Spoilers! If you don’t want to know what happened during the season 5 finale of Mad Men, stop reading. While not my typical beat, this Mad Men episode (“The Phantom”) was so engaging and thought provoking it deserves a post.
The theme of the episode is best summed up by the song lyrics that ended the episode:
“You Only Live Twice or so it seems,
One life for yourself and one for your dreams.
You drift through the years and life seems tame,
Till one dream appears and love is its name.”
That song was “You Only Live Twice“, the title track from the same named 1967 James Bond movie. Sung by Nancy Sinatra, the song pulls together the seasons’s threads in an episode that was overflowing with symbolism. In that sense, this episode is reminiscent of the final episode of the Sopranos (Matthew Weiner also worked on that show). Given the dramatic peaks in the last two episodes, it was a well-timed change of pace. With Peggy leaving, Joan’s “deal” to become a partner and Lane’s death, Don is carrying around a lot of mental baggage. The guilt is symbolized by an agonizing tooth ache that won’t go away.
In the beginning of the episode, Don is living one life and is haunted by the ghosts of Lane and his brother Adam throughout the episode. Don is guilty about both since he was not his brother’s keeper. After the tooth is removed, Don encounters Peggy and realizes how he no longer needs to take care of her and how she truly has become a peer. Peggy seems to be the only character who is living one life that is also her dream. The last time we see Peggy in the episode, she’s confronted with a set of humping dogs that represent the sordid things she has to put up with in her professional life. Peggy final smirk shows that despite this, she’s happy with where she’s heading.
Contrast Peggy with Megan, who Don has thought of as a peer. When Megan asks for Don to put the fix in for her to get a acting role for a commercial, Don tells her it’s better to earn it. After encountering a drunk Megan, Don’s mother-in-law informs him that Megan is his responsibility.
Meanwhile in suburbia, we have the contemptible Pete Campbell, who is living two lives of his own. Things come to a head when anger drives Pete to perhaps inadvertently connect his two worlds together: His regular suburban life versus his desire to live life in the fast lane. He lands up bringing the two worlds together as he rants at Beth’s husband, Howard, on the train, creating a short circuit between the two. After a beating from Howard, Pete then attacks the train conductor which stands for his normal suburban life. The end result is another beating and being kicked off the train.
Back to Don, he then decides to stop swimming against the current and decides to help Megan get the job. As Don gazes at Megan’s screen test, you can tell he cares for her. After the events with Lane and Adam, he decides to help even though it’s not how he would do it himself. Don no longer views Megan as a peer but as someone he needs to take care of. The seemingly down-to-earth Megan has started to morph into Betty to achieve her dream (she double-crossed her friend who told her about the part). As he walks away from Megan on the set of the commercial, Don Draper leaves one world and enters another. Don’s other world is recreated as he enters the bar and “You Only Live Twice” starts playing. Is the old Don back? Just like old times, he orders an Old Fashioned and is approached by a beautiful woman. We’re left on the edge of our seats when she asks “Are you alone?” and he responds with a look that only Don Draper could give. We’ll have to wait till next season to learn who the real Don Draper is.
And don’t forget Roger Sterling, naked for all the world to see, potentially from an LSD-induced dream world of his own.
What a great season! Feel free to share any of the symbolism you saw in the final episode. Soon as I have some information on the premiere of season 6, I will post it. I’ll also let you know when season 5 is coming to Netflix.
Additional Thought: Think about the final scene with Don in the bar in this context: Remember Don’s pitch to Dow Corning the episode before where he states that happiness is a temporary state and you always want more. Was Don talking about himself? Reminds me of the foreshadowing in the penultimate episode of the Sopranos when Tony and Bobby are in the boat.