, and it’s like the writers have little idea as to where to go with her character.

The rest of the episode fits into this shallow perception theme that is being presented. Don tries to invest himself more into the work at SCDP. It looks like he’s trying, being more competitive with the other copywriters and throwing his weight around with pitches to companies. Something feels off, though, and one can’t wonder if Megan’s absence has something to do with that. He views Ginsberg as the primary threat, and their little subplot here is the essence of the old guard trying to keep up with the new.

Don’s idea for the Sno-Ball pitch involves the familiar phrase of “a snowball’s chance in Hell.” Like Ginsberg’s misappropriation of the quote from the “Ozymandias” poem, Don misses the meaning of that phrase and how that would come off in the ad. The phrase means something is very unlikely to happen, which isn’t the best message to convey in an ad where consumers want something. It isn’t as funny or current or adaptable as Ginsberg’s idea for Sno-Ball. Ginsberg’s idea of a Sno-Ball hitting the face of various authority figures speaks to the whole counter-culture that is growing at the present time.

The next decade of the country’s history will contain plenty of clashes between its youth and those who are in power. The ad campaign speaks not only to what’s going on in the US in the late 1960′s, but the growing generation gap between men like Don and boys like Ginsberg. Don can’t deny for much longer how big a threat Ginsberg represents to his career. Peggy is closer to Ginsberg’s age, but even she admits that she’s been off her game for a while now. It’s because she chose to follow in Don’s footsteps, and when Don falters, she does as well.

I found very little to glean from either Roger’s little storyline or what occurs with Pete as well. Roger uses Jane to try and get a client that is manufacturing Manischewitz wine. They have to play up the image that they’re still married in order for the client to be impressed. I think the ruse worked and Roger finally gets a client after being adrift at work for so long. It only cost him most of whatever little goodwill he had left with Jane. I felt bad for her because she wants to get away from Roger so much, and yet can’t truly escape his clutches. He keeps buying her expensive things.

Pete, on the other hand, seems unwilling to let go of Beth. He daydreams about her, and basically admitted their affair to his friend Howard, only to have the admission laughed off as a joke. The regret and contempt on Pete’s face in that moment speaks a thousand words. It seems like he really wants the affair to continue and become reality. The message isn’t getting through here. Pete has been rejected multiple times, and yet he cannot let go of the fantasy.

That’s one of the core messages of this show. Everyone is in the business of telling people what they want through advertisements. They dress up the fantasy in order to hide the reality underneath. If the reality or true message were to be revealed, there’s a large chance people will dislike it. That’s not what ad executives like Don want. It’s the fantasy that sells everything.

Grade: 8/10

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