Last season, the best episode of “Mad Men” was “The Suitcase”. (Hands down. Don’t even dare try to fight me on this one.) The episode revolved around a pitch for Sansonite luggage, Peggy struggling with her work and personal life, and Don trying his best to say goodbye to a very close friend in his life.
During the episode’s “climax”, Peggy rants how her work on an ad led to praise, but only for Don. He shoots right back that her praise comes in the form of her job and her paycheck, or as it famously puts it: “THAT’S WHAT THE MONEY’S FOR!”
This season, we see many of our beloved characters reaching for their own kinds of praise, or at least, attempting to make it there. Last episode saw Lane finally lose his battle with his demons. Don stops by his apartment to give his wife back the $50,000 he initially invested in the company. He expresses his condolences, but she won’t have any of it; blaming him for his grand ambitions and blaming him for the picture she found in Lane’s wallet (remember back to the first episode this season). No matter how he tries, Don can’t seem to make the whole thing right.
What’s worse is his incredible tooth pain, and his apparent double takes at what he thinks is his biological brother, the late Adam Whitman. When Don gets the tooth finally pulled, Adam appears in an anesthesia-fueled dream sequence. This time, Don pleads for him to stay. This represents a change in Don’s life attitude. Instead of letting people fall to their own devices and not be involved, he seems to embrace being there for them more.
He later makes this connection with his wife’s acting career. A client of SCDP is shooting a “beauty-and-the-beast” style ad campaign and Megan pleads Don to put her name in the hat. He expresses his reluctance on the whole thing, mentioning how she didn’t want to be part of the corporate sell-out scene and that it goes against her “artist” dreams. But she whines how her fellow actresses would die for an opportunity like that. After seeing her wallow in drunken anger laying in bed, he succumbs to her demands.
Don isn’t the only one with problems. Pete’s tryst with Beth Dawes rears its head, as its revealed that she’s being sent to electric shock therapy, again. The two spend an afternoon-in at the same hotel room Pete arranged before. He later visits her in the hospital after treatment, only to find her with no recollection of the event or of him. Here he explains about his “friend” who got into an affair thinking it would solve his problems, only to have it feel like a temporary solution to a much bigger problem. Despite all this doom and gloom, Pete expresses that he knows he’ll get out of it. After seeing the effects of a fist-fight with Beth’s husband upon finding out, Trudy says that he’s right and she’s worried about him coming home. Looks like Mr. Campbell will get that Manhattan apartment after all.
Roger also is feeling the pain. Ever since his LSD trip, he’s been trying to find more and more what’s left of life in store for him. He tries to get Megan’s mother to take it with him but she has no interest. Although not as dramatic as his other co-workers, Roger’s been facing a downward spiral of his own this season. He just chooses to fill it with drugs.
And last but not least, Peggy. There was a bit of chatter on the ‘Net about her leaving the show, but she returns here — as a big hotshot at her new agency. She runs into Don at the movie theater looking for inspiration. “I’m proud of you” he says, and they finally get a moment to bond after her leaving. But as they both state their current situation as “good” in regards to work and life, we know deep down they’re lying to themselves.
The episode ends with a beautiful montage of the characters facing their lives in the moment. Don walks away from Megan at the commercial shoot, and ends up at the bar ordering an old-fashioned. A girl comes up to him, and says that her and her friend were wondering if he was alone. Don gives a very slight smirk, and we are left season five wondering if the philandering Draper is back.
In a word, powerful. Last season’s finale saw a bombshell in Don’s proposal. But after one full season of his new marriage, have things really changed? Each character has reached further and further to fulfill their dreams, but will they ever? Lane took the coward’s way out. Roger chose distractions. Pete took action only to find out some harsh truths about himself. Peggy moved on. Joan left her war hero husband and whored herself. Megan finally found an embrace from her own husband. But has Don Draper really settled down?
Are they all truly chasing the phantom?
BAMF: Nobody, sadly. Every victory came at a price. Perhaps Don in the final scene, maybe?
Maddest Man: Roger, who is still taking drugs and who’s posterior will haunt me for life.
Peace Out: Thank you all for joining me on these recaps for the wonderful fifth season of “Mad Men”. Just might be my favorite yet. Stay tuned, because in a month I’ll be kicking off recaps for the more action-oriented AMC series “Breaking Bad”. See you all then.