Mad Men Season Finale Review: “The Phantom” (Season 5, Episode 13)

“My friend down there, she was wondering: Are you alone?”

Season 5 of Mad Men has come and gone in what feels like a flash. Much of this season, including last week’s episode, was a roller coaster of emotional outpouring, due to the loss of one of the show’s major characters. As has proved throughout the years though (with the exception of Season 3), the season finale is kept admirably low key. Falling once again into the hands of Matthew Weiner, who habitually both writes and directs each season’s final episode, “The Phantom” proves a deliriously satisfying end to a very, very good season of the finest show on television.

This episode is really an amalgamation of the season’s themes. I’ve said throughout these recaps over the past 12 weeks, that from the season premiere, the key theme of Mad Men this season is the tectonic shifts of the show’s geography, in both a physical and psychological capacity.

There have been noticeable changes in how the show works. We saw Peggy leave SCDP (which drastically affected her relationship with Don and the rest of the advertising world) and we also see Joan remaining as the sole strong female voice at SCDP. Of course, there are other changes at play but those are the two most significant.

Meanwhile, Pete’s importance in the work environment saw a massive increase this year as all the important accounts for the company were brought in and overseen by him. Pete is the leech that we all love to hate, his constant sucking up and smarmy attitude really does make him hateful but it also makes it more satisfying when he is punched in the face. Which happened not once, not twice, but three times this season. In this episode alone he got punched twice. And let me say this: For all the intellectual satisfaction, subtle storytelling, amazing dialogue, big themes and all the other stuff that Mad Men offers us, Matthew Weiner also knows how to provide premium entertainment. And nothing is more entertaining than seeing Pete Campbell get walloped in the face.

Lane’s death last episode also saw another change to the office space, both mentally and physically. In this episode, due to a new influx of money because of death benefits, Joan and the rest of the partners put forward plans for new space and offices. SCDP is once again expanding, but with blood on its hands. His ghost, hence the title, is metaphorically haunting the office, decisions seem to be tougher without him, and the partners can’t seem to string something together.

But most importantly of all, Don is a changed man. The events of Season 4 have played a big part in how the character has been portrayed this year. Don’s heavy drinking and womanising caught up with him and he made sure that his life saw a dramatic change; he became more open and married a woman who seemingly could provide everything he needed.

This season he has been faithfully committed to Megan, despite the fact that their relationship isn’t perfect. They had constant arguments and battles, but Don never betrayed his marriage. Had we seen arguments between him and Betty like this in the prior seasons, we would have seen him going to find pleasure with another woman.

We didn’t get any of that this season; Don’s life had presumably gotten better. He has a beautiful, spacious apartment which he shares with his gorgeous young wife and business seems to be running well for him. All that good will that Don now feels is completely shattered in very subtle ways this episode.

For all the rich texture of the supporting characters and the attempts to provide great story lines for people like Peggy, Pete, Lane and Joan, which have been numerous and in their own ways fascinating, Mad Men is an incredibly selfish show. No matter how hard they try, the show can only be and only ever will be about one person: Don Draper. Mad Men is entirely a show served to this character and this character alone. Don is an entirely selfish man concerned only with himself, despite his attempts to rectify that.