Betty Francis (January Jones) innocently finds herself exploring Don Draper's new place.
If season five of "Mad Men" is heading toward the kind of
dramatic finale to which we've become accustomed -- the sale of an
agency, the dissolution of a marriage, an engagement, the threat of
nuclear annihilation -- it's going to be a complete shocker. The
dramatic buildup has been minimal and mainly limited to Pete
Campbell, whose snowballing misery seems to have him headed for
some kind of crash, and Megan Draper, who at most seems ripe to
pack off for a touring version of "Mame."
The other main characters are in as good places as the script
will afford them, wrestling with petty issues such as the
jealousies dramatized in last night's episode. Its title, "Dark
Shadows," is a reference to the vampire soap opera that debuted in
the summer of 1966, just a few months before the action on the
show. ("Dark Shadows" now has a Johnny Depp-starring feature reboot
in theaters. Let's hear it for accidental, cross-content-company
synergy!) More than anything, the reference seems like a wink and a
nod to the soap-operatic tendencies of "Mad Men," which were on
Happily, Betty Francis, still hefty and delightfully bitchy,
found her way back into the action. She's introduced weighing cubes
of cheese, part of the Weight Watchers regimen that 's giving her
something of a self-help vocab. (She uses that new language to
reassure her hubbie Henry, who's backed the wrong political horse.)
Jealous of both Megan's blossoming BFF relationship with her
daughter and the new Mr. . Draper's flat tummy, Betty tells Sally
about Don's first wife, Anna Draper, the dead woman whose
forbearance gave Don his identity. It's a devious little maneuver
designed to disrupt the mod haven on Park Ave., but doesn't really
go anywhere thanks to some stern and relatively transparent
parenting by the Drapers. They manage to calm a furious and
splendidly mouthy Sally.
A vintage Pepsi Sno Ball tin sign
Don, meanwhile, is jealous of Michael Ginsberg. As creative
director, Don is removed from day-to-day writing and is proving to
be somewhere on the irrelevance spectrum between rusty and
completely useless, muttering awful potential taglines for a
Pepsi snow-cone product called
Sno Ball into his dictaphone. Before the pitch, he leaves the young
copywriter's fresher and generally superior work in a cab. He's
confronted later by Ginsberg, who tells Draper he feels sorry for
him. Don responds, "I don't think about you at all." Of course,
that 's a lie. We've already seen Draper rooting through Ginsberg's
folder, chuckling at the concentration-camp survivor's rendering of
a snowball hitting Hitler in the face.
Roger Sterling's envy of Pete Campbell's account management and
new-business acumen has him furtively stalking the Manischewitz
account, not-so-quietly employing Ginsberg out of his own pocket to
come up with creative ideas for a Gentile-targeted campaign. Some
Jew jokes, you'll be shocked to hear, are dropped along the way. At
this point, Pete and Roger, as a pair of generation-gapped empty
suits, can be plotted at opposite points on the happiness-success
matrix. Pete, who we see fantasizing about his recent one-night
stand and getting left out of a New York Times Magazine story about
Madison Ave., is miserable despite killing it in the office. Roger,
post LSD and split with Jane, is content but struggling to claw
back some professional worth.
All told, the episode, propelled along by Betty Francis' eyes,
Roger Sterling's mouth and some great elevator scenes worth of the
early seasons, was composed of quotidian torments.
Ad-history buffs will find that Times
magazine article worth a look. Though penned by Victor Navasky,
future editor and publisher of lefty weekly "The Nation," it's far
from an anti-consumer culture screed. In the long, dense piece,
Navasky tries to put advertising in a philosophical context and
inspire some sort of dialogue between Madison Avenue and the
intellectual class that loathes it. I can't claim to have figured
out what Mr. Navasky was going for here, but it's difficult not to
read the piece -- Ogilvy as a Platonist, Bernbach the Aristotelian?
-- as at least mildly satirical.
There are some choice bits that show just how little has changed
over the decades:
Mr. Navasky declares that Madison Ave. has an "image problem."
His evidence is critics from Vance Packard to John Kenneth
Galbraith, and the fact that Wall Street has passed its "whipping
boy" mantle onto Madison Avenue.
There's one debate over whether it's more important that
advertising be original or effective and another over whether small
agencies are better situated to do superior work. The conclusions,
unfortunately, are inconclusive.
There's also a debate over how agencies should get paid, with
fees or by commission. A bit of agency-wonk background: The
commission model is the highly lucrative and largely bygone system
whereby agencies were paid a percentage of media billings, usually
15%, thus incentivizing shops to spend more on media, not less.
Calling the commission system a "kickback," Howard Gossage said,
"It's as sensible as paying a lawyer for the number of lawsuits he
gets you into." Gossage also beat about 4 million social media
gurus to the punch when he said "an ad ought to be like one end of
an interesting conversation."
Mary Wells, the trailblazing adwoman of Wells Rich Greene, is
described by Mr. Navasky as "comely but aggressive." Noticing the
picture of the agency principals, Don jokes that they look like
Peter Paul and Mary.
As mentioned, the kosher wine Manischewitz plays a key role in the
episode. Back in 1966, the brand, licensed to Brooklyn's Monarch
Wines, as depicted in the show, already had a campaign with some
legs. "Man-o-Manischewitz" debuted on the radio in the 1940s and
made its way to the moon when, in 1973, astronaut Gene Cernan was
inspired to utter the tagline while walking on the lunar surface.
The brand resuscitated the slogan in 2009 for its line of kosher
Which is all well and good, but I'll take this Sammy Davis Jr.