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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The conflict in Yemen is a Civil War by numbers

Amid the battles, a generation starves.

Ten thousand dead – a conservative estimate at best. Three million internally displaced. Twenty million in need of aid. Two hundred thousand besieged for over a year. Thirty-four ballistic missiles fired into Saudi Arabia. More than 140 mourners killed in a double-tap strike on a funeral. These are just some of the numerical subscripts of the war in Yemen.

The British government would probably prefer to draw attention to the money being spent on aid in Yemen – £37m extra, according to figures released by the Department for International Development in September – rather than the £3.3bn worth of arms that the UK licensed for sale to Saudi Arabia in the first year of the kingdom’s bombing campaign against one of the poorest nations in the Middle East.

Yet, on the ground, the numbers are meaningless. What they do not show is how the conflict is tearing Yemeni society apart. Nor do they account for the deaths from disease and starvation caused by the hindering of food imports and medical supplies – siege tactics used by both sides – and for the appropriation of aid for financial gain.

Since the war began in March 2015 I have travelled more than 2,500 miles across Yemen, criss-crossing the front lines in and out of territories controlled by Houthi rebels, or by their opponents, the Saudi-backed resistance forces, or through vast stretches of land held by al-Qaeda. On those journeys, what struck me most was the deepening resentment expressed by so many people towards their fellow Yemenis.

The object of that loathing can change in the space of a few hundred metres. The soundtrack to this hatred emanates from smartphones resting on rusting oil drums, protruding from the breast pockets of military fatigues, or lying on chairs under makeshift awnings where flags denote the beginning of the dead ground of no-man’s-land. The rabble-rousing propaganda songs preach to the watchful gunmen about a feeble and irreligious enemy backed by foreign powers. Down the road, an almost identical scene awaits, only the flag is different and the song, though echoing the same sentiment, chants of an opponent altogether different from the one decried barely out of earshot in the dust behind you.

“We hate them. They hate us. We kill each other. Who wins?” mused a fellow passenger on one of my trips as he pressed green leaves of the mildly narcotic khat plant into his mouth.

Mohammed was a friend of a friend who helped to smuggle me – dressed in the all-black, face-covering garb of a Yemeni woman – across front lines into the besieged enclave of Taiz. “We lose everything,” he said. “They win. They always win.” He gesticulated as he spoke of these invisible yet omnipresent powers: Yemen’s political elite and the foreign states entangled in his country’s conflict.

This promotion of hatred, creating what are likely to be irreversible divisions, is necessary for the war’s belligerents in order to incite tens of thousands to fight. It is essential to perpetuate the cycle of revenge unleashed by the territorial advances in 2014 and 2015 by Houthi rebels and the forces of their patron, the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. This demand for retribution is matched by those who are now seeking vengeance for the lives lost in a UK-supported, Saudi-led aerial bombing campaign.

More than 25 years after the two states of North and South Yemen united, the gulf between them has never been wider. The political south, now controlled by forces aligned with the Saudi-led coalition, is logistically as well as politically severed from the north-western territories under the command of the Houthi rebels and Saleh loyalists. Caught in the middle is the city of Taiz, which is steadily being reduced to rubble after a year-long siege imposed by the Houthi-Saleh forces.

Revenge nourishes the violence, but it cannot feed those who are dying from malnutrition. Blowing in the sandy wind on roadsides up and down the country are tattered tents that hundreds of thousands of displaced families now call home. Others have fled from the cities and towns affected by the conflict to remote but safer village areas. There, food and medical care are scarce.

The acute child malnutrition reported in urban hospitals remains largely hidden in these isolated villages, far from tarmac roads, beyond the reach of international aid agencies. On my road trips across Yemen, a journey that would normally take 45 minutes on asphalt could take five hours on tracks across scrubland and rock, climbing mountainsides and descending into valleys where bridges stand useless, snapped in half by air strikes.

Among the other statistics are the missing millions needed by the state – the country’s largest employer. Workers haven’t been paid in months, amid fears of an economic collapse. This is apparently a deliberate tactic of fiscal strangulation by the Saudi-backed Yemeni government-in-exile. The recent relocation of the central bank from the Houthi-controlled capital, Sana’a, to the southern city of Aden is so far proving symbolic, given that the institution remains devoid of funds. The workforce on both sides of the conflict has taken to the streets to protest against salaries being overdue.

Following the deaths of more than 140 people in Saudi-led air strikes on a funeral hall on 8 October, Saleh and the Houthi leader, Abdulmalik al-Houthi, called for yet more revenge. Within hours, ballistic missiles were fired from within Houthi territory, reaching up to 350 miles into Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, in the Red Sea, Houthi missile attacks on US warships resulted in retaliation, sucking the US further into the mire. Hours later, Iran announced its intention to deploy naval vessels in the area.

Vengeance continues to drive the violence in Yemen, which is being drawn ever closer to proxy conflicts being fought elsewhere in the Middle East. Yet the impact on Yemeni society and the consequences for the population’s health for generations to come are unlikely to appear to the outside world, not even as annotated numbers in the brief glimpses we get of this war. 

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood