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

His selfish acts are scattered throughout the episode. For one, he takes some of the death benefit money to Lane’s grieving widow, who rejects the offer, telling him that it is only to appease his own conscience rather than hers, and she’s right. Don still believes that he may have some part in causing Lane’s suicide due to his decision to fire him. It’s quite ironic that he is giving money to Lane’s wife to help her out when he fired Lane for attempting to take money off Don because he was trying to help his family.

He also has a surprise encounter with Peggy when they bump into each other at the movie theatre. They talk about her career and he asks how her new job is going. When she responds that it’s good, he says: “That’s what happens when you help someone. You want them to succeed.” Don is effectively taking credit for her career which he started, but then sought to undermine at every possible turn during her creative period at SCDP.

If you hadn’t guessed, this episode is solely about Don, whether it be an arbitrary, chronic tooth ache or his guilt and ideas of his own importance. The episode’s title, “The Phantom,” refers not to the guilt of everyone affected by Lane’s death, but Don’s guilt alone. Juxtaposing the guilt of Lane’s suicide are Don’s visions of his brother: Adam, who hung himself after Don sent him away in the show’s first season. Adam comes to Don while he sits in the dentist chair, under anaesthesia. He tells him he will remove the thing that is rotten, which isn’t just his tooth.

What could Adam be referring to? Don’s heart? It’s possible. But as this isn’t the first metaphysical encounter Don has experienced throughout the show’s history (remember the ghost of Anna Draper in season 4’s The Suitcase?), I’m inclined to believe that Adam is talking about Don’s soul. During the season Don has remained the good guy, but underneath, this episode suggests that Don has never changed and won’t.

And while this season has postured ever lasting changes for other elements around Don, which would thereby affect the show as a whole, it is Don’s backsliding in this episode that makes us realise that the show will never change at all, because Don hasn’t changed himself.

Weiner is completely and utterly aware of this; the final montage even acknowledges it. As we see the changed lives of Pete Campbell, Peggy Olsen, and Roger Sterling, we see Don casually sitting at a bar. He drinks, he smokes and then two women approach him essentially looking for sex, and before we cut to black, Don looks at them in a way that tells us temptation has got the better of him.

This comes after a very interesting point in the show. Megan’s whining about her acting career not taking off may come to a close when an opportunity arises for her to star in a commercial for one of SCDP’s clients. Don is hesitant but after much deliberation he allows her to be in the commercial due to seeing her reel; he remembers his wife is a beautiful, young woman who can sell products. The problem this causes for Don is that Megan now no longer belongs to him; she belongs to all the people who see that commercial, and now the world. Her beauty is something that every man who sees that commercial will now desire and want.

This was his main problem with Betty; she was a model but quit when she married, as she belonged to Don. However, in the show, Betty returned to that work, meaning that, like Megan, Betty would not be his sole property.  She would belong to billboards, women who wanted to be her, and men who wanted her; hence he had to go looking for his ownership of another woman elsewhere. He will experience the same with Megan, hence the temptation at the bar. Just before we cut to black, Don’s glance is the key signifier that his character is the same. A selfish, very controlling man.

In the years from now when Mad Men is finished and we look back on popular culture as a whole, the great character studies of our time in literature, film or television will not be complete without Don Draper. He is the Tony Soprano, he is the Charles Foster Kane, he is the Jay Gatsby of Mad Men; he is the cultural icon of his generation.

Throughout 5 years of construction, Matthew Weiner has created one of the most rounded, psychologically deep and complex characters of all time and there is still more to come. His story has not been finished yet.