TV Recap: Mad Men, “Dark Shadows”
In life there’s always something looming over your head. It could be the new wife that your ex-husband has now and how she makes you resent yourself for what you had and who you were, it could be your boss who no matter how much you respect him it never means he has to really give you a fair shake, or it could even be the lack of respect you get at your job no matter how brilliant, consistent and loyal you prove to be day in day out. That’s just life. So when we see all of that encompassed in a solid forty-seven minute block of television like in this week’s Mad Men, then what else is there to say but, “Thank you”.
While the jump from Season four to Season five was pretty much brushed over it’s amazing how quickly we manage to pretend that Betty is okay with Don’s new life. At first you expect a character as volatile as Betty to lash out, but the truth of the matter is that she never bought Don as a happy man. She just saw another woman about to get a dose of the same medicine she received a year or so ago. However, the truth of the matter is that Don and Megan are happy, and this would lead a logical individual to turn around and blame themselves then for that insanely dangerous situation that. So what does a character like Betty do? So stirs the pot by letting the information of Don’s marriage before her, with Anna, to his daughter Sally. This causes riffs between Sally and her father, but these end up being so minute that you almost imagine Betty as that maniacal villain being sent into outer space shouting “I’ll get you next time” as we see Megan and Don continue to be happy and Sally to understand once everyone is forward about everything.
When the show began Don was a lot more hands on with the creative development. In recent years he’s just the guy at the top saying yes and no that eventually passes them on to the customers and sells it. Now he’s pretty much just the guy who stands between Peggy and her team and the client. So when one evening in the office Don gets inspiration, by seeing what the creative guru – Ginsberg – is working on for an account, we get to see him excited for a job once again. He mocks up his own pitch to sit beside Ginsberg’s best designed work that any other day Don would’ve been pleased to see. Now Ginsberg gets to see the big shadow that Don casts over him as his boss. Now instead of Don just saying that it isn’t good enough he also has to deal with Don feeling that his personal piece is better.
So when word comes back that the client went with Don’s work instead of Michael’s, it stings. But when he discovers that his work wasn’t even pitched Michael takes umbrage and seems to want some sort of passive conflict on the issue. We never really see his initial fiery conflict but rather a small passing comment in the elevator, which is quickly quelled with Don’s clear statement which is meant to do nothing more than remind Michael that he’s the employee and Don is the employer. It’s not Michael’s job to care whether the client bought on his idea or the janitor’s but rather to keep feeding Don with content that makes him feel like things are going well, which is basically the realization that all employees at one point or another have to come to terms with. We’re at the mercy of our superiors, and in most cases the better result isn’t as important as giving the result asked for by our bosses, even when they may be the wrong one.
The final thread in shadowy figures comes from Roger Sterling. He’s actually the other end of this issue though. He’s the man who used to cast a shadow and has come to realize that those that he used to envelope in darkness are no longer able to be kept away from the light. So he instead just decides to ride the ride that’s still available to him and keep having fun while it lasts. With the handling of the wine company that’s possible for him to nab, he gladly puts all he can into getting the client but knows that at the end of the day he’ll be handing it over to Pete Campbell and Ken Cosgrove and remain the guy sitting in the big office with little to no purpose.
The difference between this and the beginning of the season is that Roger has finally surrendered to this reality, and while it may be misconstrued as a final flurry of hooks and uppercuts before the bell rings I see it more as a good guard going up before the scorecard is tallied.