Mad Men, "Dark Shadows": from tenderloin to chuck

Quick Take: Mad Men, "Dark Shadows"
"I've always thought Jewish women are the most beautiful women in the world." - Roger 

Review: Mad Men, "Dark Shadows"
(S0509) Matthew Weiner and the writers at Mad Men love symbolism, so much so that some critics have accused the show of laying the imagery on a tad thickly this season. While I can see why someone could feel this way, I tend to disagree. Sure, the open elevator shaft Don (Jon Hamm) nearly stepped into last week was a bit on the nose, but I found it rather effective. This week, Weiner and company tap into the pages of American history and use the poisonous smog that lingered over the eastern United States in 1966 as a symbol of Betty's (January Jones) desire to seep into the Draper's home and poison it from within. It's a little heavy-handed, but it's pretty damn powerful.

While I enjoyed "Dark Shadows" much more than this season's other Betty-centric episode, "Tea Leaves," "Dark Shadows" is a clear step down in quality from the past three or four episodes, which were some of Mad Men's best. Betty can be hard to stomach (obligatory fat joke alert!), particularly when she's unsympathetically portrayed as a spiteful monster -- in this case attempting to sabotage Don's new marriage by informing Sally (Kiernan Shipka) about his first marriage to Anna.

It's not all Betty's fault that "Dark Shadows" fails to live up to the quality of the previous episodes. "Dark Shadows" feels over-stuffed and lacks narrative and thematic focus. Mad Men's best episodes focus on two or three characters; "Dark Shadows" features stories about Don, Megan (Jessica Pare), Betty, Sally, Roger (John Slattery), Jane (Petyon List), Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), and Ginsburg (Ben Feldman).

Despite the helter-skelter approach, the episode had moments of brilliance. Ambitiously biting off more than you can chew is hardly most egregious sin a show can commit.

One of the things that I like most about the episode is that it shows the men (I say men, because Peggy has been really off her game lately) of SCDP actually doing their jobs; and doing them well. Roger and Don have been so checked out mentally recently, it's nice to be reminded that deep down these guys still have what it takes to be successful ad men.

Roger, in a rather desperate attempt to stick it to Pete, secretly tries to score SCDP a new client: Manischewitz. He recruits Jane and Ginsburg -- quite possibly the only Jews he knows -- to help him with the pitch. Ginsburg develops the copy and Jane helps schmooze the company's owner. As a reward for their work, Jane gets a new apartment and Ginzo gets $200. Michael might be a great copywriter, but he stinks at negotiation.

Meanwhile, Don and Michael pitch their ideas for a SnoBall campaign. Ginsburg's idea is full of "juvenile energy" and features a series of authority figures (cops, teachers, Indian chiefs(?!)) being hit in the face with a snowball. It's a funny idea, and clearly superior to Don's idea about playing with the phrase "snowball's chance in hell." Even Don seems to recognize that Ginzo's work is better (although I suppose that is debatable), but when it comes time to pitch the ideas to SnoBall, he leaves Michael's idea in a cab. It's not entirely clear to me whether this was simply a jealous dick-move by Don, or if he was trying to prove a point and take a suddenly too-big-for-his-britches Ginsburg down a peg.

It's a pleasure to see our heroes pouring themselves into their work again. Even if it could just be an attempt to avoid the poisonous smog hanging over the rest of their lives.

Lingering Thoughts on "Dark Shadows":

  • My favorite scene of the episode has to be Betty sprinting into the house and making a beeline for the refrigerator for a quick mouthful of whipped cream. This GIF -- which, by my count, popped up online less than five minutes after the scene aired -- might very well be my all-time favorite Mad Men GIF. The only thing that would have made this scene better is if Betty did what I always do when I eat whipped cream out of the can: hold the nozzle for an extra 30 seconds  and suck down a giant whippet. (Note: TVGA does not support off-label uses of nitrous oxide).
  • Betty's Weight Watchers approved dinner was extremely depressing. A burnt piece of toast, half of a grapefruit and a few cubes of cheese...yuck.
  • I've made my fair share of jokes at the expense of Jessica Pare's teeth, but seeing her without a shirt made me regret all of them. Yowza!
  • Speaking of topless chicks: Damn, Rory Gilmore! You might not be able to act, but bravo on that spectacular rack. 
  • Roger was on fire this week. Both his obsession with LSD and his rampant antisemitism continue to be hilarious.
  • From now on, I'm labeling any folder of pending work "Shit I Gotta Do" in honor of Ginsburg.
  • By Lucas High

    About the author

    Lucas High is a man on a mission. That mission: to watch television for a living. Drop him a line at lhigh2@gmail.com, on Facebook and on Twitter at twitter.com/LucasHigh.

    More From Lucas High

    "String theory is complicated, that's just yucky." - Sheldon
    Read More
    "Sometimes I'm like, 'How do I not O.D.?'" - Deanna
    Read More
    "We sell history." - Alex
    Read More
    0 Comments
    Name:

    Email (Will not be used):

    Comment:

    characters left
     

    Featured Articles

    Popular Today

     
     

    Recent Comments

    "Mysterion Rises" with The Cute Lord Cthulhu - South Park review
    Actually, the birthing of Kenny in "Cartman Joins NAMBLA" doesn't necessarily conflict with the circumstances of Kenny's reincarnation...
    Alien Encounters, "The Message": a hard to find little show that's worth the search
    Mind Reading Technologies and Tongues Governments from around the world have been using mind reading technologies that can read...
    Dog The Bounty Hunter, "And Baby Makes Three": revisiting an old favorite
    i do like your show i wish can be your fan club i want all of your show on dvd please
    Boardwalk Empire, "Two Boats and a Lifeguard": daddy issues
    Are you looking for a partner for the relationship or for fun? Then you came to the right place. We are providing you the best dating...
    The Boonies: National Geographic's off the grid reality exploit
    I can verify Bear Claw. Good man. I cant vouch for the other participants. It is to bad society does suck so bad that this type...
    The Boonies: National Geographic's off the grid reality exploit
    Lake Michigan is not an ocean. Has anyone seen my white dog? Lost him while hiking in Arkansas
    The Boonies: National Geographic's off the grid reality exploit
    I too also as well live on the island, I can attest that Dan lives in the ocean as he has for hundreds of decades. We locals call...
    Parks and Recreation: why is everyone so mean to Jerry?
    It's funny because its so not funny.
    The Boonies: National Geographic's off the grid reality exploit
    I too live on the island and ISLANDER does not know what they are talking about. Dan lives out in the middle of the island with...
    The Boonies: National Geographic's off the grid reality exploit
    this is not real i know that goat and it is not "doc's" its my neighbors goat. and by the way i live on the very top of that mountain...