Mad Men: season 5, episode 9

Green-eyed monsters and the downfall of kings.


It's Thanksgiving. "Bring something sweet" to dinner, Megan tells her acting friend. The great irony of "Dark Shadows", we quickly learn, is everyone is sour; nobody is thankful. "The grass is always greener," Howard laughingly tells Pete. "Every man for himself," Roger defensively yells at Peggy. The title of episode nine comes from the 1966 American TV show, a series of gothic tales where the characters are werewolves, witches and vampires. This week Mad Men is populated by green-eyed monsters.

Betty's jealousy of Megan, and her life with Don, is the most rancorous of all. It's not enough that she surveys the new Draper home - spacious, light and lived in - that contrasts so obviously with her mortician's mansion, but Betty has to catch a lingering sight of Megan (strangely changing clothes at the end of the day), slim and pert in her brassiere. After seeing a sweet note written by Don to his new wife, Betty acts on her jealousy - vindictive, crunching on celery, she tries to use her daughter to plant a bitter seed. But Sally is now dependable for her feistiness and won't be duped. Though her criticisms of Megan are biting - "You're a phony. Guess what? You're not special . . . So why did he marry you?" - Sally has learned there are more artful ways to take control. In the knowing voice of an adult she later lies to her mother, saying Don and Megan "spoke very fondly of [Anna]". Megan can teach Sally how to cry on cue but her stepdaughter is at least as good an actress.

Beside the Drapers' is another apartment in the city where a poisonous ex-spouse has overstayed their welcome. With toxic smog in the air that morning, Roger leaves Jane's new place that he has "ruined'' by sleeping with her in it. Whether or not we believe his claim to feeling "terrible" about it (and with his dejected exit aren't we inclined to?), Jane is right: Roger has everything he wants and it's still not enough.

There's some clear and clever parallels, as we often find, between Roger and Don in this episode. Desperate to not be outdone by Pete, Roger commissions Ginsberg to work afterhours on new ideas - because "when a man hates a man very much . . . " he has to go behind his back and screw him over. But when he says "hate" he's speaking about Bert Cooper - Roger won't "devote the energy to hating people anymore". If Roger is the deceiving, undermining accounts man then Don is his creative equivalent: working on a Sunday, rifling through Michael's notes and dumping his Sno Ball pitch before selling his own to the clients. Don also claims he doesn't act out of hate; while Ginsberg "feel[s] bad for" Don, the elder doesn't "think about [him] at all". But is the Jew really Ozymandias, the king of kings, looking on his works ("ye mighty") and telling others to despair? Whose vanity - we look too at Roger and Pete - will be their downfall first?

Peggy, for her own reasons, takes satisfaction in Ginsberg's loss. Her New Yorker-style ad was not of interest to Don (perhaps it's the hip, new agency thinking that the New York Times was after?), and we must wonder if her exit from SCDP is imminent. Last week she flipped at Draper over Megan in the Cool Whip kitchen; now, in a moment of elevator drama (a common site for it), she tells Roger he has betrayed her: "You are not loyal. You only think about yourself." Earlier on when looking at the agency's recent output Don noted that "Peggy really got buried by Heinz". And albeit out of pride and spite, Don is finally wringing some creativity from himself. Will Peggy act on her pact with Ken Cosgrove and move on? Perhaps she should heed the jolly jingle that plays out the episode: "If you want happiness just help yourself to some".

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Betty Francis staring daggers in "Dark Shadows". Photo: AMC

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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Bertie Carvel's diary: What would the French think about infidelity to Doctor Foster?

The joy of debuting a new series, Rupert Murdoch's squeamishness and a sting in the tail.

According to the adage, the first thing an actor does when he gets a job is to go on holiday. And so, having finished our sold-out run of James Graham’s Ink at the Almeida and with the show (in which I play a young Rupert Murdoch) about to transfer into the West End, I’m packing my bags.

But before I can skip town, I’ve one more professional engagement: the press launch of series two of the BBC drama Doctor Foster, which we finished filming at Christmas. I’ve now seen the final cut of all five episodes, and I’m excited to share it with an audience. There’s no substitute for seeing other people’s reactions at first hand, especially with a show that got people talking so much first time around, and it’s electric to sit in a cinema full of expectant journalists and commentators and feel the room respond. Nothing beats this: to put so much into making a thing and then experience an audience’s unmediated, reflexive reaction. When it goes well, you feel that you’ve shared something, that you’ve all recognised something together about how things are. It’s a unifying feeling. A sort of bond.

Cheating spouses

Handling the interviews has been tricky, when there’s so little one can say without giving the plot away. (The first series began with Suranne Jones’s character Gemma, a GP, suspecting her husband Simon of having an affair.) What’s more, lots of the questions invite moral judgements that I’ve tried my best to avoid; I always think it’s really important not to judge the characters I play from outside, but simply to work out how they feel about themselves, to zero in on their point of view. There’s a sort of moral bloodlust around this show: it’s extraordinary. People seem to want to hear that I’ve been pilloried in the street, or expect me to put distance between myself and my character, to hang him out to dry as a pariah.

While I’m not in the business of defending Simon Foster any more than I’m in the business of attacking him, I am intrigued by this queer mixture of sensationalism and prurience that seems to surface again and again.

Shock horror

Oddly enough, it’s something that comes up in Ink: many people have been surprised to find that, in a story about the re-launch of the Sun newspaper in 1969 as a buccaneering tabloid, it’s the proprietor who considers dropping anchor when the spirit of free enterprise threatens to set his moral compass spinning.

I’ve never given it much thought before, but I suppose that sensationalism relies on a fairly rigid worldview for its oxygen – the SHOCKERS! that scream at us in tabloid headlines are deviations from a conventional idea of the norm. But what’s behind the appetite for this sort of story? Do we tell tales of transgression to reinforce our collective boundaries or to challenge them?

For me there’s a close kinship between good journalism and good drama. I’m reminded of the words of John Galsworthy, who wrote Strife, the play I directed last summer, and who felt that the writer should aim “to set before the public no cut-and-dried codes, but the phenomena of life and character, selected and combined, but not distorted, by the dramatist’s outlook, set down without fear, favour, or prejudice, leaving the public to draw such poor moral as nature may afford”.

So when it comes to promoting the thing we’ve made, I’m faced with a real conundrum: on the one hand I want it to reach a wide audience, and I’m flattered that there’s an appetite to hear about my contribution to the process of making it; but on the other hand I think the really interesting thing about the work is contained in the work itself. I’m always struck, in art galleries, by how much more time people spend reading the notes next to the paintings than looking at the paintings themselves. I’m sure that’s the wrong way around.

Insouciant remake

En route to the airport the next morning I read that Doctor Foster is to be adapted into a new French version. It’s a cliché verging on racism, but I can’t help wondering whether the French will have a different attitude to a story about marital infidelity, and whether the tone of the press coverage will differ. I wonder, too, whether, in the home of Roland Barthes, there is as much space given to artists to talk about what they’ve made – in his 1967 essay, “The Death of the Author”, Barthes wrote that “a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination”.

No stone unturned

Touring the villages of Gigondas, Sablet and Séguret later that evening, I’m struck by the provision of espaces culturels in seemingly every commune, however small. The French certainly give space to the work itself. But I also notice a sign warning of a chat lunatique, so decide to beat a hasty retreat. Arriving at the house where I’m staying, I’ve been told that the key will be under a flowerpot. Lifting each tub in turn, and finally a large flat stone by the door, I find a small scorpion, but no key. I’m writing this at a table less than a yard away so let’s hope there won’t be a sting in this tale.

Ink opens at the Duke of York Theatre, London, on 9 September. More details: almeida.co.uk

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear