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Mad Men: Lady Lazarus

"It's so simple when it's someone else's life, isn't it?"

The driving theme of Pete's story this season has been his sense of entitlement, and it's been arguable whether it's always deserved. He wanted the bigger office, he wanted the respect that naturally gravitates towards his contemporaries. He wants that lifestyle, so he sleeps with the hooker and pokes fun at the lame, stuffy British guy in his office. Here, we see him pursuing an affair, determined to make a spur-of-the-moment liaison something far deeper than it probably should have been. But the problem with Pete is that nothing is ever as simple as it seemingly is with other people. He didn't just have sex with somebody, he had sex with the wife of a man he sees and talks to regularly during the morning commute. He can't just treat their encounter as a one-time thing, he has to talk his way back into her home and pursue a lengthy affair. It's the constant trap of running on empty, the heart chasing something long after the brain has checked out.

Beth rejects Pete's offer of a hotel rendezvous, and Pete quickly views it as an example of women holding power over men, and complains about his gender's constant submission to the feelings of the opposite sex -- an ironic opinion, but an example of the actions of women unknowingly leaving the men in their lives feeling disoriented and lost. It's a similar feeling echoed through Don's story here, but without the frantic volatility that is so uniformly Pete Campbell. In that stunning 'it's a metaphor, dummy!' moment of the bottomless elevator shaft, Don's world suddenly bottoms out, and he spends the rest of the episode slowly morphing into the very man he used to be, struggling to resist self-sabotage.

Like lonely housewife Beth, Megan too gives into her desires here. Last week saw those lingering feelings of dissatisfaction rise to the surface for her, not experiencing the happiness she should experience at work, and struggling to counter her father's argument that she's only successful because of her husband. It's an interesting dilemma for her: her recent success at SCDP (notably with the Heinz account) is entirely unconscious, not the result of real work or energy, and it's in direct contrast to the passion she feels for acting. Again, it's an example of the changing time period that a woman would abandon something that comes naturally to her and that she's successful at, for something that she feels a far greater affinity towards but may not succeed in.

Megan has meant a lot of things to Don, but the ugliness that has been surfacing this season has been a result of Megan constantly reminding him of his own mortality. Megan represents all the superficial positivity of youth: the lithe body, the fresh features, the naive confidence; but also the things that he just doesn't understand. She knows about music, she follows that youth-driven wave of change that is currently happening, she's unwilling to be complacent and suppressed. And when she leaves her job, the ground immediately shifts beneath Don's feet, and he's left contemplating his next move.

It's a point driven home by the parallels between the practice-pitch for Cool Whip and the eventual moment itself later on. While the run with Megan was honest and charismatic, helped by her natural talent as a performer, the pitch with Peggy was horribly contrived. There was no sense of spark between them, no unconscious ease; Don kept fixating on Peggy's use of the word 'try' instead of 'taste'. It was a disaster, because it was fraudulent. The same scene with Megan worked so well because they seemed to 'get' one another, or at least Don 'got' the Megan that she was pretending to be within that moment. But the shift in emotions between both scenes radically altered Don's mindset. What he thought was total understanding of his wife and her motivations has suddenly shattered, and he's having to fake his way through everything again.

A lot of Mad Men has always been about wanting what you can't have, and it's been rare for a character to actually get up and pursue it instead of just dreaming about it. It explains why Peggy is so upset with Megan leaving, since she's abandoning a career that Peggy herself worked so hard to get. But, like I said above, Megan represents that sweeping change -- a time when you didn't have to say 'no' to a dream or a secret passion. She needed to fill that void, and was fully prepared to do so. And Don is left staring into that abyss, knowing he'll eventually succumb to the inevitable.


- Was Beth engineering a lot of the affair? The way she left the door wide open after being dropped off was a major red flag, almost like she wanted something to happen. And then with the heart at the end... I'm not sure she's as vulnerable as she appears.

- It's hard to defend on a moral level, but they spent $250,000 to get that Beatles track. It did push that final montage into 'extraordinary' territory, though.

- Alexis Bledel had the exact same voice as January Jones. The same tone, same inflections. And reading various comments online reveal that everybody seemed to hate Bledel's performance, too. Awkward.

- Is it terrible that all I could think of whenever somebody said 'Cool Whip' was Stewie Griffin?

- Mr. Belding! Gah!



Pete: Have you seen those pictures of Earth from space?
Harry: Of course.
Pete: Do they make you feel small or insignificant?
Harry: No, Jennifer does that. And I'm not small, Pete. Don't know if you ever heard that about me?
Pete: Save it for your convention whores.

Roger: Jane wanted a baby. But, I thought, why do that to somebody?

Previously posted at Unwelcome Commentary.

1 comment:

  1. This season has had a real sense of foreboding in each and every episode. I keep waiting for something absolutely awful to happen. The elevator shaft didn't help. I spent the whole rest of the episode thinking that someone was going to pull a Rosalind Shays. Or that Megan was going to die. It isn't quite at Breaking Bad levels yet, but each new episode has become an exercise in tension for me. I'm going to be crazy uneasy anytime they show someone going near Don's metaphor elevator!

    I really loved Peggy tearing into Don after the failed Cool Whip presentation. "Shut up!"

    I thought Alexis Bledel felt very unnatural as Beth. I get that it was probably a very conscious performance, and that Weiner likely wanted her to emulate January Jones. But it didn't quite work for me, and I couldn't get past her essential Rory-ness. Rory and Pete hooking up is just oogy.


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