“Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
–“Ozymandias,” Percy Bysshe Shelley
“You should read the rest of that poem, you boob,” Stan Rizzo (Jay R. Ferguson) tells Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) after the latter quotes Shelley in triumph when it’s his work that gets chosen to be pitched to the Sno Ball execs. He’s not the only one. Last night’s episode was titled “Dark Shadows,” but its reference to the ABC gothic soap opera (the Tim Burton movie adaptation of which conveniently hit theaters this weekend) was minimal — an acting pal of Megan’s (Jessica Paré) auditions for and gets a part on the series. No, the dark shadows looming were personal ones, of envy, pride and a fear of getting replaced, that darkened every interaction in the episode and showed many of the characters at their territorial worst, defending things that in many cases they didn’t even want anymore.
“Dark Shadows” is a rare instance of “Mad Men” being a little too on the nose and tying its storylines in too neatly — from Megan reassuring the aforementioned friend that she’d kill to be able to audition for the hokey show to Betty at the close talking about how thankful she is for what she has (and that “no one else has anything better”), the episode underlined its common sentiments with a heavy hand. That isn’t to say there weren’t things to like — Roger (John Slattery) walked away with most of the best lines, while we got to see Don (Jon Hamm) in a rare moment of insecurity, unable to come up with good work (that seductive devil’s voice has been a fear of his this entire season) but unwilling to allow himself to be shown up by his underling.
Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) has been having a rough year at the office, and her Sno Ball pitch, a riff on a New Yorker cartoon without any punchline, was yet another misfire. (Don’s finally noticed, too, looking at the names listed as responsible on the work he’s sending out to the New York Times and noting, “Peggy really got buried with Heinz.”) She, unlike Don, doesn’t have the luxury of getting to present her idea as the only one and force it on clients at a meeting, and her sole consolation here is that she gets to take pleasure in Michael learning his work wasn’t even shown by their jealous boss.
Stan’s prediction that Peggy would end up getting replaced by whomever she hired if she picked someone who was talented has turned out to be truer than she would have guessed — but taking her frustration out on Roger for abandoning her, which is really just misplaced rage at Don, is a little unfair, too. She got her start and other chances because she’s expected to bring a female perspective to particular campaigns — as much as being one of the few women in the field hasn’t been easy, it’s had its occasional advantages, too. Michael being brought on to come up with ideas for Manischewitz isn’t that different, it’s just Peggy’s place as an outlier that’s being threatened.
Roger does his own territorial marking, and it’s needless and a little cruel — having cheerfully separated from Jane (Peyton List), he wiles his way back into her bed in the new apartment that’s supposed to represent her fresh start, and all because a client’s son showed some interest in her. “You get everything you want and you still had to do this,” she mourns, and he admits he’s wrong while seeming unlikely to change. The whole client dinner with Monarch Wines was itself an act of envy and spite to keep Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) out of the loop with regard to a new client, an act totally worth it for the birds-and-bees-of-business explanation Roger gives to Michael: “When a man hates another man very much…”
Betty (January Jones) has always been a character marked by envy, this time coming with a heavy dose of self-loathing. She’s joined Weight Watchers and has already slimmed down from when we last saw her, but a minute in her ex-husband’s home offers a world of insecurity for her, from the beautiful apartment to the glimpse of Megan’s slim form as she changes to the way that her children have a growing relationship with their stepmother to the love note from Don she finds among the kids’ drawings.
She’s so disquieted by the experience that she reaches for her nuclear option, dropping a mention of Don’s Dick Whitman days on Sally (Kiernan Shipka), who, feeling betrayed, takes more misplaced rage at Don and levels it at Megan instead. Unbeknownst to Betty, Don’s started out his second marriage on a more open note, and its Sally who ends up taking the worse of the blowback when she realizes she’s been used as a weapon in a skirmish of divorce — poor Sally, whose coming of age arrives with some awful revelations about the adults in her life.
As for Don, these are not the first women he’s left feeling betrayed, and they’re likely not the last. But he’s never had to deal with feeling replaceable at work before — work is something that’s generally come easy to him, his place at the top taken for granted. Pete may covet his neighbor’s wife and his colleague’s place in the advertising world, but a sense that he’s lacking is not something Don’s had to get a feel for before. Left out of the “Peter, Paul and Mary”-ish spread of hip, young industry up-and-comers in the Times, he defends his home turf instead, proving he’s still got it by making sure his own work is the only stuff that gets seen. It’s petty, and he refuses to get called on it, but the times are still changing, the world is moving on and there are always new faces and new talents to contend with. Once upon a time, as Roger muses, they used to have executive elevators so you wouldn’t have to get stuck in the awkward confrontations with other employees that punctuate this episode — but these days, everyone rides together, and there’s no pretending your place at the top is safe.