This review contains spoilers. 5.9 Dark Shadows
Fat was a feminist issue in this week’s Mad Men, in an episode that featured more bristling rivalries and bruised egos than you’d see backstage at a kiddie beauty pageant, and a display of parenting only slightly less noxious.
Slights were felt: Peggy was narked at Roger using Ginsberg for another secret client assignation, Pete didn’t get the profile he wanted from the Times, Sally’s feelings were hurt, Don felt competitive, and Betty felt fat.
Betty’s season 5 story arc so far has revolved around her expanded waistline, and Dark Shadows shed some light on why she’s so far been unable to shed the pounds. In short, Betty is still unhappy. Comparing her dumpy life with Henry in the Addams Family mansion to lithe Megan’s floor-cushioned, youth-exuding pad, Betty feels she picked the wrong horse, and it’s eating her up. Or rather, she’s eating it up, layering on the pounds and using food to fill the void.
An early adopter of the Weight Watchers programme, Dark Shadows saw Betty battling calories and attending group weigh-ins in a bid to reduce. Her jealousy didn’t stop at Megan’s figure, but extended to her friendship with Sally, and Don’s romantic infatuation with his beautiful new wife.
Betty’s solution? Stuff young Sally with incendiary material, light the fuse and lob her fizzing over to Don’s apartment to wreak what damage she could. Another master-class in toxic mothering, every word Betty speaks to Sally is another dollar in the bank for some future psychiatrist. There just isn’t enough canned cream in this world to fill the gap inside Betty Francis.
After four seasons of gazing into the mangled heart and mind of the former Mrs Draper, watching Betty struggle with losing her youth and beauty has been interesting, and strangely, more humanising than seeing her repeatedly humiliated by a philandering husband. But let’s hope that’s enough now. Forgive the irony, but Betty’s weight storyline has now worn a bit thin, especially when the much meatier lives of Peggy and Joan are side-lined in favour of it.
As well as the women of SCDP, what we could certainly have more of is Sally; chiefly as Kiernan Shipka has more range in one raised eyebrow than January Jones does in her whole fat-suited body (sorry Jan). Dark Shadows saw Sally put Megan’s acting lessons to good use, smilingly denying her mother the schadenfreude of knowing what a mess she’d caused over at Draper Towers. It was wonderful stuff from Sally, who proved herself right in that scene; she’s not just a little girl. It just a shame the same can’t be said for her mother.
The SCDP elevator is becoming an increasingly fraught space inMad Men, less a lift in season 5 than a boxing ring. “You’re not loyal” Peggy jabbed at Roger, and he came back swinging with his “It’s every man for himself” line. It’s a philosophy that sums up both Roger’s character, that of a man who takes what he wants regardless of the toll on those around him, and what went on in the episode.
Don was inspired by Ginsberg’s talent to flex his copywriting muscles again, leading to the pair locking horns over the Sno Ball campaign, and having their own sparring match in the elevator of broken dreams.
Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) has been a great addition to the regular cast this season, nipping at Don and Peggy’s heels creatively, providing unpredictability, comic relief and oddly poignant claims of Martian heritage (though it was his more down-to-Earth Judaism that earned him Roger’s secret gig this week). Whether he’s mocking his superiors or misquoting Shelley, Michael Ginsberg is a welcome new presence in the Mad Men team.
Weiner and co. evidently couldn’t resist using such a rich, gloopy metaphor as the poisonous smog swimming around Manhattan in late ’66, and who can blame them? The characters of Mad Menare surrounded by the stuff, a miasma composed of cigarette smoke, lies and this week, jealousy. Add to that the nicely ironic opening bars of Maurice Chevalier’s chirpy Sweepin’ the Clouds Away playing as the Francis family give the hollowest of Thanksgiving thanks, and you’ve a classically ominous Mad Men moment (if not one in a classic episode).
And finally… My, but wasn’t that Dark Shadows rehearsal scene a neat coincidence? Matthew Weiner couldn’t have known in time that this episode would air the weekend that Tim Burton’s limp tribute to the gothic soap opera arrived in cinemas (could he?), though that doesn’t make the swipe any less apt or enjoyable.
Only four episodes remain in this season, which has already answered many of the questions posed by the last: will SCDP survive the loss of Lucky Strike? Who is Megan? How will Betty cope with Don’s new marriage? One thread that’s been left more or less dormant is the Roger and Joan situation, which has to be top of the wish-list for next week’s Christmas-set instalment.