Mad Men recap – 5×08: ‘Lady Lazarus’

Courtesy of AMC

It was a much quieter episode this week on Mad Men, with what many are touting as the “beginning of the end” of Mr and Mrs. Draper.

Let’s take a closer look after the jump.

Last week we found out that Megan’s (Jessica Paré) father was disappointed in her for “giving up” on her dream. This week, we found out what that dream was: acting. We also learn that Megan still has the fervent desire to be a Broadway, off-Broadway or whatever kind actress she can be. The pursuit of such a career gives her more happiness that any concrete success at SCDP (i.e. the way she nailed the Heinz pitch). This is much to the dismay of Peggy (Elisabeth Olsen) who apparently wants every woman to follow in her footsteps as a copywriter, but also triggers disappointment and other suppressed issues in Don (Jon Hamm). Although he does an adequate job of disguising his displeasure with this development to Megan, it’s pretty clear to us how Don”s feeling. His scene with Joan (Christina Hendricks), for example, was quite telling. After awkwardly telling Joan it’s Megan’s last day, he asks her “what the protocol is.” If only someone could tell Don how to reconcile his immense disappointment. Megan is his wife, and instead of being genuinely happy that she’s pursuing her dream, he pawns off his complex emotions just like he does the administrative logistics of her leaving SDCP. Unfortunately, Joan can only take care of the latter.

After Megan’s tact during the informal Heinz pitch last week, Don’s never “wanted” her more. Not just in regard to sexual desire, but Don’s finally found someone who understands his work – a woman who seemingly shatters the trophy wife stereotype. Megan is no Betty (January Jones). Or so he thought. Unable to see Megan’s (very clear) passion for acting, Don has the looming feeling that his second marriage is going to turn out like his first one. Although he later acknowledges to Roger (John Slattery) that in helping Megan quit SDCP, he’s doing exactly the opposite of what he did with Betty, his lack of enthusiasm speaks volumes.

And what of the scene where Megan leaves SDCP for good? He kisses her goodbye before she hops into the elevator, only to push the button again to call up his own elevator car. It’s very deliberate that once those doors open, there is no elevator car and Don stares into the void down the endless elevator-shaft. Many interpretations could be taken from this quick scene, but I’m inclined to read the most literal: Don is staring into the void created in the wake of Megan’s departure. His picture of what his marriage is doesn’t mesh with its reality, and all that’s left is emptiness. The absence of the elevator car keeps Don static, unable to move forward, or anywhere for that matter.

Does Don love Megan? I think he does, but I also believe that what he loves most is the idea of her. This season she’s revealed herself to him and he’s realizing that he can’t make her into what he wants. Remember in ‘Far Away Places‘ where she demands that he see her for who she is and in response, he cowardly drives away? Consider the sequence tonight when Megan tells Don that she’s miserable in advertising and wants to get back to acting. She wakes him up in the middle of the night and the entire conversation takes place in the dark. Even when Megan is being her most honest, the visual cues tell us that neither of these two actually see one another clearly.

We get a taste of Don’s true emotions in the Cool Whip test kitchen where Peggy replaces Megan during the client visit. Apparently the folks at Cool Whip loved it when Mr. and Mrs. Draper cheekily acted out their potential commercial and they’re looking for an encore. Unfortunately, Peggy is no actress and awkwardly bombs the impromptu exchange. As a result, Don lashes out at her, blaming Peggy for Megan’s departure. He accuses her of being threatened by Megan’s talent, to which Peggy quips back, “You’re not mad at me, so shut up.” Normally not something you’d say to your boss, much less in front of a client (albeit, not Cool Whip’s head honchos, but still). Though uncomfortable, this honest argument felt like a breath of fresh air. Again, the visual metaphors are deliberate and abundant. Consider how we transitioned to the test kitchen in the first place – from the Draper’s perfect kitchen, where Megan happily prepared beef bourguignon for her loving husband after work. We even get the clichéd “taste this!” direct from the Cool Whip script as she thrusts the piping hot stew in his mouth. She tells him “You’re everything I’d hope you would be,” to which he responds, “You too,” before we get a slow dissolve transition into the test kitchen. Here Don has the same posture and expression, but the kitchen is very different: a far cry from the idyllic kitchen we saw in his apartment. But even in this sterile kitchen setting, and a surrogate wife at his side, Don’s little tiff with Peggy tells us that appearances don’t mean anything. The truth is revealed in a stripped environment, and here we have a woman who knows Don well enough to call him on his BS, so true feelings are revealed.

So what’s to become of Mr. and Mrs. Draper? Everything they’ve suppressed is slowly bubbling up to the surface, and will likely have some serious ramifications going forward.

Courtesy of AMC

Other observations:

  • Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) continues to play with fire as he attempts to escape the emptiness in his life. He meets train-mate Howard’s (Jeff Clarke) wife, Beth (Alexis Bledel) by happenstance and has an exciting one-night tryst with her. Beth knows her husband is having an affair in the city, and just wants to be wanted, which Pete is more than happy to oblige. Pete sees this as an opportunity to start an ongoing affair, saving him from the monotony of his life. Beth, however, is happy to keep it to a one-night stand. This causes Pete to descend even deeper into the pit of despair as he whines about how woman are always calling the shots, denying him what he wants.
  • It was interesting to see Pete’s quick exchange with Peggy when leaving the office. They were comfortably proper with one another and I had to remind myself how far they’ve come. Remember back in season one when Pete was pursuing Peggy with the same kind of sleazy courtship that he’s now performing on Beth?
  • It seems Joan has devolved slightly as she cattily tells Peggy that she knew Megan wouldn’t last at SCDP. She brings up the fact that Betty was a model, and models and actresses are all the same. “That’s the kind of girl Don marries,” she sneers. Thankfully Peggy’s maturity is still intact as she defends Megan’s talents as a copywriter and applauds her guts in pursuing her passion.
  • I hope that Megan actually succeeds at being an actress as it would be interesting to see how Don handles it. Arguably Megan has already shown considerable talent since she’s essentially been acting this entire time at SCDP.
  • As Adam B Vary notes – what is up with all the extremely recognizable guest stars these past few weeks? Julia Ormond, Ray Wise, Alexis Bledel and Dennis Haskins (aka Mr. frickin’ Belding from Saved by the Bell!) this week? I have a feeling there’s definitely some subtext here…

So what did you think Mad Men-ers? Was this episode a little too subdued for your liking? Do you think Don and Megan will make it by season’s end? Think anything will ever go well for Pete or is he destined to whine the rest of his days? Let us know in the comments section below.

Mad Men airs at 10pm EST Sundays on AMC

About tvangie

Angie is a TV addict currently pursuing a PhD in media studies. A freelance researcher and writer on the side – she really misses talking about her favourite shows because none of her friends watch them. Help her out.

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