In The Phantom, the season five finale of Mad Men, weeks have passed since Lane Pryce's suicide. In a bitter twist of something like irony, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce's financial health is better than ever. (Those bonuses Lane so desperately wanted to distribute would barely have made a dent, it turns out.)
But Don is visited by the ghost of a different hanged man -- his younger brother, Adam, who took his own life not long after Don rebuffed his efforts to reunite. And just like the $5,000 Don paid Adam was not enough to fill the void, the $50,000 he pays -- reimburses, rather -- Lane's widow is taken as an empty, and insufficient, gesture.
The sum was subtracted from a life insurance benefit payment three times its size: It was money Don wasn't counting on -- why would Lane make SCDP his insurance beneficiary? -- and that the firm didn't need. Don’t leave here thinking you’ve done anything for anyone but yourself, Mrs. Pryce spits at Don.
Don certainly has some competition in the abject selfishness department -- from his wife. The more we see of Megan, the harder she is to pin down. What exactly is she made of? More and more, it's starting to look like something as rotten as Don's hot tooth. But why is it that we are charmed by Don's icy narcissism and easy lies, but the same qualities on Megan make her look weak and spiteful?
It wasn't enough that Megan steal a part in a commercial from under a friend's nose; she makes sure to shame her friend for asking for help in the first place, even though she clearly has no intention of using her connection at SCDP to get her the audition. When Don initially refuses to help Megan get the part herself, it seems like just what Megan deserves. But eventually, he reconsiders, resigning himself to the fact that simply being married to him will never be enough for Megan. What that means in the longer term is one of the many unanswered questions that Matthew Weiner leaves us with -- though right now, it seems possible that Megan could get so wrapped up in herself she might not notice if Don has an indiscretion or two.
However badly behaved she might be, it's easy to understand where she gets her issues. Mme. Calvert, visiting for the Easter holiday, has two parenting modes: indifference or passive-aggressive criticism -- at one point 'accidentally' calling her daughter's acting ambitions hopeless and then trying to blame it on a poor translation.
One of the biggest surprises of the season finale is Pete Campbell's ability to elicit sympathy. Despite his past transgressions and generally unlikeable nature, it was impossible not to feel for him during his visit to Rory Gilmore, after she has had her brain fried with electroshock treatment. As she previously warned, she doesn't remember Pete at all -- but she is nonetheless happy to see him. There in the hospital room, Pete finally feels the weight of his unhappiness, referring to his home life as a temporary bandage on a permanent wound. But it's a temporary wound that unexpectedly pays dividends -- after Pete comes home with a battered face that Trudy thinks is the result of a car accident (it is actually the result of Rory Gilmore's husband's fist), Trudy insists that he get an apartment in the city. Great! Now all Pete has to do is reverse his girlfriend's lobotomy, and he might have someone to take there.
It would have been impossible to neatly tie up just about any of the ongoing narratives, but Weiner left an awful lot untouched. We briefly catch up with Peggy Olsen, who seems content at her new job if maybe a little lonely, but Ken Cosgrove barely makes an appearance. Did he just forget about the pact that Peggy broke?
In a telling moment that shows just how much emphasis Joan puts on her own sex appeal, she confesses to Don the she feels responsible for Lane's death. I should have just given him what he wanted, she says -- an observation that is uncharacteristically self-absorbed and off the mark. Roger Sterling continues to ignore Joan and their son, preoccupied with taking another life-altering acid trip. We last see him standing naked and smiling before a window in his room at the Stanhope Hotel.
What no one has addressed is how SCDP will be renamed, but some of the staff will be moving go the new office space a floor above -- a decision made in part to avoid having to fill Lane's empty office and the scene of his death. This puts Pete and the others a step higher in the world but with one more story to fall.