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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I worked as a teacher – so I can tell you how regressive grammar schools are

The grammars and "comprehensives" of Kent make for an unequal system. So why does Theresa May consider the county a model for the future?

In 1959 my parents moved me from a Roman Catholic primary school to the junior branch of King Henry VIII, Coventry’s most high-profile grammar. The head teacher berated my mother for betraying the one true faith, but although she was born in Galway, my mum was as relaxed about her religion as she was about her native roots. Any strong feelings about the English Reformation had disappeared around the same time as her Irish accent. Her voice gave no clue to where she was from and – as a result of a wartime commission – the same was true of my father. Together, Mrs and Mr Smith embodied postwar Britain’s first-generation upwardly mobile middle class.

Their aspiration and ambition were so strong that my mother saw no problem in paying for me to attend a Protestant school. Why, you may ask, did my dad, a middle manager and by no means well off, agree to pay the fees? Quite simply, my parents were keen that I pass the eleven-plus.

King Henry VIII School benefited from the direct grant scheme, introduced after the Education Act 1944. In Coventry, the two direct grant schools were centuries old and were paid a fee by the government to educate the fifth or so of boys who passed the eleven-plus. When secondary education in Coventry became comprehensive in the mid-1970s, King Henry VIII went fully independent; today, it charges fees of more than £10,000 per year.

A few years ago, I returned to my old school for a memorial service. As I left, I saw a small group of smartly dressed men in their late seventies. They had strong Coventry accents and intended to “go down the club” after the service. It occurred to me that they represented the small number of working-class lads who, in the years immediately after the Second World War, were lucky enough to pass the eleven-plus and (no doubt with their parents making huge sacrifices) attend “the grammar”. But by the time I moved up to King Henry VIII’s senior school in 1963 there appeared to be no one in my A-stream class from a working-class background.

From the early 1950s, many of the newly affluent middle classes used their financial power to give their children an advantage in terms of selection. My parents paid for a privileged education that placed top importance on preparation for the eleven-plus. In my class, only one boy failed the life-determining test. Today, no less than 13 per cent of entrants to the 163 grammar schools still in the state system are privately educated. No wonder preparatory schools have responded enthusiastically to Theresa May’s plans to reverse the educational orthodoxy of the past five decades.

Nowhere has the rebranding of secondary moderns as “comprehensives” been more shameless than in Kent, where the Conservative-controlled council has zealously protected educational selection. Each secondary modern in east Kent, where I taught in the 1970s, has since been named and renamed in a fruitless attempt to convince students that failing to secure a place at grammar school makes no difference to their educational experience and prospects. That is a hard message to sell to the two-thirds of ten-year-olds who fail the Kent test.

Investment and academy status have transformed the teaching environment, which a generation ago was disgraceful (I recall the lower school of a secondary modern in Canterbury as almost literally Edwardian). Ofsted inspections confirm that teachers in non-grammar schools do an amazing job, against all the odds. Nevertheless, selection reinforces social deprivation and limited aspiration in the poorest parts of the south-east of England, notably Thanet and the north Kent coastline.

A third of children in Thanet live in poverty. According to local sources (including a cross-party report of Kent councillors in 2014), disadvantaged children make up less than 9 per cent of pupils in grammar schools but 30 per cent at secondary moderns. University admissions tutors confirm the low number of applications from areas such as Thanet relative to the UK average. Though many of Kent’s secondary moderns exceed expectations, the county has the most underperforming schools in the UK.

When I began my teaching career, I was appallingly ignorant of the harsh realities of a secondary education for children who are told at the age of 11 that they are failures. Spending the years from seven to 17 at King Henry VIII School had cocooned me. More than 40 years later, I can see how little has changed in Kent – and yet, perversely, the Prime Minister perceives the county’s education system as a model for the future.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times