It’s a pleasure to watch a show that carries itself with confidence down to the smallest gesture. Mad Men proved that it was that kind of show throughout season five. And it proved it again in its finale, “The Phantom” set in April, 1967, months after senior partner Pryce hanged himself in shame after getting caught stealing company funds.
“The Phantom” concludes on a pretty blonde, on her friend’s behalf, asking Don if he’s alone. Now, Don just walked away from a commercial shoot he was able to get his wife a part in. The part could change Megan’s fortunes. Don feared what acting would do to his marriage with her. Don’s never been happier than he’s been with Megan. Don’s contentment hurt his work, though he’s recovered from the malaise. No one’s actually happy in the season finale of season five. Well, Peggy’s happy, but she may be written out of the show because she’s happy. Pete’s miserable; Don’s basically miserable; Megan was miserable until Don got her the commercial part; Ginsberg and Stan are miserable after a company rejects their pitch because of the word ‘cheap’; Joan’s more sad than miserable, unable to celebrate the firm’s good fortune because the firm’s good fortune came from death benefits from Lane’s suicide.
I’ve taken issue with the season here and there — questioning, for instance, whether Joan’s decision felt natural, or like something where Weiner came up with the end-point and reverse-engineered the rest — but have for the most part applauded the formal boldness of it. Some of the most memorable scenes and moments of the series’ run occurred over these last three months, and I look forward to revisiting many of them during the long break before season 6. And, I’ll be honest: as someone who has had/chosen to stay up late each Sunday to write these reviews, I haven’t exactly minded that the themes have been more overt than in previous seasons. It’s all fine and dandy for the meaning to be hidden when I’ve got days and days to dig, but when 2 in the morning is staring me in the face, it’s a relief to be able to say, “Oh, the codfish is a metaphor for disappointment!”
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