Plot! Creative agency capers! Hilarious non sequitirs! (“Each one with its own nipple! // Gosh, I love puppies.”) This episode had all my favorite Mad Men episode elements, plus the awkward — and layered — reunion of Don and Peggy.
It’s not quite believable that suddenly these longtime rivals — and polar opposite personalities — would decide on a whim to combine agencies and that it would be THAT easy, but it does extend the theme that Joan so poignantly hit on when learning that Don told Jaguar to pack it up: It’s Don’s world, and everyone else is just living in it.
Even the-one-we-thought-broke-through, Megan, has become a bit player in the great lie of Don’s life, her short dresses and feminine wiles not withstanding. But it’s Don’s true partner, Peggy, who is most affected (again) by Don’s desperate and clever maneuver to keep his agency relevant. I can’t say I’m not excited about the dramatic consequences of this rather implausible merger. For a season that some of us found plodding, we get a reset halfway through. Where are our central relationships? Let’s assess:
Don and Megan: To borrow from Magic 8 Ball, “Cannot predict now”
Don and Joan: Probably repairable
Pete and Trudie: Dunzo
SCDP and Vicks: Dunzo
On running into your father-in-law-at-a- brothel: Stiles said, “It’s like when you’re a kid, and you saw someone you knew from school at Walmart. Same thing.” We thought it was mutually assured destruction, when in reality, Trudy’s dad didn’t see much downside in dropping the son-in-law he never did like.
Marie and Roger: Dunzo
That woman was hilarious — hilarious — during the awful dinner with Herb and his wife. But for her to punish Roger for it and foreclose his chance to communicate an important business matter, even more awesome.
Roger and powerful flight attendants: Flying High
That whole storyline made me long for the days of the old first class airport lounges. Because in today’s “lounges,” unless you’re in Tokyo or Dubai, you’re lucky to get some free yogurt covered peanuts and individually wrapped cheeses. On Roger, he seems to have renewed interest in closing deals. All last season and into this one, we saw Roger basically become a more dapper and glib version of Bert Cooper: Office furniture with an important title. I’d love to see what’s responsible for his interest in work again, and it sets up a promising tension now that both agencies’ accounts sides are gonna have to merge.
- So many animated gifs are going to emerge from this episode. There’s Peggy’s boyfriend Abe and whatever happened with him and the wall, Pete slipping down the stairs (great physical comedy from Vincent Kartheiser), and maybe brown nose Bob with his two coffees again. I feel like I’m forgetting an obvious Peggy-related gif… help me out, folks.
- We’re heading for a reckoning with that kiss-ass Bob. Is he gonna turn out to be a Russian or Chinese spy?
- Pancreatic cancer doesn’t have a good survival rate even today. I can’t imagine ol’ Gleason is gonna be around much longer. What are the business implications with the buyout of Gleason plus merger?
“Not every girl can do what she wants.” -Megan Calvet’s Mother
In the finale to a melancholy season five, showrunner Matthew Weiner writes and directs an episode in which business is doing better than ever, but that’s about the only thing looking up.
The times change, but do people ever change? Weiner was a head writer on The Sopranos, the sweeping mob drama whose primary premise was that we never do change. And in this season finale’s final set piece, which puts Don Draper back into the Chinese-themed bar of the pilot episode, Don’s on the precipice of proving that despite his yearlong stint as a happily married, successful man, he’s ultimately a self-loathing skirt-chaser that can’t be reformed.
He gives Megan what she wants, even though Don’s principled stand about how she should be discovered by someone rather than get a job because she’s someone powerful’s wife was correct. Here, he had a chance to wind up with a woman who waited for him to come home, just as Megan’s mother told him. But instead, he demonstrated how much he really does care for his wife’s happiness (in a way he did not care about Betty’s) by helping her realize her dream … of being a commercial actress? Methinks that’s not really her dream, just as Don pointed out. But she did seem happy.
“I don’t know you. And you don’t know me. We just happen to have the same problem.” Perhaps the only way we can divorce ourselves from the past, the episode surmises, is by erasing our brains. But as other art (read: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and this episode’s own example (Beth has been shocked before) show us, the deepest imprints of dissatisfaction, or the opposite, love-filled bliss, can’t be electro-shocked out of us. So Beth will likely become “blue” again, Pete comes to terms with his permanent wound, and Don may forever be haunted by his mistakes — little brother Adam, who killed himself in Season 1, Lane Pryce and the bitter sacrifices he made for SCDP, and the cascading casualties of living a lie for so long. On the flip side, we chase after, perhaps in vain, some sort of ingrained notion of how things should be better and we should be happier than we are.
…Which can drive drug use. Roger’s LSD trip earlier this season was so life-altering that he’s chasing after whatever honesty he encountered before. That shot of naked Roger was about the only thing that made me smile in a finale montage that otherwise felt so blue.
- Nice shot of the five partners in the empty office space at the end. So well composed and cinematic.
- Good to see Peggy, and to have the two kindred spirits of Peggy and Don run into each other at an afternoon movie, which is perfectly in line with both their characters. I was wondering whether Elisabeth Moss’ exit two episodes ago was a permanent goodbye.
- I wanted to see more of Joan, but I suppose they rounded out her character arc pretty well by making her a partner after she essentially had to whore herself out. And it hurt when she said that she should have done the same for Lane, as if that would have stopped him.
- Looks like Bert Cooper will finally have an office again. Maybe he will purchase another Rothko for it.
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.
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.
It’s quite a predicament for women at SCDP - and women in the workplace everywhere, isn’t it? You’re either just a sexy secretary or you’re an overzealous climber bitch. (Monica vs. Hillary, anyone?) As Joey the freelance art director becomes more and more misogynistic toward Joan, (because apparently his mother was the same way), Peggy steps into to save the day and show Joey the door.
Peggy thinks she’s done something magnanimous for Joan. But Joan knows better. Now Joan’s the damsel in distress, saved by a “humorless” chick with a dick. While we’re forty years forward and situations have gotten better for women, I can’t say I don’t understand the perception predicament Joan describes in the elevator.
And this episode really explored the show’s ladies, didn’t it? Bethany’s back, and willing to meet Don’s, uh, draper. She needs a more from him, and says it. “We really are from different generations,” Don replies. But now that we’re hearing his internal thoughts for the first time, a la Carrie Bradshaw, we know he doesn’t think much more of her than he did Betty Draper. She’s beautiful, charming, but not on his level.
The women on his level were traditionally Don’s mistresses - they tend to be the aggressive, modern, independent ladies who could take him or leave him. Midge, the hippie from season one, Rachel Menken, who headed her own stores, Bobby Barrett, who was responsible for the entire Jimmy Barrett machine, Miss Farrell, the enlightened teacher who worried how DON was doing after he ditched her in the car … and now, Faye. The ad doctor of persuasion is actually getting to hear Don’s actual thoughts and worries - he discusses Gene’s upcoming 2nd birthday with her, that he’s out of sorts, etc. etc. Where he keeps the dancer at arm’s length (and later muses that he already “knows her” - is that a reference to how similar she is to Betty?), he seems to let down the mask when he’s with Faye. What a contrast.
Speaking of contrast, I’m not sure how I feel about actually hearing Don’s internal monologue. The show opened with narration and immediately I thought of Sex and the City and wondered if we’d get a “I couldn’t help but wonder” moment. I’ve long believed the beauty of this show is the subtlety in the story and the acting WITHOUT getting into the characters’ heads and actually hearing what they think. While it’s helpful to know Don is now making a bucket list (yay Mount Kilimanjaro) and wants to “gain a modicum of control over” the way he feels, we could have figured that out without the exposition. (Okay, maybe not the mountain climbing part.)
-Henry Francis, God bless him. He looked like such a sad, lonely creature mowing that lawn. And he really is stuck with a child. I loved his line “Hate’s a strong word. I hate Nazis.”
-No Roger again!?! Arrrgh.
-Francine’s reminder to Betty is an important one. Who is Betty but a woman who has defined her life through men? And then she acts out with the men she’s with? I can’t decide if it’s bad acting or bad writing that’s making this woman so one-dimensional and irritating. Shouldn’t I feel bad for her a little - I swear I have before in earlier seasons.
Anyway, I’m anxious to hear what y’all think about the new use of narration and the issues about sexism that came up for the girls. And whatever else.
1. I loved the interaction between Don and Peggy. Don saved Peggy and Peggy is saving Don (again). But I wonder if Don ever would have opened up to Peggy in the first place if he hadn’t saved her to begin with. He knows he can trust her, but would that be the case if she never got pregnant?
2. Roger said that he didn’t like hanging out with the AA guys because they start out telling funny stories and then end up crying. Don’s night in a nutshell.
3. There’s a famous commercial from the 70s (I think) with a gorilla in a cage throwing around and jumping on a suitcase. The company? American Tourister — the rival brand mentioned in the episode. Fun fact: The same company that owns Samsonite bought American Tourister in the 90s.
4. I know we all think Don is a dick, but he is 100 percent right about Peggy’s credit re: Glo-Coat. She works for him. That is how these things go.
5. When Duck was going to take a shit on the Roger’s chair (thinking it was Don’s), how did he plan to wipe his ass? Just a logistical question.
Anyway. What a fine episode. I found it to be just a breath of fresh air after last week’s contrived first half in California. This one injected so much more humor into dark situations:
Peggy peeking over the high window to get a look a Don, which aptly mirrored the focus group through-the-looking-glass situation
“You son of a bitch.” (After Pete again resorts to arm-twisting family members in order to get ahead at work.)
Peggy’s banging her head on the table (I can so relate)
Allison’s spectacularly dramatic globe-throwing
The return of Bert Cooper’s old hag, Mrs. Blankenship
The shot of Bert Cooper sitting in the lobby reading a newspaper or magazine
The bear head! FTW!
Funny moments aside, I thought this episode stood out thanks to solid pacing and character development (or in Don’s case, non-development) vis-a-vis their situations. Peggy gets introduced more deeply to the counterculture (“Did you know Malcolm X was SHOT last weekend?”) and it will be interesting to see how the pull of these “genuine” writers and artists affect her as she continues to work in an old-boys club; that final scene as she runs off with her new hip pals and the men-in-suits are all standing in the lobby really said it all.
And speaking of that moment, the baggage between Peggy and Pete clearly weighs Peggy down, despite Don’s mantra, as he presented to Peggy in the hospital after she delivered Pete’s child: “”It will shock you how much it never happened.” We still don’t know exactly what it was like for those two after Peggy revealed to Pete that she had his bastard baby and that she “could have shamed” him into being with her. But I’m doubting the two are going to hash out their feelings over a long lunch anytime soon.
Allison. Such a sad casualty of Don’s downward spiral. It was interesting she assumed Peggy went through the same experience, but it only highlighted how low Don’s stooped; he used to regard the secretary pool as off limits. (Remember the cold war Roger courting and marrying former secretary Jane?)
Part of Don’s outburst at Dr. Faye also hit on a common theme: “You can’t tell how people are going to behave based on how they have behaved.” OR CAN YOU? Do people have the capacity to change? (You’ll remember this was major theme of The Sopranos, also written by Matthew Weiner.) Faye advises that the Pond’s Cold Cream campaign play on young women’s desires to get married. Don thinks that’s too old-fashioned. Don is essentially arguing that new ideas, presented well, can change behavior. But Don, Peggy, Pete (especially in this episode) show their behavior hasn’t changed much at all since 1960.
I’m sure I’ll have more to say once I expose myself to other observations. But as usual, this is my initial brain dump, free of influence from the professional critics. What did y’all think?