MAD MEN, SEASON FIVE/EPISODE 8: LADY LAZARUS

by Claire Moshenberg on May 12, 2012

It’s been a magical few Mad Men weeks, full of LSD, intergenerational hijinks, and baked beans. I hope you’ve enjoyed at as much as I have, and I hope you’ve replayed the Roger-on-LSD scene as many times (100? More? Fingers crossed it happens again, every last finger crossed). This week marked the departure of Mrs. Draper from Sterling Cooper Draper Price, the return of Howard, and an introduction to his Mrs. (aka Rory Gilmore). Let’s get to it.

The Excitable Boy Returns: Welcome Back, Howard

He’s baaaaaaack. Everyone’s worried about Pete Campbell’s impending suicide, but my money is still on this guy.

Pete Gets Treats

For once, Roger and Pete play nice. Roger offers Pete a pair of skis from a client, and tells an understandably suspicious Pete that he’s happy to be Professor Emeritus of Accounts. The effects of his upbeat LSD bender continue — we’re two episodes out, and Roger still appears kind and charming, shockingly like his old self, after a season-and-a-half of sad, aging man-child antics. Pete, on the other hand, remains the same. Though polite to Roger, he scoops up every pair of skis like a telltale birthday party brat descending on a piñata. Ever wise Peggy spies Pete hoisting enough skis on his shoulder for three pairs of feet and says, smirking, “Are you a really good skier? Like, famous?” and another one of Pete’s odd little-boy triumphs is (deservedly) diminished.

Pete Campbell and Rory Gilmore Talk About Homeless People

I am a diehard, quote-your-ears-off Gilmore Girls fan, so I was delighted when the former Ms. Rory Gilmore appeared as Pete’s new paramour. And before we get into the nitty gritty, I’d like to give kudos to Alexis Bledel, who has played several characters since her Gilmore days, several similar characters that made her appear permanently frozen in CW teendom. She conveyed an early Betty Draper level of vulnerability, and pulled off an alternately lonely and terrified housewife exceptionally well. Welcome back to TV, Ms. Bledel. This will be the last time I call you Rory.

Pete drives Howard’s wife Beth (Bledel) home from the train station. He’s uneasy as he lies about Howard’s whereabouts, even though they both know that Howard is cavorting with the 24-year-old mistress he’s housed on floor 24 (it is not an accident that they went out of their way to mention how high up her floor is). Beth mentions how all the homeless people in New York bother her, how they follow her because she stares at them and gives them money. Pete says you get used to not seeing people after a while. And that’s where they both seem to be in their marriages — cared for monetarily, noticed now and then, but mostly ignored. When he gets Beth to her house, she says, “I don’t even think he’d care if I was alive or dead,” and Pete’s look, and instinct to pull her in and kiss her hard, seems to say the world feels the same way about him.

Then There Was Peggy

The scene cuts from Pete and Beth disrobing to a close-up on Peggy at the office. Beth and Peggy sport identical deep brown flipped ‘dos with bangs. A fad? For sure. But this season keeps harkening back to seasons of yore (think Peggy and Pete and the baby carriage in Episode 1), and since it does, let’s not play the pretend game that Peggy and Pete play at the office. They have a history, and an unresolved one at that. They made a baby, and a season later they sat on his couch, convinced the world was ending, and he told her he should’ve chosen her. When she revealed their love child and declined his affections, he sat alone in the dark with the rifle Ken brought up at this season’s dinner party. Nothing is an accident here. Not even a scene cut between the follicly similar love interests in Pete Campbell’s life.

Peggy Yells “Pizza House”

Newly clandestine Megan sneaks off to a call-back, leaving Peggy to field drunken calls from a confused Don. The second time he calls, she yells, “Pizza House!” Peggy gets drunk-dialed by sad, scared husband Don. Instead of taking his calls, she yells, “Pizza House!”

Is it just me, or has this season been surprisingly funny (you know, in between suicide symbols and meditations on mortality)?

Peggy Yells At Megan

The next day, Peggy kicks it old school and yells at Don’s underling. Yes, I know Megan is a copywriter, but how different is Peggy’s tone during her bathroom confrontation with Megan from the tone she used on Lois when she ratted Don out for some minor Don-ish indiscretion, or Allison when she cried about Don sleeping with her and ignoring her? Peggy’s speech starts with girlfriend fight confidences (I couldn’t sleep! OMG Megz, don’t put me in that position!) transitions into mentor (You’re doing great, you can do it!) and then segues into old-school Peggy, protector of Don. She cares about Megan, but her big platonic heart will always belong to Don. Peggy insists that Megan tell Don about the audition and about her desire to quit. Megan disagrees, and Peggy storms out.

Peggy Yells At Ginsberg And Stan

Megan decides to quit, and comes into the office to announce this to her fellow copywriters. Peggy is cold until she sees tears — then she’s Megan’s tough big sister. “Hey, Megan’s talking to you!” she yells at Ginsberg and Stan. She even helps shut down Ginsberg’s bizarre shoe and clothing questions. Megan tells Peggy how much she appreciates her, and leaves with Peggy’s well-earned respect.

Megan The Actress

Megan hates her work life so much, and is so eager to move on, that even the offer of appearing in a commercial for Cool Whip isn’t appealing enough to keep her at work. She doesn’t want to do, or write, commercials. She wants to be on Broadway, off Broadway, in films. Her examples are so instantly highbrow — what struggling actress doesn’t take a commercial opportunity? It smacks of her father’s influence. And speaking of fathers, there’s something distinctly little-kid-like about Megan only confessing her audition lies by waking up Don in the middle of the night. Even his question, “Do you do that a lot? Lie to me?” and her eager, “No!” feels parental. Megan dangles the threat of bitterness in front of Don like a sad carrot — “I feel envy at the theatre, and the next step is bitterness, and I don’t want to feel that way.” Don has spent his life with bitter women, starting with his reluctant stepmother, continuing with Betty. Even though Megan confuses him by abandoning her advertising talents, he wants her to be happy. He doesn’t want more bitter women in his small world. Like he tells Roger, “Why shouldn’t she do what she wants? I don’t want her to end up like Betty, or her mother.”

Small Pete In A Big World

On the floor after making love, Beth talks to Pete about photos of Earth from space. The photos make her feel small and insignificant. Even the earth is tiny and unprotected, surrounded by darkness, just like Pete and Beth. While she speaks freely about how alone she feels, Pete has no one he can talk to about his loneliness. And Beth refuses to be the balm, avoiding his advances, responding during a desperate call from Pete that it won’t happen again, but that he should fantasize about it, as she will. Their one-time encounter is just that — insignificant, a blip that makes no impact on their day-to-day lives in the same small town, where he rides the train with her husband, where she sees his wife at the market.

Later, Pete tries to talk to Harry. He talks about how he hates the Drapers, how they gallivant around and do what they please, how they’re happy and powerful, able to do silly things like quit their jobs for acting pipe dreams. Pete wants to know if Harry feels small and insignificant when he looks at photos of Earth, and happy Harry wants to talk wife jokes and sexual innuendos. For Harry, the photos are majestic, inspiring. This interpretation, this little glimmer of hope, seems to mock hopeless Pete. When another glimmer of hope comes his way in the form of Beth’s gloved hand drawing a heart for him on her window’s condensation, she abruptly rolls the window down and erases it. No Trudy, no driving class girl, no Beth — not even Harry can pretend to be a friend. Pete is all alone.

A Question About Mr. Draper

All my fellow Mad Men bloggers are talking about Pete’s impending suicide attempt. You already know who I think is a goner. But what’s with Don? First he sketches that noose, now he almost falls down an elevator shaft. These feel like more than little flickers of mortality, but what do they mean?

Tomorrow Never Knows

At the beginning of the episode, a client wants a song for their commercial that sounds like the Beatles. “When did music become so important?” asks Don. He doesn’t know what’s happening out there in the great big world, and Megan tells him the scary truth: Nobody, not even Modern Megan, can keep up. It’s not a formula to memorize, a new identity to slip into. It’s always changing.

Later, Ken and Stan bound into the office with a song for the commercial. Don immediately thinks it’s the Beatles, while Ginsberg immediately knows the song is 30 years old. The music irks Don because it’s too new; it chafes Ginsberg because it’s too old. The episode closes with Megan buying Don the latest Beatles album because he said he “doesn’t know what’s going on.” She even shows him which song to start with: “Tomorrow Never Knows.” As he sits at home and listens, clearly perplexed, the copywriter kids smoke weed, and Megan lies on the floor, looking artist chic, clad all in black in a black-box theatre. The world is moving past Don. He shuts off the record and goes to bed.

 

Claire Moshenberg is a San Francisco-based author, activist, and new media consultant. She is co-proprietor of the web site Charm City Jukebox.

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