Sunday, June 10, 2012

"Mad Men," Season Five, Episode 13, "The Phantom"

The final episode of season five, which occurred in 1966-67, brought together major themes from the previous episodes as well as the first four seasons, with each character alternatively frustrated by and/or challenging the barriers in America in the 1960s.  By the end of “The Phantom,” “Mad Men” seems to be preparing the audience for the turmoil to follow in 1968.

As I noted in my post on episode five, ”Signal 30,” Pete is extremely depressed by his new suburban lifestyle in Connecticut.  His only solace comes from a brief affair with the spouse of a fellow commuter.  When his wife, Trudy, shows him the drawing of the suburban swimming pool she is planning for their home’s backyard, it only fills him with more dread about the permanence of his move out of New York City.  After coming home injured following a fight on the train with the husband of his “mistress,” he tells Trudy that he crashed his car.  Fearful for his safety, she succumbs to his earlier demand for a supplemental apartment in Manhattan.  Desperate for any return to the urban lifestyle, Pete represents the stereotypical unhappy suburbanite of the postwar migration out of the cities.

Megan’s disgust with Don’s persistent lack of support for her acting dreams reaches fruition when he refuses to help her get an audition for a client’s commercial, even though she tells him she would still “be home by dinner.”  After engaging in Don-like drinking exploits, she tells him that he just wants her to be waiting for him at the end of the day.  Just as he could not accept Betty’s modeling, Draper remains hard-pressed to accept a relationship with a career woman, clearly frightened by the possibility of female independence.  Despite his occasional chivalry, such as his emphatic rejection of the idea of using Joan to acquire an account in “The Other Woman,” he still clings to a traditional, pre-second wave feminist view of a women’s place in the world.

This dynamic could also be viewed in Don’s random encounter with Peggy at a movie theater.  Though he claims to be proud of her success, Don has a hard time reconciling her moving forward professionally without him.  “That’s what happens when you help someone, they succeed and move on,” he says to her wistfully, clearly afraid the same will happen if Megan achieves her ambitions.

Meanwhile, Peggy’s progress continues to symbolize the journey of American women into the workplace in the postwar period.  Having begun as a secretary in the show’s pilot, she became a copywriter in season one and now has supervisory authority of her own at the new firm.  She seems almost-Don like at her new position, dressing down her charges for weak work.

As the season concludes, Don yields to Megan’s request and she wins the role.  While we see her and others in bright colors on the set of the commercial, Draper still remains the “Man in the Grey Flannel Suit,” walking away in dark colors, symbolizing his distance from the evolving America of the 1960s.  It appears his holiday from philandering may be at an end, just as one of the most divisive and eventful years in American history is about to start.  Can’t wait for season six.

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