Mad Men Season 5 Ep. 8 'Lady Lazarus'

As always, this field's loaded with spoilers. So if you haven't watched the show, step softly or just get to steppin'.

Well, well, well. Emile may be a bitter, condescending, philandering prick, but you can't say he's not perceptive when it comes to his daughter. Although he harshly honed in on the source of  Megan's unhappiness with her life-- she gave up her dreams and skipped the struggle in order to fast forward to success and wealth--his words hit their mark nonetheless, inspiring her to put 'aspiring' back in front of actress and try to succeed in show business. 

But before we get to our heroine's plans to live forever, first things first. Both she and the writers give us a first-class fake out at the episode's beginning. There's Megan, throwing an anxious, deer-in-the-headlights look at Don after the other Dawn informs her she has a call from a man (a man who knows her by her maiden name no less), and takes said call in the telephone booth outside the office. Then later on that evening she's lying to both Don and Peggy, telling the former she's staying at the office to work late while strolling out of the office in full glamour puss mode after telling the latter she's meeting the former for drinks. 

Unfortunately Megan has misjudged (or forgotten--damn girl, did you forget all the calls you got from your husband when he thought you were missing/dead?) the depth of Don's neediness, as he repeatedly calls the office only to get a confused, and quickly annoyed (Pizza House!), Peggy instead. The next day, Peggy corners Megan in the ladies' room and lays into her about putting her in the mix of whatever deception she's working on Don. Perhaps recalling their bonding moment after her success with Heinz last week, Megan reveals the truth--that she snuck off to an audition and still wants to be an actress. At first Peggy is a cooperative audience. That is until she talks about her fantasizes of getting fired, then whines that she knows she never could be canned. Wrong move girl. Peggy, who has had to claw her way up the corporate ladder for the past six years, rightfully tears into Megan about her flippant attitude toward a gig she lives for. She almost looks like she wants to vomit when Megan and Don act out a cutesy Mr. and Mrs. Draper skit for Cool Whip. 

Despite their meeting in the ladies' room Megan takes her advice and comes clean with Don, who is uncharacteristically sanguine about the news. He tries to make her realize her natural talent for advertising and giving a pitch, and attempts to school her on how to find satisfaction in her work, but basically rolls over after she stands firm in her decision. 

For her part, Peggy stands up for Megan when she says she's quitting the next day,though her "Yep, been here for a while" quip is too hilarious. She makes Michael (who's "son of a bitch" comment about Don rang completely false) and Stan pay attention to her, keeps Michael's twenty questions routine about acting at bay, and in an echo of Joan's previous pep talk, says she admires Megan's bravery . Michael attribute's her departure to Don's controlling hand, while for Stan it's more a question of reality vs. fantasy: "You work your ass off for months, bite your nails and for what? Heinz baked beans."

Don continues to play the supportive husband, kissing her goodbye, telling her to enjoy her goodbye lunch with girls and that he'll take care of her things at the office. In a way its good; he realizes how important this is to Megan and doesn't want her to feel guilty about pursuing her dream. But his long stare down an empty elevator shaft (nice symbolism--didn't see that one comin'), as well as the look on his face after Megan kisses him good night post-confession tell us all we need to know--Don feels abandoned. And pissed. And true to form he's gotta unload on somebody. Can you guess who, do you have a clue? Peggy! The two go all "Suitcase" on each other after Peggy fills in for Megan for their husband and wife skit at the Cool Whip meeting. Let's just say Elizabeth Moss may be a terrific actress, but Peggy better keep her day job. Peggy snaps at Don for phoning in his job for the past eight months, while Don accuses her of being jealous of Megan and scaring her away. The two both have valid points--Peggy just confessed to Joan she felt she was too hard on Megan, while Don was clearly unaware of just how little the other copywriters thought of his wife, only recently becoming aware of her talent himself. Peggy, who's been pretty volatile this season, puts an exclamation point on the fight when she says "You are not mad at me, so just shut up!" Checkmate.

Despite his temper tantrum, Don does seem to reach some level of acceptance with the situation, especially after thinking about the road stifled dreams led Betty and Marie down. Roger's advice to keep up a good routine to keep both of them out of trouble seems sound. However long Don can stay out of trouble remains open for the debate.

Now on to Pete, who spent most of this episode in a deep sex haze. When we last left Pete, he was battered and bruised, both literally and emotionally, and generally feeling lost. In his state, train buddy Howard, who has an apartment and a mistress in the city, is the last person he needs to be listening to. And the last person he needs to run into is Howard's wife Beth.

Betty may not bet getting much screen time this season, but the spirit of unhappy housewife-dom is here in Beth. Like the former Mrs. Draper, she's a trophy wife who's only been valued for her looks her entire life and now has been shuttled off from the city to the suburbs. But unlike Betty, she's no fool--or at least not as willing to stick her head in the sand. She's knows exactly what her husband is up to, if not the exact specifics, and calls Pete out on it almost immediately after he agrees to give her a ride home.

Pete tries his best to maintain the ad man wall of silence, but Beth breaks him down. She then uses her husband's infidelity to her advantage--"Are you really worried that Howard's coming home?" she asks Pete, right before the two tear off each other's clothes.  My mind kept screaming "No Pete no! Don't!" during the entire sex scene, but this being Mad Men there'd be a snowstorm in hell before a character walks away from some easy sex. 

"I used to be like this. Reckless," Beth says during their post-coital talk. On the outside she may be a Betty, but inside Beth is more a Marie; a woman who was once wild and free but has now been tamed by wedded misery. Pete comes off surprisingly endearing, as if he truly believes he's found someone as empty and lonely as himself with whom he can form a connection. And the whole pictures-of-the earth-Pete's-eyes metaphor was some of the best dialogue in the episode. 

After their tryst Pete is a man possessed,  calling her from the nefarious phone booth at work, and in a serious WTF move, inviting himself over to the scene of the crime under the guise of getting insurance from Howard so he can slip Beth note for a hotel rendezvous. He waits like a sprung schoolboy for her, but she's a no-show. Even though he has enough love waiting for him at home, Pete's obvious desperation and despair at her rejection makes it hard not to feel at least a little sorry for him. The last scene with foggy heart in the car window was particularly crushing, if only because it shows how much he wants to cling to anyone or anything that he thinks will make him happy, if only for a moment. Dammit Pete Campbell, you are human after all.

Other Notes:

--I'm not sure if Roger actually had a winter gear client and is simply using Pete to do all the heavy lifting, or if he doesn't have a client at all and wants Pete to go out and get one so he won't have the burden of bringing  in all the new business. Either way, it's brilliant, as was his line "And I got to see that" after watching Pete struggle to haul away the equipment.

--No Betty, but she'll probably pop up sooner or later.

--No major developments with Dawn either, but there's always hope.

--Michael Ginsberg's character seems intent on getting in good with Don (and kissing ass in general), especially during the whole "it's not the Beatles" scene in the office. It's almost Eve Harrington/Margo Channing-esque. I may be reading him wrong (its still hard to see what's he all about), but that's what it seems like right now.

--Speaking of The Beatles, I thought the whole conversation between Megan and Don about music was to show another instance of how Don may be behind the curve when it comes to recognizing the influence of pop music in advertising. Another sign of the times so to speak.

--Rick, the obvious queen who throws a little flirtation Don's way and Stans references to toilet sex simultaneously showed homophobia and the increasing awareness of gays in day-to-day life. If anything it just made me wonder what Sal's doing. Sigh.

So what did you think about "Lady Lazarus?" Discuss.