Thursday, December 22, 2016

Mad Men Season 5, Episode 8 Recap: Lady Lazarus

Pete Campbell is taking the train home and he gets the pleasure of enduring a brief, tedious conversation with a fellow suburbanite, Howard Dawes.   Howard is in insurance and he jumps at the chance to try and sell Pete.  But what he's really selling is not security, but fantasy.  And enough money for both.  With good insurance you can live your fullest life, without fear.  In his case, that ideal life is having a home and lovely, dutiful wife out in the country and also a little something extra in the city.  Pete is, or feigns being, disapproving, but note the firmly planted seed.

This is far from the first time Pete has contemplated cheating on Trudy.  Back in Signal 30, he let his imagination run wild as he dreamed that the cute coed in his driving class would be impressed by the older junior executive.  But he ended up realizing that he was not her fantasy and probably was not going to be any girl's fantasy.  Perhaps seeing a fellow schlub like Howard who is able to wrangle a girlfriend has emboldened Pete to dream again.

Pete has not been happy with being Pete since the first time we met him. He always has envied others for what they have that he doesn't.  Whether it's Don Draper's creativity and sexual magnetism or Ken Cosgrove's confidence and writing success, Pete has always measured himself against others and always has fallen short.  But maybe he has finally found someone who has what he wants that he can get the better of.

At the office, Megan acts sketchy when she receives a phone call, but she normally acts like a skittish kitten so we don't know what to make of it.  Meanwhile, Ginsburg does his usual great job presenting the Chevalier cologne pitch.  Once the clients leave and it's Don, Michael and Stan talking about what music to use in the commercial that would sound like the Beatles (without having to pay beaucoup bucks to the real thing), the younger two debate bands while Don looks on nonplussed, like the out of touch forty-something he is.  As the 60s march along, Don is looking older and acts less comfortable in his own skin than he did at the start of the decade.  But the most notable part of their interaction was how Don brushed aside their ideas and said he'd ask Megan for her suggestion.  She'd make the final decision.  The Missus is a source of some jealousy among her co-workers as she will always be the boss' pet.

When Pete gets off his evening train, wrestling with the new skis that Roger's client gave him, he meets a beautiful young woman.  It's Beth Dawes, Howard's wife, and she's locked her keys in her car.  Her husband was not on the train and she assumes he'll be staying at their apartment in the city.  Pete knows all about Beth, she's never heard anything about Pete.  But she feels comfortable enough to ask him for a ride home.  Pete knows why Howard is not there and that he's probably with his girlfriend right now, but of course he maintains the bro-code and says nothing.  She seems sweet, gentle, oblivious to what her husband is probably doing tonight.  She talks about not wanting to live in the city lest she see the hobos who need a handout and she be reminded what her father once told her, you can't help everyone.

Elsewhere, the mystery of what is going on with Megan is growing.  She was acting strangely, even for her, taking that call earlier in the day, being nervous about leaving Peggy at work, and now it turns out that the story she gave Peggy about meeting Don for dinner was a lie as was her story to Don that she was staying late at work.  Curious.

Once Pete gets Beth home, we discover she is not at all unaware of what her husband is up to.  And she wants to get back at him.  And Pete, who has long wanted someone to feel passion towards him, to make him feel virile and special, is not going to push her away.  This need has built up for so long and finally he can experience the excitement and danger that comes from an illicit coupling.  Afterwards, Beth is fine.  She's no longer upset.  This dalliance has helped calm her and Pete can now go.  But sitting alone in his car, Pete is the one who now looks in need of some comfort.

Peggy is still at the office when Don calls, again, looking for Megan.  Not wanting to get in the middle of their domestic strife, let alone play another game of Twenty Questions - Missing Wife Version, she does what any sane person would do.  Answer the phone in a strange accent pretending to be a wrong number.  Perfectly normal.  Megan eventually makes it home, lies some more to Don, and continues to look anxious and jumpy.

The next morning the big mystery is unveiled.  Megan admits to Peggy that she lied to her and to Don.  But not to sneak off to have a sexual encounter, a la Pete, but to audition for an off off Broadway show.  As an actress.  Considering how bad she is at lying and covering her tracks, it's shocking she got a call back, but apparently the bar is pretty low for off off Broadway shows.  At least they ultimately wised up and gave the part to someone else.  But Megan is not dissuaded.

Megan has apparently been holding on to her dream of becoming an actress despite her new career and marriage and she knows that Don won't approve.  She doesn't want to be a copy writer and wishes she could find the escape hatch out of Sterling Cooper.  Peggy is not a sympathetic ear, reminding Megan how lucky she is to have that opportunity and just how many people would kill to have her job.  But this means nothing to Megan.  It's not her passion, acting is.  So she quits.

The rest of the office deals with the repercussions of Megan leaving.  There'll be more work, of course, but the part that really stings is in seeing someone take what is so meaningful to you and toss it away like it's nothing.  Peggy works long hours and has given up having much of a personal life for the job, only to hear Stan belittle the struggle as a whole lot of work for "Heinz baked beans."  Pete's reaction is slightly different.  Megan's sudden departure is to him just another example of how women control everything and men are their powerless victims.  She can quit because she wants to and that's all there is to it, Don doesn't even have a say.  Of course, he's relating this to his brief dalliance with Beth and how she wanted him and then didn't want him and he had no say in the matter.

Don walks Megan out and it is awkward to say the least.  She is acting guilty and on edge and in whole making this uncomfortable moment even worse.  It's as if she knows she's making a terrible mistake and can't stop herself.  She knows that she's leaving the firm short-handed and killing Don's fantasy of his beautiful, brilliant wife being his partner at work as well as at home.  She knows that this new venture will take her away from him and that all the time they now share won't be the same in the future.  But it's what she wants more than anything.  Don tries his best to be supportive and not discouraging, but past his smile you see that he's hurt.

 They part at the elevators, with a lingering kiss that would have irritated real fellow building occupants waiting in the elevator but barely registered to the show's extras.  Then Don decides he wants to go downstairs too. To catch up with Megan?  To change her mind?  To arrange a quickie behind the building?  We'll never know because as the door opens, Don looks in to see only the shaft.  And unlike LA Law's Rosalind Shays, he does not plummet to his death but is hit in the face with some heavy-handed symbolism about the fate of his marriage.

Pete can't leave well enough alone and is still fuming about how he had no say in his relationship with Beth.  So he weasels his way into Beth's home, taking advantage of her hapless husband. We know he's a cheating cad, yet Pete's brazenness in the man's own home with him acting the genial host makes us temporarily feel for him.  Beth of course is shocked by Pete's forcefulness and runs off as any sane woman would under the circumstances.  Pete is playing with fire and completely off his rocker, having one of the worst midlife crises to befall a man of just 32.  He is obsessed with her and willing to risk getting caught just for a chance to be with her.  Remember, he has the beautiful witty Trudy waiting at home.  Pete just can't be satisfied with what he has.

Too bad Don didn't take the plunge into the elevator abyss earlier in the episode because it would have saved us all from watching that unbelievably uncomfortable presentation to the Cool Whip clients.  With Peggy subbing in for the absent Mrs. Draper, the Nick and Nora Charles witty/sexy banter now sounds more like Al and Peggy Bundy.  It's a disaster.  They have no chemistry, they didn't rehearse enough, and there's nothing for Ken to do but stand by and watch the presentation implode.  After the client leaves, Don and Peggy unleash all their misplaced anger at each other.  Don blames Peggy for driving Megan away, Peggy blames Don for his blind allegiance to his unappreciative wife.  They both want to yell at Megan but can't and so they take all their bottled up rage and hurl it at each other.

In the end, Don tries to be the good dutiful husband.  He rushes home to meet up with Megan before her class and he takes her suggestion to listen to the new Beatles' album.  As "Tomorrow Never Knows" plays we see a brief montage summing up the episode.  Peggy sharing a joint with Stan at work, Megan in her acting class, Pete once again getting very mixed messages from Beth, and finally Don stopping the record mid-song.  He doesn't get it, it doesn't mean anything to him.  Like the orange sherbet he wanted to share with Megan, their tastes are different and they reject what the other cherishes.  Is the gulf between them too large?


It's the middle of the decade and women have yet to burn their bras or have their own brand of cigarettes.  But the women of Mad Men, or at least some of them this episode, are standing up for what they want.  Beth, the long-suffering suburban housewife whose husband cheats on her regularly uses Pete to get back at her husband, to feel wanted, to exercise control over something in her life.  Similarly, Don's arm candy, trophy wife Megan doesn't want to play her role of Mrs. Draper any more, not in the office, not for the clients.  She wants to follow her muse and not what her husband wants her to do.  And both Pete and Don have no say in the matter.

The Beatles' Revolver came out in the US on August 5, 1966.  It was their seventh studio album and their most ambitious to date.  Now Number 3 on Rolling Stones' list of the greatest albums ever, it was "revol"utionary at its time, experimental and unexpected.  The happy, jingly Beatles addressed new topics and took tonal diversions that signified a change reflected in society at large.  “Turn off your mind; relax and float downstream; it is not dying. Lay down all thought; surrender to the voice: it is shining. That you may see the meaning of within: it is being.”

Don is shown time and again to be losing his connection to what is current.  He's become an old man - out of touch with the younger generation.  When he confuses some 50's pablum with the Beatles, you're embarrassed for him.  And when he doesn't appreciate the genius of John Lennon's music, you can't understand how he can be so wrong.

Pete's attempts to copy all of Don's mistakes continues.  He pursues a married woman, the wife of a casual friend no less.  In her he has invested all of his hopes for happiness.  She is the answer to his ennui.  He keeps looking outward for someone to make him feel like the man he wants to be (which is Don).  Years from now, he'd sing along to Skee Lo's "I wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a baller," because that's all he can do.  Think about how things could be better while never appreciating the good that exists.

Megan could be a stand-in for the woman's movement, or she could be just another bored rich man's wife.  It's not clear at this point.  She claims to have a passion for acting, but it's not something we can fact check at the moment.  But we do know she had a head for the advertising business and was a natural.  Is it a good sign that she can give up the job she's good at to pursue her dreams or is it a slap in the face to the women like Peggy who paved a way for her?

Is Cool Whip a metaphor for Beth and Megan's acting?  That thing that is a substitute for something else, sold as just as good if not better than the original.  Who wants their old boring wife when you can have an affair?  She's younger, prettier, and more important new!!  Who wants to be successful as an ad woman when you can be an actress?  Everyone has a job, but how many people get to try to be be on stage, on TV, in the movies?  Sure you've had the original, boring and reliable old whipped cream, but that's so passe.  Try something new!

It's great how over it all Joan is.  Don wants his young bride to have a job at the agency despite her lack of experience.  Sure.  She wants to quit to become an actress?  Sure.  She's watched the revolving door of wives, whether it's Don's or Roger's, and they always get their way and things always work out for them.  And Joan still plugs away at the office.

How sad was that last lingering image.  Don, alone, in the apartment that was supposed to be full of joy and love with his beautiful new bride.  He had it all just days ago.  They rode in to work together, rode home at night, exchanged kissed during the day as they worked together to make magic for the clients.  And now she's gone and he's alone once more in that empty apartment with music he doesn't understand recommended by a woman he may know less about than he realized.


Roger: See anything you like?
Pete: Are you asking if I ski?
Roger: No.  I want to know which skis you want.  Or take them both.
Pete:  Do they explode or something?
Roger:  Yes, Allen Funt sent them over.

Don: Is Megan there?
Peggy: Isn't she with you?
Don:  Yes, we're playing a hilarious joke on you.

Beth:  I've had men paying attention to me since before it was appropriate.  They don't care what I say.  They just watch my lips move.
Pete:  I'm listening to every word you say.

Beth: It didn't bother you to see the earth tiny and unprotected, surrounded by darkness?

Beth:  You're taking away all my fears.  I mean, suddenly I don't think about the fact that you ride with my husband on the train twice a day and that you live 20 minutes away and I'd see your wife at the market, if I ever went.

Don:  Sweetheart, sometimes we don't get to choose where our talents lie.  I mean, what you did with Heinz. It took me years to be able to think that way.
Megan:  Well, I can't explain it, but I felt better failing in that audition than I did when I was succeeding at Heinz.
Don:  Because that was about making the client happy. Wait till you walk down the street and see the work on a wall or on TV, that's when you feel something.

Joan:  Well, I'm sure she'll be wonderful.

Megan: I'm not going to work here anymore.
Ginsberg:  Did he fire you? That son of a bitch!

Peggy:  That takes a lot of guts.
Ginsberg:  I'll tell you what takes guts-- Never having money for lunch. She owes me, like, $15 at this point.  What am I gonna do, ask Don? Call her? I think it's clear why she left.

Pete: They do whatever they want, even to Draper.
Harry:  Well, the good news is we don't have to look over our shoulders anymore, wondering what she's gonna tell him.
Pete:  They work it over in their minds, turn it off and on when they feel like it, and we're just there, waiting at attention.  It's not the way it's supposed to be.

Pete: Have you seen those pictures of earth from space?
Harry: Of course.
Pete: Do they make you feel small and insignificant?
Harry:   No, Jennifer does that.  And I'm not small, Pete. Don't know if you've ever heard that about me.

Pete:  Why do they get to decide what's going to happen?
Harry:  They just do.

Ginsberg: Turn it off.  It's stabbing me in the fucking heart.

Joan: Peggy, she's going to be a failing actress with a rich husband.

Roger: I sure as hell didn't get to choose what I wanted to do.  My father told me.
Don: I was raised in the '30s.  My dream was indoor plumbing.

Spoilery Observations (Don't read until you've watched the whole show): 

Don says, of Megan, "I don't want her to end up like her mother."  At that juncture, Marie was unhappy, saddled with an overbearing husband who she didn't love.  But little did he, or Roger to whom this comment was directed, know, but Marie would end up a much happier woman, with the suave, loving, and French-studying Roger as her new beau.

Don was surprised that Ginsberg cussed at the office, but the actual sounds coming off of the record player probably did cause Ginsberg physical discomfort.  Now we may not know why he's so vulnerable and reactive, but as we learn more about Ginsberg - for whom the whirring sounds of computers was enough to send him over the edge - it does make sense.

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