Mad Men's Season 5 Finale: Avenue of Broken Dreams

By MaryAnn Sleasman

Jun 11, 2012

Mad Men S05E13: “The Phantom”

In Mad Men's Season 5 finale, "The Phantom," Don Draper’s persistent toothache became the physical manifestation of the season's underlying pain over lost dreams and the question of identity. Pete Campbell summed it up as a “bandage on an open wound,” the problem of happiness. By the end of the episode not a single character was truly happy—except, perhaps, Peggy, who cut ties with her old employer a few episodes back.

Don and Megan’s marriage survived through the entire season, shockingly, though I’m not holding out much hope when we get to Season 6 if last night's hints at Don’s return to meat market are anything to go by. Megan used her maiden name, Calvet, in her audition reel, which I’m almost certain counts as foreshadowing. Even if she only meant it as a means of separating her professional life from her private one, the fact that she even wants a life outside of the one she has with Don certainly drove a wedge further between the two of them. Don gave lip service to her acting aspirations all season long, but up until recently, those aspirations didn’t interfere with her role as Mrs. Don Draper. It was confirmation of what we all saw coming when as soon as Megan got her big break, Don retreated to the bar and starting considering a hot blonde. Megan the Actress was acceptable as an idea. It wasn’t acceptable in practice.

Don and Megan both had a rough episode. Megan’s mother, Marie came to visit, which meant Megan would spend half of the episode in tears. Marie really delivered in all of her catty glory, telling Megan to stop chasing “the phantom” when Don initially refused to pass her screen test along to the Butler Shoe people. Marie certainly didn't mince words: "Not every little girl gets to do what they want; the world can't support that many ballerinas." Yikes... Marie isn’t really the touchy-feely supportive mother type, is she? Granted, a lot of what she said made sense in a brutally honest sort of way—the world simply can’t support everyone’s dreams and Megan is pretty lucky. It was nice to finally see someone call Megan out on her season-long hypocrisy. She very quickly became the Mad Men equivalent of a hipster: spending Don’s money on the latest trendy artsy thing was just fine, but Don was still an evil, awful person for selling out and making his money in advertising.

In the end, Megan herself sold out. Sick of fielding rejection letters, she asked Don to consider her for the role of Beauty in a Beauty-and-the-Beast-inspired commercial. Initially, he shot the plan down, arguing that Megan wanted “to be somebody’s discovery, not somebody’s wife,” which is true, but I think that their mutual definition of “discovery” was a little off. Megan saw the commercial as a catapult to bigger roles. As part of a national campaign for Butler Shoes, she would be exposed to casting directors all across the country, and THEN she would be discovered.

In the aftermath of Lane Pryce’s suicide, Don struggled to maintain something resembling a moral compass at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Plagued by his toothache, Don also hallucinated his brother Adam, another unfortunate casualty of a Don Draper pep-talk. In dreams, teeth often represent control. The loss of them equates a perceived loss of power, much like Don has lost a great deal of control in his own life, from the Joan issue to Lane’s suicide to Megan’s insistence on a career that he doesn’t care for. Having your teeth pulled can also represent anxiety over being forced to do something that you don’t want to do. We saw this illustrated for Don in the other partners voting to sell Joan out despite his protests, his obligation to fire Lane, even though he personally considered the man a friend, and Megan’s pressure to pull some strings and get her cast in the shoe commercial. The fact that the tooth that was pulled was a rotten one betrayed Don’s underlying thoughts concerning the actions that landed him in a bar, flirting with an attractive woman while the theme song from a James Bond movie played in the background.

Still, despite the moral decay seeping into everything Don touched, when it was discovered that Lane Pryce’s life insurance was paid to the company that ultimately killed him, Don tried to do the right thing. He insisted that a check be cut to Lane’s family for the $50,000 dollars that Lane paid to help keep SDCP afloat through the Lucky Strike pullout. He delivered the check personally and endured the wrath of the Widow Pryce, who confronted Don about the dark truth behind her deceased husband’s job.

“You had no right to fill a man like that with ambition,” she said, a callback to Marie’s words to Megan. The scene posed a new question to us as viewers. It’s easy to look at Marie and judge her to be a terrible parent (and I am by no means saying that she’s a good one) but perhaps in her own way, she thought her brutal honesty would save her daughter future heartache. So which is more cruel? To shoot down those phantoms before they do real damage? Or to string someone along, someone who desperately wants their wildest dreams to come true, someone who has bought so heavily into their success that he simply can’t handle the idea of them not coming to fruition?

This leads us to the case of Pete Campbell, who remarked as SCDP moved into more spacious facilities that he would have the same view as Don in his new office. Pete has been a practitioner of Draperism since the first season and it’s finally starting to pay off for him. Unfortunately, that isn’t as awesome as he thought that it would be. Pete ran into Beth and her husband on the train. Later, Beth called him at the office and insisted that he visit her at the Hotel Pennsylvania, which he totally did because as Pete himself said, he’s “pathetic.”

Beth revealed that she was a patient in a mental hospital (called it) undergoing shock therapy and since she often forgot things in the recent past after a therapy session, she wanted to remember her time with Pete. Pete launched into a rant about how she shouldn’t let her husband control her, which was hilarious coming from Pete. He offered to run away to LA with her because California is full of sunshine. He also got a few more digs in at poor dead Lane, stating that suicide is for “weak” people, people who “can’t solve problems.”

Beth was adamant that she would continue with her treatment as planned, that is WAS solving her problems. Realistically, in the grand scheme of awful things that were considered mental health “treatment” in the twentieth century, electroshock was one of few that actually worked in many cases and it's still used to treat depression today, though typically only in extreme cases.

Pete later lied to the hospital staff about being Beth’s brother to slip in for a visit, but sure enough, Beth didn’t remember him. Pete was heartbroken. I tried to feel for him, but mostly I was just relieved and hoping that it meant he would leave poor Beth alone. He launched into a soliloquy that could have come from Don himself about the fickle nature of happiness, that his life with Trudy, his philandering with Beth, his insatiable ambition, was all just a temporary bandage waiting to fall off, or be torn off, exposing his unhappiness all over again. He admitted that he didn’t know what would truly make him happy and later, picked a fight with Howard Dawes on the train back to Connecticut after Howard expressed happiness over Beth’s hospitalization. Pete sure got punched in the face a lot this season, didn't he? Though I feel that it somewhat diminished Lane’s victory over SCDP’s “grimy little pimp” after we realized that EVERYONE was capable of punching Pete.

Kicked off the train, Pete got home late, bloodied, and spouting off some B.S. about putting the car in a ditch (again). Trudy conceded to Pete’s desire for an apartment in the city, citing her concern for his safety. So Pete finally won that battle, but at this point, it’s a reluctant victory. I really hate that out of all of the men on this show, Pete has the sweetest wife. Life really isn’t fair in the Mad Men universe.

So, Don ends this season as happy as he ever is in full blown Don Draper mode and Pete is decidedly unhappy despite getting almost everything he wanted all season long: a new office, a new apartment, a new hook-up with Beth. Roger, definitely losing his high after a few months' worth of unhappy experiences, called up Megan’s mom (doing a rather convincing Creepy Glen impersonation on the phone—I had my money on Glen as the persistent caller all episode long) for a hook-up and a trip. Marie opted out of the free drugs but offered a little free love before heading home to drink Don’s liquor. Roger dropped acid by himself, and judging from the joyful eyeful he gave Manhattan when we last saw him, I’m thinking it was a good trip. But certainly, this high will eventually wear off, too. LSD has become Roger’s new band-aid.

Ultimately, Peggy, for as little as we’ve seen of her in the past few episodes, was the only character who seemed to be honestly happy with her life as season 5 drew to a close. Her new office at Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough looked to be a real improvement over the cramped quarters at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and she was in full boss mode when we first saw her in action at her new firm. Later, when she ran into Don at a movie theater following his tooth extraction, she expressed satisfaction with her work. Don (FINALLY) said that he was proud of her, which probably only improved her cheery outlook. They watched the movie as two equals, taking a break from their respective busy days.

Professionally, Peggy scored a victory when she was handed and account that I’m assuming will be revealed as Virginia Slims—a cigarette marketed to women. She revealed to Don that her new firm was even sending her on a factory tour in Virginia and her excitement at finally boarding an airplane and jet-setting somewhere for work, even somewhere as generally unglamorous as Virginia, was barely contained. I like happy Peggy, and it was a much-needed bright spot to this sometimes maudlin episode to see her retain her enthusiasm and joy even when she looked out the window of her rather modest hotel room at an unremarkable view of a parking lot with two dogs going at it in plain sight. You know that would have had Pete Campbell throwing a fit, but Peggy took it in stride. It wasn’t Paris, sure, but her employers trusted her to take a business trip all by herself like a professional woman, something she almost certainly wouldn’t have gotten to do at SCDP.

As much as viewers have mourned Peggy’s exit from SCDP, I think we can all agree that it was a good move for her, both professionally and personally. She looked happier in her final scene than we’ve seen her all season long and I think it speaks to her generally grounded outlook on life that she's been able to find happiness in what, to her former SCDP coworkers, would have been a modest, even negligible victory. Here’s hoping she retains that sunny outlook in Season 6 because God knows that Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce—and everyone caught up in that messy laboratory—has quickly turned into the monster that ate Madison Avenue.


1. Do you think the Drapers will stay married in Season 6?

2. Will Megan’s acting career take off?

3. Do you think Pete will take Trudy up on getting an apartment in the city? If so, will it be the den of sin he envisioned for half of this season, or a sad, lonely fortress of solitude?

4. Will Roger ever have a bad acid trip?

5. Peggy seems to enjoy her new firm. Do you think the feeling will last after the honeymoon period?

6. What do you hope to see in Season 6?

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  • whatsleftofyou Jun 13, 2012

    Something nobody mentioned was this little bit of foreshadowing:

    In the theater, Don says to Peggy, (paraphrasing) "Every time you help someone, they leave you."

    THE VERY NEXT SCENE is Megan in her Beauty getup for the shoe commercial, a role that Don helped her get.

  • Sbriseno07 Jun 13, 2012

    What a depressing Finale. Everything, just seemed so bleak. Anyhow,

    1. The Drapers will probably stay married through season six. That does not mean that they will be happy.

    2. I think so. I have a feeling that she will be out doing her own thing and have an actual separate life from Don.

    3. Pete will probably get his apartment. the thing about Pete is he takes and he takes and he takes. All in a attempt to be happy, but in the end his little den of sin as you put it will be a reminder of no matter how much he gets, it will never be enough.

    4. Roger is feeling a little worthless right now. When he drops acid, he has all these amazing experiences, that make him feel productive. Eventually the novelty will wear off, and the partners will probably take notice.

    5. Peggy is ambitious. She is one of the first woman to go down the road she is traveling. She will not be happy simply standing still. She is like Pete in that way. The only difference is that Peggy has something to prove wear as Pete is just passing the time.

    6. The Ladies. I enjoyed all of the story lines from the woman this year and would like to see more.


  • Ankh49 Jun 13, 2012

    I really hope I'm wrong, but I am worried that we have now witnessed the start of Roger's terrible drug addiction as he keeps chasing a high.

    For some reason (despite the ending) I don't think Don will actually cheat on Megan. Did you people not see the way he looked at her, whilst he was looking at her screen test? The guy is seriously in love! Plus which he has grown a bit since his first marriage. he tried life as a bachelor and he definitely didn't like it. if their marriage does breakdown completely, which I hope it won't it will be HER leaving HIM. I might be wrong, I just have a feeling.

    I love what the writers and Vincent Karthesir (sorry I can't spell the surname) have done with Pete. They have actually made me feel for the guy - something which I never thought was possible. he's still a miserable, slimy sleazebag, but he is so desperately unhappy, even though he has no reason to be miserable I still kinda feel for him. Even whist I am cursing him for the way he treats the wonderful Trudy. I don't think he is doing it on purpose or that he wants to be miserable. he just is. I think it might be a spiritual malaise. Maybe McKinsey should recruit him to the Buddists? :-D If Pete keeps up like this he may end up getting some shock treatment himself next season. It's almost as if he has postnatal depression. I think the thing that attracts him to Beth is her unhappiness and vulnerability. His character now is somewhat similar to Don's in the first season.

  • LisaMiller17 Jun 13, 2012

    Did anyone notice that the blonde who approached Don at the bar at the end of the show was Megan's friend who told her about the shoe commercial? Or am I imagining that?

    So bummed the season is over. Why can't we have 20+ episodes per season like other shows?

  • drlowdon Jun 13, 2012

    I'd rather have 13 episodes of Mad Mens quality than the 20+ of most network dramas that drag plots out for far too long. Besides 12-13 episodes is fairly standard for the majority of the best dramas nowadays. Breaking Bad, The Wire, The Shield, Game of Thrones all have 13 epiosdes or less per season.

  • AmandaSecord Jun 13, 2012

    No, it wasn't her in the bar, Megan's friend was played by Emily Foxler, the blonde was played by Madeleine Hamer.

  • zonachelle Jun 13, 2012

    I thought it was her at first, too. Very similar.

  • absolut_me Jun 13, 2012

    The ideal season 6:

    - Megan and Don will stay married but they will drift apart. Don will go back to his bad habits (there you go, ladies!) and Megan will ignore it because of her thriving ambition.

    - Megan's career will take off but it won't last too long. Just long enough to ruin her marriage and in the end, she will realize she lost everything over her superstar fantasy.

    - Pete will get the apartment but eventually realize it does not make him happier. Won't he just kill himself?!

    - Roger will have a bad experience with LSD. His junkie mood cannot last forever.

    - Peggy will become more and more successful, but she will also realize success comes at a price. She will probably encounter many issues in her personal life.

  • MrShotShot Jun 12, 2012

    "You Only Live Twice" as the closer was EPIC.

  • sasou82 Jun 12, 2012

    I personally hope Don and Megan's marriage implodes! I do think that Megan will be moderately successful and that it will go to her head which will lead to the end of the marriage. I think Pete will probably get that apartment and will divorce Trudy. Roger will probably have a bad trip and kill himself or will be seriously hurt. And I hope that somehow Peggy will make her way back to SCDP... I miss her! And i definately want to see more of Sally in season 6. That little girl can act!

  • LucaMaltaglia Jun 12, 2012

    Megan's character was pretty good for the first half of the season, a nice balancing force to Don, but after she quit the work at SCDP for acting, she became more and more a spoiled brat.

  • AssandroJourn Jun 12, 2012

    I've read many reviews and it has kinda convinced me that Betty is actually boring character if she is in the center of episode. And now it seems to me that less Betty is good for show. She's never changin' cold princess. So limited in her expressions. I un-liked her. So I wasn't sad that she didn't appear in finale. I need more hot interesting women characters so let Don be a skirt chaser again. I'm tired of Megan character. She' limited also. She's behavin' herself like a spoiled little girl all season. So annoyed sometimes. Glad her mother put her in place. SHe's awful person. I disliked how she promised her friend to ask Don about commercial and then asked for herself. Disgusting. Don should dump her ass. Don needs to be alone. He will never be healed. He s gonna jump from one wife to another and be grim and alone and cheatin' till the end of his life or gonna shoot himself in the end. Two options for him. This man has no point of return.

    That was dark exciting sad bumpy road) Can't wait for 6 season.

  • Ankh49 Jun 13, 2012

    I don;t know. bearing in mind how Don ditched Ginsberg's snowball presentation in the back of a cab, maybe he and Megan are suited to each other? :-)

  • IronAddict Jun 12, 2012

    The only thing I think about when seeing Betty anymore is they must be planning something BIG in the series final season or something to keep her around the past 2 seasons. I know she was pregnant in real life when taping this one, but even in Season 4 she really had a minor role in anything..

  • Ankh49 Jun 13, 2012

    wasn't she filming Xmen First Class during the previous season?

  • MintberryCrunch Jun 14, 2012

    judging by her performance in that movie surely she can't of spent more than a couple of days practising her lines and shooting them.

    She's good at being the woman-child brat that is Betty but wow was she awful in x-men.

    ( thinks I've made up a word with 'movie' haha)

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