Mad Men: Pride Comes Before a Fall

Mad Men S05E09: “Dark Shadows”

Mike Ginsberg quoted “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Clearly, he was aiming for badass, but Stan put an end to that with his advice that Ginsberg read the rest of the poem. There are only three more lines after the ones that Ginsberg invoked, but you only need to go one further to see Stan’s point, “Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck...” The line paints the reality behind the idealistic notion of power and prestige: It all dries up. Man’s greatest accomplishments ultimately turn to dust.

In Ginsberg’s case, he has yet to even truly find the status that he was certain the Sno-Ball account would get him. Stumbling upon Ginsberg’s work folder, aptly labeled “Shit I gotta do,” Don felt his dormant creativity itch for the first time all season. He presented his own campaign beside Ginsberg’s, an intellectual play on the idea of a snowball’s chance in hell, against Ginsberg’s more kid-friendly slapstick approach, and despite the lukewarm response to his devilish idea from the rest of the creative team, Don forged ahead with both pitches. The little devil that lived on Don’s poster manifested itself in the real world when Don deliberately left Ginsberg’s art in the taxi on the way to the presentation. Ginsberg’s hard work, his greatest of accomplishments (so far) were, for all intents and purposes, laid to waste before they were even fully realized.

To be fair to Don, it’s not that his devil campaign was bad. The Sno-Ball people loved it and SDCP picked up the account. However, the less-than-enthusiastic response from the rest of the creative team, and Don’s own decision to eliminate the competition before a fair fight could even commence, betrayed the anxiety underlying Don’s accomplishment. I repeat, it’s not that the devil campaign was bad, it’s that it just wasn’t the best. Sno-Ball is a product to be aimed at children. How many children are familiar with the “snowball’s chance in hell” saying? Furthermore, how many are familiar with it to the point where they'd instantly recognize the reference in Don’s work and see the humor in the ad? While Ginsberg’s snowball-to-the-face-of-authority campaign was juvenile, the product itself was created with kids in mind and didn’t need an overly intellectual joke to sell. In fact, we have yet to see if Don’s campaign actually does manage to sell Sno-Balls on the level that the client would consider a success.

King Don returned, quickly assuming his role as THE creative force at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, but judging from the exchange between Don and an irate Ginsberg in the elevator, maybe Ginsberg finished reading “Ozymandias” after all. When details concerning just how Don won the account became clear, Ginsberg told Don that he felt bad for him. Don flippantly replied, “I don’t think of you at all,” which on its surface sounds like a signature Don-ism, but in the context of Don’s ongoing struggle to find and maintain his creative niche and doing so via underhanded tactics rather than his own accomplishment, it felt almost like pure bluster, going through the motions, forcing himself to exude a confidence that isn’t there because it needs to be there for the image of “Don Draper” that Don projects to be complete.

The former queen of the Draper household clashed with her successor when she intercepted a mushy note from Don to Megan. It probably didn’t help that Bobby had drawn a picture of a harpooned whale on the back. Betty has taken the steps to start losing the weight that tormented her in “Tea Leaves” but it’s a hard road, and her ex-husband’s new wife is like, super hot. “Dark Shadows” took place in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, 1966, and while discussing things to be thankful for at the Francis table, we realized something that we kinda knew already: Betty’s happiness is entirely dependent on the unhappiness of others.

Betty had her own “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” moment after a bout of jealousy over the note—combined with hurt over the picture and yet more jealousy when she caught a glimpse of the slender and svelte Megan getting dressed—compelled her to help Sally out with a family tree school project. Sally had forgotten to give Anna Draper a branch, you see.

At first, it looked like Betty would win. Sally raged at Megan for not telling her about Anna, then raged at Don, but Sally has been slouching toward adulthood all season long, and unlike many children, Sally seems to want to go there willingly. She has her rough patches, but she’s a bright kid and as such, knows how powerless children ultimately are. Maybe it’s an effect of talking to Creepy Glen, another kid whose parents seemed, at times, to use him as a pawn against one another, but Sally is starting to see the flaws in her parents and accept them. Once Don explained the Anna situation—leaving out, of course, the part with the identity theft—Sally calmed down.

Sally saw Don trusting her with an adult concept while Betty continued to treat her like a child and a game piece. Not only did Sally return to the Francis household calm, collected, and without any juicy news of her bombshell completely ruining the holiday for Don and Megan, but she went the extra step at dinner, reducing Betty to the child and elevating herself to the adult. Betty started to eat as soon as the food was on her plate and Bobby chastised her for eating before saying grace. Sally jumped to Betty’s defense, telling her brother that their mother was “just hungry” the way one would defend a little kid who started digging into the stuffing before anyone said amen. When Sally said, “it’s okay, she’s just hungry,” it sounded like, “it’s okay, she can’t control herself,” and it applied to every facet of Betty’s personality. She can’t control her eating. She can’t control her rage. She can’t control her child.

And like a petulant child forced to participate in what she saw as a cheesy Thanksgiving family tradition, when it was her turn to be thankful for something, Betty stated that she was thankful that she had everything she could ever want and no one had anything better. The only thing that would have made that moment more complete would have been if she’d ended her rant by stomping her feet, crossing her arms, and refusing to talk to anyone for the rest of the meal.

Notes and Questions:

1. Did something in your brain short out a little when Alexis Bledel showed up half-naked in Pete Campbell’s naughty daydream? Rory Gilmore, get inside and put a shirt on before your mom catches you! It just doesn’t compute. Is this what it was like when Leonardo DiCaprio went from Growing Pains to The Basketball Diaries?

2. I think my favorite moment in the entire episode was watching Betty Francis inhale whipped cream straight from the can.

3. “Dark Shadows” was a '60s soap opera (with vampires!) and with that reference in mind, did anyone think the plot was a little soapier than usual with the Roger/Jane hook-up-of-angst-and-suck and Betty’s hilariously sinister machinations of mass destruction?

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