Feel Better

 Posted by on June 13, 2012 at 6:11 am  Characters, Season 5
Jun 132012

Don’t leave here thinking you’ve done anything for anyone but yourself. – Rebecca Pryce, The Phantom

In spring of 1967, is there anyone in the Mad Men universe who feels well?

Don has a toothache, and worse. Pete has a bad case of doom-and-gloom. Megan can’t get out of bed.

Beth Dawes is also ill, but she’s been down this road before. She alone knows what to do. “It works,” she promises Pete, after describing her own prescription: electroshock therapy.

I imagine this does work, and I’ll bet it’s wonderful. What could be better for our friends on Mad Men than forgetting? What else would help Don forget the parallel deaths of his brother and colleague? What other remedy is there for Pete’s longings, the (now all-male) creative team’s lack of spark, Megan’s disappointment, Joanie’s sadness?

What isn’t working, it’s clear, is money. “Every day I open the mail and there’s more,” Joan complains to Don. She misses her friend, and can feel nothing but rage at “this profit,” blooming in the wake of his suicide.

Don – a man with deep knowledge of what money can’t do – tries to balance the windfall. This doesn’t work, either: Lane’s widow accepts his payout with something far short of gratitude. “I hope you feel better,” she says, soothing and sardonic at once. It is Don’s own conscience he’s working to clear, not hers.

As hard as comfort is to find, diagnosis isn’t a problem. Not that the patient always wants to hear it: “You are chasing a phantom,” Marie informs Megan. “Not every little girl can do what they want. The world cannot support that many ballerinas.” Megan protests – “You’re supposed to be encouraging!” – but her mother holds the line. “This is what happens when you have the artistic temperament but you are not an artist,” she tells Don, translating her daughter to the man who loves her.

Don is in pain himself when he hears those words. What he kept thinking would go away – a bad tooth – doesn’t. And that’s the good news. “It’s not your tooth that’s rotten,” says the ghost of Adam to Don: a simple statement of fact. Adam, forever beyond the reach of pain and love, doesn’t have to care what happens next.

If you are Don at this moment, what would you do for the peace Beth finds in forgetting? What would you do to be able to lose the memory of turning away not one but two people in dire human need? If you’re Joan, what would you do to forget the loss of your confidant — or what you did to secure your promotion? If you’re Megan, how far might you go to be able to exchange your childhood dream for simple married bliss?

“It’s going to be different after. It always is,” Beth tells Pete, and in the end she’s right. It’s grey, it’s loss, it’s nothing; but to a person in pain, the grey nothing feels better. Afterward, Pete can see it in Beth’s face: the calm of a person who does not remember the depth of her own rage at her life.

For Pete, finally seeing the life he has built as “some temporary bandage on a permanent wound,” I am sure Beth’s sunny oblivion stings like nothing else.


  53 Responses to “Feel Better”

  1. Yikes. What a painful post. What a painful episode. What a painful season. I’m kind of looking to forget the whole thing myself. A close friend of ours (in real life) committed suicide a week before Lane. It’s been a challenging time. Sometimes it seems there are not a lot of people having a great time of it these days, kind of like the entire Mad Men cast.

    • Oh my God, David. I am so sorry for your loss.

      I enjoyed this season — found it cathartic. Almost a year ago, I lost my Dad after a long illness. At that time, I really felt the absence of Mad Men: a show I’ve always used to help me find the things I don’t know I need to feel.

      I longed for that communication with my unconscious last year. In the wake of Season Five, I realize that I’ve found its darkness completely appropriate.

      Sorry again for your loss. I wish you and your loved ones comfort and peace.

    • So sorry, David. 🙁

    • I’m so sorry David. That kind of loss is always difficult to grapple with.

  2. Wow, Anne,

    This was brilliant. Like a beautiful song. So well written. I always look forward to your posts because they bring such clarity to me after I watch MM. I never really get mad at the gang, because they each carry such a heavy cross. While Don had shone a bit of growth, he carries such tragedy in spite of it. And Pete’s beautiful yet sad sentiment of the temporary bandage on a permanent wound, was just sad. Joan too, dazzles, yet is a different person since she did what she did. Will they ever feel better? I want them to. I root for all of them in spite of their darkness.

    • Yes–wonderful post, Anne, and Lianne, this was very well-said. They’re all quite interesting in their own way.

    • “Don had shone a bit of growth, he carries such tragedy in spite of it. ”

      “Don is a magnet for tragedy.”

      When I heard Matt Weiner say this – it clarified for me the essence of who Don is

  3. The one person who’s happier than Beth Dawes at the end of the episode? Roger, tripping nakedly on LSD. To repeat what I said in response to wick ditman’s great Post #51 on the Recap thread (everyone go read it if you haven’t yet. It’s terrific!) I’m reminded a bit of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, where Hickey the salesman is convinced that the only way to make the inmates of Harry Hope’s Saloon happy is for them to know the truth: that their “pipe-dreams” are never going to come true. Once they give up their illusions, he says, they can get along with their lives and be happy. Of course, once they’re ‘cured’, they’re miserable. All they want is to get back their previous fantasies.

    In “The Phantom,” the non-Americans Marie Calvet and Rebecca Pryce speak for Hickey. And, at the end of Iceman, there is one character who commits suicide when he is stripped of his illusions and can’t go back to drunken fantasy.

    • Excellent post. Thanks for sharing the analogy. Had a chance to see “Iceman” but never did. And the once they’re cured, they’re miserable paradox makes complete sense. Especially in the USA.

  4. Tremendous post. Using EST or some other method to forget your pain might seem attractive. You can forget the pain you are in and the pain you have perhaps caused to others. Like a rotten tooth, once it is out, the pain from the tooth is gone for good. However the downside of this is that along with the pain, you also lose the opportunity to learn from your mistakes which caused the pain and therefore grow as a human being. So by starting in a “forgotten” state, you have now set yourself to make the same mistakes over again because you are the same person with the same flaws just with no memory of those flaws. Then what, like Beth, you go through EST again? And the cycle begins again because it was just a quick fix, a band-aid approach to a bigger issue? That pulled tooth leaves a hole, a reminder that you have forgotten something important.

    Some people may be better off owning up to the pain and their mistakes, rather than forgetting them. If they can do this, they give themselves the opportunity to learn and therefore not repeat the same mistakes over again. For instance, Pete is always very quick to blame others for the pain in his life. Wouldn’t he be better off in the long run if he took some ownership in the events of his life and learned more about himself so he does not repeatedly can smacked down both literally and figuratively in the future? It is not until one can learn from and reconcile their past that they can truly move forward without a contstant hole in their life. If they can get through the process of looking within, however painful that might be, they come out with the knowledge and happiness that they can better handle life in the future.

    • My sense was that Pete WAS accepting responsibility. I don’t remember the exact words, but he talked about “looking to find something in an affair, a temporary bandage to the emptiness and pain was in his own life…”

      It seemed very self-aware.

      I think people like to hate on ol’ Pete. He’s not a bad guy, just raw and a little too naked for most people to handle. His wears his unease a little too close to the bone for most people’s liking.

      • Unease? I’ve never disliked Pete because of vulnerability — I think vulnerability is what draws me into these characters, when they display it in different ways. Pete is a man who attempted to prostitute his wife in order to get a story published and compete with Ken, a man who forced himself on his neighbor’s au pair when Trudy was away, and, finally, the man who set the fated Jaguar deal in motion, persistent in his determination to satiate the Jaguar account in the transaction that so many of us are still reeling from and disturbed by.

        In all this, it’s difficult for me to feel FOR him when he DOES nakedly show his emotions. I think we’ve rarely, if ever, seen him act out of love, I find it difficult to show compassion for him.

      • I was wondering: What would’ve happened if Beth had taken Pete up on his offer? Would Pete have chucked it all and gone to the Land of La-La, as he suggested in his “lavender haze”?

        More likely, they’d have made passionate love, Pete would’ve gone home to pack….and he’d do what Don did to Miss Farro: Leave her sitting in an empty car with a full suitcase.

        • Just another instance of how Pete is different than Don, I think, even though Pete seems at times to do “Don” things. There was a time where Don would have left and actually has left in the Jet Set. No calls to wife or children or even the office at all. But I dont think Pete has the constitution for this or the survival skills to handle it.

    • sr said” “by starting in a ‘forgotten’ state, you have now set yourself to make the same mistakes over again because you are the same person with the same flaws just with no memory of those flaws.”

      That sounds like Don’s major problem throughout this series — he tries to run from his past and “move on,” but that phantom keeps haunting him. He’ll never be happy until he deals with the pain of seeing himself as Archibald Whitman’s “whore child.” His daddy and “mommy” hammered home the message to little Dick that he was a worthless piece of shit. Deep down, no matter how much success he has, I think he still believes it.

      • Deep down, no matter how much success he has, I think he still believes it.

        Which is why when Betty asked him if he was her, would he love himself. His reponse was that he was surprised that she ever loved him. He grew up being told he was worthless and I agree with you, still believes it.

  5. “In spring of 1967, is there anyone in the Mad Men universe who feels well?”

    At this point in the game, yes. Only one person. Peggy. Peggy knew when to leave the painful situations and she’s in a better place for it.

    Don’s in a position to be well at the start of next season; but it depends on whatever the meaning of that shit-eating side eye was at the end of The Phantom. Is he alone? Does he finally have an idea of when to leave and how to do it responsibly? Has he given up the hobo code so he doesn’t have to suffer alone?

    • Wonderful post Anne. I like your brain :).

    • Don entrusted his inner to a love that turned out to be a phantom. He’s not going back into his tortoise shell, he’s grown enough not to do that. However, he will interpret the demise of this relationship as further evidence that he alone can trust himself, and in essence his journey is mostly solitary, with dollops of sharing certain aspects of himself whenever he deems it appropriate.


  6. Well done Annie. I wonder how each of the characters would define happiness. I wonder how they would define sadness. Unforntunately, they have allowed society to define these meanings for them. These characters don’t believe in what they are selling yet they are shaping American society’s definition of satisfaction. They perpetuate an unquenchable thirst that they inflict on themselves also.

    Don was right – the universe is indifferent: to suffering or happiness. In the end, the individual’s perspective is all that matters.

    • Thank you, my friend!

      I think in some cases on this show, happiness is like the horizon: the more you try to reach it, the further it recedes. We’ve seen Don’s stated definition of happiness change, from his pitch in Season One to that cranky little comment to Ed Baxter in the penultimate episode of this season.

      Yes, Don’s a pitchman, this is what he does for a living — but his discomfort in the latter scene speaks volumes. He’s gone through hell to get what he has now, and he’s still not happy.

      That’s incredible. But also, that’s character. 🙂

      • Hee, just for a second, I read this and thought–Ted Baxter? Mary Tyler Moore? Did Anne make a mistake in the name? Oh wait, yeah, Ted Baxter–Ken’s father-in-law.

        I was too young for Mary Tyler Moore but my mom loved it and I’ve watched a few episodes of the reruns with her. Seems like a fun show. 🙂

      • Great post, Anne. The mistake I believe most of the characters are making is to think that happiness is a destination. I was taught (by a very wise person) that happiness is the journey, which is something Peggy is experiencing. The whole idea of thinking, as Don pitched to Dow, that the only thing happiness means is that you need more happiness recognizes this in a convoluted way. I think it’s a trap – or perhaps a treadmill – to believe that there is a state of happiness that endures and once you reach it, you don’t ever have to strive for it again. Happiness has always been transitory and situational for most people. It’s like trying to pick up mercury that dropped on the floor. If you’re lucky, you can scoop up a little, but it’s likely to break apart and skitter away.

        Just the fact that Roger has to keep taking LSD, and that Beth has to keep getting electroshock are evidence of that.

        • I agree, Pele, that happiness is the journey, not a destination. I also believe that it’s not what happens to us or in our lives that creates happiness; it’s always a choice no matter what the circumstances are.

          For anyone wanting a good read on the subject of happiness being a choice, always: suggest reading Happiness Is A Choice by Barry Neil Kaufman. Wonderful book, very simple yet profound concept.

          • Never read the book but, yep, I’ve always believed that people are about as happy as they decide to be. I know one who has had the troubles of Job dumped on her in the last dozen years (physical and mental illness, job loss, divorce, back taxes owed, etc.) and she keeps plugging along. And then there are the ones who have everything including a permanent scowl and operate in complaint mode. Some of it is due to inherent personality (optimist/pessimist) and how much resiliency one has.

  7. I know this is nitpicking but if Beth forgets who Pete is, what is to say she won’t forget who her two kids are or even who Howard is and can electrochock treatment be so precise so that it can separate the people and things Beth should remember from the people and things it is designed to completely erase?

    The only one lead character who now appears happy is Peggy. Perhaps it is SCDP itself which is rotten, and Peggy might have recognized that.

    • You may be interested in the small and very funny books Wishful Drinking and Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher. She discusses the memory affects of electro-shock therapy (and many other things). Hey, all of Carrie Fisher’s books are very funny.

      According to Carrie Fisher, most of the events of the few weeks or months prior to the shock are forgotten as well as some older events. (But the amount of forgetting varies from time to time.) So Beth is more likely to forget someone she met only last fall and less likely to forget people she met years ago like her husband and her kids. (But her kids are mostly invisible anyway.)

      Also, since it varies from time to time, Beth is uncertain beforehand how much she will forget. What a sad feeling not knowing how you will come out on the other side.

      • My uncle has had electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT. He has a form of depression now called complicated grief, a long-term problem that actually resets the neural pathways in the brain to a kind of adapted depressive state. For him, there are times when ECT is the only solution.

        I think the practice is both less widely used and more precise now. I know the courses of ECT can range from single sessions to courses of more than ten, and at lower doses the short-term memory loss is temporary.

        Even in the mid-20th century, though, a person undergoing ECT would have gotten a physical first. The basics of Beth’s life (parents alive or dead, siblings, years married, any children) would have been important to the people treating her, and she’d have gotten reminders from the staff in the rare event she didn’t remember any of those key people.

        Pete isn’t part of the life story Beth would want to retain. I am not surprised that she wants to forget him — or that she succeeds.

        • Thank you for the info Anne B. ECT is a topic with much history and science worthy of discussing. I can tell you Beth’s story really affected me this week. And it was just one part of this episode of MM.

        • Pete isn’t part of the life story Beth would want to retain.

          Well-said! Especially since she told him that they were pretty much together because she thought they had the same “problem.”

        • I have a psychiatist acquaintance (she only has talk and drugs as theraputic tools) who once speculated that ECT perhaps should not be considered only as a last resort for some who suffer depression (with various qualifying adjectives).

          A quick skim of the extensive wikipedia article on ECT shows that there are numerous applications and indications for ECT nowadays.

      • Since you’ve read a little bit about this, is this forgetting permanent or do those things come back eventually? I was really intrigued by the memory loss isssue. I’ve always had very negative perceptions about ECT (watched and read One Flew Over the Cucuko’s Nest in the teen years and it and saw an episode of “Quantum Leap” about ECT and all of that freaked me the heck out about it), although I heard an interesting piece on NPR a few years ago about how it can be very effective for extremely depressed people which made me a little less wary but it still seems really scary.

        • I was a psych major in college and from what I remember, ECT memory loss often gets better, but not completely so, after the treatment. Over the weeks following treatment, some of the memories will be restored, so it is possible that Beth will remember Pete at a later date. Memory loss also depends on the method of ECT – unilateral (applying shock to only one side of the head) produces more memory loss than bilateral.

          It is also true that ECT got a bad rap with works like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” but that bad rap was deserved. ECT was widely used for all sorts of “ailments” in the first half of the 20th century – including to “cure” homosexuality. It was not appropriate for any of those uses. The only appropriate use of ECT nowadays is for severe suicidal depression. No one really knows why it works, but ECT can be a powerful method of reducing that severe depression and giving the patient time for more traditional medications (which often take 2 – 3 weeks for full impact) to work. ECT is also useful for patients who don’t respond to medication.

          Interestingly, the point of ECT is not the memory loss, that’s seen as a negative side effect. One wonders, though, whether Mrs. Dawes has become to rely on the process to have a simpler way of starting over (another theme of the series).

  8. Someone I know speculates that the popularity of EST for women in the 1960’s inspired the 1972 book, The Stepford Wives. That movie was scary. So was the book.

  9. What can I say Anne B? Excellent! Excellent! You grasp it expertly and state it beautifully.

    Yes, few of the MM characters at the end of S5 would not take advantage of a gray fog rather than wrestle with real pain front and center. Indeed, Roger is reaching out for a temporary solution just as Beth is. There is some debate around this, but to my thinking, Don and Megan are using a temporary bandage too. Let’s face it, a Butler Shoes fantasy ain’t going to address the real issue here.

    The immediate problem is not the big problem. Money, a visit to the dentist, a few songs through the headset can indeed soothe and solve the immediate problem but Adam reminds Don that the underlying problem is something much deeper, much more complex.

    Yet, as someone who has had a lot of dental issues I can tell you that you seldom feel more alive than when you make the mistake of bending over with an abscess! Show me someone in pain – whose heart is broken or whose dream is unrealized and I’ll show you someone who is truly alive.

    The S5 message that cuts the other way is the same one we have discussed here in recent weeks. It is the challenge Anna sets out in the tarot reading: to remain in the game and engaged in life despite the pain. To meet challenges, make mistakes, take the lesson and hopefully grow from it. In short, to be “involved in mankind.”

    I thought it was a very good season and I look forward to digesting it further with the help of the BoK family. Thanks again for this great post!

    • What a great comment, ddd.

      Show me someone in pain – whose heart is broken or whose dream is unrealized and I’ll show you someone who is truly alive.

      I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. People think pain is a great subject to write about, but I have found that the exact opposite is true: it’s boring. Boring and also completely absorbing; like a long, terrible movie, one that is meant to do nothing but exhaust the viewer. In pain, you are doing nothing, but that nothing is your whole life.

      Before this season, when did we see Don in physical pain? To the contrary, it was as if he could do anything: he took down Jimmy Barrett with a single punch, built a playhouse by himself, hopped a bar at the Derby Day party. This year is different. Don’s had a fever and a “hot tooth” — and when he lost Megan at the Howard Johnson’s, he was in obvious distress. I think this man’s decades-deep load of existential pain is working its way to the surface at last.

      For him, I know, this is a boring experience. For those of us watching, it’s anything but.

  10. Don’t think you’ve done anything for anyone but yourself!

    I believe Don Draper acted mostly out of his vested self-interest by advancing Megan’s name forward to be the female pitchwoman for Butler Shoes.

    Initially when Megan first broached the idea Don brought up Megan’s recent past of rejecting the world of advertising since Lady Lazurus and then told Megan, “You want to be discovered and not the wife of somebody.” Meg nodded grudgingly in agreement.

    Then later in the episode Don comes home and finds Megan drunk in the living room and then takes her to bed. While there drunk, unhappy, despondent and sexually unattractive and while Don was hovering over Megan, she again asks Don to help her land the Butler Shoes gig.

    Yes, Don watched Megan’s screen test to confirm Megan’s talent, but I believe he made the decision to put her in for the commercial right then and there. I think Don saw a preview of coming attractions and he did not like what he saw, as he projected ahead and saw Megan sinking further into the abyss. And given that possibility how that would affect Don in his business life and his personal life.

    First Don’s business life: Don is getting his mojo back and feels more confident and reinvigorated (according to Jon Hamm in Inside Mad Men). There is no way Don could reach his full potential if he constantly had to watch Megan like a mother hen making sure she did not self-destruct even further.

    And then in his personal life alpha male Don needed Megan to be again healthy, happy and sexually attractive again. Megan also told Don while drunk she needed to work. And Don saw it the same way. Get Megan back to working consistently and she would be restored to her old self.

    And as it so happened Megan was basically signing her own death warrant on her career as a legitimate actress by changing horses in midstream and burning her bridges in order to again reluctantly to re-embrace the advertising industry albeit from a different angle. If there was a major bone of contention in their marriage, it was Megan’s rejection of the world of advertising and not defending what her husband did for a living when her friends took potshots at and ridiculed advertising practices and consumerism. From that point of view why wouldn’t Don want to launch Megan’s career in commercials?

    Walking away from the sound stage, I believe Don was self-satisfied. He again would have a healthy sex partner and Megan would re-enter the world of advertising. And she would never again consider pursuing legitimate acting. Megan knew that was the price she paid for caving in and “selling out” her dreams. Don would make sure she remained in the advertising industry in some capacity.

    And some Mad Men viewers think Don is unhappy. Imho, he is now ecstatic.

    • “Megan” is now a carcass on the the one way road (only moves forward) of Donald Draper. Think Woody Allen and Mariel Hemingway in Manhattan.
      He will remember her, fondly.

  11. Anyone notice that Megan was wearing ballerina-like slippers at the end of the episode? I noticed because I expected her to be wearing flats or something that would make it possible for her to show off the Butler shoes. MW clearly had a message for us in the form of Megan’s ‘dream-come-true’.

    I’m positive Don is going to let go so Megan will follow her own illusive idea of happiness. But it is not the same letting go that he painfully expressed with Peggy. Peggy has made her way as a copywriter in the face of many many obstacles (and jerks); whereas Megan simply asked for a favor and her wish was granted. Don respects women who work, who understand the choices they make, and who stand up for themselves in the world. He respects Sally and Peggy and Joan.

    • “He respects Sally”

      Nice call. I really liked his conversation this season with Sally over his “first wife”. A lot of respect (and grownup expectation) there.

      No doubt his respect increased for Peggy when she made her move. If they ever work again he will not take out his bad moods on her so disrespectfully.

      ( if he does, she will call him out on it )

      I can’t recall an instance where Don ever disrespected Joan. Burt Peterson set the hook on that when Don was a greenhorn (which implies that Joan was formidable even in her early 20s).

  12. Evocative, nuanced post Anne. Lovely, as is usual. I love that the entire cast is in pain. Why else would I watch? The ambiguity of the last shot, is exactly what I hoped for. A thousand meanings, could be. construed from just that LOOK from Don. No crescendo, no melodrama, just a splash of cold black water.
    What is Pete’s permanent wound? Is he mad at the world cause he can’t be as Don, as Don is? “I’ ll have the same view as you, Don”. I like Pete, because he’s such an open book/wound that I find refreshingly candid, contrasted amongst a cast of close to the vest poker faces. But, it is puzzling trying to figure out the source of his malaise. Maybe Pete suffers from the male version of the problem with no name.

    Whatever Pete’s jones is, I want more. Heaps more. He is easily the most compelling character on the show. The ire he draws is comical, and astounding. No pain, no gain. Keep bringing us more MW.

    • Absolutely tk – couldn’t agree more. Who needs resolution and satisfaction? I want ambiguity and angst!

    • I really want to know what the permanent wound is too. Is it inability to ever reach closure with his family? His father is dead and will never approve of him. But does his father’s opinion really matter to him? He mentioned calling his mother when he thought (mistakenly) he had been made head of accounts in S3 — and Trudy said the well is dry.

      Is it childhood neglect? Did he ever feel unconditional love? If so, from whom? If he’s never felt unconditional love, how would he know it’s gone?

  13. I think Pete’s self-awareness was essential.

    He knows getting involved “with another man’s wife” is wrong. The way he whispered it showed guilt.
    He knows Trudy is not to blame – in fact it appears he never blamed Trudy. His “usual reasons” were all oriented to issues with him. More importantly, he takes complete ownership when he says his family is a temporary bandage over a permanent wound.

    So I don’t think he’s blaming anyone that is currently in his life. And if those who may have contributed to his wound are “gone”, then Pete just needs to figure out how to “deal”. (Note: that’s an IF and even if it’s someone else who contributed to his wound, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are to blame for his wound.) Tough nut.

    What will he do with this knowledge?

    I hope he talks to someone.

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