Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mad Men: Dark Shadows (5.9)

It doesn't seem fair to claim that Dark Shadows didn't totally work because it was such a Betty-heavy episode. And that was a probably an unfortunate turn of phrase. Heh. It's been a constant criticism of Mad Men in recent years that Betty isn't entirely necessary anymore, so stuck on the periphery of the show that she could easily be written out all-together. It's similarly unfortunate that this debate has only gotten more heated this season, when January Jones' pregnancy has majorly increased her absences from the series, meaning Betty turning up again after several weeks of being MIA comes off like a visit from a ghost from the past. But lumping Betty into a slightly 'off' episode is more of an unlucky coincidence than a statement on Betty's redundancy.

Because there's still a lot to like about Betty Draper. I liked her ridiculous petulance over Megan's presence in Sally's life, as well as her doomed scheme to damage Megan and Don's marriage. What's an unexpected by-product of Betty's removal from so many episodes is that we've seen Megan and Don go through so much worse over the course of the season, and this lazy attempt to create some tension can only read as pretty underwhelming. It's just another way of exploring Betty's naivety, in that she actually thought this would do some damage.

The problems in Dark Shadows lay with a certain clunkiness to a lot of the story. Sally's school project seemed like a strained deus ex machina for the Anna revelations to come out, while there were other moments that probably didn't work as well as the writers assumed they would -- like the portly Betty glimpsing the slim Megan putting on her shirt in her apartment, or the whipped cream bit. I don't know, there was just an on-the-nose quality to a lot of the story, lacking in traditional Mad Men subtlety. Again, I don't think it's a Betty-related problem, but it is interesting that the last time this occurred was with the Betty stories back in Tea Leaves. I may be in denial, but I'm sticking to it.

Resentment and petulance weren't just exclusive to Betty here, though. Don's treatment of Ginsberg was another example of the characters struggling to come to terms with being shut-out by generational change, Don using his power to entirely throw out Ginsberg's idea -- which was undoubtedly more interesting than Don's gravelly-voiced Satan thing (aww, he was so proud of that voice). I've also decided that I don't like Ginsberg. I understand his frustration, and sympathize with that feeling of being undermined by far more powerful people... but stay in your place, dude! Yes, he has the talent, but you can't breeze into this environment and try and call the shots with things. I think it's because we see Peggy constantly getting undermined and undervalued by those around her, yet she seems to rebel in a far less showy manner. Then again (and sorry for the constant flip-flopping, but it's what this show does to me), maybe we need more of that kind of Ginsberg-ish attitude? Where you're not merely remaining subservient to people who are, you know, screwing you over? Blah.

Elsewhere, Roger's fling with Jane was a neat encapsulation of their relationship (Jane being the arm candy whenever he needs it), but ended with that tragic resolution where she seemed genuinely desperate to move on with her life. Again, though, that strange sense of contrivance that hampered certain moments this week managed to infect that last scene. I don't know, I kept expecting Roger to burst out laughing during his last-minute, remorseful exit. It didn't feel genuine at all, neither from a character level and certainly not from the writing itself.

Don't get me wrong, this was still a very, very good episode of television. But there was definitely this 'off' tone to some of it, only made more glaring because, hey, it's Mad Men. The intentions and emotions were there, but subtlety was not a friend this week. Just try and not blame Betty. Everybody blames Betty. B


- I only just realized that the new Bobby also plays MJ on Desperate Housewives, and he's a little stiff and 'child actor'-ish over on that show, too.

- It's a little thing, but I love that you had to put two-and-two together with the soap opera audition and the title of the episode. It reminded me of an incredible movie called You Can Count on Me, where the final scene really contextualizes the title of the film.

- However, I really didn't like the scene between Megan and her friend. It felt just as phony and melodramatic as the Dark Shadows script they were just reading.

- I know she's forever Rory Gilmore, but... Alexis Bledel? In that dream sequence? Damn.

- I miss Lane. Though he was probably busy melting universes together or something.

- Little bits: Betty's orgasmic expression eating the Thanksgiving dinner; Pete's disgusted look towards Howard on the train.


Pete: I spent an hour on the phone last night with my new best friend Victor at the New York Times.
Roger: Gonna get a paper route?

Roger: When we took LSD, you swore to me that you'd always be there for me.
Jane: Stop telling me things that I said that night. Like I know I didn't promise to remarry right away to save you alimony.

Pete: You know what Howard, why don't you spend Thanksgiving with her and I'll go to your house and screw your wife?

Betty: I'm thankful I have everything I want, and no one else has anything better.

Guest stars Peyton List (Jane Sterling)
Writer Erin Levy Director Scott Hornbacher

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