Mad Men S1E5: "5G"

Mad Men S1E5: “5G”

Directed by Lesli Linka Glatter | Written by Matthew Weiner | 48 min

The Phantom

By Colin Hart

9.0

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 hums with expert precision, and the major players remain consistently compelling. As I’ve said before, the action is in the interaction. The writing is top-notch.

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 Ken Cosgrove — an account executive, just like Pete Campbell — gets a short story published in The Atlantic, sparking intense jealousy in his rival co-workers. Doesn’t sound too exciting, but everything is framed in such a way that we can’t help but eagerly await what will happen next.

Sounds boring as fuck, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. All around, “5G” is a fantastic episode of television that does for Mad Men what “Guest” did for The Leftovers. It proudly displays what the series is capable of.

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“5G” gives off a pleasant, nothin’ happens vibe, but there are still several, game-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 says 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 steadfastly remained 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. Don has seen a ghost, too — the phantom of his past. It haunts his every move.

Who is Don Draper? Suddenly, Mad Men’s defining question is a double-edged sword — who was Dick Whitman?

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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, but 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?

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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 history, 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’s 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?

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While Don spends the episode in paranoiac shock (a sight to see considering his thus far unflappable personality), the rest of the office for the first time feels like a warm and welcoming environment. The interactions between Peggy, Joan and Betty give us a chance to see all three characters as we never have before — individualistic and entertaining. It’s almost as if “Ladies’ Room” and “Marriage of Figaro” never even happened.

Meanwhile, Pete’s intense jealousy over Ken Cosgrove’s success paints him as an even bigger asshole than ever before. It doesn’t erase the work “New Amsterdam” did in humanizing him, but it does secure his status as the main heel going forward. This time out, he would rather have wife Trudy sleep with a well-connected publisher than be published at all in Boy’s Life.

What a piece of shit.

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Written by series creator Matthew Weiner (and directed by the great Lesli Linka Glatter), “5G” does an excellent job expanding the scope and depth of Mad Men’s principal setting. The office of Sterling Cooper is an entire world unto itself, full of colorful characters and an intricate web of workplace dynamics.

But Don still 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 most definitive 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. Never did buy into them with much credibility.
  • 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.

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