Last night's Mad Men had us reaching for our Sylvia Plath books, our Gilmore Girls DVDs, and our tubs of Cool Whip.
Okay, maybe not the Cool Whip.
Since we assume you watched the show too, instead of a straight recap we focus on the parts we found most interesting to talk about each week. Be sure to join in in the comments, and cast your vote in our Mad Men Hunger Games!
And I eat men like air.
Whew! We're back to literal episode titles! This week's obviously evoked Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus," a poem about someone who dies and is unwillingly brought back to life every ten years. Ultimately, the speaker warns us that she will be reborn as a phoenix-like figure and will "eat men like air." A poem so fixated on self-destruction and rebirth seems completely appropriate for a certain group of 1960s fictional characters that I think we all know...
While the theme of redefinition has poked its head up throughout the course of Mad Men's run, this week's tales of rebirth appeared to tap into the growing sense of change on a social scale. In terms of self-sabotage, we have two culprits: In one corner, Megan Draper. Megan starts the episode by taking a small piece of paper into a phone booth and then disappearing into the night (and playing the classic "I'm spending the night at my friend's house" deception card, except this time "my friend's house" means the office with Peggy, or I guess dinner with Don, depending on who is playing the concerned parent in this cliche). Don and Peggy predictably figure out they've both been lied to by Megan, who admits that she was auditioning for a play. In describing being good at a job she doesn't want, Megan voices her desire to literally destroy her work in hopes of being fired. For Megan, self-destruction at work is a way of redefining herself and her aspirations as an actress.
In the other corner, we have Pete Campbell, resident sad sack of SCDP. We should all know Pete's struggles well, given his recent spotlit episode rife with sink-fixing inadequacies and unrequited crushes on Driver's Ed pals. This week, however, Pete ends up running into his commute buddy Howard's wife, Beth, at the train station. Beth is locked out of her car, leading to Pete driving her home and expressing concern in Beth's own perceived self-destruction. Do you smell romance? They end up going at it in and all over the living room and, on one hand, good for Pete? I'm slightly relieved to see him preserve some shred of desired masculine dominance. Pete proceeds to not treat this like the one-night stand that Beth is requesting though, to the point of calling her (from the same phone booth as Megan) and eventually getting himself invited to dinner at the Howard/Beth residence (AND THEN going in for the kiss and trying to orchestrate a hotel hook up with Howard only feet away!). Pete is predictably stood up at the Hotel Pennsylvania, and we are treated to some sad sad Pete faces, which likely replicate his sad sad sense of manhood diminishing day by day.
Nothing like a bottle of champagne alone in a hotel room to chase the blues away.
While both characters evoke self-destruction as a form of escape, the differences between the two are telling. Firstly, instead of trying to get fired, Megan chooses to take the initiative and quit in order to go after something that she wants. Secondly, even if she did choose the damaging route, she was doing it in order to redefine herself, not to destroy herself. Pete, on the other hand, gave into self-destructive tendencies, without much of a purpose outside of ruining his life and the lives of others around him. Why else attempt to start something with the wife of someone who you see every morning and evening? The redefinition of women is both a source hope and anxiety for our characters (harkening back to the last line of "Lady Lazarus"). Megan, a woman who can seemingly have it all, is only gaining power and ability as the season tumbles along. Anxiety-riddled Peter Campbell, on the other hand, appears to be worried that a rebirth of women necessitates a demotion of men.
Didn't the cologne pitch at the start of the episode seem strikingly similar to every ad for Axe? Clearly Ginsberg has his finger on the pulse of cutting-edge sexist marketing.
OBVIOUSLY I was so excited to see Rory Gilmore grace my TV screen! Mad Men is boasting such an incredibly impressive list of costars this season (Kelsey and I are in agreement that a familiar face from Friday Night Lights should be the next to appear).
Megan's quittin'-time outfit was amazing, right? That green coat and that patterned dress and that huge gold necklace. AMAZING!
Enjoy it while it lasts, Don.
As Pete Campbell so loudly lamented last night, he's miffed that women always "get to decide what's going to happen." (Rich coming from a rapist and illegitimate-kid-denier, wouldn't you say?) Though he's mewling about his fling with Beth Hawes, the same complaint could have been made by Don, who clearly doesn't want Megan to leave SCDP for the bright lights of Off-Broadway and is upset when she does so anyway. Neither Pete, who grew up rich and entitled (remember, his family has botanical garden money), nor Don, who has fingerbanged his way to the top, is used to having women call the shots. Never mind that Pete is trying to orchestrate an extramarital affair, or that Don is trying to keep his wife under his thumb at work—one of the wonders that is Mad Men is the show's ability to evoke sympathy for the unsympathetic. I don't know about you, but I felt sorry for Don and Pete even as I realized they were being total whiners.
Though Megan and Beth were both pulling the strings in their respective relationships last night, we're far from a Mad Men where women are in charge. (If we were, do you think Alexis Bledel would've wound up married to that philandering insurance salesman? Doubtful.) A big part of the reason that Peggy is upset about Megan's quitting is that she'd been mentoring her as a copywriter—though Megan's marriage to Don complicated things a great deal, Peggy liked sharing her "act like a lady, think like a man" wisdom with the only other woman in that marijuana-filled writers' room. With Megan gone, the only protege option she's left with is Ginsberg, a man who's way too interested in actors getting free shoes to care about workplace politics—and, as a man, doesn't need to care about them the way she does anyway. (Speaking of the shoes though, are we to believe that Ginzo is that poor? Isn't SCDP paying him good shoe money by now?)
The scene where Peggy flubs the Cool Whip dialog (clearly Megan is a better actor than I gave her credit for, because Peggy's version of that script was bad) and ends up blowing up at Don was telling not only because we could see that she's frustrated with him for not giving her enough credit, but because we could see that both Peggy and Don are confused and saddened by Megan's decision to leave the firm. Those two live for their work and identify primarily as ad execs—interpersonal issues with Megan aside, neither of them can understand why anyone would quit on that dream.
Joan, on the other hand, feels she understands Megan—and all "second wives"—perfectly. Is there anything to her assertion that Megan has Don right where she wants him, funding her foray into acting? When she compared Megan to Betty and said that both of them were just Don's type, I had to wonder if Don's dismay at Megan's leaving work was because he fears Joan might be right. Is he discovering that, despite the hip apartment and Beatles records, he's still his old self, married to Betty Draper 2.0? Megan's reassurance that Don was "everything she hoped he'd be" has me thinking there's trouble ahead for these two.
Once again, Harry Crane delivered one of the funniest scenes of an episode he wasn't even in. Next time I have a conversation with someone who won't listen to reason, I too will shout "I LIKE THE PICTURES OF THE EARTH. I FIND THEM TO BE MAJESTIC."
Lest we only give guest-star props to Alexis Bledel (though you can continue to give her props by reading an interview with her here), I'll point out that the "Head of Desserts" Cool Whip executive was none other than Mr. Belding from Saved By the Bell! Looks like bad acting didn't go over any better with him in the '60s than it did in the '90s.
Pete's new favorite pickup line: "I had to make sure you weren't hysterical!"
Play the game "existence" to the end
A couple episodes back, one of SCDP's principals realized that he just wasn't made for these times. This week, it's Don Draper's turn. "When did music become so important?" he groused, after a presentation for the company's cologne client, which said client apparently requested be executed as much like A Hard Day's Night as possible without risking litigation. "Everyone comes looking for some song. And they're so specific."
"You love specific," Megan points out, and, later in the episode she tries to boost her husband in both hipness and spirit by laying a copy of the Beatles' latest, Revolver, on him. Unfortunately, the song he first hears—the trippy, otherwordly "Tomorrow Never Knows," with its reversed and looped vocal and instrumental effects—turns out to be a psychedelic bridge too far, and Don retreats from the hi-fi and off to bed. (The straightforward, cynical "Taxman" probably would have won the Draper stamp of approval, and since it's the first track on the record, maybe he should have started with that?)
As in this season's second episode, when Don tried, but not really, to understand what exactly it was the kids were digging about the Rolling Stones, this episode underscored that Don is somewhat cowed by his own inability to get with the times, to know "what's going on up there." But he's not cowed enough to actually make the effort to learn, and his inherent arrogance—his belief, maybe, that things will go back to normal, to the status quo that suits him—may well be his downfall. Indeed, this is not-so-subtly referenced in the scene when Don sees Megan off on her final day as an SCDP employee. A complex mix of emotions is visible on his face, and when her elevator door closes and his opens, there's nothing—an airy, empty shaft that a less present person could easily have happily, thoughtlessly wandered into. Don peers into the void, but, despite what the Beatles and their many champions might advise, has no intention of surrendering to it. Instead, he retreats to his comfort zone—his office, a bottle, a couch, and a spell of silence that's eventually broken by another man out of time, Roger.
In fact, Don *has* changed, and this episode displayed it. The scene in which Megan admitted to lying to him about where she was on the evening of her supposed late-work date with Peggy showed that Don isn't just eros and ego. Maybe he liked Megan being an SCDP employee because office hanky-panky added some spice to his day, but it's clear that—building on his assertion from last episode that "You're good at all of it!"—discovering that Megan had a talent for advertising was exciting in other ways as well. He was able to be both humble and sympathetic with Megan despite being disappointed that, contrary to what he'd thought, she didn't share his passion for advertising; while it was clear that her decision to leave the agency troubled him, he was able to not make it entirely about him. Way to grow, big D. (And kudos to you too, Peggy, for your quick-thinking "Pizza House!" cover-up when Don called the office looking for Megan.)
Of course, just because Don's a different husband with Megan than he was with Betty doesn't mean he's not still feeling lost. He is—and as the doomed Cool Whip presentation shows, he's feeling bereft of the woman he'd seen as a partner, not just at home but at work (which is, after all, he's most at home.) "You're not mad at me, so just shut up!" shouts Peggy at the end of the dessert-topping debacle. Easy, Don. Now that your real wife has left the office, you'd best not alienate your office spouse—who, as she rightly points out, has "done everything right." Maybe now's the time to tell her (and everyone else, probably) about that faulty elevator.
Between this episode's title reference, the extended references to life insurance this episode (his company policy, Pete notes to train buddy Howard, covers suicide "after two years"), and Pete's existential crisis of the week ("Why do they get to decide everything?"), everyone who recaps this show is now on Pete Campbell Suicide Watch. Is it going to seem a little obvious if that rifle does make its third-act appearance?
I'm liking Joan's reliability as mother confessor for a new character each week, but can a girl get a central storyline again?
Notable Historical/Cultural References: Hard Day's Night, The Birds, Chad & Jeremy, Herman's Hermits, the Merseybeats, the Zombies, news reports from Saigon, Cool Whip, Alan Funt of Candid Camera
Inappropriate Office Behavior: People kept it pretty well together this week, but the copywriters were passing a joint around the room after hours—I don't think the bosses would approve. (Well, newfound LSD-enthusiast Roger Sterling might condone it, but it's unprofessional nonetheless.)