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Recap: Mad Men 5.08, “Lady Lazarus”

Previously on “Mad Men”: Megan nailed a big pitch for Heinz and seemed remarkably subdued about her success, Pete declared that he had nothing, and (not shown, but worth mentioning) Megan’s father gave her a pretty rough time for giving up on her acting dreams.

The biggest story line of the episode is Megan struggling with her realization that she still loves acting. She went on an audition that a friend told her about and got a callback, which she goes to on the sly by telling Don that she’s going to be working late and telling Peggy that she can’t work late because she has to meet Don. Tricksey Meganses. This leads to an exchange where Don phones Peggy to find out when Megan’s coming home and Peggy realizes that Megan lied to her. The look Peggy gives the phone when she hangs up and when Don calls back later is hilarious, like she thinks it’s going to jump off the desk and bite her. Anyway, when Peggy confronts Megan, Megan confesses that she was on a callback and while she didn’t get the part, she’s realizing that she loves acting in a way that she doesn’t love copywriting, and that she’s been fantasizing about getting fired for a while now. Peggy totally calls Megan on her shit, yelling that there are people “killing to get this job” and tells her Megan has to be straight with Don. Peggy does look disappointed and sad that her protege doesn’t have her heart in it. When Megan confesses this to Don he actually talks her through it a bit, admitting that it must be hard for her to work at his agency, but when she finally drives home the point that she doesn’t want to work in advertising anymore he says it’s OK. She talks about finishing her projects and training a replacement, but Don says that if she wants to leave she’ll leave the next day. Don Draper is not a man who believes in half-measures.

On Megan’s last day, she’s clearly sad to be leaving so suddenly and having to tell everyone that she’s going. Peggy takes the news stoically, and Stan and Ginsberg take it incredulously and awkwardly (respectively). Don seems a little untethered about all of it too, confessing to Joan that he doesn’t know what to do. After Don sends Megan off to lunch with “the girls,” he hits the elevator button and the door open on an empty shaft. Don doesn’t step through, but he does lean over for a good look. Between this and one other mention of suicide earlier in the episode, the foreshadowing is getting pretty thick around here. When Don gets home, Megan is cooking and looks very happy. After a little exchange, Megan says she loves him and that he’s everything she hoped he’d be. He looks happy with this, but still uncertain.

Joan and Peggy also discuss Megan’s departure and I’m really enjoying that these two are getting closer. I think Joan’s more prominent position has erased some of the tension that grew between the two of them as Peggy got a “real” job and Joan was still considered a glorified secretary. Anyway, Joan’s a bit mean about the whole thing, saying she always thought Megan would fail at the agency and that she’s leaving to become a failed actress with a rich husband. Peggy defends her and says that she was good at copywriting and she thinks she’ll be good at acting because “she’s just one of those girls that’s good at everything.” Peggy worries that she was too hard on Megan and Joan assure her that she wasn’t. She also mentions that Don met Betty when she was auditioning for a print ad, which Peggy hadn’t known. She says “that’s the kind of woman Don Draper marries.” It’s funny, Joan comes off as cheerful in her demeanor, but she really is a very cynical woman. Unsurprising, given her experiences, but it’s sort of interesting to see cynicism that’s so chipper.

Megan’s sudden departure creates some pretty big problems for a potential new account with Cool-Whip (points to Stan for the line “I read a 30 page dossier that failed to use the words “˜fake whipped cream’”) as Don and Megan had a little bit worked out as a kind of pitch that they were supposed to perform for the client and without Megan, Peggy has to step in and flubs it. They start arguing about it and Peggy shows how totally she has Don’s number when she yells that SHE isn’t the one Don is mad at so he should just shut up. He does.

Roger confronts Don about Don avoiding him, and they discuss Megan’s leaving. Both men are a little baffled by the whole “dreams” thing with Roger saying his father pushed his profession on him and Don saying, “I was raised in the ’30s. My dream was indoor plumbing.” We get more confirmation that Megan doesn’t want kids, she told Don that his were enough. Don seems to talk himself around to the idea of Megan acting, saying that he doesn’t want her to end up like Betty or Megan’s mother and when he goes home to find Megan getting ready to leave for her acting class, he gives her an encouraging kiss.

While this is going on, Pete’s relationship with his train buddy gets infinitely more complicated. Howard reveals to Pete that he’s got a mistress he set up with an apartment in the city. One night when Pete gets off the train he runs into Howard’s wife, Beth, who happens to be played by Alexis Bledel and I noticed during this sequence how closely she resembles Vincent Kartheiser. Big blue eyes, pouty lips, dark hair, round face; it’s a little eerie is all I’m saying. She’s locked her keys in her car, so Pete gives her a ride home and she spouts a bunch of very dramatic anecdotes about people suffering and how homeless people upset her so she could never live in the city and so forth. Once he gets her home they have some very hasty and impulsive sex on the living room floor. After some babble about how his eyes resemble the earth from space; big and blue and also unprotected and vulnerable (seriously?), Beth tells him this can never happen again. And so Pete Campbell: Creeper becomes Pete Campbell: Holy Shit Stalker as he tries to force her to see him again. He succeeds briefly as he talks his way into dinner with her husband due to a manufactured life insurance dilemma and while Howard is out of the room he tells her the name of a hotel and time, but she pleads a migraine and excuses herself from their company. She doesn’t show, he throws a glass against a wall, and then at the train station she spots her getting into a car with her husband and she sees him and draws a heart on the window and UGH. This whole storyline seems designed to make me think the worst of both these characters from Pete’s, “Why do they get to decide EVERYTHING!” pouting about women (“everything” here should be taken to mean “when I get to have sex with them” because, duh) and Beth seems to be some sort of proto manic pixie dream girl. So, I hate it and I hate them, and I’m not entirely convinced this isn’t just a way to let Pete Campbell basically fuck himself.

(To be fair, there was also a nice little exchange between Pete and Roger where Roger offers Pete some skis from a client and Pete’s second question is “Do they explode?” because Pete either knows how badly he’s screwed over Roger or is still wary of the older men since Lane laid the smackdown on him. So, I did like that Pete Campbell moment.)

As Megan’s leaving, she hand Don the Beatles Revolver album because some clients had been talking about the Beatles earlier. She tells him “start with this one” and the sounds of “Tomorrow Never Knows” come up over a montage of Megan at class, Peggy and Stan working and passing a joint around, Pete mooning over Beth, and then Don gets up switches the music off and goes to bed. He’s trying to be OK with this, but it’s going to be a long road for him. There’s a lot going on for him, though, and just his willingness to really sit down and talk through this with Megan marks a huge departure from the way he treated Betty. It’s still hard to say if he’s genuinely learning from his mistakes or if it’s just that he happens to like Megan more. I am glad they got her out of the office because that situation was so stifling for both of them and for the people they worked with, but it’ll be interesting to see how long the acting dream persists. She got a lot of encouragement at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce which is something the acting world probably won’t provide. The title implies that Megan is rising from the dead, but if her time at SCDP was death, what does that make her marriage to Don?

15 replies on “Recap: Mad Men 5.08, “Lady Lazarus””

I really don’t think Don’s yet acknowledged how bad he was to Betty. He doesn’t seem to realize that the Betty he loved didn’t just *become* someone else, but that he basically killed everything he initially loved about her. I feel like the writers: a) ignore that Don was very in love with Betty at one time (as shown in seasons one and two and in flashbacks to his first Christmas with Anna); and b) that it was Betty who finally got fed up and left him, not the other way around. A couple of episodes back when Don said to Pete that if he’d met Megan first he would have known not to throw away his marriage, I snorted out loud. Don was ENAMORED with Betty when he first met her, the relationship didn’t dissolve to shit, he turned it to shit. Betty tried to know him, that was a big theme in the first two seasons, but he couldn’t let go of his secret or his tight grip on the fragile relationship, or put the people in the family above the facade of the family.
And I was angered all over again when Don said in this week’s episode, something to the effect of, “why not let Megan do what she wants, do you want her to turn out like her mother, or Betty.” This continued vilifying of Betty creases me big time. Although this statement at least is in the kind of, sort of neighborhood of Don recognizing that his stifling of Betty may have contributed to her unhappiness. I don’t mean to suggest that Betty is some sort of powerless character, but many of her actions have been fairly understandable responses to her life with Don.
All in all, I’ve been extremely frustrated watching Don take pride in Megan’s extroversion when he did things like shame Betty for simply trying to wear a bikini to the community pool. His abuse of Betty was so insidious, underlying the cheating, shoving, constant lying, and hateful words, was an ever-present element of control: talking to Betty’s psychiatrist behind her back, for example, and I REALLY want for him to acknowledge it. I also want Megan to stop with the juvenile competitive feelings toward Betty, “Well *Betty* must have thrown you a party” or “Betty just called you because she wants a reason to talk to you,” especially since she only knows Betty through the Don filter, which of course does NOT include Don telling Megan how scared and worried he was when Betty had her cancer scare, and not just for his kids, but for what he had with his “Birdie.”

Whew. I think I care too much?

In less passionate Mad Men opinions: a) I freakin’ LOVE Ginsberg! b) I agree that Alexis Bledel is kind of a meh actress. c) I’m sick of the Megan Draper show, I don’t think Jessica Pare is a good actress and I’m not seeing any chemistry between her and Jon Hamm. d) Peggy used to drive me nuts and now I ADORE her (she’s been the saving grace this season–and I’m so far not impressed with this season at all, though nothing could be worse than last season). e) Matt Weiner needs to quit putting his creepy kid in the show (c’mon Dad, you’re not being objective, it’s your SON; you thinking he’s talented does not equal him actually being talented). f) More Joan, more Joan, more Joan! g) I miss Betty :( I reeeally miss her. I want some Betty character development, there’s so much meat in that story! The work they could do with Betty’s plight as a 60s housewife could meaningfully speak to the betrayal of a generation of women who were pushed into something they maybe didn’t want or didn’t know what to do with in a way that I don’t think any of the other storylines can. h) I’m not sure I’m going to enjoy the “Don’s not relevant anymore” storyline. I definitely won’t if he doesn’t display some self-awareness. i) I’m kind of afraid that a Don and Betty affair is on the horizon. At least it would put the characters in different shoes, but…ugh.

OK, epic response done. That one got away from me there.

I am SO WITH YOU on the vilification of Betty.  She gets way more vitriol than I think is warranted, and it’s not like her actions (which, yes, she transfers a lot of the pressure and boxes she’s been put in on to Sally) occur in a vacuum.

One of the biggest changes from Don with Betty to Don with Megan is the number of people who are aware of Dick Whitman and who they are. Pete and Peggy at the office know, and Megan knows, and none of them give two shits. This means Don can be more relaxed and isn’t so paranoid about sticking out anymore. He can let the facade fall now because there are people close to him who have seen what’s behind it and basically said “Whatever.” and got on with life.

I also feel like Megan challenges him in ways Betty never did. Betty was a quiet simmer or a passive agressive sniper, whereas Megan will yell and fight for what she wants or until she’s heard. Megan forces him to confront things in a way that Betty never did, and has been able to carve out more of a place for herself as an equal partner with Don because of that.

I definitely agree that Don’s free to behave differently now that he doesn’t have to guard his secret and public image as closely, and that does allow for him to calm done a bit and let go of some control.  But the thing is, he doesn’t seem to have calmed down all that much. He is (or was) very controlling with Megan at work, telling her when to come and go, and dismissing her instincts about office politics and her opinions about how she should act toward her fellow copywriters. And he was verbally abusive to her after the Zou Bisou Bisou disaster, and emotionally AND physically abusive to her after the Howard Johnson’s disaster. I don’t think he’s changed that much, I think he’s just honeymooning. It’s been indicated that he acted like a prince to beautiful young Betty early in their relationship too. And to the extent that the stress over keeping such a big Dick secret affected how he treated Betts, to me that’s just another thing that Don imposed on Betty without regard for her as a person.

I’m not sure if Megan challenges Don or not, I don’t feel like I can really tell. He seems to mostly regard her as a new toy. It reminds me of how he was with the elementary school teacher. The teacher didn’t have to live with all of the nasty aspects of Don, so she could give him all kinds of validation and tell him what a great guy he is. Similarly, Megan, though she’s starting to see what a prick Don can be, hasn’t experienced the full shit canal that Betty lived with. When Megan threw Don the birthday party and said to Don, “Betty must have thrown you a party,” Don’s response was, “No she didn’t, she knew better.” Sort of showing how what Don wanted out of Betty was obedience, and we know he was willing to manipulate her to get it.

I also agree that there’s a quiet simmer element to Betty, but I think it can be fairly cerebral. She’s often treated as childlike, but I think she’s quite aware of her situations, which is partly why she entered into battles with Don reluctantly. Betty didn’t confront Don unless she knew she had some way to defend herself. Megan already knows she can walk away from Don, she doesn’t need to be as careful. Betty traveled much more heavily mined territory, she had three kids with Don and she relied on him for financial support. But I don’t think Betty’s reluctance is the same as taking his bad treatment lying down. When she cheated on Don with the random guy at the bar after finding out about Bobbi Barrett, that was an act of agency. Whether it was a smart choice or not….another story, and it was DEFINITELY passive aggressive, but it was a way of saying, at least to herself, I don’t have to play by these terms, of Don getting away with everything and me getting away with nothing.

As for forcing Don to confront things, Betty did undertake the major confrontations. She confronted Don about infidelity and she confronted him about his identity. Megan hasn’t had to tackle anything like that yet. Not to mention that, on Don’s end, rather than cultivating Betty’s identify, Don had worked pretty hard to quash it, I feel like that made Betty’s confrontations much bigger triumphs than Megan’s have been.

As for equality, I don’t see Megan as an equal partner to Don at all though. When her position wins out, it’s not as the result of respect from Don, he sees himself as giving her a win, providing her what she wants so she’ll be happy, rather than her earning it. He gave her white carpet, he allowed her to quit advertising, he let’s her see friends, it’s all on his terms. Megan asks Don for permission, just like Betty did. They just fight differently.

Oh how I’ve missed talking about Mad Men! I’ve been sorta meh about this season, but I’m now excited for Sunday :) Keep up the good recaps!

I’m with you on C. I thought I was the only one who wasn’t a Megan fan. I find her very immature and petulant. I also don’t understand why Don cares if she doesn’t want to work at the agency. Is it because he’s scared of cheating if she isn’t around? It seems like Don isn’t really present and he is playing a role with Megan. I also found it confusing that Megan’s intellectual Dad was so encouraging about her acting. I wonder if he did it because he thinks this will eventually drive Megan and Don apart.

I hoped Megan was having an affair. I hate Don and I don’t think he’s suffered enough for his past sins. I would love for Megan to cheat on him and break his heart.

However, I liked her actress storyline. I could relate to her feeling that maybe she had been half-assed in her pursuit of a dream, though I think if she had to, she could follow her bliss while working a day job, a la Ken Cosgrove. I would say she’s lucky that she doesn’t have to work, except being married to Don Draper is already a terrible job, in my opinion.

ETA: Since “Lady Lazarus” is Plath’s 1962 poem about a suicide attempt, I wonder: does this suggest Megan will be the one to off herself? Hmm.

 

They’ve been teasing about goddamn everyone killing themselves. Don with his elevator shaft, Pete with his insurance policy that covers suicide, Roger and Ginsberg leaning over to gawk out the window. At this point it’s more shocking if everyone survives the season.

This episode had so many great lines. “Where’s Abe?” “Do they give you the clothes? What about shoes?” and of course, “Pizza Haus!”

I love Gilmore Girls, but I don’t think Alexis Bledel is a great actress unless she’s playing a Rory-type character. Which is fine in this, because I could see ’60s Rory acting a lot like her Mad Men character.

I’m liking Megan more and more, but I am still irritated that the show is focusing so much on her. I want to spend more time with the characters I already know and love.

I saw this episode as the day when Don Draper decided to become obsolete. It was also interesting to see the images of Peggy and Megan embracing the new culture while interspersed with scenes where Don and Pete most definitely do not.

 

Don is doing his best to be down with who Megan is, and being part of the new era is part of who she is, but I’m not sure his love for her is going to be enough. They had to have paid a pretty penny for the Beatles (I read an educated guess of a quarter million somewhere), and I love how they cut it off like that — Don just ain’t into it — and then picked it up for the credits. Very striking.

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