Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air
—"Lady Lazarus," by Syliva Plath
Plath's verse, from a self-described "Holocaust poem" about a woman who tries to commit suicide and is unwillingly resuscitated, lends its title (and imagery) to last night's Mad Men. In the final lines of the poem (seen above) the woman is painted as a mythical Phoenix, a bird who rises from the ash, a female embodiment of the biblical figure Lazarus, who Jesus raised from the dead. In this episode of Mad Men, we see something we haven't before: Women who very much hold the power. Women who rise, reigns in hand, and leave the men of SCDP in a uncomfortable position—at their mercy.
Megan Gives Her One-Day-Notice to SCDP
Last week, Megan's (Jessica Pare) father revealed his disappointment in his daughter, who he felt had existentially sold out by ditching her dreams in favor of Don's (Jon Hamm), leaving her spiritually languid. Clearly, the assessment was uncomfortably accurate, which is why this episode opens with Megan surreptitiously pursuing her acting dreams and auditioning for off-Broadway plays on the sly.
When Megan sneaks off and lies about having Dinner with Don, Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) unwittingly becomes entangled in Megan's scheme, forcing her to cover for Megan when Don calls looking for her. Peggy uses her former secretary skills, craftily carving Megan an escape route with vague answers. Still, Peggy's not keen on lying to her boss, and when she confronts Megan, she uncovers an even more uncomfortable truth: Megan is not as enthusiastic about copy-writing as she appears to be. We saw this looming last week, when Megan's reaction to her Heinz success was surprisingly apathetic, and now our suspicions are confirmed: Megan, while gifted at ad work, is not passionate about it.
Peggy is furious that Megan is only playing dress-up as a copywriter, when other people (particularly other women), "are killing to get this job." Peggy has tirelessly made her way up the ladder at SCDP by way of sheer ambition alone, and is genuinely incredulous that someone could pass up the opportunity, and moreover, not be as enthralled with the work as she is.
Stan (Jay R. Ferguson), on the other hand, decodes Megan's decision right away: "Reality got her. You work your ass off for months, bite your nails...for what? Heinz. Baked. Beans." Stan highlights what advertising is at its very core—corporate drudgery. It's working your ass off for somebody else's dream—namely, the client's—and it's not nearly as glamorous as Megan likely thought it would be when she told Don last season that she wanted to become a copywriter. Much like the ads SCDP crafts, Megan was drawn to the idea of what it seemed to be, a glossy picture of men and women in slick suits churning out dramatic pitches with creative flair, all the while with martinis in hand.
Megan wakes Don in the night to confess her secret, admitting, "I felt better failing in that audition than I did when I was succeeding at Heinz." Even in the dark, we can see the pain in Don's eyes when his half-hearted attempt to convince Megan of advertising's allure is unsuccessful. Megan doesn't back down from her decision, which shows both how emotionally intelligent she is (a glaring departure from Betty Draper (January Jones), whose unhappiness comes from an inability to decipher her own needs) and also how confident she is in Don's love for her. Don does support her and reassures her that he doesn't want to keep her from pursuing her dreams, but just because he understands her desires doesn't mean he's not affected by their new-found existence. Don's life revolves around SCDP, and having Megan to be his partner (in every sense of the word) enlivened his experience there, allowing work and home to intersect in a way that made his life seem more rich on the whole. Creator Matther Weiner likens Don's feelings to the scene in the Howard Johnson a few episodes back: "[Don] offered her the orange sherbet ice cream. It was his favorite, and she didn't like it." Megan has had a taste of Don's dreams, and after briefly sampling it, has decided they are not for her.
Pete is Reckless With His Affections (Again)
In T.S. Eliot's poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", the narrator confronts the particular terrors of middle-aged agony, asking himself, "Do I dare disturb the universe?" Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) seems to ask himself the same question, and in his characteristically impulsive fashion, answers the inquiry with an immediate "Yes. Just when we thought Pete had descended to the lowest level of morality, cavorting with prostitutes, aupairs, and underage girls, and acting as Lane's punching bag, we see his darkness has exponential potential. When he's confronted with a kiss from his train buddy's wife Beth (played by Alexis Bledel of Gilmore Girls fame) after driving her home from the train station, he forgoes the high road without hesitation, giving into her advances. The sad part is, she seems just as lost and needy is he is, looking for recognition and reassurance in all the wrong places. After their romp (which we're unfortunately not given privy to, because this is AMC, not HBO) they engage in metaphor laden pillow talk: "I've had men paying attention to me since before it was appropriate. And they don't care what I say. They just watch my lips move."
She voices her insignificance again when she compares Pete's eyes to photos of the Earth taken from outer space, an image that left her feeling vulnerable, and like the earth, "tiny and unprotected." Cut to Pete grinning foolishly, already seemingly smitten with her. Does he recognize that they share a need to be admired, needed, significant? Probably not. He sees her as an escape route, and is merely hypnotized by the sound of sad words coming out of a beautiful woman's mouth.
Pete pushes to make the one-time-romp something more, finagling an invitation to Howard's (Jeff Clarke) house so he can proposition his wife for more sex while he draws up a life insurance contract. The symbolism here seems heavy-handed: Pete at 32-years-old, by all means still a young guy, but nonetheless feeling the pull of suburban gravity, less interested in confronting his one-third-life-crisis and preferring to use another woman to take the edge off instead. His brilliant plan is thwarted by Beth's unwillingness to go along with it, leaving him to lament to Harry (Rich Sommer) in the office, transferring his feelings onto the news of Megan's departure. "They do whatever they want," he says, "Work it over in their minds, turn it off and on when they feel like it, and we're just there, waiting at attention."
Like Don, he finds himself uneasily dependent on a woman's course of action. Don too, unloads his apprehensions on the wrong target. At the Cool Whip tasting, where he and Megan were supposed to charm Principal Belding (Saved By The Bell's Dennis Haskins, talk about a throwback!) with their push-and-pull chemistry, he and Peggy instead engage in an awkward tug-of-war that falls flat with the client and confronts Don with exactly what he's lost in Megan. Peggy immediately realizes he's misplacing his anger on her and promptly silences him with the truth: "You are not mad at me, so shut up!"
Don is left contemplating the newly enforced space between him and Megan, and the void she left in his professional life, a image that is manifested in when Don peers into the dark, gaping elevator shaft. Megan goes off to acting class, and instructs him to listen to The Beatles song, "Tomorrow Never Knows". The lyrics, "listen to the colour of your dreams. It is not leaving," should comfort him, but we see it doesn't when he prematurely pulls up the needle on the hi-fi and walks out of the room. His insecurities about Megan's independence won't be easily assuaged, and though Megan clearly loves him, Don momentarily feels how Pete does when Beth draws a heart on the fogged car window, only to roll it down and let it fade away: rejected.
Other Points Of Interest
-Roger and his unfailing witticisms are given noticeably less screen time, but Ginsberg fills in the gaps with his bizarre outbursts, like how he reacts when Megan says she's leaving SCDP: "Did he fire you? That son of a bitch!"
-Joan chooses a decidedly catty take on Megan's departure, assuming she's opted to be a "failing actress with a rich husband." But her cynicism doesn't affect Peggy's favorable feeling towards Megan, and genuine assurance of her talent (which echo Don's): "No, I think she's good at everything. I think she's just one of those girls."
Written by Shanté Cosme (@ShanteCosme)