Directed by Lesli Linka Glatter | Written by Matthew Weiner | 48 min
By Colin Hart
It took five episodes, but Mad Men is finally here to stay. For the first time since the pilot, everything falls together perfectly — every subplot and secondary character hum with expert precision, and the major players remain consistently compelling. As I’ve said before, the action is in the interaction.
Character combos that have been underused or underserved now crackle with chemistry, and the whole episode has a calming sense of unity that had previously been missing. In a sense, “5G” sets the standard for the rest of season one.
At first glance, it will appear that Mad Men is still reveling in low-stakes entertainment. Peggy and Joan engage in some accidental office gossip, while account executive Ken Cosgrove gets a short story published in The Atlantic, sparking intense jealousy in his co-workers. Doesn’t sound too exciting, but everything is framed in such a way that we eagerly await what will happen next.
“5G” gives off a pleasant, “nothing happens” vibe, but there are still several, series-changing moments. In fact, the biggest revelation of the series occurs when a man named Adam Whitman shows up to the Sterling Cooper office claiming to be Don’s half-brother. He saw Don’s photograph in the newspaper and is overjoyed to find out that Dick Whitman is alive and well.
Like seeing a ghost, he remarks.
There have been hints and clues about Don’s mysterious upbringing but Mad Men has remained steadfastly tight-lipped. The revelation that Donald Draper is actually some AWOL orphan boy named Dick Whitman adds a whole new dimension to what was already one of the most complex character arcs in TV history.
Who is Don Draper? Suddenly, Mad Men’s defining question is a double-edged sword. Who was Dick Whitman?
In retrospect, “5G” is a much sadder episode than initially remembered. Adam — who was only nine when Dick “left” the family farm — is elated to reconnect with his long-lost older brother, yet Don wants nothing to do with him. His stone-faced rejection of the only lifeline left to his childhood is heartbreaking to behold. And it’s even more frustrating to watch him sit there in angry denial. He can’t even look Adam in the face.
“Did you even miss me?” Adam tenderly asks. Don pauses for a few seconds before giving an answer that may or may not be genuine: “Of course I did.”
On rewatch, it’s easier to see things from Adam’s perspective. The persona that Dick Whitman has created over the years — the suave, charismatic businessman/womanizer named Donald Draper — is just a sham. He’s nothing like Adam remembered.
Don’s entire life is predicated on a lie. Can we trust anything he does? The way he acts and carries himself — the character we’ve already grown to love — is he even real?
In what will be their final encounter, Don gives Adam $5,000 to start a new life and never contact him again. It’s one of the most moving scenes in Mad Men‘s entire run, and also one of the most tragic.
It’s clear that Don hates who he was and what he came from but it’s even clearer to see that he also hates who he has become. Can he ever change? He’ll never reach true inner harmony until Don Draper and Dick Whitman are one.
And, for the time being, to which persona does he truly belong?
For now, Don stands alone. His encounter with Adam is a tragic display of heartlessness that completely alters how we see him. Has he lost respect? Yes. Has he become more compelling and mysterious and multifaceted because of it? Most definitely.
As goes Don Draper, so goes Mad Men. “5G” is one of season one’s defining episodes.
Mergers & Acquisitions
- With this episode, Ken Cosgrove becomes the most likable character out of his junior executive crew. The other guys — Paul Kinsey, Harry Crane and Salvatore Romano — have all been true-blue 1960 dickheads.
- A particularly heavy-handed moment occurs early in the episode when Don leaves his house for work and the horseshoe on his advertising award turns upside down.
- Out of all Mad Men’s seven seasons, the debut has the strongest focus on Don’s past. His encounter with Adam Whitman lays the groundwork for the season’s central mystery, which will be expanded upon via flashback throughout the entire show.
“I want you to pull my hair, ravish me and leave me for dead.”