The title – The Phantom – of this week’s season finale episode of Mad Men refers to the various spectres that have built up through the season and are now haunting many of the characters. Pete Campbell is unable to forget his brief affair with Beth, the wife of Howard, his commuting acquaintance, and the yearning Pete has for her is exacerbated when he sees her on the train with her husband. Beth is also unable to forget their encounter through natural means and is on her way to a hospital for electric-shock therapy to help her overcome her depression, but not before she arranges another rendezvous with Campbell in the same hotel he had tried to lure her to before. Because Pete is smitten, he meets with Beth and sleeps with her again, even after finding out that she is likely to forget everything that has happened between them. When he later visits her in the hospital, Pete is a stranger to Beth and is able to open his heart to her by telling her about his friend – a man in love with a married woman who started an affair in order to feel attractive and powerful, but ended up falling in love and realising that his own marriage was merely a “temporary bandage on a permanent wound”. Campbell is unable to keep his mouth shut when he next sees Howard on the train and lambasted him for what he is putting Beth through, in doing so revealing that it was he that she was having an affair with. In an ensuing brawl, Pete gets punched for the second and third time of the season – the man whose wife he slept with, and the conductor of the train following in Lane’s footsteps*. Now that he is successful at work, living in the suburbs with a loving and devoted wife and child, but remains unfulfilled and constantly in search of more gratification, Pete Campbell has become the Don Draper he so admired in the first season of the show.
*On the plus side – Pete did get to deliver the funniest line of the night – telling the “Officer of the New Haven Line” that he was the “President of the Howdy Doody Circus Army”.
Lane’s suicide last week has cast a shadow over many of the events at the firm, though ironically – given that it was financial problems that were the driving force behind the Brit hanging himself – money is no longer an issue for the firm. Joan – who not only believes she could have prevented his death by sleeping with him, but is also coping with the new relationship she has with the partners as a consequence of the actions that resulted in her elevation to that position – is able to give positive news on the billings and even suggests they expand their office space to the floor above. Without Pryce there to be reticent about such an expansion, no objection is made and Mrs. Harris is forced to argue the point with herself about the additional outlay. A payout of $175,000 from the life insurance policy that the firm had on Lane – which was revealed to cover suicide after three years by a conversation between Pete and Howard earlier in the season – convinces Joan that they should make the investment. Since more people have been hired to cover the Jaguar business, nobody wants the office that somebody killed themselves in, and Bert Cooper is back on the scene and wants a permanent place of his own, growth was inevitable for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and next season should see another new design for their workplace. The manner in which Joan marked the place of a proposed new staircase with a red “x” was very ominous and, although I did not compare its placement with the shot of Lane looking out of his window last week, it appeared to be roughly above the spot where he hung himself.
Mrs. Pryce is, of course, still dealing with the death of her husband, as well as the things she has discovered about Lane since his death – including finding the photo of a woman he had kept from the wallet he found in the second episode of the season. Her mood is not lightened when Don pays her a visit to give her back the $50,000 Pryce had invested in the firm when Lucky Strike left, and she blames Don for giving her late husband too much ambition and never adequately compensating him for all of his work. Meanwhile, Roger Sterling wants to return to the state of contentment he had enjoyed after his LSD trip with Jane, but cannot find anyone to share the experience with him this time around. He attempts to enlist the support of Marie Calvet, Megan’s mother, yet she is uninterested in taking care of Roger and only wants a repeat of the pair’s previous encounter. By the end of the episode, Sterling takes the drug by himself and our final view of him for the year is standing on a chair, looking out over New York, completely naked.
The departure of Peggy from the agency has left two art departments feeling like they are lacking from what had previously been a dream dynamic: SCDP has to survive without the woman’s point of view, which had given their pitches credibility with the clients, when that was the target demographic; and Peggy is now working with people who are unable to match the vision and creativity she had become accustomed to working with. Ms. Olson had a fantasy of how a new start in advertising would be for her – having control of her own area and with glamorous business trips to places like Paris, which she had been denied by Don, but the reality of it is that more responsibility has pitfalls as well as benefits, and her first venture on a plane is to Virginia, rather than France, and a motel room from which she can see two dogs copulating. There is one thing that does provide Peggy with a large boost – when runs into Don at a movie theatre, their encounter is cordial and Draper tells his former protegé that he is proud of her. Olson had always sought her boss’ approval and to receive it after she had left for another agency will help her continue to pursue a dream life – even if she has not reached it yet.
The Phantom has a dual meaning for the protagonist of the show, which is appropriate for the man with two names. Dick Whitman is seeing visions of his dead brother and is plagued by guilt over the suicides of both Adam and Lane Pryce. This has a physical manifestation in the form of a toothache, which Don/Dick refuses to go to see a dentist about for the first half of the episode – instead choosing to medicate himself through clove oil, ice and – of course – hard liquor. When he does finally have the “hot tooth” removed, Don sees a hallucination of Adam while he is receiving gas to numb the pain, and implores him not to leave him. There is an element that Draper believes he deserves the pain and does not want to lose that, but when he sees the extraction on the dentist’s tray, he knows that the numbness will subside and his life will continue – a huge abscess avoided.
Nevertheless, Don Draper has more serious problems than even the guilt he feels over two people he has been directly involved with hanging themselves. At the start of the season, his marriage to Megan seemed to have made Don happy – he was not drinking as much, was faithful to his new wife and no longer obsessed with his work. However, throughout this year’s run, their relationship has become more strained, especially when she left advertising to return to her pursuit of a career in acting. Megan is yet to be successful in her new profession and the frustration she feels leads to her asking Don to help her get an audition for a national commercial SCDP is working on, but he just rebukes her for abandoning her grand designs on only doing artistic work. Yet when he hears a similar attitude from Megan’s mother – who claims her daughter has solely an artistic temperament, not the ability that goes with it – Don is inspired to watch his wife’s screen test. As he is watching it, we see that Draper not only recognises the talent his wife possesses, but also that the life he considered to be a dream does not in itself fulfill Megan.
Don does help Megan to get the audition and ultimately the part in the commercial, but the shot of her preparing to film while Draper walks away from the set into the darkness is symbolic of their life together being a play, with Don now walking out on his role in it. Just a few short months ago, he believed that Megan was all he needed – at work, at home and all the time, yet now it is clear to him that she needs more than that, so he too will look for satisfaction elsewhere. The final scene has Don drinking alone at a bar and approached by a woman who asks, on behalf of her friend, if he is alone. Although we do not hear his reply, the answer will undoubtedly be the same as his drink order – Old-Fashioned – as from here on out, we are returning to the Don Draper of the first season of Mad Men.