Green-Eyed Monster Runs Amok in Mad Men Episode Nine

by sweatermanifesto

Editor’s note: Every week, our resident free-market apologist, Harlan R. Teller, offers his unique perspective on the most recent episode of Mad Men

Episode Nine of Mad Men is called “Dark Shadows,” a reference to the campy, almost amateurish Gothic soap opera that had a brief but celebrated run on ABC-TV from 1966 to 1971. (Incidentally, Tim Burton’s homage to the show opened last Friday). I used to call it “Dark Flubbows,” given the near-epidemic blowing of lines by its actors, most notably the Shakespearean-trained star of the soap, Jonathan Frid, who played the tormented vampire Barnabas Collins. The people like me who, lo those many years ago, tuned in to see Frid and his cohort lose track of their dialogue must have appreciated Megan’s take on the show, which was none too positive.

While Dark Shadows was about vampires, werewolves, and other demons going bump in the night, a very different monster romped among the Mad Men characters in Episode Nine—that green-eyed monster called jealousy.

Let’s see. Betty is jealous of Megan—she’s young, she’s beautiful, she lives in a stylish flat (as compared to the mausoleum that Betty and Henry live in), and she’s adored by first husband Don in a way that Betty never was. And, as Betty saw when she surreptitiously watched Megan getting dressed when coming up to the flat to pick up her kids, she’s thin.  So, of course, Betty has to figure out how to undermine Megan’s relationship with Betty’s oldest child, the precocious Sally, using Don’s past to do the trick.

Back at the office, Don is desperate to get his creative fastball back, and he shows signs of doing that, but the consensus is that his concept for a new drink, while good, isn’t up to level of wunderkind Michael Ginsberg’s idea. So, in a startling display of insecurity and churlishness, he leaves the Ginsberg work in the cab and sells his own idea to the client, achieving the double play of confirming that he’s still relevant and putting the petulant creative in his place. Ginsberg, by the way, is no less jealous of Don, because Don is powerful and he’s powerless—a proletarian being taken advantage of by the owner who is profiting from the fruits of his creative output.

Roger takes Jane out to dinner with a prospective client, just for appearances, watches her get hit on by a younger man, and decides she’s not so undesirable after all, seducing her in the hallway of her new apartment and virtually ruining the apartment for her as a result.

Peggy is jealous that Ginsberg is lately getting all the attention that used to fall on her. Her idea for the new drink campaign falls flat, and Roger turns to Ginsberg rather than her to help with the new wine campaign he’s trying to sell in. Roger gives Peggy a lesson about the dog-eat-dog world of capitalism, which may actually say more about Roger’s personal code of conduct than it does about capitalism.

Megan is jealous of her friend who is auditioning for a part on Dark Shadows, and her friend in turn is jealous of Megan for living a great life and being able to slum as an actress. That Megan’s opinion of the soap opera is on the money doesn’t negate the central point—she may end up failing as an actress in the same spectacular way that she was succeeding as a copywriter.

Finally, even the saddest guy in the show these days, the frustrated, resentful Pete Campbell, has sparked the jealousy of not one, but two name partners at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Both Roger and Bert, desperate to demonstrate they are still relevant, play keep away from Pete with a new client lead, choosing to work the prospect behind Pete’s back rather than bring it up at the partners’ meeting.

This is one of those periodic “transitional” episodes for the show, where plot lines are set up or pushed along but not brought to a head. Peggy is clearly headed for some kind of battle of wills with Ginsberg; Ginsberg will continue to be a fly buzzing around Don’s head, who Don will have the occasional urge to swat; Pete will continue to strut around as cock of the agency walk to compensate for the devastating emptiness at the core of his life.

And Sally is heading for something, but where she’s going is not entirely clear yet (besides Woodstock, some serious dope smoking, perhaps chaining herself to a tree to protest the war or nuclear energy, or a combination of all of the above). In fact, the most interesting subplot of the episode involved the continuing “education of Sally Draper,” as she learned a disturbing bit about her father’s personal history (he was married to Anna—a fact that Megan tries to keep from her but Betty uses to demonstrate Megan’s untrustworthiness), while demonstrating a burgeoning ability to triangulate between mom and stepmom. Sally’s psychological manipulation of her mother—making it clear that Betty’s stratagem didn’t work, but acting like she had no idea what her mother was trying to do—is part of the protective armor that children of divorced parents don to cope with their lives. It promises an increasing complexity and richness to the domestic Draper/Francis scenes in the future.

Writer’s Note: While Betty struggles to take off the pounds, the biggest loser of the episode may be second husband Henry, not just because he’s reduced to nocturnally chowing down one of the worst looking steaks ever, but also because of his choice of bosses. John V. Lindsay, a photogenic Kennedy wannabe liberal Republican who at the time had traded on his good looks and vague political beliefs to become the mayor of New York City, was in the process of igniting one of the most spectacular flame-outs in American political history, and evidently Henry had taken a ringside seat to watch it happen. Henry forlornly opines that he may have “bet on the wrong horse,” jumping from Rockefeller to Lindsay, but both horses turned out to be presidential also-rans.   Betty tries to console Henry while he’s gagging down his piece of shoe leather with some babble that she evidently learned at one of her Weight Watchers meetings. One begins to think that Henry’s choice of second wives may not be much better than his choice in political candidates.

Submitted by Harlan R. Teller