Spoiler Alert Thursday: Mad Men, Lady Lazarus

When I saw the title of this episode, I was a little concerned that Betty had committed suicide.

Not to worry.  I’m pretty sure they’re still just keeping her off camera until she diets for a credible length of time to reattain doll-size proportions.

But even if Betty hasn’t been getting any screen time, her ghost was all over this episode.  She haunts Don and Megan’s marriage, where she’s a constant counterpoint to Megan.  Joan says, rather cattily, that Megan, like Betty, has proven herself to be just the kind of girl Don marries — a pretty, vacuous thing who doesn’t want to work too hard, and has found herself a rich husband to support her undemanding but glamorous hobbies.  But Joan, for once, gets it wrong.  Don had been thrilled that his wife was pursuing a career in his own field, and when Megan says she wants to leave SCDP, Don even suggests that she take her demonstrable talents to a competitor agency.  That’s how much he wants her to keep working.  At the end of the episode, when Megan tells Don that he’s everything she hoped he’d be, Don answers, “you too.”  But he can barely keep himself from grimacing as he says it.  He’s actually bitterly disappointed.

Betty’s ghost shows up again in the form of Beth, another cognate of Elizabeth, who is, like Betty, a doll-faced, dissatisfied ’50s housewife with a philandering husband.  Pete has been terribly unhappy this season, and in this episode, he puts a name to what is bothering him.  The Drapers — Don and Megan, but Don especially — get to “do whatever they want.”  “They get to decide” what happens, while Pete is forced to accept decisions that are handed to him.  Pete has always emulated Don, but he can never quite get it right.  He now has everything Don had a few years back — the house in the suburbs, the pretty housewife, the baby, the junior partnership — but Don has moved on to better toys, and Pete wants those, now, too.  His latest attempt to act like Don — by seducing the wife of another commuter — backfires on him.  He actually falls for the girl, who rejects him; and instead of giving him a sense of accomplishment and power, the affair makes him feel even more diminished and insignificant, like a picture of Earth from space.

Bitchy, take-no-shit Peggy!  I totally love it.

Also, this episode seemed designed to answer the folks (including myself) who observed last week that this season has been neater and more thematic than past seasons.  There were clear themes in this episode, but overall it seemed much looser than other episodes so far this season.

8 thoughts on “Spoiler Alert Thursday: Mad Men, Lady Lazarus

  1. I’ve never watched a single second of this show, and among the characters only know that Don Draper is Jon Hamm. Yet every week I read this piece and enjoy it. That has to mean it’s well-done, right?

  2. I thought Pete was saying that women get to do whatever they want.

    Yes, that’s how I interpreted it, too – which makes an interesting parallel with how worried Megan was about what Don’s reaction to her quitting would be, which reminded me of jms’s point a few weeks ago about how dependent on Don Megan is, even if (contra Betty) she has a certain appearance of independence. It’s not clear to me how independent Megan feels herself to be, but I think Don completely fails to realize how fragile Megan’s independence is, which puts him in somewhat the same position as Pete, imagining the supposed greater power of women.

  3. One of the best bits was Megan saying to Peggy that he intent was to cry for a bit and get out of her job, then later, when she was actually quitting, this is precisely what she did.

    I interpreted it as women also. And suicide continues to haunt Pete – note his early talk of life insurance.

  4. What did you think of the use of the Beatles song?

    I think it was meant to signal that from here on out the season will be very unpredictable and wild and everyone in the main cast will experience dramatic change (or perhaps death, if you believe the speculation/clue-hunting on the blogs)

    Don is definitely ill-prepared for the rest of the 60s. He doesn’t seem to realize that the success of his firm is tied up in his having a solid grasp of the culture. Even if he hates the Beatles, it’s in his best interest to leave the needle on and figure out what’s going on. But he doesn’t, so he doesn’t.

  5. Thanks, matt!

    Adam, voyou and Alex — When I first watched the episode, I also interpreted Pete’s comment as being about women, and then I changed my mind. Just now I rewatched that part, and you all are right, of course.

    Paul, I agree that Don seems totally unready for the late ’60s. It will be interesting to see how his relationship with Megan will survive the decade. Megan is very much of the younger generation, while Don is already unable to understand, let alone appreciate, youth culture and music and etc.

    Pete, though younger, is also unwilling to enter the new era — he’s finally inherited the adulthood that was promised to him, but those were the promises of the ’50s and early ’60s, and this inheritance is losing its value. I think this is at least partially what’s driving his frustration and resentment. As Alex points out, there’s a lot of suicide imagery around Pete, although I’m somewhat skeptical that the show will actually deliver his suicide. If there’s one thing this show is good at, it’s leaving the first-act gun unfired in the third act.

  6. Did anybody catch what Pete was reading on the train? Thomas Pynchon’s “The Crying of Lot 49.” Who knew Pete Campbell would be into avant-garde fiction? I have not yet read the work-but for those of you have, any obvious tie in between the themes of the novel and this episode? I always assume that even with these small nuances, Weiner has thought it out and is dropping in a sort of Easter egg for us.

Comments are closed.