I totally agree with my NPR colleague Linda Holmes on the incredulity of the Joan storyline, reasons for which she outlines quite well in this blog post. So I don’t even need to go there. But I’m still waiting for you boys to weigh in with what YOU thought of this girl-centric episode.
I can’t write anything about that episode that Elise and Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker haven’t said better, though I lean heavily toward Nussbaum’s thesis that prostitution has always been a theme of Mad Men. What struck me was how normal the proposition sounded inside the office. In the bar, the request to have the B-52 sent to his love shack came across as an affront. Inside SCDP (initials that have forever ruined the South Carolina Democratic Party for me), only Don reacted badly, knowing as a whore’s son what you lose in such a trade. It was, to them, just business, though I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to look Roger Sterling in the eyes again no matter how charming he pretends to be.
What wasn’t for sale? Peggy and her pride that reaches into envy with both hands. The glass wall separating her from the silver trays of lobster was a bit heavy-handed, and there was a whiny, immature touch to her reason for leaving. But her decision to leave — to say no to Don Draper — seemed to require more guts than did Joan’s decision to take off her dress for Mr. Jaguar.
It was a shocking episode, grueling to watch. But the decision to whore out their officer mother did not seem to wreck their day.
Team, I’m going to ignore the fact that I find the Joan storyline to be incredulous for a second to focus on Peggy, who has been, for the length of this show, both a protege and a female mirror of Don. Last season’s “The Suitcase,” when Don really hit the bottom of the Plath Bell Jar and found himself sleeping on Peggy’s lap after losing Anna Draper is one of the best Mad Men episodes of all time, and it’s largely because of the strength of the bond between those two characters (and actors).
She told Don, in that heavy goodbye scene, that he’d probably do the same. Maybe. And he said he would ignore the fact that he’s responsible for everything good that’s happened to her. There’s an argument I don’t buy, and I’ll use Jay-Z to explain myself. In “Lost One”, a track off of 2006’s Kingdom Come, the HOVA opens with this:
"It’s not a diss song, it’s just a real song / Feel me? // I heard motherfuckers saying they made Hov / Made Hov say, “Okay so, make another Hov”
"I owe a lot of my success to a lot of people, but ultimately, no one made me. This is the kind of lie that people get told all the time, sometimes in romantic relationships, sometimes in their professional lives: that somehow who they are is a result of other people’s investment in them. It’s vital to resist that or you risk losing yourself; as I say in another song, Remind yourself / nobody built like you / you design yourself."
It is without question that Don changed Peggy’s life (hiding her big Pete baby secret not withstanding) but they are different people, different sexes, on different tracks and she’s been a victim of bad timing with him one time too many. Why is it Peggy who always walks in to his office when he’s in the worst possible mood for a totally unrelated reason? Ugh.
Just as Jay says, Peggy is now reminding herself that she designs herself. And that look of excitement and relief as she prepared to step in the elevator was uplifting for me, because she’s been in a rut all season.
So it seems like Don’s losing grasp on all the women who matter to him most. Megan isn’t going to be controlled like a 1966 Jag. “She just comes and goes as she pleases,” Ginsberg observed about her, or no one in particular. And the out-of-chronology reveal of Don’s too-late plea to stop Joan broke my heart. I started tearing up at that scene, but by the time he was bidding adieu to Peggy, the tears were full-on running down my face.
So I’ve left a lot unsaid here. Mainly about Joan. But I want you men to weigh in first. Over to you, boys.
Ugh, this is the 10th episode of the season already? I can’t believe we have so few episodes left. But these seasons tend to work like Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit — build, build, build, climax somewhere in the third act (or the penultimate episode), bring on the resolution in the very end (or the season finale.)
How many storylines do I say “This isn’t going to end well” about? But this really isn’t going to end well. But, this season’s theme is “every man for himself,” right? His pride keeps him from going to the partners honestly and saying he’s in a tough spot and needs some cash. (Clearly Roger has enough to buy off his copy writers as needed and to give his ex wife a new apartment.) Borrowing $50,000 on behalf of the firm, money that is GOING TO HAVE TO BE PAID BACK … and then paying himself with a fraudulent check … this has future-JP Morgan/Chase written all over it. Doesn’t Future Lane ever meet present-day Jamie Dimon in the Negron Complex?
Joan and Don
Their mutual respect and rapport was obvious in the hospital after Guy got his foot chopped off with a lawnmower in Episode 3.6. They truly seemed to understand each other at this point in their lives. Joan is asking herself where she’s going, because she feels she has nothing. Don is asking himself where he is going, because he has everything.
Critics and fans have said Don and Joan are meant to be together, but maybe because they are, they’ll never be together. Such are the rules of television, right?
The bar scene reminded me a bit of Don’s bar scene with Peggy in one of the best episodes of Mad Men ever, Season Four’s “Suitcase” (4.7):
"Don shares with Peggy that he watched his father get killed by a horse when he was only 11; Peggy (in keeping with the reflexivity of their characters) reveals she too watched her father die in front of her when she was also a child. They both avoid what’s in their suitcases by giving everything they have to their work. I wonder, in fact, whether their personality types are somehow well-suited for advertising because of the way their brains can imagine another reality… or something… ?"
But Don and Peggy are soul mates in that they are mirrors of one another. It’s different than he and Joan, who complement one other.
The Return of Paul Kinsey
That was rad. This is the same former Sterling Cooper writer who briefly became a Freedom Rider in order to be part of something, anything. The latest place he’s playing poser is among the Hare Krishnas, which I suppose I’m not that surprised about, now that I think about it. The guy is a fake human being, though so is Harry, but they went on quite different paths. I suppose this is why Harry feels empathetic toward Paul — they are in many ways the same posers, only Harry got lucky.
"What ghost visited you, Ebenezer?" Don then reminds Pete that Pete instructed him to intervene the next time a boxing match was possible. Pete and Lane found some sort of civility. But these financial tricks wind up getting discovered, so we’re probably set up for another Pete-Lane showdown.
-I’ve ignored Roger in discussing Joan and Don. But his efforts to try and pay for Kevin are noble, and that line after he dropped off flowers — how many times have I left you with a card from another man — was quietly heartbreaking.
-Meanwhile, it seems Don is starting to care about work again, just as Megan cares more about acting, which is a totally different direction. This is a fissure that’s NOT caused by Betty from 50 miles away.
-“It feels like Joan’s breasts are getting bigger and bigger.” -Matty
-What did y’all think? I found the episode to be pretty uneven compared to others … but maybe I’m missing something.
But for our characters, perhaps more important than appearances is how we measure up against one another. That final, searing quote from Betty said it all. It’s not enough to have everything you want (or maintain your weight for a week in Weight Watchers). You have to be better than everyone else, if you’re Betty Draper. All that competition can be quite toxic, indeed.
Don’s love leave is over and he’s feeling the competitive heat in the workplace, which has long been his proving ground. It was nice to Ol’ Don back in his office late at night, snowballing, er, spitballing some ideas. When he played off his “snowball’s idea in hell” notion as something he just came up with in the office pitch session, the reliably filterless Ginsberg said, “It’s impressive that you could not write for so long and come up with that. That’s good to know.” We, of course, know better.
And here I was feeling bad about Betty’s situation for most of the episode until she pulls a TOTAL Betty with the Anna Draper move. WTF, BETTY? Seriously? Props to Sally Draper for turning that back around on her mother later — “He showed us pictures and they spoke very fondly of her” — but what a way to deal with heavy topics, Betty.
It’s easy just to hate on her, and I remain unconvinced that ANYTHING could make her happy. But when Henry Francis talked about having bet on the wrong horse politically, there was a tender moment there between he and Betty, even though Betty was probably wondering whether she bet on the wrong man. That note about the lightbulb was pretty endearing, after all.
"You know Don. Tall guy (gesture) short temper (gesture)." - Ginsberg
- After weeks of us joking around about all the walking around money Roger has, he finally says what the audience has been saying — “I gotta start carrying around less cash.” In the Season 5 opener, “the roll of walking-around money in his pocket would purchase, in 2012 terms, $7,000 worth of goods, services, favors, or indulgences.” Then, in “Mystery Date" (Episode 5.4) Peggy managed to get $400 out of Roger to do the campaign he forgot, which works out to $3000 in today’s money. Poor Ginsberg gets obviously shorted with only $200 in 1966, or $1500 in 2012 terms.
- Roger’s mojo is back, but we got a glimpse of the wreckage of his second marriage. I can’t muster up that much pity for Jane because I remember how wily and manipulative and bitchy she was to Joan when she worked at Sterling Cooper and snatched Roger in the first place. So, uh, whatever. I don’t feel terrible that Roger had sex with his wife in the apartment that he bought for her.
- Pete’s general desperation as a human being: Pretty hilarious this episode.
- I have to admit after the Megan/Sally scene I sat there for a few moments keeping my eyes wide open to see if I could make myself cry.
Am I the only one who can work and drink around here at the same time?
So, modernism aligns with realism and post-modernism is literature that’s aware it’s literature, or art that’s aware it’s art. You could argue any advertising creative is post-modern, because advertising by the sixties was all about using language and art to control consumer behavior. But our characters, in this decade of great evolution, are in very different places on that spectrum.
Walton, on Peggy’s post-modernism:
When Peggy rages on Don, in Don Draper style, she’s dazzling. She exacts an ability to control the messages around Don. Peggy is able to do what Campbell can’t: power and language control. As she explains to Megan: I cannot lie to him. Peggy may have become a postmodern already. But when Don toes the edge of the abyss, the open elevator shaft, he pulls back, unwilling to plunge.
Phillip, in his recent post, touched on the same themes, maybe without knowing it: How much do we control the messages we send to others, and by extension, how they react?
But I’m not sure I agree with you, Phil, about Pete being backward. From Phil’s post:
Pete is as backward-looking as Peggy is forward-looking. Pete is still trying to find acceptance from some father figure, and has chosen to make himself out to be like Don. Whether it is wanting a bigger office, wanting praise for clients, wanting to sleep with hookers, wanting to cheat on his wife, or just wanting to act lost and desperate, Pete has metamorphosed into Don.
Pete’s always seemed raised by wolves; so uncertain of his identity that he has had to model himself after other people. After Don rejected him in Season 2, Pete clung to Duck Phillips, for example.
But I do think he has been on the right side of history and creative culture even though he doesn’t get much credit for it. In Season 3, Episode 5’s “The Fog,” Pete lobbies for integrated advertising — trying to sell the untapped “negro” market. The client hated it, Sterling joked, “Well, if it isn’t Martin Luther King,” but Pete was looking forward when everyone else in his universe wasn’t.
Similarly, in Season 1, Episode 10, “Long Weekend,” the firm watches Nixon and Kennedy TV ads and the old guard, which obviously backs Nixon, laments “it should never have been this close.” Pete sees what the others don’t: “The president is a product, don’t forget that,” he says. That was 1960, and Pete was arguably post-modern even then.
I point this out to say that while yes, Pete seems to want a life like Don’s, his frustration in not succeeding suggests that he is actually not backward, but ahead of his time. I’m with Walton on this one: “Pete is bridge character: he is both the last modern and the first postmodern character on the show.”
And I’d definitely put Don behind Pete in the race to the future.
In Season 1, Episode 6 (“Babylon”), Don Draper visits the Village to check out some beatnik poetry. During an exchange with an artist, Don finds himself coolly and confidently defending his profession. He says to the artist, “people want to be told what to do so badly that they’ll listen to anyone.” After the poet pronounces that she wants to make love to Fidel Castro, Don smirks, “Too much art for me.”
Six years later (in the Mad Men timeline), we arrive in Season 5, Episode 8’s world of Lady Lazarus. Much has been made of the use of The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows in the final scene, from the cost ($250,000) to total disbelief that Don wouldn’t have loved the song (NPR). Here’s what Weiner said about the song:
The thing about that song in particular was, the Beatles are, throughout their intense existence, constantly pushing the envelope, and I really wanted to show how far ahead of the culture they were. That song to me is revolutionary, as is that album.
The song is not supposed to be in Don’s wheelhouse; he still hasn’t gone rock, which I define as being able to rise above the advertising man he has become. The song is used as a cultural marker against which we’re to evaluate the other characters. In the final scene, the montage runs over Don, Peggy, Pete, Megan, and finally back to Don for the cut:
Peggy - I’m not well-versed on the dynamics of modern vs. post-modern, but I sense that I agree with Walton. Peggy is the one most willing to challenge paradigms in the show, whether it is working topless in a hotel room, working stoned, or just moving into an apartment with her boyfriend. If anyone is going to surrender to the void, it is her. She is forward-looking and inclusive.
Pete - Pete is as backward-looking as Peggy is forward-looking. Pete is still trying to find acceptance from some father figure, and has chosen to make himself out to be like Don. Whether it is wanting a bigger office, wanting praise for clients, wanting to sleep with hookers, wanting to cheat on his wife, or just wanting to act lost and desperate, Pete has metamorphosed into Don. Maybe Pete really is suicidal, but I just don’t know what he’s running or hiding from, or what he’s scared of when he goes home. Whatever the case, he is definitely not advancing with the culture.
Megan - Don used to think that all people really want is to be told what to do. All signs point to that not being true with Megan. She has dreams, she has a purpose, and though timid about expressing them she still does express them. And she is happier for it, as she tells Don when she confesses that he is everything she had hoped he would be. Megan is pushing the envelope, too, right with the Beatles. So naturally…
Don - …that scares Don. And at least irritates, if not angers, him as well. Earlier in the episode, when they were trying to find the perfect song to fit the television ad, he told everyone not to worry because Megan was perfect at that kind of stuff. Just like she was perfect at the Cool Whip pitch. But she didn’t want to do advertising, and her choice of what all the kids are listening to is not “I Want to Hold Your Hand” — the song Don sang to her in his flashback a couple episodes back.
If love is the apex of enlightenment, as the Beatles sing, then Don is left to ask if he is in love. The woman he married worked with him in his office. As Elise and Jason have already said, husband and wives have to navigate their work identity with their couples identity. There wasn’t a lot of common ground Don and Megan shared: he’s old and she’s young, he has no parents and she has two, he has kids and she’d never want more, he loves advertising and she loves art. Don probably wanted to have Megan play a song more like this. Did anyone expect Don, who could barely sit in a beatnik coffee shop, to really go for this?
Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream It is not dying, it is not dying Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void It is shining, it is shining Yet you may see the meaning of within It is being, it is being Love is all and love is everyone It is knowing, it is knowing And ignorance and hate they mourn the dead It is believing, it is believing But listen to the color of your dreams It is not leaving, it is not leaving So play the game “Existence” to the end Of the beginning, of the beginning
I don’t think Megan was trying to insult Don in any way. I think she genuinely wanted to let him know what the latest thing in music was. But he didn’t want the latest thing. He wanted the safest thing.
Pete Campbell is reading Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 at the beginning of the episode. This is important on two counts: 1) Pynchon’s protagonist, Oedipa Maas, believes she’s uncovered a world wide conspiracy that begins between two rival mail distribution companies. This give us some indication of Pete’s ridiculous claim about the female sexual conspiracy against men. 2) It also allows him to attempt another ridiculous move: busting up Beth’s conspiracy against him by disrupting the ongoing narrative of her marriage. That is, Campbell tries to redescribe or correct what he takes as both the thermodynamic energy imbalance and message control that gives Beth power over him. Note how she’s able to read Pete’s tiny blue vulnerable irises surrounded by darkness. Pete’s action is a fool’s mission, but Pynchon’s fiction challenges him to break the code. Pete is bridge character: he is both the last modern and the first postmodern character on the show.
The question is whether the intellectual and passionate core of this show, Don and Peggy, will become full-on postmoderns. When Peggy rages on Don, in Don Draper style, she’s dazzling. She exacts an ability to control the messages around Don. Peggy is able to do what Campbell can’t: power and language control. As she explains to Megan: I cannot lie to him. Peggy may have become a postmodern already. But when toes the edge of the abyss, the open elevator shaft, he pulls back, unwilling to plunge. The particular claim is pushed further when Don pulls the needle from Revolver at the show’s ending. What he’s saying is, “I ain’t ready yet.”
I am the master of my domain. I won’t go so far as to say that I’m the Don Draper of my office, but it’s my name on the door, and there aren’t many doors in my industry. And in my office, there’s no Lane, no Bert Cooper, and, sadly, no Roger Sterling.
But there is a Megan. My Megan is not Canadian, but she is a second wife who’s given me a second lease on life, if indeed I had a first. She’s a marvelous, loving step mother, a steadfast comrade to have in my foxhole, and a cool drink of water who doesn’t need to sing Zou Bisou Bisou to turn heads.
And she made me the happiest man in the world when she accepted my ring. And then she made me even happier when she came to work behind the door with my name on it. I relish seeing her business acumen emerge, and our successes and struggles all seem better because we’re experiencing them together. She makes it seem like more of an adventure because she’s part of it.
But all of it is on my terms. I know she’s not going to want to have her own name on the door, and as much as what’s mine is hers, I’m the boss. In ways I have not fully examined and am not entirely comfortable in admitting, that plays a role in the pleasure I derive in her joining my venture. Her support and blossoming talent validates what I’m doing.
And if she came to me and told me how she wanted to do something else because it was important to her, I hope I’d react as well and as quickly as Don did, though there was some venom beneath that benediction when he hurried her out the door. I’d end up feeling as abandoned as he did trying to fake the chemistry with Peggy over non-dairy whipped topping. She was right. Don wasn’t angry at her.
I realize this was a serious episode exploring identity, fidelity and what makes us alive or dead inside but it was also one of the funniest episodes of Mad Men all season. It’s actually surprising it was so funny, considering how little Roger “One Liner” Sterling appeared in the episode. Between Peggy’s avoidance of Don by yelling “Pizza House” when she answered the phone, to Stan’s reaction to Megan’s resignation, to crazy Michael … there was so much that cracked me up.
But let’s focus here, and start unpacking some of the many layers in this episode. “I don’t even think he would care if I were alive or dead,” Howard’s wife Beth, said, of her husband. As the episode’s title, “Lady Lazarus,” tells us, it’s an episode about rebirth: Pete’s trying to find new life in a new love, Megan wants to be reborn as an actress, (which must be what her father hinted at as her true passion in last week’s episode,) and both Don and Peggy die a little when their hopes for Megan’s career in advertising disappear faster than they could say “just taste it.” Or was it, “just try it”?
On Pete and Beth
Because Pete Campbell’s character is so creepy and generally unattractive, I haven’t see him have “chemistry” with a woman since Peggy. But something resonated between he and Howard’s wife. And he is usually so flippant about his extramarital affairs … this one obviously got to him, too. A sucker for unrequited relationships, I am, because that little window heart just killed me at the end.
Megan’s True Love
"It will never be for me what it is for you," -Megan to Don, about advertising as work
"Did you know he met Betty Draper doing a print ad? Did you know she was a model? That’s the kind of girl Don marries," -Joan
On the surface, it’s easy for Joan to compare Megan to Betty as showgirl types that Don marries, but the paths those women have traveled with Don and on their own couldn’t be farther apart. Don is “everything [Megan] hoped he’d be,” but is Megan everything Don hoped she would be? The way this episode ended leaves that up in the air.
Don’s kind reaction to her quitting advertising was sweet, but also repressed. I did appreciate how he sincerely wanted Megan to follow her heart, representing quite a change from how he regarded Betty when she tried to return to modeling in Season One, Episode 9. At the end of that episode, “Shoot,” Don tells Betty he really just wants her at home, being a mother.
Don has never had that particular housewife expectation for Megan, but it was clear after she saved the Heinz account that it is a huge turn on for Don that his wife was so great at his chosen profession. In my personal life, my husband often tells me he wouldn’t love me the same if I weren’t a journalist, like him. He says it’s because journalism is such a part of one’s identity that I’d be a different person if I weren’t one. Don is a man without an identity except for the one he built for himself around advertising. He’s also uniquely matched for a business that involves selling feelings or desires that may not really be there, because that’s how he’s existed as a human being.
So it’s only natural that he died a little inside when Megan admitted she didn’t identify with Don’s professional identity. But letting her go chase her acting dream either represents the changing times (Betty’s failed return to modeling was 1960, now we’re in 1966) or a changing Don, who really does love Megan in a way he never cared for Betty.
Don and Peggy
"I cannot lie to him," Peggy said to Megan. Peggy is on Don’s side here. She has always been the female version of Don, and Megan makes the mistake in the first half of this episode of confiding in Peggy as if she’s a girlfriend, when really, Peggy reacts as Don would, if he weren’t playing the role of loving husband. (Love that fight in the kitchen at the end.)
HOLY CRAP Mr. Belding has gained a gazillion pounds and is starring as a Cool Whip maker. I was just waiting for Miss Bliss (from the lost junior high episodes of Saved by The Bell) to show up as Megan’s grisled acting coach.
It’s very strange for me to see someone from the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants as a tortured sixties wife. Alexis Bledel has obviously grown old enough for a role like this, and she played it quite well … but I still see her as a teenager.
It’s a non-dairy whipped topping, okay? Just taste it.
Let us now praise Megan (Calvet) Draper (Jessica Paré). She’s taken a lot of heat from the Mad Men community on both sides of the camera, and it’s time for it to stop.
Yes, she a shade more than half her husband’s age, and yes, a bit of premarital counseling and a longer courtship might have been wise. But let’s first place this in context. It was the ’60s, and marriage, especially to a handsome, wealthy man, was considered a desirable outcome for a young lady, and 20-something was not considered too young to marry then. Taking a dim view of her choice through gimlet-colored glasses does a disservice to her character.
Absent the helter skelter courtship, upon what charges should we condemn her?
Her song at his birthday party? Brave.
Her youth? Not quite her fault.
Her jumping into the stepmother role enthusiastically? She’s good with kids. Someone in their lives should be. The way she cheerfully made Don’s children pasta when they unexpectedly crashed her dinner party demonstrated a natural aptitude for her role as stepmother.
Her not knowing her husband as well as others? She asked. She’s interested.
A critic could highlight her difficulty in navigating the territory of being the boss’ wife while finding her own professional sea legs, but she’s working at it and avoids pulling rank. She consciously acts as part of her creative team, has her husband’s back at a dinner meeting, and while the conflict might register on her face, it’s not an internal conflict she subsumes with alcohol or sex.
As she told her judgmental father, her marriage is not an end, but a beginning. She sees her marriage as a place in which she can grow. She shows her husband sincere affection, shares his sexual interest and does not appear to be using him for his money.
She’s not acting like a young girl in over her head. She’s acting married, and considering the train wreck that her parents showed themselves to be, Megan’s a bit of a marriage savant. At some point, can we just accept that Megan is the dream wife? At this point, even Matt Stiles should be getting jealous.