We're more than halfway into the season, and it's clearer than ever that there's an obvious theme emerging here. As we head deeper into the turbulent 60s, everyone is a little bit frightened about the future. Though the season has touched on a lot of the external threats (the escalating Vietnam conflict, racial conflicts and violent crimes) facing our characters, everybody is obviously much more concerned about the threats they face on a personal level.
Yes, of course Peggy worries about things like war and race riots, but her most immediate concern is that she'll be shoved aside for budding phenom Michael Ginsberg. Betty and Roger probably aren't socially conscious enough to be worried about the state of the world, so they fret about losing their connection to their former spouses -- even though, in both cases, they were the ones who ended their marriages.
And Don, once so seemingly unflappable, feels threatened all the time. On last week's episode, he realized he had totally lost touch with popular culture. On this week's episode he, like Peggy, is worried about being replaced by rising star Ginsberg. But while Peggy's fears largely stem from being in a still-sexist industry where a client like Mohawk would rather work with a man (and people like Bert and Roger think only a Jewish writer can do a campaign for Mansichewitz), Don is afraid that he's losing his creative freshness. Yes, his idea is ultimately the one used for the Snoball campaign, but he sneakily leaves the sketches of Ginsberg's idea in the cab, so the client doesn't have a choice.
When Ginsberg calls him on it, Don totally cuts him down ("I don't think about you at all"), but, as Don walks away, we see shame on his face. He knows that he's done something sleazy to stay on top at the agency. But what he's probably really scared about is that he won't be able to pull gambits like this forever. Eventually, he will be replaced by the younger class. And while he's fine with championing Peggy, she doesn't pose a threat to him in the way Ginsberg does. It doesn't occur to him that a woman will one day be chosen to replace him, while it's totally in the scope of his imagination that Michael could shove him out of the way.
But Don isn't the only one who does something awful to avoid being replaced. Probably the true villain of this episode (as she is in of most of the episodes in which she appears) is Betty. Yes, the former Mrs. Draper returned this episode and, at first, she seemed somewhat sympathetic. She's started attending Weight Watchers, where she at least opens up a little about the factors that are leading her to binge. Sure, she talks in riddles, saying things like "I was in an unfamiliar place" instead "I was in my ex's new apartment and was forced to see his new young wife and her perfect young boobs." But at least she's able to admit that something's bothering her, which is a big step. And she's sweet and supportive to Henry when he talks about his work troubles (though it's possible she was just angling for a bit of his steak, in which case, success!).
However, it's rare that we leave an episode feeling good about Betty, so you just knew she was going to do something to destroy all that goodwill. And boy, did she ever. Spurred on by the loving note from Don to Megan on the back of Bobby's drawing, she callously tells Sally about Don's first wife, Anna, then walks away. Awesome, Betty. I was just starting to not hate you, and then you decide to use your daughter as a weapon against your husband and his new wife. Oh, and don't worry at all about what learning this secret will do to Sally. Just throw it on the pile of things this little girl will talk about in therapy one day -- provided that she doesn't die of an overdose at 18.
Don and Megan handle it as best they can. Don reveals some of the truth about Anna (their marriage wasn't romantic; they got married for legal reasons), but doesn't unfurl the whole truth about Dick Whitman. Yes, he's trying to protect her. But I'm sure the full story about Dick will come out the next time Betty is feeling insecure. Or maybe she'll abandon this tactic completely, as it ultimately doesn't work. Thankfully, Sally overhears Megan telling Don that Betty is trying to poison their marriage. Sally, being a little old for her years, realizes that her mom was using her and doesn't give her the satisfaction of knowing about her fight with Megan. She acts like everything is fine. So the apple really doesn't fall that far from the tree.
Meanwhile, Roger tries to spoil things for his soon-to-be ex as well, though it's unclear how conscious he is of what he's doing. Yes, he's obviously threatened when the son of Mansichewitz flirts with her. And yes, his seduction of her is probably fueled by insecurity. But whether he knew that their fling would ruin the apartment for her -- I don't know. I don't really think Roger thinks that far or that deeply. And he seems genuinely chastened when Jane sulkily says the apartment is ruined. But maybe he's just worried that he'll have to spend more money to get her some new digs.
Ultimately, this episode leaves everyone feeling a little insecure, irrelevant and frightened for the future. Yes, Peggy has a brief moment of satisfaction when she realizes that Don treated Ginsberg just as badly as he's treated her in the past. But that won't last. Everyone knows that the future is coming, and that their days in their current roles are likely numbered.
Anyway, here are some more thoughts on "Dark Shadows":
- The episode gets its title from the vamp soap opera that was popular at the time and for which Megan's frenemy is auditioning. Is it a coincidence that the episode debuts the same weekend that the big screen version of that soap is appearing in theaters? Not sure. That doesn't really seem like something Matt Weiner would do. But given how universally panned the movie has been, it was a little prescient to have Megan laughing hysterically at how bad the TV show's dialogue is.
- I didn't really talk about Pete, though he got a story line here. But it was pretty much more of the "Pete thinks good things will happen to him and then they don't" stuff we've been seeing all season. The best moment was Pete lashing out at Howard for running off to the city for a pre-Thanksgiving boink with his ladyfriend. Pete snottily threatens to go have sex with Howard's wife (which he's already done), and Howard just laughs at him. Heh.
- Oh, and did we really need the dream sequence featuring strategically nude Alexis Bledel? Jesus, "Mad Men," -- you won't be happy until you ruin "Gilmore Girls" for me for good, will you?
- So was anyone else surprised that the Snoball people actually liked Don's idea? It just seemed creepy for all the wrong reasons (particularly Don's devil voice, which was hilarious. You can't go wrong with having Jon Hamm do awkward play-acting. It's just comedic gold.) Maybe that's because we know all the desperation that went into it, but still.
- I loved Ginsberg's sketches, particularly the one with Snoball the pig. Peggy's right that the pig has nothing to do with the product but, as Ginsberg pointed out, it does make people laugh. And that, right there, is the difference between Don's technique and Ginsberg's. Don is studied. Ginsberg is spontaneous. There are benefits and drawbacks to both, but, as the youth culture continues its march, Ginsberg's point of view is likely going to be valued more.
- Finally, Roger acknowledges that he needs to start carrying less cash. At least Ginsberg got less money off of him than Peggy.
- Love that Roger has already started to exploit his acid trip to manipulate Jane. Though even she isn't dumb enough to believe she said she wanted to remarry quickly to spare Roger alimony.