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YOLT~Duality/Sexuality in Mad Men’s The Phantom

The last few episodes of Mad Men 5 left me emotionally devastated. I watched them over the space of a few nights, ending each one with red-rimmed eyes and a sore heart.

That’s when I know the show is back on incredible form. Welcome back, Mad Men. And what a way to wrap up the season – by exploring two of the show’s most interesting themes.


The image above is from the Season 2 episode Maidenform, which posited the notion that every woman fits into the Jackie/Marilyn dichotomy. It’s an idea which has blossomed and developed over the course of the show, culminating in its most awful moment: the prostitution of Joan (secret: I cried more over this than I did over Lane), a woman who is both the embodiment of sexiness and, by way of that very aspect of herself, a literal object who is pimped out by her male colleagues – the only way for her to secure power. As I said above – devastating.

Anyway, the finale took this theme and ran with it. It is surely no coincidence that Megan is shooting the very Butler series mentioned in ‘Mystery Date‘ – the one where we learned that the man who is chasing you could be a lover or a killer. Now the advert is Beauty and the Beast. Lover or Killer. Beast or Prince.

Which is Don? He suspects himself to be the Beast, after many months of trying to be a faithful husband. The ghost of Adam dredges up his insecurities and reminds him that he is two men. And both of them have seen and done some fairly awful things.

The final sequence (a masterpiece of cinematography, direction and acting – holy hell, Jon Hamm is just perfection in human form…that look!) uses ‘You Only Live Twice’ from the Bond film of the same name. Bond lives a dual life (man and superspy); it is no surprise that Don emulates him when he decides to let Megan go for her dreams, but withdraws himself from attachment. In the course of his two lives, he has yet to find his own dream.

Whatever his answer, we know he is still truly alone.

p.s. this song could be written for Don – one life for yourself (Dick) and one for your dreams (Don)…but it fits other people too. You have to pay the price in the end. Look at poor Joanie. Look at Lane.


Sex has taken a back seat in this season. Instead, death has been at the forefront. But after death must come rebirth, and that requires sex.

In this episode, we saw sex for several purposes:

  • Roger’s sexual encounter with Marie was all about experiencing the reality of life. He spoke of his belief that this life is the only one we experience (echoing Don’s ‘this is all that we are’, probably my favourite line of the whole show). Alongside LSD, sex was his coping mechanism.
  • Beth also wanted something to experience before having her mind wiped.
  • Pete (DEAD TO ME BTW) wanted both to act on his crazy infatuation with Beth and escape the humdrum reality of marriage.
  • Megan attempted to use sex to negotiate with Don.
  • The dogs…well, the dogs were just doing it without much ulterior motive.

Apart from the dogs, none of these schemes really worked out. Perhaps sex has two lives, just as much as everyone else. There’s the sex you want to have and the sex you actually have. And are we all just beasts/dogs? Or can there be beauty in human relationships?

Other notes, less serious:

  • Jon Hamm for all awards ever.
  • I will cut a bitch if Peggy is not a regular character next season. Loved the sight of her living her dream life in Virginia, though the dogs brought things down a notch. Not sure how to parse that image, to be honest.
  • Sally Draper is probably my third favourite character (after Don and Peggy). Love her.
  • Haaaaaaaaaaaaaate Megan, then I feel bad because she’s a confident, motivated woman and why do I feel frustrated when she tries to emasculate Don? But I think that is all purposeful, and another example of duality!
  • I’m being serious about Pete Campbell. ANY affection I had for him died when he took that disgusting Jaguar man seriously. Then he had the gall to moan about his life to Beth, who had just had her brain fried. He’s finally achieved his dream of being Don and, surprise surprise, it’s not that great. Welcome to the real world.
  • Roger. Lol. But I got a shiver down my spine when he first took LSD and had that note saying ‘please help me’. Duality of reality/surreality?
  • Can’t believe I didn’t mention the elevator shaft. Creepiest image from the show so far (Lane’s body was just gross) and definitely highlights the emptiness of the dream life.

This show. ❤


One Response to “YOLT~Duality/Sexuality in Mad Men’s The Phantom”

  1. […] classic MM style, with a big dollop of death, existential angst and a whole lotta duality. I have referenced this before as a key theme of the show and it looks like that is set to […]

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