UNCOOL: Hmm. Mad Men S5 E9 “Dark Shadows”

Posted on May 15, 2012 by


words: TA

Ok all, I’m officially getting sick of Megan. She is taking up a ridiculous amount of screen-time for a new character (compare her to Dawn, for example), and she is starting to amount to nothing more than a Mary Sue to my eyes (for those of you not familiar with that term, click the link, because it is a very useful term. It comes from the world of fanfic, but I believe it can have wider applications). You know it’s bad when you’re rooting for Betty’s bitter machinations to actually work. Is this bad of me as a feminist? Am I supposed to be happy that Megan is a successful and capable character instead of what we all thought she would be, an airhead with a pretty face? I honestly do not care: during the scene where she was helping her friend prepare for an audition, all I could think about was how much I would have liked the camera to follow the friend out the door, see her go back to her crappy waitress job and 1-bedroom apartment that she shares with 4 people, and not have to endure Megan anymore. You know what, scratch that, I DO care about the feminist question. Mary Sues are just as bad as soap-opera vixens because neither depict interesting, layered people with relatable personalities. It makes no sense that Faye was the psychologist, but Megan, at 26, easily understands everyone’s motivations and knows exactly how to defuse everyone’s rage and expertly negotiate every difficult interpersonal situation she faces. Megan is not a real person: she’s a wish-fulfillment fantasy, and she’s boring.

My new theory is that Don Draper this season is a stand-in for Matthew Weiner. [Begin rant] Weiner’s creative output seems to be losing steam, and perhaps there are more creative writers on his staff, but he doesn’t seem to want to let their ideas take center stage. But who cares, right? We’re all still watching. The show is bought by AMC. That’s what matters. We’re on episode 8 already and we know virtually nothing about Dawn, who appears to be as tokenistic a hire for Mad Men as she was for SCDP. There is no explanation for how Don was somehow able to put his entire alpha-male identity—he need to control, to lead, to come out on top—aside and let Megan take the reins (remember that this is the man who called Betty’s psychiatrist and demanded updates. He doesn’t take well to the ‘go with the flow’ lifestyle). The glimpse we get into Peggy’s, Joan’s, Roger’s, and Lane’s lives are little more than snapshots; we find out what they’re up to like we find out about extended family in a somewhat depressing Christmas newsletter—there is little about their character arcs that demands narrative resolution. None of them are peering over a cliff: they are all ensconced safely in their base-camps. That doesn’t make me desperate to see the next episode. Pete and Betty, Betty and Pete—these are the only two characters I care about anymore, both self-destructing phenomenally. I find Betty’s struggle with overeating completely realistic and moving,* and Pete’s fantasies starting to border on psychosis. They are the only two characters left with dramatic tension in their scenes.

*I think there’s been quite a lot of controversy about the “fat Betty” storyline and how fat women are played for cheap laughs, or shown to have crippling insecurities and no willpower. I think this is true for a lot of media (fat Monica on Friends being a perfect example), but I really don’t think that’s the case here. Betty’s struggle with food and overeating is, I believe, relatable to many, many women. Food is comfort; Betty craves comfort; she eats; she hates herself; she tries to regain control; she eats practically nothing; and the cycle continues. Of course not every woman struggles with this, and many women who are overweight have a completely normal relationship with food, and it’s too bad that tv and movies—Mad Men included—so rarely depict women with plump, chubby or fat bodies who aren’t obsessed with food or being slimmer. But that doesn’t mean the Betty storyline is demeaning to fat people or women or fat women, in my opinion.

There was one short scene that captured the brilliance of Mad Men’s past: the confrontation between Ginsberg and Don in the elevator. The quick back-and-forth of their dialogue which amounted to nothing less than a 20 second wrestling match (“It’s good you work for me then”/”I feel bad for you”/”I don’t think about you at all”) showed all that Mad Men could be but has allowed to languish in “you’re right, I AM lucky” Megan-ville. See what less self-awareness and more self-doubt can accomplish?

Posted in: COOL