Mad Men Watch: Eating and Competing

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Betty Draper (January Jones) in Season 5, Episode 9 of Man Men.

There’s a theory in international relations that nations exist in a perpetual state of near conflict and the only thing preventing all-out war is the fact that their relative strengths balance each other out. If one state becomes too powerful, the theory goes, the equilibrium disintegrates. Since the formation of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Price the balance of power has shifted from Roger to Pete Campbell, then back to Don. On the relationship front, Betty hasn’t had any advantage for quite some time. Both personally and professionally, the question remains, how long can the equilibrium hold and relative peace continue?

In last night’s episode, “Dark Shadows,” there were minor skirmishes, both personally and professionally, but much of the action came in the form of backstabbing and passive conflict. There were no fistfights in this episode, but still plenty of damage. The episode, “is all about jealousy,” showrunner Matthew Weiner said.

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The catalyst for Betty’s jealousy is a sweet love note Don wrote to Megan. When Betty goes to Don’s apartment to pick up the kids, she sees Megan getting dressed and her weight issues begin again in earnest. Betty fires a warning shot by telling Sally, who’s working on a family tree project, that her father had a wife before Betty. Suddenly, Megan, who’s been more of a friend to Sally than a mother figure, has to deal with a very pissed-off tween. Betty’s willingness to use her daughter to try to get back at her ex-husband shows the state of her unhappiness, even as she says at Thanksgiving dinner that she’s thankful she got everything she wanted.

Don’s behavior wasn’t much of a power play because he’s the boss, but there was a hint of passive-aggressiveness we never thought we’d see from Don. With Megan out of the advertising business, Don gets a hint of jealousy himself after seeing some of Ginsberg’s work. Don gets on a creative kick and starts writing copy again. Then before pitching for the Snowball account, he leaves Ginsberg’s poster in the cab and pitches his own. There’s a feeling that Don’s questioning what his role is and that he wants to keep pushing the envelope and isn’t entirely satisfied just being an executive.

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But the heart of the episode is Sally. As James Poniewozik wrote, Sally has emerged as one of the show’s strongest protagonists. She discovered a couple of weeks ago how disgusting adulthood can be, and in “Dark Shadows” she got a taste of how adults stab each other in the back and use those they love to hurt those they once loved. It’s another tough lesson in a season where Sally has had to grow up pretty quickly.

In the end, there were no major shifts in the balance of power. But by tossing Ginsberg’s ideas out the window, Don risks losing one of the firm’s best talents. Betty, on the other hand, risks much more by using her daughter as a pawn. Given the short time left this season, Weiner may be setting us up for some dark developments.

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So long Jane: Roger’s ex made a brief reappearance post-separation to help try and land the Manischewitz account. Roger has set her up with a new apartment, but after a late night romp (and Roger using her toothbrush), Jane complains that he has destroyed yet another safe place for her. I bet Jane’s role has run it’s course, and it’ll be interesting to see what they do with Roger’s love life from here on out. Will he go back to his “shore leave” good ole days?

Dressed-Down Don: From the beginning, Mad Men has been about style as much as substance, inspiring a renewed interest in ’60s fashion. The show brought back skinny ties and thin lapels, and of course the suit has been a staple. This week Don worked on the weekend, and we got to see him a bit more casual–sweaters and slacks instead of suits. This may be part of the evolving trend in the costumes. I can’t wait to see what the ’70s bring.

The return of Pryce: Lane Pryce, one of my favorite characters, has been missing as of late. Since winning the boardroom brawl, his character has been on somewhat of a vacation, but the scene snippets for next week’s episode indicate he will make a return (wearing a crazy Russian-style ur hat for at least some of the time). If any of his lines are half as memorable as the “chewing gum in his pubis!” description, then we could be in for a real treat.